It can be super hard to navigate life as a brand new yoga teacher. There’s nothing to do about it than dive into it and giving it ones best shot! …and get used to the thought that you’re not going to be the world champion of teaching the first many times you do it.
After my first month of teaching yoga I have made embarrassingly many mistakes. But at least I have (hopefully) learnt so much from them. This post basically wrote itself because there were so many mistakes of mine to talk about (hehe)!
I wanted to share the tips and tricks about teaching yoga I’ve learned the hard way in this post! Hopefully it provides value to you if you’ve just started teaching (or if you’re intrigued about becoming a yoga teacher)!
1 – Aim for too easy rather than too difficult!
It can be super difficult to predict how the sequence you’ve prepared for your class will be received when you’re a new teacher. I had a hard time determining what the level of my sequences were the first couple of times I taught. That’s why I ended up overreaching a couple of times teaching something way too difficult.
Different aspects of the yoga practice is difficult for different people! Some people are naturally flexible. Some have great balance and some are strong. Remind yourself that everyone has a different starting point! Then the class becomes a better experience for everyone. You are better able to adjust the level of your class to fit meet the students at the level they need on a given day if you show up without too many expectations of the students.
It has been a great help for me to prepare a sequence which is in the easy end of the spectrum when it comes to flexibility, balance, and strength. When I then go teach a class I notice how well the sequence is received. If it seems to be more than enough for the average student in the room I will stick to it. If it looks like most students could use more of a challenge I weave some more poses or small sequences into my class (always with options for different variations). This way I can meet my students where they’re at on any given day. So the class becomes a good experience for most of my students.
2 – Back to Basics
I made the mistake of thinking there was supposed to be something challenging, creative, unique, and new in every class I taught. Which there really isn’t anything wrong with. But being a new teacher, this was quite a challenge. As goes with anything in life it’s about finding a balance.
It can be super demotivation as a student to be instructed in something which seems to be impossible for your body to do. Or if the class goes way too fast for you to keep up. Especially if it’s not an isolated incident, but it’s the feeling you get throughout the entire class.
If this happens yoga becomes a stressful experience. An experience where you forget all about your breath instead of it being a calming experience, where you become more in tune with your breath and yourself. It can also be beneficial to students if the class contains some elements they are already familiar with. That way they have much more headspace and energy to notice their breath. Energy they can spend listening to the signals their bodies are sending them in the poses. This way they don’t push themselves past their limit but have the time to feel and notice the experiences in their body and mind.
Guide basic poses and transitions a gazillions times!
Personally I have learned that the best way to spend your time as a new yoga teacher is to guide the basic poses and transitions (e.g. sun salutations) a gazillion times! That way, they become part of one’s mental yoga library of sequences that can be used in future situations. Because in future classes you might forget your sequence, you might have rushed through your sequence so you now have to fill out the remaining time or you might need to adjust the level of your class. Whether one or the other problem arises in your class, the sun salutations and other basic sequences you know by heart, are going to be what saves you in those moments. They are always there at the back of your mind for you to use in any situation where you might need to improvise.
In the beginning (at least in my experience), you might aim for too much creativity in the sequences you teach. This can really be challenging when you’re a brand new teacher. You don’t have a mental yoga library of sequences you can just rattle off any time you forget your sequence (which I did). Or if you have to adjust the level of your class on the go to meet the needs of your students. You simply won’t be used to guiding the transitions between poses in the most pedagogical way right off the bat. Especially if you never let yourself use the same sequence twice. Don’t expect yourself to teach incredibly creative and unique sequences every single time you teach 😉
All of this is why I really recommend going back to basics in the beginning. So you slowly start to build a mental library of sequences you can rattle off at any time in future class settings. After that you can throw around the most creative sequences and unique transitions between the positions ever seen 😉
3 – You don’t have to talk at all times
In the beginning I thought I had to talk the whole class through. The silence in between my sentences frightened me a little. I did everything I could to fill out the spaces. Even though I didn’t have anything new or valuable to say. I think it was because I was afraid that my students would think I had forgotten them in the poses if I didn’t fill out the silence all the time.
That’s not really how it is though. Sometimes it might even be a good thing to allow a few moments of silence in your class. So the students will have time to simply listen to their own breath or enjoy the music. You don’t have to speak through all of Savasana (the last resting pose) either. As a student, it can be a very nice experience to be allowed to be yourself with your own breath and thoughts every once in a while. Yoga should not be heard, it should felt. So give your students room to feel what’s happening in their body.
