Yoga Teachers, Why Do You Teach?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography

Last weekend during my 200 HR yoga teacher training, we were having a discussion about bringing passion into our teaching.  I asked my teacher trainees, “What is your sole motivation for teaching? Why are you doing this?”

Seriously, let’s get beyond that you “love” yoga, you enjoy wearing yoga pants and patchouli, being a yoga teacher is cool and sexy and it fits your schedule nicely.

The best way to bring true passion into your teaching is to get clear on your motivation.

CAUTION: If the reason has not moved beyond you, it’s gonna be damn hard to get excited about your teaching.  I’ve been there.  This will inevitably lead to boredom in you and your students.  If you are concerned about how you look and how the students are liking the class, it is still about you.  If your motivation has moved beyond you to something about others, it becomes easy.

I shared with the trainees that if you know your motivation for teaching, you have something to get excited about and the passion will flow freely.  When you don’t know why you are teaching and or it’s all about you, teaching becomes like trying to tell a joke over and over when no one is getting it. You are left to wallow in the crap of figuring out the HOW and it becomes completely self obsessed and disconnected…..”how do I look?’, “do they like me”,  “what should I say next” and on and on.  In the mean time, while you are processing those self-centered thoughts, the class is moving on without you!

After some journaling, we went around and each trainee shared some really awesome reasons for teaching yoga.  Their eyes lit up as they shared and light bulbs went on all over the room.

Of course after they all shared, I felt all eyes on me and they asked,

“What is your motivation for teaching?”

I paused for a bit and then my answer came out, “To me, yoga is the difference between living or not.”  I got some weird looks, so I explained further.

Whether I get into my breath for 5 minutes or 90, I am able to detach from my minds limited ideas of my life.   In the midst of this detachment, I have the experience of being alive.  In these moments, I am living.  Everywhere else, I am watching some weird movie in my head about my life that replays over and over and over.  It’s that simple.  I want to share this gift of life with others.

So yes, when I teach, I am sharing a vehicle for life with my students.  This is a huge freakin’ deal!  If I truly believe that yoga is the difference between living and not, how can I not be passionate about what I’m teaching?  When I remind myself of WHY I am teaching, the HOW becomes extremely easy.

Teachers, let’s talk about it. What is your sole motivation for teaching?  Do you bring this into your teaching and if so, how does it show up?

Posted by:

- who has written 2 posts on Yoga Modern.

Stacy is a regular contributor at Yoga Modern and co-founder of LIVE LOVE TEACH. Along with her husband Dave, she owns The Yoga Project in Arlington, TX. She travels world wide facilitating teacher trainings and programs. Stacy also travels across the U.S. teaching workshops and presenting at conferences, sharing her love and passion of yoga with others. Stacy has mentored many teachers across the US and loves to empower them in their teaching and lives! Find Stacy on Facebook here

69 Responses

  • Debi Gonzales says:

    Well said Stacy. I love that word, PASSION!

  • Sam Chafos says:

    These days, when I'm washing my hands before class, I think to myself "I'm saving lives out there" — the proof being that my own life was saved when I discovered asana practice. In many, many ways. I don't know how else to describe WHY I teach beyond DUTY. I am facilitating karma by ensuring the continuation of a practice that I truly believe can transform lives from something sometimes mundane, sometimes dark, into something enjoyable, evolving, and made of light. And my own life experiences (and this goes for all of us!) make me UNIQUELY QUALIFIED to reach the students I reach, and to turn them onto the joy hiding inside a 5-minute prone frog :)

    • Taylor White says:

      I love this and happen to agree Sam!! Love you too.

    • stacyLLT says:

      Yes, Agree Sam! I like the washing hands part too, haha! And duty, yes, there comes a time when it is our responsibility to share our life experiences with others. It's also cool to me how it goes both ways, through others we see ourselves.

  • Pei says:

    Thinking back when we were little, we ask so many "why"s. As we grow up, we tend to take things "as is" and live life on cruise control. We become so "intellectual" and proud to have learned "how" to perform to perfection. John Maxwell said: There are two great days in our lives the day we are born and the day we discover why. My motivation is to bring awareness so people can connect with their authenticity and truth. Thank you for bringing out the importance of "why" into your class!

