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6 Tips for New Yoga Teachers

On the first weekend of our 200-hour yoga teacher training program, we always ask for a show of hands of how many would like to teach after completing the training. It’s usually about 50% of the room. Many sign up for teacher training to deepen their practice and increase their knowledge of yoga (and of themselves!). The idea of teaching either hasn’t occurred to them as something that’s possible, they think they could never stand in front of people and teach or they just aren’t interested in teaching. And all of that is fine!

6 Tips for New Yoga Instructors

The funny thing is that when we ask the same question again as we are wrapping training up, we usually see nearly every hand in the room raised with many who have already lined up teaching gigs. Through the experience of teacher training where they connect to the practice on a whole new level, partnered with learning to stand in front of others and be seen and heard, we find trainees wanting to go out and share yoga with as many people as possible.

The cool thing is that everyone is called to serve in a different way and everyone who wants to teach, finds an opportunity to teach. You have to look beyond the studio where you practice or do teacher training and be open to the abundant opportunities there are for bringing yoga to people of all populations in your community. Past trainees have taught in corporate offices, in schools, in women’s shelters, at gyms, in kid’s programs, at country clubs, at summer camps, at senior centers, in their homes to their neighbors, to athletic teams, private sessions and more. There are so many ways to serve through yoga!

Inevitably, when you first start out teaching you feel equal parts over the moon excited and like you’re going to pass out from anxiety. It takes time and repetition of being in front of others and leading classes to settle into your groove and find your teaching voice and personality. That being said, there are some basic things you can do off the bat to improve your classroom experience and I’m sharing six of my top tips with you today.

6 Tips for New Yoga Instructors

1) Don’t talk like a yoga teacher.

The first thing that happens when most new teachers start teaching is that they sound nothing like themselves. They suddenly morph into this Glinda the Good Witch/Fairy that talks nothing like they do in real life. The tone of their voice gets softer, all of their sentences end on an up note (kind of like they’re asking a question and not giving a command) and they sound like a bad yoga video from the 90s.

Talk like yourself. Use varying tones of voice. Project. And be a human in the room with your students! They will relate to this so much more and your voice has so much power to connect students to your class.

Hands down, the most common feedback we give in teacher training and to new teachers is “stop talking like a yoga teacher” and “be louder.” A very eye-opening exercise for this is to record yourself teaching. Audio playback doesn’t lie! You’ll most likely think to yourself, “I had no idea I sounded like that!”

6 Tips for New Yoga Instructors

2) Music creates experience.

Music along with voice are two of the best things you have to create a dynamic class experience. But two things tend to happen with music and new teachers. 1) They don’t play it loud enough or 2) they play yoga music for the whole class.

Regarding the volume, you want your music loud enough that it doesn’t seem like background music. When it’s background music, it’s weird and can make the energy in the room seem low. Turn the music up to a good level and project your voice!

Regarding the playlist selection, your music should create a journey through class. It should start slow, build as your class builds and then wind back down as you move into floor postures and final rest. When you play Krishna Das for the entire class it keeps the energy pretty flat. Don’t get me wrong, I love some Krishna Das but I save it for the floor. I have always played current music in my classes and quite a bit “non-traditional” yoga music but I get consistent feedback from my students that it’s one of their favorite things about class.

You can follow me on Spotify for ideas and examples. I have hundreds of playlists that are public.

Note: of course you want to keep in mind the class format you’re teaching. If you’re teaching a deep stretch or a slow-flow, your music should align to the flow of the class. 

6 Tips for New Yoga Instructors

3) Keep it simple.

Keep your sequencing simple and basic. You know that whole “KISS” acronym? Keep it simple, stupid? It’s TRUE! It WORKS! You do not need to impress your students with your advanced sequencing or theme classes around pivotal postures. Your students just want to get in the basic poses in that they know and love, stretch, sweat a little and feel better. If you theme your whole class around opening the shoulder girdle, what happens to the student who came in with really tight hips from running? They will leave unsatisfied.

It’s also super important for you to get comfortable teaching and cuing the basic postures and to learn to teach without holding a sheet of paper as a reference. Seriously, the sooner you can teach without visual aids, the better. It will allow you to be so much more present in your classes.

6 Tips for New Yoga Instructors

4) Teach as much as possible.

The best way to become a better teacher is to teach. As much as possible. Seek out opportunities to practice teach on family, friends and co-workers. Look for unconventional teaching opportunities like I listed above. Sub a ton of classes.

It’s kind of like how you don’t really learn how to do your professional job sitting in a classroom at college. You learn mostly from on-the-job, real life training. The same applies with yoga.

