Teaching yoga is a skill. You quickly learn this when you go on yoga teacher training and discover that it is one thing to be flexible and do all the poses (asana) quite easily and quite another thing to be able to transfer these skills to someone else. Sometimes, to even get the words out and formulate the correct instructions is a big shift. We are learning how to best communicate to our students. This means communicating in the way that the student understands, which might not be necessarily be the way you yourself learned things or understand things.
The good news is that with time and experience, the skills of teaching and communicating will start to come naturally to you. To get you on your way, here are our top ten tips for new yoga teachers
1. Always wear a watch
It sounds pedantic but your watch is your best friend. You want to be able to start on time and end on time. "Many yoga teachers forget that it takes time to rise our of savasana. You don't want to rush your yoga students. In the meantime, there might be another class waiting outside the studio and you are taking their time. Ending late might also mean you are making your students late for their next engagement -whether that be going to work, fetching the kids or any other task. You could be doing them a dis-service." I talked to Sunshine Ross, founder of Awake Space.
Sunshine adds "You want a wrist watch and definitely don't lose your phone, students might think you are texting!" she laughs "More importantly, because yoga classes are always adaptable, you might stay longer in some poses than others. Some groups might need to work on a few postures longer. The yoga sequence that you planned ahead will not necessarily be followed. Be prepared for that. Know the midway point of your class. Check the time to see if you are ahed of time or lagging behind in your yoga class."
2. Have a small sheet with your sequence
Even if your classes come from inspiration and you do lots and lots of adaptations to your yoga sequence depending on your students, you can still come prepared. Just a small sheet of paper will do. Write out your class, what poses you plan to teach during the class.
3. "Relax. It's not about you, it's about them.
When you get nervous, anxious or overly excited or all of the above, try to make this your mantra "It's not about me. It's about them." The yoga class is about your yoga students. It is their time to relax, get their mind away from the outside world and focus inwards. Shifting the focus here might help you calm your nerves and deliver a better yoga class.
4. Know the modifications for your sequence
Sunshine gives her top tip for preparing your yoga class "It is also a good practice to go over those poses that you plan to teach one by one and review the modifications for each of those poses- How do you make it easier? How do you make it harder? What yoga props do you need if any?"
5. Improve your physical fitness
Teaching a vinyasa or ashtanga class is very physically demanding.You are demonstrating poses on top of observing students and instructing. There will be times when you are teaching multiple classes a week. You need to make sure that you are physically fit. This is basic to all fitness instructors but maybe not so obvious to yoga teachers - you need to teach at a level that is lower than your own practice.
I asked Sunshine about her thoughts on this "Definitely. I have seen some yoga teachers fall into this trap. Your own yoga practice is different from your teaching. They don't realize that doing yoga is different from teaching yoga so they try to teach a vinyasa without mastering the sequences themselves. They end up out of breath and unable to teach effectively. on the other end of the spectrum your class is not about demonstrating your physical prowess and showing off the latest handstand variation you are working on. It is the student that should be center-stage."
6. Don't forget about self-care
Teaching can be draining. While it is exciting to do a job you love, your life can't all be about yoga. You need balance too or you will get burnt out too. Consider taking up a hobby outside of yoga. It can be even something quite different and opposite. Why not take a few crossfit classes? Read a mystery novel. Learn a new sport or just simply be with friends and family.
Sunshine is also an VortexHealing practitioner and has this to say "You have an emotional body, a mental body, a physical body, an energy body and a spiritual body. You can say that real self-care is about taking care of all those parts of you not just one"
7. Be welcoming and approachable
For yoga teachers, it is easy to get caught up in your own mind. While yoga is intrinsically about looking within, don't forget your students are right in front of you Hold space for them. Be welcoming and approachable. New students in particular might be feeling lost and out of place. It is important to stay connected to your students and build rapport.
8. Be heard
The inward-looking nature of yoga sometimes attracts introverts as yoga teachers who are generally soft spoken. It is very valuable to learn to speak from your diaphragm in order to be heard by the whole group. It is also helpful because it will strain your vocal chords less. If there is background music playing, make sure the volume is not too loud that you have to compete with it. Also try to put on music without words or lyrics.
9. Continue Learning
You owe this to yourself and to your students to keep expanding your knowledge and abilities as a yoga teacher. It might not mean more and more challenging poses but also widening your knowledge or anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, history and philosophy of yoga etc.
If you are a yoga teacher registered with Yoga Alliance, know that you need 75 hours of continuing education every 3 years to keep up your registration.
Awake Space offers Yoga Alliance Continued Education Programs YACEP - inlcuding a 50hr Meditation and Pranayama Course. Click here to learn more.
10. Stay professional.
The yoga studio is not your personal platform to publicize your personal ideologies on politics, religion, society etc. It's not a place to overshare your personal and emotional life either. Stay professional and don't take anything personally. That includes criticism as a teacher, you are also on your own path of self-development.
Good Luck everyone!
Jane E. Maia