    • stacyLLT says:

      Thank you for this Pei! I love the Maxwell quote. It's interesting as we dig into the how's and why's behind our teaching and see that whether the topic is teaching, working, living, loving, it's all the same..

  • Perfect timing for me Stacy. I just said to my husband the other day that I didn't know what was wrong with me lately….I've been so bored teaching my classes. I had lost my motivation..or as you have pointed out, forgotten my true motivation for teaching. After reading your post I dug up my notebook from the Live, Love, Teach training in Costa Rica where you asked us to write down our "soul motivation for teaching yoga". I had written "My soul motivation for teaching is to help others find the truth that we are all one." I had completely forgotten about that…no wonder I was bored!! Thanks for the reminder!

    • stacyLLT says:

      You're welcome Kelly. Why do you think it is we forget so quickly?

    • Mindy Howard says:

      YES. I am so glad to be reading this discussion today, we DO need to be reminded of why we're doing this. Otherwise, like everything, it becomes routine and meaningless. How to keep that fire going? and Why do we forget? If I prepare more, will I remember my purpose? If I tie a string around my finger?

      • stacyLLT says:

        Exactly Mindy, how do we remember? Not sure about the string, hahaha! For me, it's about getting out of myself, sometimes simply looking at who is in front of me.

        More and more often, I notice when I'm bored or anxious in my teaching. Which is great because I used to never notice. Now I notice, then hopefully laugh at myself (not always) look out to others around me and just dive into them (not literally!). And the passion returns.

        It's a dance, right?

  • Christy says:

    I was there in the room when that discussion took place, and it's one of the highlights of the training thus far for me. I love the idea of making my teaching about them instead of me. That perspective makes the experience so much richer for everyone involved.

    • stacyLLT says:

      It's so true Christy…for me, it's such an amazing tool, remembering that it's about others. When I get caught in my self obsessed dialogues, I'm obviously talking to myself inside my head!! Sounds so funny, but true. When I catch myself, I look outside into someone else…anyone else and it instantaneously gets me out of me. I may keep sneaking back in there, but that's ok..I keep coming back. Have you had this experience?

  • Laurie McKinnon says:

    What is my sole motivation for teaching yoga? I want people to practice yoga! Why do I want people to practice yoga? Because yoga is CHANGING THE WORLD one person at a time!

    • stacyLLT says:

      Thanks for sharing Laurie! I'm curious to hear more from you…why is Yoga Changing the World? Does this ability for change exist just as equally in other outlets?

  • Adrienne Hengels says:

    I challenged myself to this question. Upon answering all that kept coming up was why "I" love yoga, not my motivation for teaching it. That being said, it's not what I love about it that I'm teaching…it's how I remember a teacher helping me to transform that I am teaching…So, what is my motivation for teaching…. helping people see themselves as strong, capable and powerful – because that is how I see them….even when they are shaking in their boots!

    • stacyLLT says:

      Thanks Adrienne. I love the idea of seeing our students as strong and capable. When you see your students a certain way, say strong and capable vs. fragile and unable, how does it show up differently in your teaching? In the students?

  • I teach because YOGA has saved my life on so many levels!!! Yoga brought me back to health after a 10 year stint of trying to return to my old workouts after chemo due to Cancer and it also again saved my life many years later when I was in a traumatic near death accident. Yoga also renews me on a daily basis helping me return to who I am and what really matters in life. I want to share this with others so that they too have tools to help them through the most trying parts of their lives as well as renewing their spirits on a daily basis!! I can not imagine life without YOGA!!

    • stacyLLT says:

      Very cool Anita. I know that for me, just having certain injuries that I curse from time to time have ended up being such blessings for me in my teaching. I am able to share from true life experience with my students who happen to have the same things come up, rather than just sharing something I learned or read. I can't imagine how many lives you have been able to touch because of your experience with Chemo and the accident. Thank you for sharing.

  • Chelsea Roff says:

    At the core, my motivation for teaching has always been about connection. But I think it's changed a bit over time.