Now is not the time to be picky about class times or locations. Take what you can get, wherever you can get it. Early mornings, late nights, weekends. Just teach.

6 Tips for New Yoga Instructors

5) Eyes-open, hands-on.

Get ready for this one. Don’t practice with your students.

“But what else am I supposed to do?” Trust me, I know it’s scary but practicing with your students is a crutch and doesn’t allow you to be “with them” and watching them as they experience your class. It may sometimes be necessary to demo some postures if you’re leading a class for beginners but don’t get stuck in the habit of doing your own practice in class. Your job is to be there for your students. To hold space for whatever reason they showed up on their mats in your class. Open your eyes and see what they need. This allows you to support your students by bringing them blocks, offering assists, turning on fans when needed, giving breaks when needed, etc.

If you were trained to assist, I highly encourage that you assist as much as you’re comfortable. The more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll get with it. Good assists are something that many students highly value. If you weren’t trained to assist, I encourage you to seek out an assist training in your area.

6 Tips for New Yoga Instructors

6) Be open to and seek feedback.

My teacher Johnna Smith has been teaching yoga for over 15 years. She is an incredible teacher but guess what? She asks for feedback after every single class she teaches.

You are never done growing and learning. You never “know it all.” Feedback is one of the most valuable vehicles for growth available to you. Many people will want to give you feedback that feels good but ask them to get real with you and explain that you really want to grow and improve your teaching skills. At Y2 we say, “constant and never ending improvement.”

Funny story about feedback…a few months ago I asked a friend and fellow teacher for feedback. She said, “sometimes you sound a little like a yoga teacher in the warm up.” I was like NO WAY!!! I recorded a class later that week and guess what…I totally got where she said I sounded like a yoga teacher and I didn’t even realize I was doing it. Sometimes feedback lands hard and totally resonates. Other times you may have to be more open to it, even if it seems inapplicable at first.

I could go on (and on and on) but I’m already nearly 1,500 words deep here. If you do nothing else after reading this, just to be real with your students instead of standing in your classroom with the mask of a yoga teacher on. We live in a world of disconnection and people are desperately seeking real.

I’d love to hear YOUR feedback on this post! Any experiences to share or questions to ask? 

What kind of music do you like to listen to in yoga classes? 

Have you ever experienced “yoga voice” in a yoga class before? 

{ 28 comments… add one }
  • Danielle July 12, 2016, 8:14 pm

    While I have no plans to teach yoga in the future! (But you never know) this was such an interesting and insightful read. I have definitely taken classes with a teacher using a “yoga voice” and I have not been the biggest fan. My favourite type of music is more popular or “mainstream” music versus “traditional” yoga music – I really like being able to move to music and the beat during vinyasa and power classes.

    • Jen DeCurtins July 15, 2016, 11:18 am

      Hey Danielle –

      Thanks so much for the kind words about the post. I love writing about yoga!

  • Brittany July 13, 2016, 6:50 am

    I agree with all of these…except the music part. I do not like practicing to music. When I do any other workout I have it blaring, but when it comes to yoga all I want to hear is the breath. I feel like so many teachers who do play music get it totally wrong. We are wrapping up TT at my studio now and the number one thing I tell them is to STICK TO THE SEQUENCE!!!!! Trying to get fancy with sequencing as a new teacher always leads to disaster. These are great tips, Jen. I’m going to share them with our TT’s.

    • Jen DeCurtins July 15, 2016, 11:18 am

      Hey Brittany!

      RE: the music…I should have put a disclaimer in that it doesn’t apply if you choose not to teach with music. I love a silent, breath-focused practice, especially if I’m outside! I think it’s such a personal preference the music v. non-music thing. We have a Baptiste studio in town that doesn’t play music and they have a huge following. But then many of our students say one of the reasons they come to Y2 is for the fun, uplifting music. I think there is something for everyone!


  • Yoga with Cara July 13, 2016, 7:41 am

    Very helpful reminders!
    Each class I teach I get more comfortable, it takes time, but that’s ok.
    I love weaving fun music into my classes and it is always well received by my students. I look forward to checking out some of your playlists.

    • Jen DeCurtins July 15, 2016, 11:16 am

      Hey Cara – I agree! I am five years into teaching and I feel like with every passing year, I get more and more comfortable. There are so many ways to keep learning and growing as a teacher.

      So happy to hear your students love your music! 🙂

  • Daryl July 13, 2016, 8:32 am

    I’m 4 weeks in to my 8-week PYTT and had my first round robin last night- not a train wreck but some of your tips definitely resonate! My observer loved my warm, nurturing voice…uh yep, not sure whose voice came out of my mouth last night! I’m also having trouble holding my body back from demoing.

