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An excerpt from Theme Weaver: Connect the Power of Inspiration to Teaching YogaHello Yogi!My name is Michelle Marchildon and I’m a huge believer that if you do the preliminary work, it will pay off for you to thrive and prosper at being a yoga teacher.In my own practice of becoming a teacher, I was not instantly successful. I was not the youngest teacher, nor was I the most sprightly.I found that when I graduated from my YTT, it was a struggle to find work. I couldn’t answer what made me different from the other 40 graduates that spring. Why should a studio hire me, over perhaps a younger, taller, thinner, blonder teacher?I had to figure out why I wanted to teach before I could actually teach. You see, the one thing that no other teacher has other than you, is YOU!You are the only YouI’m sure you’ve heard this before, that you must be authentically you in your classes. But what does that mean? Most importantly, it means choosing the themes and inspiration that mean something to you, so you can connect to your students.Almost anyone can teach a yoga sequence. Inhale upward dog. Exhale downward dog. You can find an interesting sequence on YouTube, memorize it, and you are good to go. But if that’s the case, then our students can also find that sequence on YouTube and there’s no reason for them to come into the studio to take a class.The differentiator, is, you.When students make the time and spend the money to take a yoga class, they are hoping for two things: The first is to be seen. They want to know they are doing things correctly and they want the connection of community. The second thing they want is to feel a connection to you.Your job is to show up for them. You can do this by choosing an inspiring message. This helps your students relate to you, and to show that you are a real person. That may sound funny, but so often the person teaching is just doing an imitation of a “yoga teacher.” Right? There’s nothing real about them at all.How Do You Find Your Themes?There is no shortcut to finding your themes and creating great yoga classes. There is no magic wand that if we wave it, and click our heels together, our class will roar with intention. There isn’t a pill, or a magic potion, or even a Yoga Fairy Godmother. It just doesn’t happen that way.We have to do the steady work of understanding who we are, and why we teach, in order to create great yoga classes.But often the thing we need to do the most is the thing we won’t do.“Between the great things we cannot do, and the small things we will not do, the danger is we will do nothing.”Adolphe Monod. Why are we so reluctant to do the work? I don’t think it’s because we’re lazy, or rushed. I think it’s because doing the work is often uncomfortable. It means going inside and understanding more about who we are, and sometimes, that can be painful or at the very least, piss us off.Start here.I believe that every teacher has a unique message they want to communicate in a class, and a unique reason why they teach yoga.For some of us, self-acceptance rings true. For others, it could be empowerment, or, finding order in a messy world. Other reasons could be self-worth, or connecting to community.The first step to finding the themes that work for you is to find your specific yoga message. Start by creating three specific statements:Three Documents Every Teacher Must Have:
- A Yoga Bio
- A Mission Statement
- Your Yoga “Mantra”
The Yoga BioThe Yoga Bio is like a resume. It is a paragraph which lists our skills and experience, and which we use to get a job. We might place it on a yoga studio’s computer listing, or use it as a footnote if we publish an article. The Yoga Bio should speak only to experience that influenced your teaching.Your bio should include:
- What kind of yoga you teach.
- Your years of practicing and teaching experience.
- The teachers who influenced you. This guides students to your style.
- Your certifications, if relevant.
- A brief description of your class.
A Sample Yoga Bio “Mary Jane teaches Ashtanga yoga with an emphasis on finding ease in movement. She has been practicing yoga since 1995 and teaching since 2000. She is a 200-RYT with Yoga Alliance after receiving her training from Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in 1999. Since then, she has been influenced by teachers outside of the Ashtanga School including Baron Baptiste and Shiva Rea. Her classes bring movement into the Ashtanga sequence to allow for creativity in the flow.”The Mission StatementIf you look at the Yoga Bio above, it does not state why Mary Jane became a teacher. You can’t get a sense of who she is, or what she’s about. If you decide to go to her class, it will be because you are looking for the Ashtanga sequence with a little Power influence.There seems to be no difference between Mary JaneAnd any other Ashtanga/ Power teacher.A Mission Statement, on the other hand, states why you teach yoga. It could be a simple sentence, or a paragraph about your life story. It will focus your teaching and define your market. It’s a way to let students and studios find you for your unique message and teaching attributes.By being clear about your mission, you can also choose the studios and locations with the students who will most likely be a good fit. This saves a lot of your valuable time, and helps you make more money with more mats in your room. Booyah!My Mission Statement, in brief, is to inspire students to find more out of life, starting on the mat.“Michelle’s mission is to inspire students to find more out of life, starting on the mat. Through a balance of alignment and flow, Michelle’s classes will take you deeper in your practice. Known for her ability to weave a theme with technical cues, Michelle can put the story in your body and give you a path to follow your dreams. She believes that through the steady practice of yoga, we can live to our fullest potential and offer the promise to others that they can thrive as well.”What can you tell from this Mission Statement? The teacher likes to theme and focuses on alignment and flow. If you are looking for a rock and roll Vinyasa class, this is probably not it. If you are looking for an “Outlaw Yoga” experience testing your endurance, this is not it. If you are looking for the Ashtanga sequence, forggedaboudit. But if you are looking for alignment and to be inspired, come on in.Your Mission Statement is a way to advertise so the right students can find you. Define your Mission Statement clearly, and your students will find you, and better yet, they will stay with you year after delightful yearCreating Your Mission StatementCreating your mission statement takes work. You may want to hire a professional who specializes in yoga and marketing. Or you may want to enlist the help of a friend. Here is a quick way to get started:Ask yourself these questions:
- Why do you love yoga?