    I never intended on teaching yoga as a career when I embarked on teacher training. My sole motivation was really being able to offer yoga to underserved communies. In the beginning, I was very much driven by the desire to CONNECT with others through what I thought would be a practice that would help them connect with themselves. In many ways, I think that motivation was deceptively self-centered. I said it was about others, but was it really? I was coming from a place of thinking I knew what they wanted, what they needed, seeking the validation of being the person to offer it. I believed that yoga would be valuable to them, really only because it had invoked such a deep healing in myself.

    What I never anticipated was just how challenging the simple act of standing in front of people calling out instructions would be! Teaching yoga will expose all your insecurities— which for me were very much about being seen, stepping into a position of "power", and (ironically, being that I'm a writer) being heard. I started to hear my selfish motivations show up, and teaching forced me to see them, hear them, reCONNECT with myself. It's weird… in some ways teaching became a yoga practice!

    So I think my motivation is still connection… but i've realized that if I want to connect with others, I have to first connect with myself. In some ways, I have to be a little "selfish", but I think selfish in a different way than you mention in this post. This type of selfishness, I think, actually allows us to move beyond ourselves to make it about others.

    Thanks for starting the discussion, Stacy. It's so neat to hear everyone's motivations.

    • Chelsea, are we related? : ) "being seen, stepping into a position of "power", and (ironically, being that I'm a writer) being heard." EXACTLY! Teaching is my favorite, most challenging and somehow easiest part of my practice (if there are 'parts')… never thought I'd say that.

    • stacyLLT says:

      "but i've realized that if I want to connect with others, I have to first connect with myself"

      Chelsea, it's interesting you say this because for me, I've learned that if I want to help myself, I help others. In order to love myself….love others. When I get into the idea that I have to "connect with myself" first, it becomes another road that might take a while to "trudge" down, but in the moment I open myself to others, the shift is instantaneous.
      Maybe different views, maybe just different ways of expressing it..
      Thank you for sharing.

    • Joe Sparks says:

      Teaching Yoga gives a purpose to life, one that endures. When you become a yoga teacher your life no longer suffers from meaninglessness. You are through waking up and going to sleep and wondering why you bother.

  • mare says:

    It so helps to identify what your passion in life is…if you are not sure, it will come t you…just listen! My passion of waterskiing has been a part of me since I was 4 years old. How do I know it's a passion?? It's the electric feeling forming in my stomach when I ski, it's the internal "smile" that never fades, it's the "I can do it!" voice that never quits and the desire to share this type f love that persists all the time! I have experienced life with this passion covered up…and, this was not fun, at all! My passion encouraged self love which enabled me to make better choices through out life. You know what else, God led me to discover my passion and my passion led my to God! Take your passion into teaching….and wooah, watch out!!

    • stacyLLT says:

      I love it! I want to know more about how you take this passion of water skiing into teaching. Tell us…please…!

  • Tomomi Kojima says:

    To me, yoga is a process of transformation. Going beyond what I thought I could never go. And I wake up from savasana and walk out of the room and my world is totally different. Before the class, things were up side down and felt wrong, uncomfortable, frustrating, etc etc and they seem all back to right side up when I finish my practice. So my motivation for teaching is empowerment and transformation that happen during and after the practice. It doesn't matter how you feel when you come in the room because things are always right when I walk out of that room. I love watching that happens to people. They all come in and tell me how they feel, but they're different people when they walk out and I can see everyone change right in front of my eyes, it's like watching your homemade bread rise in the oven!

  • Mindy Mb says:

    The connection. Offering people the opportunity to connect with their breath, body and perhaps spirit – and do do this from a place of personal power. Connecting as a community, developing friendships and business contacts, the idea of union. Connecting off the mat with their families, friends, co-workers and community as a result of the work they do on the mat. These are my motivators.

  • Mindy Howard says:

    My reason for teaching is to offer relief. The ability to calm my mind, to release myself from anxiety, fear, paranoid crazy thoughts :) , the endless responsibilities and to-do lists in my head, is something I learned on my mat. Connecting breath and movement while consciously focusing on where my thoughts are going is a life skill that is vital for my survival and happiness. Yoga has healed me from years of anxiety, depression, and dependence on prescription meds. I am free today because of my practice. That is something worth telling people how to do! I've said it before, it goes back to the very beginning of my sutra study, the beginning of yoga is to stop the turnings of the mind. It remains the most meaningful and yet the most basic thing I learned. Yoga is freedom.