    • Jen DeCurtins July 15, 2016, 11:15 am

      Haha, love your “not a train wreck” commentary! The more you do it, the easier it will get. Keep practicing!

  • Caitlin July 13, 2016, 9:41 am

    Great advice! Super timely as I start my TT journey next week. Thanks for sharing!

    • Jen DeCurtins July 15, 2016, 11:14 am

      Oh my gosh! I am so excited for you! Please check-in with me on how it goes!

  • Sarah July 13, 2016, 9:55 am

    I know not all readers are interested in yoga-related topics so I appreciate you writing such an insightful post! How many sequences do you design for the amount of classes you teach, and do you design sequences working the body overall as opposed to specific areas then?
    I’m also struggling with serious guilt working at the yoga studio 4 nights a week (only one of which I’m teaching!) so I hardly see my partner. How do you manage relationships (family/partner) so they are not affected by it? x

    • Jen DeCurtins July 15, 2016, 11:14 am

      Hey Sarah –

      You are so welcome. It’s my favorite so I love writing about it.

      I always sequence to include all of the basic postures…warrior 1, warrior 2, peaceful/reverse warrior, side angle, triangle, revolved triangle, half moon, revolved half moon and balancing postures. Beyond this I’ll get playful with the way I put them together and I’ll also frequently take a few minutes in the middle of class to workshop something. I am alway sure to hit hips, hamstrings, quads, shoulders, twisting, etc.

      When I first started teaching, I wrote out all of my sequences and memorized them. These days, I just walk in the room and teach to the energy in the room/class format. I teach 10 classes a week currently so I teach something different every time because most of my students take multiple classes each week.

      RE: guilt. Girl, it’s HARD! I would just recommend having open communication about your schedule, the time you spend together and why you love being at the studio so much. As long as you two are on the same page and supportive, it will help!

      Always here for any yoga quesitons! xx

      • Sarah July 18, 2016, 6:53 am

        Thanks for your response 🙂 I don’t think I could ever waltz into a class and decide what to teach at that moment! Also I absolutely LOVE your other Instagram account @poweryogaflow, it’s brilliant to see how you flow and assist x

  • Tara July 13, 2016, 9:56 am

    as a student with no intentions to teach….i feel you are spot on. particularly with the voice thing. there was a girl i practiced with for a while. she became a teacher. she used that yoga soft crazy voice and i eventually couldnt take her class. it was so strange and i couldnt focus cuz the voice i heard was so different than the girl i knew ! also music. i do agree that varying levels is nice and adds energy and i like everyday music as well as traditional yoga music. i also LOVE assists. but feel that most of the newer students seem very scared to do them. there is something so awesome about taking a class from a veteran teacher when it comes to assists ! as a student…i would say just tell your students you are new ! its no big deal if you mess up something in the sequence. a little laughter goes a long way in 90 degree heat ! it takes guts to teach !!

    • Jen DeCurtins July 15, 2016, 11:10 am

      tara – i love your point about not worrying about messing up. most of my students say that it makes me seem more human when i do!

  • Jo July 13, 2016, 1:35 pm

    This post was perfect to read as I am about to jump back into yoga teaching after a two year hiatus! I’ve been teaching group exercise classes, so I am trying to get a feel for yoga teaching again and it’s tough! I tend to try to get the yoga-y voice at the start of a class, and I really don’t like it. This was a good reminder to embrace my natural (loud) voice. Thanks!

    • Jen DeCurtins July 15, 2016, 11:07 am

      Yes girl! You will be great and get right back in the swing of it after a few classes. What made you decide to teach again?

      And seriously, record yourself if you need voice feedback!

  • Rebecca July 13, 2016, 2:25 pm

    I’ve been thinking about going through yoga teacher training (in fact, just yesterday my husband brought it up as something he thinks I’d be good at), so this is great info!

    I definitely agree that the teacher shouldn’t be practicing along with the students. In fact, one of my biggest pet peeves in yoga is when someone is clearly new and not getting a pose right and the teacher is too wrapped up in their own pose to even notice! Even if I know how to do the pose correctly, I love it when I get an assist from the instructor and can get much deeper into the pose than I would have been able to on my own.

    I kind of disagree on the music advice, but that is just my personal preference. My favorite music to practice to is traditional Indian music; one of my favorite teachers did a great job of building a playlist of traditional music to match the energy of the practice. It helped me stay in that “yoga” versus “workout” mindset, if that makes sense.

