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!
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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) 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?