4 – Check your playlist before class (if you choose to play music in your classes)
The first couple of times I taught, I used a playlist I’d found on Spotify. It was called Yoga & Meditation. That sounds very appropriate, right? But on the list there were 60 songs and my spotify was set to Shuffle (quite stupid of me). That meant the playlist was perfect for my class the first time I used it. The next couple of times were less fortunate though. It played some songs that sounded pretty gloomy at times. At other times there were some very quiet songs during the main flow, which is where the class peaks in tempo and level. It did not facilitate the atmosphere I was looking to create in my classes at all. In addition, sometimes some strange songs came on during Savasana. They did not fit in at all.
I have now created a couple of playlists which fit my classes so much better! (and learned how to deselect shuffle :P). At the beginning of my playlists there is calm non-lyrical music. That way the students can land on their mat in the beginning without distraction and they can listen to their own breathing. In the middle of the playlist there is something a little more upbeat in my flow classes (in the hatha class it’s still relatively calm). The last 10 minutes of the playlists are always calm and non-lyrical yet again. That way the energy in the room is allowed to decrease a bit during the cool down and the last pose, Savasana.
Your music choices are super important in your class
It sets the mood throughout the entire class. The music can if chosen well lift the energy level in the room and motivate people to do their best. The music can also disturb your student’s concentration. It can move their attention out into the room instead of into their bodies if it is too noisy or inappropriate. Find out what mood you are looking to cultivate in your class and make a playlist that matches your wishes. Perhaps I should mention that some music choices might need to be toned down a bit to suit your students. It is yoga after all and explicit rap music or heavy metal just do not have as great a following in a yoga class, than more toned down choices.
A yoga class can of course also be entirely without music. Some teachers prefer this because it puts more focus on the sound of the breath. It’s definitely a matter of taste.
5 – You can not customize your class to EACH and everyone’s needs and wishes
Remember that your yoga classes aren’t going to be absolutely everyone’s cup of tea. It’s 100% okay and has nothing to do with you! There are so many different people that you simply can not meet everyone’s need in one single class. People enter the room with different needs and starting points. With different preferences for yoga classes and in a wide variety of moods. Therefore, you can not please everyone with your teaching style. Some days the students will have an off day, where yoga may get all their frustrations out onto the surface. This doesn’t have anything to do with you either!
I can only recommend that you try to find your own voice as a teacher. How do you teach those times where you just enjoy it to bits? Find that place as often as possible. It can be necessary to compromise sometimes, of course. But find a style of teaching that’s in agreement with the type of people who show up AND yourself at the same time.
In the end, students who like your teaching style will keep coming back. Those who do not resonate with your teachings will find another teacher. Keep in mind that it is win-win for the students AND yourself. It can really be a mood killer if someone in the class does not want to be there or does not enjoy it at all.
On a very related note comes the next lesson I learned:
6 – You attract the energi you radiate (be yourself!)
When I started teaching yoga, it surprised me how little appreciation you get as a teacher. You go into a room and guide people through some yoga poses for an hour to two. Then people walk out, some may smile on the way and say thank you. But throughout the class, you receive no energy in return. Or so I thought.
This is where a really important point comes in – you attract the energy you radiate. When I was a new yoga teacher, I was so nervous that I had buried my personality deep down. I didn’t dare to be myself because everything was so new.
That’s why I never made jokes and I did not laugh at myself if I stumbled on the words or said some nonsense in my classes. I only smiled at the students after class was finished. When my work was over and I was no longer nervous.
When I reflect back on it, I did not create a space for my students where it was okay to be laughing and failing. In spite of the fact that it was exactly what I wanted my classes to be!
Your students become a mirror of yourself as a teacher
The energy you radiate in your classes is the energy that is going to be in the room. Yes, people are focused in a yoga class. They’re certainly not smiling non-stop. But as a teacher, you can cultivate the mood you want in class by being the example your students follow.
Related to that, I could’ve used a little reminder to just be myself when I started teaching. Whatever that may be! Be yourself despite the fact that it may be very difficult when everything is new and when you feel you need to perform in front of a lot of people. Being imperfect, being human is a quality that makes you relatable and approachable so quit trying to be perfect in your classes if you’re not perfect outside of your classes!
Today, I’ve learned to smile more to my students during class, make jokes and be self ironic when I say something that makes no sense. To me, it’s fun to teach when I can be myself exactly as human as I am. When I can fail and create a space where it’s also okay for my students to be human and fail. Cultivate the mood and the atmosphere you want in your classes and most importantly, be yourself!
Teaching has also taught me never to leave a yoga class as a student without thanking the teacher if I had a good time or learned something from going! Let’s lift each other up 🙂
7 – Be willing to adapt
As I mentioned earlier, it’s a great help to have a mental yoga library of sequences. By that I mean some sequences that you can know by heart, so you can guide people well and safely through them. It’s such an advantage to be able to weave something familiar into your classes if something goes amiss!