    Haha, I’ll have to keep an “ear” out for yoga voice, I (thankfully) can’t think of an instructor who has done that!

    • Jen DeCurtins July 15, 2016, 11:07 am

      Hi Rebecca,

      If you are even considering YTT, DO IT! I promise you will never regret it, regardless of whether you teach.

      And yes, it is so crucial to be with your students…helping and assisting.

      RE: the music…I totally get what you’re saying!

  • doug July 13, 2016, 9:05 pm

    Pay attention to the lyrics! Music for savasana should be inspiring… not about relationship heart-break! (just because it’s soft and acoustic doesn’t mean it’s inspiring)

    • Jen DeCurtins July 15, 2016, 11:03 am

      This is a great point Doug! I often gravitate towards savasana songs without words for this reason!

  • JennyV July 13, 2016, 10:41 pm

    I don’t have intentions to do any yoga teacher training (but one may never know). My studio offers a shortened version of teacher training they call “the path of the student” to help deepen the practice of those interested but not pursing teaching. This is something that appeals to me!

    A great playlist can definitely set the tone! Music is so powerful and sometimes can allow you to just get into a better flow. That said, I’ve taken some completely silent classes and they’ve been outstanding. It’s so wonderful that there are so many paths in yoga and you can find what works for you.

    My studio dims or brightens lighting. I don’t know if others do but I enjoy this aspect — and in restore classes we often use candle light = magic!

    Finally — assists!! YES! I love assists, though in the beginning I was all worried about my own sweat. I’ve come to find out that yoga teachers must somehow build a tolerance for touching sweaty people 😉

    • Jen DeCurtins July 15, 2016, 11:03 am

      Hey Jenny –

      Thanks for sharing about the “path of the student” program. That sounds very interesting.

      I can appreciate practices with and without music, depending on the teacher and setting. For example, I find that I almost always want a no music practice when I’m outside. I love the sounds of nature.

      Lighting can make a huge difference. I like dimmer lights too (in all of life!).

      Trust me, we don’t care about touching sweaty people!

  • Danni Black January 3, 2017, 1:46 pm

    I really like your tip about how music creates the experience when it comes to yoga. Some friends have been trying to get me to do yoga for a while now so I’ll have to keep these tips in mind! I’m really excited to give it a try, thank you for the information!

  • Barb Gruber May 2, 2017, 6:55 pm

    I am a yoga sudent with no desire to teach at this time. I came across your well-written and thoughtful article as I was trying to figure out if I am the only one with my specific yoga pet peeve:: depersonalized commands rather than personalized direction.
    I had a class today where the newish instructor kept exhorting us to “lift that leg!” and “lower those arms!’ I havee to bite my tongue not to respond, “Which leg?” and “whose arms?”
    This seems to regard body parts into impersonal objects, rather than part of a personal integrated whole. The latter seems philosophically more suited to yoga.
    Why not “raise your leg” and “lower your arms”? And why not say the words nstead of barking them?
    I imagine this seems like nit-picking. I am, after all, at a gym, not a yoga studio.
    But I am not at a boot-camp fitness class, I am at yoga. I know this instructor teaches other types of fitness, and she probably uses the same style for all of them, but her words and tone strike me as out of place. By the way, I don’t even mind that yoga voice, though I agree, using your natural speaking voice is a more authentic choice.

    • Jen May 3, 2017, 4:32 pm

      Hey Barb! Great point and it’s feedback I just gave our teacher trainees on their final weekend of TT a few weeks ago. I couldn’t agree with you more on the importance and impact of being more personal and specific with cues!

  • Kylie Dotts June 8, 2017, 8:51 pm

    I really like how you mentioned that people will take a yoga teaching class in order to deepen their own knowledge of yoga. I think that learning how to teach something is a great way to learn more about it so this would be a great idea for anybody who wants to learn more about the inner workings of yoga. I’ve been considering ways to learn more about yoga so maybe I’ll try taking some more yoga classes or even learning how to teach one!

  • Tiffani August 15, 2017, 6:12 pm

    Hey! Loved stumbling upon these tips! The one thing I will say about not “doing class with your class” is how much that depends on what type of class you are teaching! When I was teaching large groups with “expierenced” students in the front rows, it was easy to ditch the mat and engage. I now teach in a tiny studio with 5 or so students at most that are usually all beginners! I see my students all the time looking around to follow verbal cues and some audiences need that visual guide too 🙂 as always, I am working to better my cuing to make it easy to follow- but some people are just really visual learners! Just a thought. Thanks for sharing this!

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