My Journey as a Yoga Teacher
Hey hey readers! Welcome back and glad you are here! In this month's blog post, I am going to be way more personal and share my story of becoming a yoga teacher. Y'all know I love to write lengthy posts backed up by a lot of scientific evidence, but every now and again I want to share a little bit more about me personally. I have written a very personal post before about how yoga helped me manage my bipolar disorder (click here to read it), and I feel like the time is right to share a little bit more about me and my journey with teaching yoga. And truly, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for being willing to read this, as personal blog posts require a lot of vulnerability from me, and I am not very good at being vulnerable.
Why I Decided to Pursue Yoga Teacher Training
In addition to teaching yoga, I work full-time as a speech-language pathologist (aka speech therapist). If you are not familiar with what speech-language pathologists (SLPs) do, I'll give you a quick overview - we basically diagnose and treat disorders with language, speech, voice, feeding/swallowing, and cognition. SLPs work with individuals from birth all the way to the final days of life. We treat individuals born with certain diagnoses (e.g. Autism, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, etc.) or after brain damage (e.g. stroke) or progressive diseases (e.g. Parkinson's). Our job as SLPs is to essentially help individuals communicate with others and to eat and swallow safely.
When I finished graduate school for speech therapy, I was pretty much stressed and anxious all the time since I was a brand new clinician. I was always nervous before treatment or evaluation sessions, and I spent a lot of time being very hard on myself after my work day was done. It was also tough managing the emotions of the job itself - e.g. realizing some people may never speak verbally, having difficult conversations with parents or caregivers about the communication difficulties their loved one faced, being present with patients and families who cried or shared frustration as a result of the communication struggles, etc.... The responsibility of being THE PERSON who was supposed to get someone to speak or eat weighed heavily on me. So, I started to practice yoga as a way to manage all this stress and these big emotions. I began with a home practice, and eventually started practicing at a studio.
The transformation within me was so glaringly clear - yoga helped me to truly deal with, navigate, and be present with everything I was experiencing. My yoga practice helped me to ease up the pressure I put on myself and instead to honor the efforts I put in each day at work, no matter how hard the day was. My yoga practice helped me to lower my anxiety and nerves about going to work because I now had strategies to help calm my nervous system as needed. I became such a believer in the healing power of yoga that I wanted to incorporate it with my speech therapy patients. So, I decided to try it out with a kid with Autism at the clinic I was working at. But, oh my, it did not go well because I was not a trained yoga teacher at that point, so I did not know how to safely move a body in, and out of, poses. Basically, what happened was that I tried to have this sweet, nonverbal child get into tree pose. And...it resulted in him biting me! When I examined this situation later that day and as that week progressed, I realized that he had tried to nonverbally communicate his protest to this pose, but I had not listened, and instead continued to challenge him to do the pose. After this experience, I realized that if I was going to use yoga with my speech therapy patients, I needed to become a trained teacher. That way I could use yoga in the most effective and safest way possible.
So, I talked about yoga teacher training (YTT) with one of my yoga teachers/mentors (she was also the studio owner as well and lead the YTT). I shared my story about wanting to use yoga with speech therapy patients and how I had gotten bit trying to do yoga with one of my patients. My mentor (Lauren Reese) stated that she had many therapists (counselors, occupational therapists, physical therapists, etc.) go through her teacher trainings, so she thought it was a perfect idea for me. So, in July 2019 I began my YTT with Breathe Yoga Atlanta (now known as MOVE+Breathe), located in Cumming, GA.
My YTT Experience
My YTT experience was nothing short of amazing! Truly, I loved each and every second of our training. We learned so many applicable things to my field of speech therapy, including: breath support and proper breathing mechanics, strategies to down-regulate (or calm) the nervous system when stressed or anxious, motor planning principles for complex movements, effective cueing and instruction techniques, ways to modify poses/movements to fit a variety of body types and personalities, ways to integrate themes into a class or session, and the importance of posture to breath and sensory regulation. We delved deeply into the anatomy of the entire body, and although I had already had a lot of anatomy education with my first Master's degree, the way the anatomy was presented in my YTT simply made it "click" in a way that I had never experienced before. We discussed the importance of prepping a body for various poses and how to safely sequence a class or session in order for a person to get the most out of their yoga practice. We talked about the various styles of yoga and how there is truly a yoga style for everyBODY, no matter who the person is.
In addition to all the knowledge-y stuff, I made so many wonderful friends and connections. Each student in my YTT had a different reason for why they wanted to learn how to teach yoga. We all supported and encouraged each other. There was no competition to "be the best in the class" or to try to "one-up" each other. We simply came together each training weekend with open minds and hearts, ready to lift each other up.