This can be such a powerful foundation to have e.g. if you feel like the class you prepare isn’t suitable for the people who showed up to your class that day.
I have prepared a class, which was wayyyy to hard for some of my students a couple of times. I really learned the hard way that the best thing to do as a yoga teacher is to be willing to adapt. If you’re able to change things on the go during your classes it’s going to make for a much nicer experience for all of your students and yourself!
Keep an eye on your students
Notice if what you’re teaching is being received well. Be prepared to take your class in a different direction if it isn’t. Sometimes you might have prepared a sequence which is too difficult. Sometimes it might be too easy. At completely other times it might not meet your students in the mood and state they are in on that specific day. You can try to push it through anyway. However, it’s my experience that it will be a much better class for the students and yourself if you are ready to take the class in a completely different direction.
It can be totally okay to ask if you’re in doubt. Eg. give options: “Are you ready to play a bit more around with backbends or would you rather ____?”. A concrete question may often be enough for the students to feel like they get a say in your class. If you noticed that your class didn’t meet their needs right from the start this can be a useful tool.
8 – Keep learning and remain a student
To remain a student alongside teaching is something I personally find super important! Not only does it give you the opportunity to progress in your own practice but it also reminds you which qualities you’re seeking in your teachers. It can therefore be a major source of inspiration for our own classes to keep taking the student role too!
Coming up with new material for everyone of your classes yourself can feel impossible – especially in the beginning. It is totally okay to let yourself become inspired by other teachers. It’s also totally okay to borrow some of their ideas in your own classes. You can learn so much from doing that. To keep taking classes yourself can also help you eventually figure out, how you wish to teach yoga and to find your voice as a teacher.
Shop around a little
Try out yoga teachers that are new to you! Perhaps even try out some new styles of yoga. With time you’ll find some teachers who really resonate with you. Take note of all of their best tricks, expressions, sequences, cues, etc. and let it be an inspiration to you. The yoga classes which aren’t exactly your cup of tea can also teach you something – which directions you don’t want to take your own classes.
Trying out new things and continuing to learn can really help us constantly develop as yoga teachers. This way we limit chances of burning out or running out of inspiration for our own classes. Remaining a students helps keep us on the right track and constantly reevaluate ourselves as teachers. Our teaching voice changes over time so by regularly seeking new inspiration from others can put us back on the right track if we’re getting lost or stuck in our own teaching.
Priority is such an important point when it comes to this lesson. The times you’d normally take yoga classes are probably the same time you now teach. Therefore staying a student really requires for us to press going to classes into our weekly schedule at some other time.
9 – Don’t forget your home practice
Your own yoga practice. Isn’t that why you ended up teaching yoga in the first place? Because you love practicing yoga? Because you have realised how much yoga can change ones life for the better and you now want to convey that message to others? At least for me, these are questions I can nod yes to.
I completely neglected my own home practice the first couple of weeks I taught yoga. It actually took the joy out of teaching for me because teaching became a burden which stole time and energy from my own practice. My own practice which is my space to find the joy in yoga, to get more in tune with myself. My space to play, experiment and challenge myself. If I didn’t practice yoga myself and experienced all the good things which comes along with it, how would I convey it to my students?
As a yoga teacher our bodies and our minds are our labs. You experiment on yourself. You find out what works in your own skin through trial and error. Practice before you teach so your words become embodied. So you can convey how the poses are supposed to be felt, experienced, sensed because you the imprint of your practice still is in your body.
Your own practice is the experience you draw from when you give cues, adjustments and explainations. The things you have felt in your own body are the things you will communicate best to others, at least in my opinion. If your own practice is of value to you then prioritize it.
10 – Project your voice!
I will start lowering my voice when I teach whenever I start doubting myself a little or start thinking that what I say is redundant. I don’t even notice I’m doing it! It makes my students waste energy straining to hear my words instead of spending their energy being aware in their own bodies and their own experience. It really causes a lot of confusion in a yoga class it only the students in the front hear what you’re saying and cueing while the students in the back are delayed because they can’t hear you.
I still need to remind myself to project my voice during my classes. It really does change the atmosphere in class if you sound like a little scared mouse when you teach. Be confident with what you say and what you teach – it’ll make you seem so much more legitimate as a teacher. So project project PROJECT!
11 – Yoga is more than asana
Yoga philosophy has 8 different limbs. If we’re only teaching asana (physical postures) can we even call ourselves yoga teachers? Or should we just call ourselves asana teachers instead?
