Starting out as a yoga teacher can be a daunting experience. Yoga is a life-long journey of learning and understanding so, as a new teacher, I find myself shifting between feelings of inadequacy to a whole-hearted desire to share with people the joy that yoga has brought to my life.
I was lucky enough to be offered a teaching position at my regular studio just before I graduated and I was overjoyed to say the least. My initial reaction was ‘WOW, YES!’ followed by ‘Are you sure?!’ followed by ‘But what if I can’t do it? What if I’m terrible?!’ I felt totally unjustified as a teacher. The response from my teacher was that I just needed practice and confidence. Of course.
Looking back at this moment I am humbled by the confidence that she had in me; words cannot describe the gratitude I hold.
I began giving free classes to my friends and discovered I could answer some of my own worries by simply allowing myself to be their teacher.
- Yes, I can speak for a whole hour!
- I have so much to learn but I also already have a lot to give.
- Laughing is okay!
- I am still a human even though I am a ‘yoga teacher’.
- They are actually in class to practice yoga; not to judge you as a brand new teacher.
I was asked if I’d like to teach a practice class to all the teachers at the studio before I gave my first ‘real’ class and although my inner self was frozen with fear I said yes knowing it would be an amazing learning experience. I think the week leading up to that class was the most anxious I have felt in a long time. I was definitely not in a state of yoga!
I began that class trying to recite everything I could about the sequence I had devised! Slowly I settled into a rhythm and started speaking as myself and the hour passed and I got through the class just fine. I felt totally supported by my teachers and was lucky enough to receive feedback from them. The essential point? Be yourself.
A friend and fellow teacher shared an article with me titled 7 tips for nervous yoga teachers and I felt a great sense of relief knowing I was not alone in my feelings of fear. Here is a link to that article by James Brown for the Huffington Post.
I became inspired to gather advice from my own teachers so that I could pass on their wisdom in the hope of inspiring others out there who are also beginning their wonderful journey.
Here is what they said.
- Don’t say sorry if you go wrong in class…the students won’t notice.
- Down dog or child’s pose is a place for the student to rest and you to regroup if you need to
- Be authentic…
- Have a daily practice. Once you start teaching it is easier to let your personal practice slip. It is this practice that will give you your grace as a teacher.
- Teach what you know.
- Be grateful of the teachings and of your students.
- What you teach is what you need to learn….we tend to teach our students the lessons we ourselves need to hear…..
- Prepare your voice (e.g. tongue twisters) – the tone is important in the class and can make a big difference if we are ready – the students can hear us better and we can encourage them with the tone to go deeper into the postures.
- Assist more – don’t be afraid to leave your mat and assist the students – they love it (in most cases).
- Be prepared with a sequence in mind, but also be prepared to adjust it if needed according to what you see in class (maybe energy is different to what you had in mind, maybe more beginners that require a bit more of a basic class).
- Be okay to take risks and not always succeed. Sometimes a class you plan may not work as well as you like but it is a way to evaluate and refine what works for you. This will evolve over time.
- Go to other yoga classes. It is a great way to keep inspired or learn a new way to do things. (and time for you to practice)
- Continued professional development is a must
- Try not to change your sequence too often. You need time to develop the language to support your transitions, alignment cues and the interweaving of philosophy and themes. It also gives your students time to work their skills on what you are focusing on (e.g. hip opening, peak pose etc.)
- Notice the word/s you repeat often and find other synonyms you can use for them. (e.g. mine was “start”)
- Laugh at your mistakes and your students laugh with you
When I was starting as a teacher I happened to go to a number of classes with a person who has been practicing for more than thirty years. This teacher explained that most of today’s teachers are no teachers at all. He went on reminding us that most teacher training courses are done in around a couple of months and therefore cover only a fraction of the experience that traditional teachers were supposed to have. He told us that, in the whole of North America, Mr. Iyengar certified only two individuals. Pattabhi Jois gave qualification to teach only to about twenty people that had been regularly visiting him in India for ten years or so. Sri K. Krishnamacharya, the father of modern yoga, started teaching after practicing yoga for 25 years.
The message? I constantly remind myself that I am more a student than a teacher, and lucky to be there in the centre of the room bringing fellow students some inspiration.
- Don’t expect perfection.
- Stay true to your style.
- Structure the bones of your classes but be open to adapting as you feel more comfortable.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously. It is just yoga!
- Know who you are as a teacher and own it. Your style or persona as a teacher may be completely different from other well-respected teachers and it’s okay. You will undoubtedly change things about the way you teach as you gain experience, but there is a difference between continuously growing into who you are and trying to be like someone else.
- If you make a mistake, correct yourself and move on. You will fumble your words as a teacher sometimes, it is inevitable. Do not panic. It doesn’t matter if you are the most experienced teacher in the world, sometimes you say “left leg” when you mean “right leg”, but often you can correct yourself and move forward before anyone even begins to care.
- Be present. Stay focused on the posture you’re on and how the students are experiencing it. It can be difficult to teach a pose well if you are constantly planning your next move, so having at least a general idea of what you’d like to teach in class beforehand is a good way to avoid the aforementioned word fumbles.
- Breathe with your students. Not only does this keep you grounded but helps you to connect better to everyone in the room.
- Learn how to say the same thing 5 different ways. It’s remarkable how differently individual students will respond to your cues. Some students will know exactly what you mean and adjust themselves accordingly, while others will struggle to relate your words to their body and you are left with a blank stare. Having extra cues in your back pocket is handy if you realize your words haven’t quite gotten your students where you’d like them to be. Metaphors, analogies, and imagery can be particularly helpful, especially with new students (e.g. imagine your pelvis is a bowl of soup that you don’t want to spill).
- Smile. There is an innate lightness in yoga that we perhaps sometimes forget about when we are intensely focused. Smiling is a good way to remind ourselves and our students that enjoyment is just as important as the physical aspects of our yoga practice.
- My Teacher told me to always wear underwear. It may sound strange, but stranger things have been seen when not worn!
By Aislinn Grech