Leaving the cocoon of a 200-hour teacher training program to embark on one’s yoga teaching career can be a daunting task. As with learning endeavors of many kinds, in yoga teacher training, a foundation of knowledge and skill is formed by formal instruction and study combined with exploration and practice. Depending on the program, yoga concepts may be imparted through cognitive and experiential means – reading, lecture, and discussion-based activities complimented by demo, practice and peer teaching.

Ultimately, though, new yoga teachers learn from the act of professional experience. Even in the most supportive and instructionally strong programs, the reality of becoming a professional yoga teacher is that, at one point, you have to take the leap of faith. You have to teach somewhere out there in the world beyond. Regardless of whether you have been a teacher of other things in other contexts, or not, this takes a certain amount of confidence and personal mettle.

Some ways that Diane Butera, owner of Eugene Yoga in Oregon, suggests to build confidence while gaining professional experience as a new yoga teacher are:

  • Volunteering
  • Subbing for other teachers
  • Participating in a mentorship

New yoga teachers can build their skills without the pressure of paying clients by volunteering to teach at a local organization. This provides an opportunity to practice teaching on a consistent basis without having to draw too heavily upon your friends and family network — which may be resources that were exhausted during teacher training —and begin to explore teaching those that do not already know and love you. Finding an organization that connects to other aspects of your professional life or personal interests can make volunteering as a yoga teacher an even more meaningful experience. It can also boost confidence by tapping into familiar contexts and drawing upon previously cultivated areas of knowledge.

Becoming a substitute teacher for a yoga studio is another way to hone your skills as a new instructor. In this format accepting jobs is at your own discretion. Choose the types of classes you prefer and match your comfort level. Teach as often or as little as you like, focusing on one particular kind of class or gaining a variety of experience teaching a range of classes. Subbing is also a nice way to transition from practice or volunteer teaching to the role of paid instructor. Be familiar with the level of the class, but bring your authentic and genuine self to the practice. Students are not expecting you to be their regularly scheduled teacher. When they begin asking what classes you regularly teach, you will know that you have succeeded in showing up in an authentic way.

Finally, tapping into the experience and expertise of a mentor is an invaluable resource for new yoga teachers. The guidance and support provided can ease the transition from teacher-in-training to professional yoga teacher tremendously. Whether by informal or formal arrangement, mentorships have the potential to be mutually rewarding for both mentor and mentee by contributing to the professional development of new and experienced yoga professionals alike. Possible mentoring activities include:

  • pre-teaching conversations and lesson planning;
  • teaching observations and feedback;
  • focused study of specific topics and techniques in yoga;
  • marketing for new yoga professionals;
  • career goals and plans.

Ultimately, a mentorship is the soil for creativity and vision. Before entering into a mentoring relationship, identify the qualities you seek in a mentor, the ways in which you’d like to develop and the terms you are able to honor (time commitment, duration, payment, etc). Discuss them with possible mentors to determine who would best support your growth as a new yoga professional.

By Cevia Yellin, an instructor at Eugene Yoga.