    • stacyLLT says:

      Yes, I agree Mindy and what a gift your life experience offers your students. What would you say is the most vital thing to offer your students in order to offer this relief you speak of? Is it the poses? The breath? The space?

      • Mindy Howard says:

        SPACE. My yoga practice brings about space for things I otherwise wouldn't do. Yoga allows me to stop rushing around and reflect, and ultimately to know myself better. Before, I rarely/never asked myself 'how am i feeling? what do i want? why am i here? what do I need? who am i?' and yoga gives us the permission, and the skills to listen to our bodies, to just BE in our bodies without any other purpose or objective, and when you create that kind of self-awareness, you are able to choose the best possible life.

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  • I ask myself that question everyday before I teach every class. Some days it's as simple as because I want to share my passion of yoga for other people. What does that mean? I know it feels good in my body and I know what it does to my state of mind after a good hot and sweaty class. It's the magical feeling I wish everyone to experience in their own way. Other times it's as complex as digging deep inside of me and challenging myself in such a risky way to be up in front of people no matter how vulnerable I may feel at the time. In the end, it all boils down to connection. It's a basic human need. And what a wonderful vehicle yoga can be to get that. Thanks stacy!

    • stacyLLT says:

      Thanks Nikki. I agree in that sometimes it is just a feeling and experience of knowing that this yoga thing works some how, passion is sparked from no specific direction with no explanation.

  • Cameron West says:

    so here I was on my roll of inspiration about my sole motivation for teaching and of course the glories of technology erased it! Maybe someone is telling me I have it all wrong hahaha
    So here is what I can recall and a shorter version because I need to got get the kiddo!
    My sole motivation for teaching is to share the gift of BEING! Being in ones truth! Being in quietness and feeling full inside! Being in love, forgiveness, peace, clarity, strength, empowerment, ect.
    Thank god I do hot yoga because there are so many times I reach this place in my own practice and teaching that I actually have tears streamming down my face in savasana! Tears of release, love, peace, joy

    • stacyLLT says:

      Cameron. I hear what you are saying but what does "Being in one's Truth" mean? I'm asking because, in the yoga teacher world we tend to talk in phrases that the general public just don't get, it's like we have an "enlightened" language of our own! Sort of like saying, "feel the energy in your heart"…what does that mean?? I'd love to hear you expand on this.

    • Sylvia says:

      Hi Cameron, You said "Thank God I do hot yoga.", and I'm honestly wondering if one can get the same benefits by practicing in a cool room. Am I missing a lot by not doing hot yoga? I've tried it a couple of times and felt very uncomfortable. I'd really like to have your insight on this. Namaste

      • stacyLLT says:

        Hi Sylvia, even though this question is for Cameron, I'm gonna answer also. Personally, I think yes absolutely you can get the same benefits whether yoga is hot, cold, inside, outside, etc. I honestly don't think it matters. We all have different preferences and teachers / practices that resonate with us. I think that often it is a result of circumstance and where you happen to land. Thanks for contributing to the discussion!

  • My sole motivation for teaching is to bring the freedom I received as a yoga student. I want other people to know that they don't have to live from that terrible, mean voice in their head and that there is love within us to be shared and love to be received. Knowing that I have a choice in how I live my life and what I can create has changed my life. I want to share that with every student and then they can create what ever it is that they want in their own lives. I always use to think this statement was so corny but it fits. So everyone can shine bright!

    • stacyLLT says:

      Thanks Amanda. I think it's really important as yoga teachers, to understand, what it is that turns your teaching / the class into the vehicle for freedom, like you say. How does this happen? For me, I feel a sense of urgency to get my students into their breath in such a big way that they have nothing else to focus on. I know other teachers do a beautiful job of using alignment points to bring their students into a dialed in awareness. Is there anything specific for you?

