Shelby Palmeri returns to the Yoga Living Project with some insights into what teaching yoga might really look like. We have a saying here at cambio's Yoga Teacher Training: "You teach for yourself and you practice for your students". Shelby explains why this concept is important and unfolds some of her experiences as a teacher, which is always a pertinent lesson as we work hard to not only train new teachers, but also to help our current teachers grow with continuing education and support. Read Shelby's experience and let us know your thoughts and what journey has been like - we'd love to highlight you on the blog! Just reach out to Austin at
Practice What You Teach
There are a lot of misconceptions that come with being a yoga teacher- like that I am always Zen or that I wear leggings one hundred percent of the time (ok, that one is true). But, there is one incorrect assumption that I hear more often than most and it’s exemplified in phrases like “Oh, I wish I got to work out all the time!” or “Well teaching must keep you in great shape!” I’ve come to find that a lot of people believe I am working through the poses with my students the entire time, wrongly concluding that every class I teach is also a class that I take.
Sure, I do a little demonstrating but as any teacher can tell you, the only thing getting a good workout when I teach is my voice box as I project my instructions over my electronica beats playlist. Don’t let me fool you, teaching yoga is demanding both physically and mentally, but an hour teaching is not the same as an hour practicing, it’s not even close.
So a lot of us teachers find ourselves in this conundrum. We want to teach as much as possible, but the more we get to teach the less time we have to practice. It’s a conflict I noticed early, back when I first started training to be a teacher. I threw myself completely into my studies. I was at the studio every weekend for educational modules; I observed classes and made Sanskrit flashcards. I was learning SO much about this thing called yoga that I barely ever had the time to put it in to practice. My very strong and consistent routine dwindled to one class every week or two. My passion hadn’t faded, but my schedule was just too busy.
As time went on and I was ready to teach, I made a very good and strong effort to make it to more classes. There was a period of time when I finished studying and I wasn’t yet teaching where I was able to build back up some of the strength and flexibility I had lost during the unplanned hiatus from my yoga mat. However, I knew I wanted to teach. After pursuing it whole-heartedly, it didn’t take long for my name to be on studio schedules on every end of town. Within six months, I picked up ten weekly classes and sub as many extra that I can while keeping up with regular (thankfully, part-time) job.
I absolutely love teaching. It is what I am here to do. But, the difficulty I had in finding time to practice while training was only a glimpse of how hard it would be once I actually started teaching. My own scheduled classes now take up all the mornings that I usually had to make it to my favorite studio. Usually when I have downtime, all I want to do is rest. A good book on my couch or my favorite TV show has a way of winning out over driving to the studio yet again to unroll my mat.
Yet, I know I have to make the time because it’s important. I’m reminded how vital my own practice is to me, every time I provide the space for my students to have theirs. I have a tiny twinge of jealously as I watch my students rest in their savasanas and it motivates me to seek out my own. I know that if I didn’t practice, I’d become jaded and detached. I wouldn’t be practicing what I am teaching.
There is something really magical that happens when I let myself shift from the role of teacher into student. I can forget about my own cues and listen to someone else’s. I can forget about adjusting the lights and the music, and adjust only my body into different positions and notice how it feels as I do so. I find inspiration in my colleagues’ creativity. I learn new transitions and poses to put in my own playbook. I can find my own eyes in the mirror and let the world fade away as I turn inward and listen to the sound of my own breath.
So one thing is for sure, the misconceptions about life as a yoga teacher will continue. If any of my fellow teachers find themselves in a bit of rut, if the leggings aren’t feeling quite as comfortable as they usually do and you’re having a hard time finding your Zen- take a moment to think about the last time you practiced. When was the last time you were able to step away from the center of the room and onto your mat wherever you chose to unroll it? Make the time. It is worth it. It is the practicing after all that made you want to start teaching.
Learn more about Shelby at shelbypalmeridoesyoga.com