Teaching yoga can seem daunting when you’re starting. Embarking on this journey can be accompanied by a lot of self-doubts. So if you feel inexperienced and insecure know that you’re not alone, and it’s not always going to feel like this.
The more you teach, the more you will understand that being a good yoga teacher is not about knowing all the asanas and doing fancy poses for Instagram. Teaching yoga is about being humble, caring for your students, letting go of your ego, and continuously learning.
Whether you want to teach Hatha, Yin, aerial yoga, or any other style, here are a few tips that will support you on your journey.
Teach yoga by being authentic
Being authentic means teaching what you know even if it feels limited at the moment. For a complete beginner in yoga, your knowledge is already enough.
Choose the yoga teachings you connect with, what you feel comfortable with because you are practicing it yourself.
Teach yoga by being inclusive
One way to be inclusive is to start every class by inviting students to listen to their bodies and skip or modify any pose if they feel like it.
Another way is to offer variations of challenging poses to adapt them to all levels. At the same time, keep in mind that what is easy to you might not be to others. Observe your students and adjust your teaching as you go. Use props when necessary and use them yourself to encourage others.
Some teachers choose not to show the full expression of certain asanas, especially in beginner classes. When a pose looks inaccessible to students, it can affect their self-esteem or prevent them from attempting. At the other end of the spectrum, you may have students who try to push themselves too hard, risking an injury.
A key element of being inclusive as a yoga teacher is to use inclusive language. Instead of saying ‘an easier variation of this pose …’ or ‘if you can’t do this pose …’ try with ‘here’s a variation of this pose’.
Teach yoga by being patient
If you are new to teaching yoga, you need to be patient both with your students and yourself.
It is common for people who feel nervous to speak rather fast. Take note of your pace and regulate it. Depending on the level of your students, you might need to take longer to transition from one asana to another and also explain more.
Being patient with yourself means giving yourself time to adjust and hone your teaching skills. Take note of the things you would like to improve and work on them, no need to be harsh on yourself about it. Ahimsa, right?
If progress is not coming as fast as you have expected it to – again, be patient. Teaching yoga, like having a personal practice, is a journey of self-discovery. Does any aspect of teaching flare up your ego? Explore this.
Teach yoga by being a student
Being a yoga teacher doesn’t mean you’re not a yoga student anymore. In fact, it is important to keep reading books on yoga and applying your new knowledge. Learning will help you grow as a teacher.
Learn how to teach
Not every person who has a skill knows how to teach it to others. Teaching requires you to step back into the shoes of a beginner, breaking down complex concepts into bite-size pieces.
When applied to yoga, this can mean breaking down a sequence, or an asana into elements that eventually lead up to the desired outcome. It can also mean giving clear cues that deepen your students’ understanding and experience of asanas.
Practicing teaching yoga is the single most important thing that will improve your teaching. But when you’re starting opportunities won’t fall into your lap. Instead, you have to actively seek them.
If you are a newbie it can be hard or feel unrealistic to find paid teaching opportunities. There is a huge debate whether you should be charging for spiritual practices, or if it’s acceptable to work for free. We will not delve into this topic here – just do what you’re comfortable with.
The first and easiest thing is, of course, to start teaching yoga to your family, friends, or neighbors.
You can also reach out to libraries if they hold events, or hospitals to offer classes for their staff, or yoga retreat centers you’ve dreamed of visiting yourself, or even NGOs that support a cause you believe in.
Online communities can also open up a lot of opportunities. Join relevant Facebook or Meetup groups, or connect on Instagram with other teachers in your area.
Before I started my first studio gig, I organized a couple of donation-based events I promoted solely through friends and Facebook groups. The first was held in a local café that liked the idea and rearranged their tables to allow space for people to lay down their own mat. As soon as the weather permitted it, I held a second event in the park. I also volunteered to teach at another event that was organized by a local NGO.
Continue your personal practice
Teaching yoga to others is no substitute for practicing yoga for yourself. When you are teaching your focus shifts from your own experiences to creating an experience for others.
It does have its upsides but they’re most likely to be entirely physical. To reap the mental health benefits of the practice, you need to stick to your routine.
