Recent PYC Academy graduate, Heather Schuster, talks to us about taking the leap from student to teacher
Having practiced yoga for nearly a decade, in 2020 I was inspired to take my practice to the next level and embark on the yoga teacher training course with PYC. I was excited by the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the origins of yoga philosophy, asanas, breathing techniques, anatomy, meditation and teaching methodology. I was equally excited by the opportunity for personal growth through the training; to challenge myself mentally and physically; and to gain new perspective.
The teacher training was everything I could have imagined and more. The training beautifully incorporated insight into all elements of yoga; physical, spiritual, emotional and mental, and changed the way I see the world. I am grateful to have gained an incredible community of fellow new yoga teachers, and for the ongoing support and guidance from the PYC studio owners and inspiring teachers from the training as I launch my own classes.
Qualifying as a 200hr Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) in 2020, and starting on the journey of establishing myself as a yoga teacher still in the midst of a pandemic in 2021, has posed a number of challenges and opportunities. The pandemic has created a new culture and comfort with joining yoga classes online, and my cohort of new teachers have been in the unique situation where online classes are essentially the only method we’ve been able to teach yoga in the UK. This made it possible for me to launch my own online ‘community’ classes, teaching friends and family situated in different time zones and locations throughout the world.
I have found these online classes with friends and family extremely rewarding and edifying. As I teach within a safe space where I can grow as a teacher, I am learning from my mistakes and gathering useful feedback from loved ones who know me best and want me to succeed. Furthermore, it has been a wonderful way to stay connected with loved ones when unable to travel to see each other in person and bring them on my teaching journey. I have been teaching vinyasa power yoga sequences learnt from the PYC training, and introduced a more restorative gentle yoga class to my weekly schedule. Originally intended for my mother, this gentle yoga class focuses on accessible poses that help to build stability and balance, to give her confidence to start a yoga practice after a recent surgery.
I was delighted that other people in my network found this slow and grounded practice helpful to them as well. I launched my classes on a donation basis, with all proceeds going to a worthy charity that provides school lunches to children in need. As a new teacher, I found holding classes for charity a great way to make the classes accessible, with people giving what they can, and to start building a community, where everyone involved can feel good about joining the classes and contributing.
The challenges? For me, one of the main challenges has been working out the best at-home setup and technology to create the best experience for students. My most useful investment was in a good pair of wireless headphones, so that students could hear me while demonstrating poses. Your voice is so important for teaching online classes, and when teaching beginners who find it helpful to view the poses in action, I want my voice to stay strong while enacting the asanas.
Finding a good balance between demonstrating for online classes and speaking directly to the screen, where I am able to offer cues and verbal adjustments, is an ongoing challenge. I have found joining online classes of teachers whose teaching style I enjoy and respect so helpful in developing my own approach, as well as seeking insight from the wealth of online articles and webinars for new teachers. Most importantly, it has been invaluable to have a community of fellow London based new teachers, sharing stories from our own experiences as we each find our own path.
Some key lessons from the PYC yoga teacher training have helped me through the continual learning process, and I have kept certain words of wisdom from the experienced teachers close to my heart. They have become mantras for me as a new teacher and have been particularly helpful in a time when we can feel disconnected without the in-person interactions that were commonplace before the pandemic.
PRACTICE WHAT YOU TEACH
The training instilled the importance of maintaining your own personal practice as a teacher. Practising the sequences that I teach helps me to really feel each pose in my own body, refine language around how I cue transitions, and understand the key moments in which give more guidance or more space to students. It helps me to stay curious and remain a humble student. I feel much more relaxed and confident when I’ve been able to practice the sequence just before teaching the class. In maintaining my personal practice I am also importantly reminded of the life-changing benefits and therapeutic qualities of this ancient practice. It gives purpose to my teaching. It compels me to put my ego aside, to instead focus on serving others, and recognise the great privilege of guiding others in their practice.
THE WORLD NEEDS WHAT YOU HAVE TO OFFER
This is a principle of which I need to constantly remind myself, and one of the most inspiring pieces of advice I collected from the teacher training. It can feel nerve racking, and quite vulnerable putting yourself out into the world as a new teacher. Each of the teachers who led our training encouraged us to be authentic. To be yourself. Also importantly, that we are not going to please everyone. We will however attract people who want and need what we have to offer. With this in mind, I strive to build a personal connection with my students. To show up early and stay on after classes to meet and chat with students. To message students after classes to thank them for joining. To breath with them. To show up for them. To show up with humility. And keep showing up.
STRIVE FOR BETTER, NOT PERFECTION
Aiming for perfect forbids us to try. If the intention of each class is to improve, I feel challenged to notice elements of my teaching, seek feedback and make constant refinements to better serve the community I aim to build. This is a journey. One of the advantages of teaching friends and family is being able to receive their feedback, and the greatest compliment has been when they have noted an improvement in my teaching. This has shown me that dedication and putting in the work can lead to forging a new skill and continually refining it. An encouraging lesson to me as a teacher, which translates into other life endeavours. In the words of one of our encouraging PYC teachers, ‘Every yoga teacher has been in your shoes before. We have to do the best with where we are now.’ Everyone has to start somewhere!
Heather specialises in Vinyasa Yoga, qualifying as a Registered Yoga Teacher with the Power Yoga Company. Her classes provide a positive, calming and safe space for each student to develop their yoga practice, moving mindfully with intention and ease. Follow Heather on Instagram.