When I first started in my YTT, I did not have any intentions of teaching group or private yoga classes. My original plan was to use yoga personally (as I had done for years by this point) and in my speech therapy practice. However, once I started practicing teaching in my YTT, I realized that not only was I actually good at teaching yoga, but I also really liked it! I used to be a classroom teacher before I became a speech therapist, and I always loved teaching so much. I only got out of teaching because I was never good at being strict or disciplining my students, so my classes were always rowdy, defiant, and noisy, and it just burned me out after several years of it. The fact that I could teach a yoga class and have people actually listen to me was like a dream.
At the end of my YTT in early 2020, I started teaching my first yoga class at MOVE+Breathe (formerly called Breathe Yoga Atlanta). Several weeks into my first yoga teaching gig, the COVID pandemic began, and the entire state of Georgia was asked to shelter-in-place. Thus, much of my experience after COVID began was teaching on Zoom. But, eventually, in-person classes resumed at my studio, and I was teaching live classes again. From here, I slowly began to teach more and more group classes each week. I also got certified to teach kids yoga, and I started seeing clients for private yoga sessions.
My Evolution and Journey as a Teacher
When I think about how much prep work I used to have to put into my yoga classes, I realize how far I have come. I used to spend about an hour or two just creating my yoga class plan. Then, I would practice the class several times, sometimes alone and sometimes with people. I also had like 3-4 pages of notes for each class I taught, and while I didn't usually refer to the notes during my classes, I always reread them before the class began, and I made notes after the class ended.
Over the next two years, I continued planning and teaching several group yoga classes each week. But, as the time went on, I didn't need to put in as much time for planning and practicing my classes as I did when I first started. Eventually, my class notes widdled down to half a page or 3/4 of a page at most. I didn't need to practice each planned class several times; rather, practicing once became enough for me. And then, as more time progressed, I actually didn't even need to make notes for my classes, nor did I need to practice the class itself. Rather, I learned that all I really needed to teach well was to maintain my personal practice (i.e. just get on my mat and move and breathe). Also, I began coming up with a general theme or focus for each class (e.g. chest opening, breath and movement synchronization, knee mobility, low back release, etc.), and I became more adept at interweaving the theme during the class, "on the fly."
In addition to teaching group yoga classes, I also offer private yoga sessions (and personal training, but that is a topic for another blog post) through my business that I created in 2020 called Lotus Yogis By Jackie LLC. After I established my Lotus Yogis business, I spent the next 6 months marketing the heck out of it on social media. After about 6 months of consistent posting on social media, I started getting calls and emails for private yoga. Throughout 2021 and into early 2022, I continued to get more referrals for private yoga, even requiring me to turn away business on occasion. I recently wrote a blog post about what private yoga sessions typically look like, so if you're interested in what those sessions might look like, feel free to check out that post (click here to read).
Today, I currently teach four group classes weekly at MOVE+Breathe (Flow/vinyasa style and gentle). I also provide private yoga sessions to various clients for a variety of reasons, including gentle yoga, chair yoga, yoga for limited mobility, and more. I also use yoga in almost all of my speech therapy sessions, in some form or fashion (e.g. breathwork, spinal mobility, rib cage and diaphragm mobility, etc.). I absolutely love sharing the gift of yoga with others. Yoga is truly a holistic and healing practice, and it is such an honor that I get to share this wonderful practice with other humans.
My yoga journey will never be over; that is why we refer to it as a yoga practice. It is always in flux, ebbing and flowing with the changing energies and emotions within us each day. My yoga journey began as a home practice, grew into a studio practice, and eventually blossomed into an actual job that I love. I originally decided to complete YTT in order to use yoga in my speech therapy sessions, but it turned out that teaching yoga classes was something I was good at, and bonus, I really enjoy teaching yoga. I have evolved so much over the past few years as a yoga teacher, moving from spending nearly 8 hours prepping for a class to spending maybe 10-15 minutes prepping for a class. I also see private yoga clients through my business Lotus Yogis By Jackie LLC. I truly love the practice of yoga, and I am so thankful that I get to share yoga with other people. Thank you for reading about my journey as a yoga teacher.
As always, the information presented in this blog post is derived from my own study of human movement, anatomy, and yoga. If you have questions about yoga for your body, please follow up with your physician, physical therapist, or private yoga teacher. If you are interested in private yoga and/or personal training sessions with me, Jackie, email me at email@example.com for more information about my services. Also, please subscribe to my website so you can receive my monthly newsletters (scroll to the bottom of the page where you can submit your email address). This will help keep you "in-the-know" about my latest blog releases and other helpful yoga and wellness information. Thanks for reading!
~Namaste, Jackie Allen, M.S., M.Ed., CCC-SLP, RYT-200, RCYT, NASM-CPT, NASM-CES, NASM-CNC