Let the parts of the yoga philosophy which resonate with you to seep into your classes. This way you’re giving your students a more nuanced and wholesome experience of yoga. Yoga has so much more to offer than the poses so if you share the other sides of yoga, the students will actually learn something new in your classes.
Personally I like to add some breathing exercises to my classes (pranayama the 4th limb) and meditation exercises (which is really a part of pratyahara, dharana, and dhyana, 5th-7th limb). Additionally the quiet of Savasana can be such a good time to talk about the ethical and moral guidelines of yoga (yama and niyama, the 1st and 2nd limbs) in a modern day life related way. Put them into a context where they can add value to the daily lives of your students. Making yoga philosophy tangible and useful to people in modern day society is actually not as hard as one might think. Help your students learn and find inspiration from the other limbs too. Perhaps they might even go and find more peace and contentment in their daily lives if you do.
12 – Offer variations
Offering variations makes your classes meet the needs of a wider variety of students! But the way in which you offer the variations is important to consider. Your students might either leave class feeling fulfilled and satisfied or despirited and disheartened.
If you offer the hardest variation first followed by saying “and if you can’t do ______ do ____ instead” your class can become a disheartening experience to those who cannot do the hardest variation. The easiest variation can quickly seem like a compromise instead of an achievement in itself if the variations are offered in that order.
Start by guiding people into the easiest variation first. This way it becomes the basis. Students will feel fulfilled if they accomplished it without having to move on to the second options, which doesn’t suit them at that time. The amount of challenge you need changes from day to day, so by offering the easiest variation first you are also encouraging the students to listen to themselves and not push themselves past the limit.
The wording you use if of importance to your students.
On a related note: be aware of the phrases you use in your class. Make sure you’re not wording things in a way that puts unrealistic expectations onto your students. The wordings you use can have a big impact on the feelings you cultivate in your students.
Take the example where you offer multiple variations of a pose. The difference between saying “If you are even more skilled / more advanced / flexible / strong, you can try a different variation” and “If you need more challenge / stimulation / intensity today, try a different variation”.
The first statement sets the expectation that more advanced is better. It focuses on the aesthetics – how the poses should look. The second statement is based on how it should feel in the body. It turns the focus inwards, so the students notice what is happening in their bodies. Do you see the difference?
I strongly encourage using our language in a way that cultivates the functional approach to yoga rather than the aesthetic approach. The aesthetic approach to yoga can, in my opinion, quickly make the students expect and demand certain things from their bodies about how they should look in the poses. It can lead to poor self-esteem if their body aren’t able to live up to those expectations and can result in students harming or injuring themselves to try to make the pose look a certain way. It completely eliminates the healing element of yoga, where we become more in tune with ourselves because we listen to our body and have an inward focus.
13 – Think your classes into a context
Remember to think context in your classes. Is it a morning class? Start a bit slower so you’re easing the students into the practice if they show up sleepy to yoga instead of guiding them through the hardest possible sequence from the second they step on the mat. Are you teaching an evening class? Make sure your students are relaxed when the class ends.
Deep back bends are very energizing and stimulating. If you guide backbends at the end of your class, your students might have a very hard time falling asleep that night. In that case it would be a good idea to do backbends in the middle of the class, so there’s time to do some counterposes and a cool down at the end of class.
14 – Move around!
This is a lesson I still have to remind myself of regularly in my classes.
Don’t stick to your own mat, move around the room. The mat is not a magnet nor are you glued to it, so you can totally leave it every once in a while during class 😛 Moving around the room when teaching, makes the class much more dynamic.
When you stay on your own mat you miss a chance to connect with your students and reach around to everyone. You can better notice your students if you walk around during the class. Notice whether they’re doing okay in the poses, so you can provide the right cues, notice if they need another variation or a prop. Notice whether they need a gentle adjustment and help in some of the poses.
Additionally, it removes the focus from you – the teacher. If you move around, it invites the students to take their eyes off you and instead tune in to their own practice and their own body.
15 – Practice makes perfect
This one probably sounds super obvious. But the only way you can become better at teaching is by actually teaching some more! It doesn’t necessarily means teaching more classes.
You can practice in your own home too! Practice guiding yourself into the poses and through the transitions. Talk it through with yourself. Perhaps even record yourself so you can listen and watch yourself afterwards. Notice how you explain things. Practice cueing and demonstrating your sequence in the best possible way.
Guide some friends or family through a yoga class. Someone who actually dares telling you the hard truth about your teaching. Whether the pace is too fast or slow. Whether the explanations make sense. What the whole atmosphere you create in class is like. You only get better by trial and error so keep practicing.