- Why did you first get on the mat?
- What inspired you to be a teacher?
- Who are your teachers? Figure out why you like them.
- Who Are Your Students? Ask them what they like about your teaching.
- What do you like about your practice?
- What is your overall message?
A great Mission Statement is self-reflection, self-promotion and purpose all in one. It will be your true north, when you are lost. It will guide you, and guide students to you, and serve as the foundation for choosing your themes. You cannot spend too much time creating and pondering your Mission Statement.Your Yoga MantraNow that you have your Yoga Bio and your Mission Statement you are ready to find some great themes and differentiate yourself in the classroom. One last step however is to put it all together to create Your Yoga Mantra.In the earlier editions of Theme Weaver I called this a “Yoga Brand.” But the word “brand” confused people. I wasn’t talking about what kind of yoga you teach. I was referring to your specific theme and message.Knowing specifically why you teach will focus you, just like a mantra focuses your mind. My Yoga Mantra is “Finding more.” Whenever I forget why I wanted to teach yoga, I just remember my mission is to help everyone find more out of life. That re-inspires me.Finding Your Yoga Mantra Here is a simple exercise you can do with a friend. Get a friend and sit together facing each other. You need a pencil and two pieces of paper.
- On one piece of paper take 15 minutes to write down a couple of paragraphs saying why you teach, who you want to be, what you enjoy, who are your favorite students and teachers, etc.
- One at a time, face each other and read your list out loud for ten full minutes saying, “I teach yoga because…” Your friend will write your answers on the second piece of paper. You must continually speak about yourself and yoga and who you want to be for the whole time. It is important that you do not shut up! Keep talking even when you run out of things to say, then say whatever comes into your head. That is when it gets good.
- Your friend will write down the words and phrases that you repeat.
- At the end of the exercise, read the list of repeated words and phrases and give the paper to your friend. This forms the basis for your Mantra and Mission Statement.
I did this exercise talking to myself in a mirror because there were no friends around, except for my dogs and husband, and I wouldn’t call either of them useful to me, or even good listeners. I came up with the following words:
Yoga, Yogi, Writer, Mother, Muse, Funny, Laughter, Resilient
Joyful, More, More, More
Pimple (that was what I saw in the mirror)
My Mantra is “Finding More,” and I became “The Yogi Muse.” I got that because all I could say when I considered why I practice, was to find more on my mat, and more out of life. Eventually, it became my mantra.Vision Provides ClarityTaking the time to focus on you will give you clarity in teaching. Creating your Yoga Bio, a Mission Statement and formulating a Yoga Mantra is a chance to explain to others what you hope to accomplish. But more importantly, you will also remember why you teach.The answers to these questions reveal a path to your mission on the mat. Once you discover it, it will lead you to your students, and them to you. Establish your voice and you will have a unique and authentic connection to your students.Knowing who you are, and why you teach, will bring you to sustainability as a yoga teacher. August 1, 2014, All Rights Reserved, Wildhorse Ventures, Copyright 2014. Do not reproduce without permission. Michelle Berman Marchildon is the Yogi Muse. She is an award-winning journalist and the author of Finding More on the Mat: How I Grew Better, Wiser and Stronger through Yoga, and Theme Weaver: Connect the Power of Inspiration to Teaching Yoga. She is a Columnist for Elephant Journal and a Contributing Editor for Mantra and Origin Magazines. She is an E-RYT 500 with Yoga Alliance and teaches Hatha Yoga in Denver, Co.