Adhering to your personal routine means staying connected to your purpose for teaching. It also keeps bringing in fresh ideas on how to diversify and improve your classes.
The more you learn, the more you will be able to share as a teacher.
Don’t be ashamed of learning
Maybe you haven’t memorized your entire sequence and you brought a cheat sheet to get you through the class. Or maybe you missed doing that one asana on the left.
More often than not, students don’t notice or don’t care about that sort of thing. If you’re doing a long sequence on one side, there’s no shame in asking ‘Did we do all of the asanas on this side?’
There is also nothing wrong with being honest about the fact that you’re new to teaching. It may even make people more understanding, especially if they’re beginners themselves.
Actively seek feedback
Receiving honest feedback can be hurtful. If you’re scared of it – it’s natural.
Having a positive attitude towards receiving critique is valuable in any area of life. Take your teaching as an opportunity to learn how to seek feedback and improve based on it.
It is precisely the not-so-good feedback that will help you become the yoga teacher you’re aspiring to be.
Many people, though, will feel uncomfortable sharing their feedback, especially if they’ve noted some points that need improvement. This is why it’s handy to have a close friend in your first classes as a teacher – so you can rely on their honest input.
Teach yoga by being unique
Being your authentic self, like we mentioned at the start of this article, is essential to be unique. There are diverse things that can make a teacher stand out from the crowd, be it their soothing voice or uplifting energy. While some of these aspects are out of our control, others can be learned and perfected.
Clear verbal cues make following a class easier and take students’ experience of an asana on a whole new level. There are teachers whose cues are so spot-on that can entirely change how you feel in an asana you have done hundreds of times.
Giving good cues and cueing while going into asanas yourself comes with practice but it’s important to be mindful of it.
The best way to know if your cues work or not is to look at your students. Do they know what to do when you’re guiding them only with your voice or everyone is doing their own thing?
Some yoga teachings, like Ashtanga or Iyengar, can be strict about the proper alignment within an asana. One thing to keep in mind is that asanas are not boxes we’re trying to fit people into. Quite the opposite, asanas are meant to be tailored to people.
Adjusting your students is like guiding them to a place if they’re willing to go there. It is not meant to make them feel incapable of doing anything right. With this in mind, some adjustments might do more harm than good. Your attitude when giving an adjustment can also make or break the experience.
Remember that not everyone might feel comfortable with physical adjustments. Always ask permission.
Doing something different or showing a side of your personality into your class can make it more pleasant or relatable.
One option is to bring an essential oil that goes in line with the theme of your class, let’s say chamomile for a restorative class. Let students rub it into their wrists. The scent will enhance their practice and add a unique touch to it.
Another idea is to start or end your classes with a short parable or a meaningful quote. You can prepare it in advance or carry a book of parables/quotes and read one at random.
There are also card decks with quotes. You can let each student pick a card to help them set an intention for their practice.
Think about some of the things your teachers have said or done that have made an impression on you. You can always use these as a source of inspiration.
Let go of your ego
Yoga, whether you’re a student or a teacher, has a special way of bringing your ego to the surface. What is important is to take advantage of this moment to better understand yourself and heal.
The triggers will differ from person to person but here are a few things to have in mind:
- Not all students and teachers are meant for each other and that’s fine. If you have tried classes with diverse teachers you probably know that you can’t click with everyone. It’s not personal.
- It’s ok to say ‘I don’t know.’ You don’t need to have all the answers to be a good teacher. It is way more important to be humble and keep your integrity rather than pretending to know it all. No one does.
- Just because you took a Yoga Teacher Training, it doesn’t mean that you need to teach if you don’t feel a calling to it. A YTT is a wonderful opportunity to deepen your personal practice and meet like-minded people. Even if you never venture into teaching, it is well worth your time and investment.
- Take note of your self-talk. Remember that simple rule of treating yourself like you’re talking to a dear friend.
Yoga offers a special space to connect with other people. While this may be an article on how to be a confident and empathetic yoga teacher, implementing these tips will help you to become a better version of yourself.