  • Jerusha says:

    Awesome thought provoking question! I can find a million reasons why I teach yoga. The root of mine is,
    I want to give, what I'v been given. From the inspirational people that I have learnt from and the awakned living I have tapped into, I see the world, my life in a whole new way. Where possibility exisits and every moment. That we all have the power within to make choices and create a life of TRUE living. The gifts I have recived bring joy and healing. I would be selfish to keep them to myself. For every class, to every meeting with a friend over a lunch, to a family member looking for support, I show up for THEM. To grow together, give love and inspire for them to share themselve too. <3

    • stacyLLT says:

      Thank you Jerusha. What does it look like as a Yoga Teacher when you "Show up for Them" vs. not? Do you see some teachers doing this and others not? What does it look like?

  • I teach because I want others to know if I can do yoga, as inflexible and as injured as I am and still get a benefit then they can too. I teach because I want to share the daily nuggets that impact my own life and show connection to yoga/others. I teach because I love the challenge yoga provides and equipping others with the tools, bringing then up to the plate and watching them hit a homerun (challenge their own boundaries) is one the neatest feelings in the whole world. I teach because I couldn't make it in the standup world so I become an up-dog comedian instead.

  • Not long ago I was complaining to a wise friend that l'd been missing a sense of connection in my classes … I had tasted that lovely, unmistakeable OM-ness, and was upset and lonely when I wasn't 'feeling it.' My non-yogi friend quite flatly said "How about you focus on what your STUDENTS need?" Total wake-up call. Yet still working on it everyday. SURRENDER THE EGO! : )
    My motivation is giving others at least a glimpse of their full potential. Didn't realize I'd have to dig my own up first!

    • stacyLLT says:

      It's mind boggling to me, how easy things become when I take the focus off of myself! What misery, to be focused on ourselves. Out there is where it is..thanks for contributing Kathi.

  • Dave says:

    So when I think about my motivation to teach or what drives my passion for teaching I always end up drawing from my experiences during my own practice. I truly love the feeling of just getting into my body and out of my day. By the end of class, like most people, I find myself in a totally different state than when I began. You know, one where you can just sit or lie on the floor for another 20 minutes, staring into space while everyone else gets their belongings and leaves the class room. I love to see this in the students I'm teaching too. For me, life can be like a computer that never gets shut off and there's tons of RAM being used up with all kinds of programs running……..and eventually it slows down to where you have to just turn it off and start over. Control-Alt-Delete as they say. That's what yoga class is like for me. That's what I love to share and that's what I feel most people are missing and need. It's that simple.

  • alma says:

    there is truly something magical about yoga. i teach and assist, and in both there comes of sense of peace, stillness (body & mind) that lets you practice starting over in every moment. i wish i could say that i totally focus on the students but i'm still learning but the good news is that i am having more of those moments.
    i'll start again at the next class, and again, and again.

  • Kristi Kang says:

    For me, I would say my sole motivation is HEALING. We all have "crap" in our lives that could use healing, whether it's on a physical level, like back pain or long-term illness, or the deeper issues like relationships and the thoughts we privately have. We all have areas in our lives that could be cleaned, rinsed, and healed. Yoga is such a powerful tool for reaching into these depths and bringing our issues to the surface to be cleansed. I feel that yoga is still finding a way to heal me on so many levels, and that's what I feel truly passionate about sharing!

    • stacyLLT says:

      Thank you Kristi Kang. I know you well and know the path you have been down. I have experienced first hand the passion you bring to your classes. You inspire me. If you could share 1 or 2 sentences with me and the other teachers here on HOW to bring healing into our classes, what would it be?

  • Tomomi Kojima says:

    Yes, I find that shift during spontaneous laugh that appears during the class often. When we laugh in class, we all laugh together and people who were not talking before the class start talking to each other. They seem to forget the "roles"/"persona" that they came in with. Or, I also see this shift happen when they start to sweat and the more they sweat, the more they forget who they thought they were and all the truthful personalities come out on the mat.

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    • stacyLLT says:

      Yes, I love it. I was teaching class yesterday and in bakasana, a man started randomly singing "I like Big Butts"!! The craziest thing ever but the whole class was laughing, I had tears in my eyes and in that moment, we instantly came together. The weirdest and most random things take us out of our automatic pilot, mundane way of being. Thanks Tomomi!

  • Teresita Mutis says:

    so I've started over 3 times…when I teach, I get the opportunity to be open to greater things. I step aside and hand my mind and body over to something much bigger than me to be used as a vessel for making a difference in someone's life.
    The End

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    • stacyLLT says:

      Thanks Teresita. I love the idea of being a vessel. To me that means, I am out of the way. I don't have to try hard, I don't have to get things right, I just am.

  • Tynette says:

    I teach yoga to share with others the positive changes that yoga has in the physical body, the emotional health, and spiritual journey. I experienced (and continue to experience) such healing in my own body that transcended to my emotional and spiritual well being. Yoga has impacted my whole world in such an amazing way… the way in which I view and value myself and others comes from a place of awareness and acceptance and love. I want to share the good stuff!!! I teach because I believe that every person will benefit from a yoga practice… this spills over into their relationships with family/friends, their career, their health, their interactions with themselves and everything around them. I get "butterflies" and the warm fuzzies when I see and hear students tell me about what their practice is doing in their lives- to see the sparkle in their eyes is a wonderful feeling.
    Maybe some of my motivation is still about me… I teach because it fills my tank.

    • stacyLLT says:

      "Maybe some of my motivation is still about me…I teach because it fills my tank." Thank you for your honesty, I can relate! There is an inherent self satisfaction that comes from connection with others.

  • Randy says:

    I started down this road of teacher training thinking about growing myself and my practice. I have looked at my passion as being able to share the gift of what has been given to me through each person I have meet along the way. I am starting to discover that I am becoming more and more awake to myself through this yoga practice and the friends I have meet along the way. I am finding out that I have a strong desire to share with others that same self awareness and growth through a simple fun practice. I am learning that I’m not unique but merely a work in progress and it’s not just my practice but our practice. By myself I can be lost in my stuff on my mat but together as a community we are strong. For me that statement is very healing not just physically but mentally and emotionally. The power love and warmth that I feel from a group of other practitioners during a class is very liberating. I’m thankful for that and my sincere desire is to give that gift back to each and every one I meet.

    • stacyLLT says:

      "By myself I can be lost in my stuff on my mat but together as a community we are strong." I like this Randy. To me, the very act of looking out to others is so symbolic of the practice of Yoga. The First Book of the Yoga Sutras says that the practice is to quiet the stuff of the mind. As we look out to others, there is a spark of connection / presence / love that for me, is an instant removal from my thoughts. Thank you!

  • Christine says:

    to offer healing where there is suffering. yoga has healed me physically, mentally and spiritually. it is simple and profound. it can heal the planet one person at a time, until there is the tipping point.

  • John says:

    Because the pay and the benefits are so great, nyuk nyuk.

  • It’s exhausting to search out educated individuals on this subject, but you sound like you know what you’re speaking about! Thanks

  • Sarah says:

    I teach to help others feel better.

    I got into teaching out of frustration with not being able to find the class I wanted!

    Then I found out what it was all about (see the first sentence.)

    Thanks for asking!

  • Sara says:

    I began my teacher training at a point when I was at a crossroads. I knew how much my regular yoga practice had brought me peace of mind, clarity in times of chaos, and physical healing. I had been a “teacher” of sorts for all my life. First, as a babysitter, then a lifeguard & swim lesson teacher, next a parent & primary school teacher, and later a high school teacher. I realized that I wanted to teach something that had shifted my perspective, and turned my life down a path that was different from anything I had ever experienced before. The people who have taught me over the years, made me realize that yoga was a way of living that created a cycle of positive energy that was more than words could express. It took me years to realize the full impact yoga has had on my life as a whole. I have been blessed to share this gift with young people at the college level the past five years, and gain inspiration from those I meet each semester. I am blessed to live in a vital, supportive yoga community that is ever evolving and strong. I opened my own studio a little over two years ago, and I am always pleasantly surprised at the amazing, unique individuals walking through our doors on regular basis. I guess the many lessons my children, partner, fellow teachers, friends, & students teach me, every time we interact; are my inspiration behind my teaching.