12 Tips for New Yoga Teachers
You’ve finally completed that 200-hour teacher training program. You’ve studied, trained, and yogied your way into earning a certificate. You’ve even learned how to speak a bit of Sanskrit. It’s official. You are a yoga instructor.
Now what? Landing a teaching job may seem like minor stuff compared to that seemingly insurmountable task of actually stepping in front of your first class full of eager students. Here are a few tips to keep you breathing and balanced so you can be the guide you intend to be.
1. Be confident.
There are many unknowns in a yoga class. You don’t know the levels of the students, their backgrounds in yoga, their emotional state as they unroll their mat, their physical abilities, or even their names. All this unfolds as the hour of practice unwinds. What you do know is yoga. You know how to do it, and more importantly, you know why to do it. You wouldn’t have earned that certificate if you didn’t. You’ve been on the mat time and time again. So believe in the yogi in you. It’s important to exude honest confidence so your students knowyou know this is the time and place for you to be, so they can trust this is wherethey should be. Indeed . . . trust—the universe, the teacher training program that you completed, and your inner guru that helped bring you to this place and this time.
2. Leave your ego at the door.
Let’s not confuse confidence with an overly inflated ego. Sure you may have been the valedictorian of your yoga class, but I hate to break it to you—no one cares. The students that show up at class just want a good practice with a down-to-earth teacher. (Isn’t that what you wanted?) Let’s face it, chances are you probably aren’t quite yet considered a sage, so don’t create a gap between you and the students. It’s hard to see each other between those gaps. Remember, you were in their place only moments ago. Stay grounded so you can teach from their perspective.
Stay grounded so you can teach from their perspective.
3. Once a teacher, always a student.
So keep practicing. If that means getting up at the crack of dawn to get to Saturday morning classes, watching online videos (on Yoga International) instead of reruns of your favorite sitcom, or having your own bedtime hatha routine after you read your kids to sleep, do it! Try new classes, teachers, and different levels. (It’s extremely enlightening taking a beginners’ class again.) Read books, articles, and blogs. Go to workshops and make time to meditate. Just keep learning. Experience the world knowing that the lessons you learn can be infused into your teaching and shared in a way that helps others on their path and you as a teacher.
4. Teach from experience.
I received this tip from my teacher and I’ve found it to be most valuable. You can like someone else’s style, and you can memorize poems to inspire a class until you sound like Rumi himself, but until you teach in a way that comes from your own hours on (and off) the mat—until it really comes from that place in your heart known as “YOU”— it won’t resonate with your students as it could. Be the real macoy, Yogi.
5. Lead vs. follow.
Truth be told, the world’s most perfectly written yoga sequence will do no one any good if the students don’t receive what you are offering. Never forget—it’s the Beings in front of you that really matter. So get your eyes off the lesson plan and on to the lesson learners. Watch their breath, their facial expressions, their ease (or not) in trying new poses. Learn these students’ names, make physical adjustments where needed, and demonstrate only what needs to be seen. Create an environment that’s safe and an honest place to practice. Sure, follow your lesson plan, but most importantly, lead your students.
Create an environment that’s safe and an honest place to practice.
6. Inspire vs. impress.
Sometimes it’s tempting to answer every question with a philosophical, deep answer, to sport more Sanskrit than your beginning students can decipher, and to show off in a fancy one-handed handstand when your students are just learning what tadasana is. But remember, it’s not a pulpit and it isn’t a stage. It’s a mat. The same size and shape as the mats the students who are in front of you are standing on. Inspire, don’t impress. Share just enough to intrigue, say enough to foster, and be completely present to nurture each student’s individual passion and perspective. Your students will learn to admire and respect you for it.
7. Honor silence.
Have you ever felt that awkward silence when the conversation has run out? You struggle to think of anything to say. Teaching yoga is exactly the opposite. After all, you aren’t a radio announcer, where dead air is deadly. Yogis welcome silence, which is really space sparking with potential. Chattering on when you’ve just asked your students to turn inward and focus on their breath takes up the space needed for students to listen to their true guru within. If they spend the entire time listening to you, they can’t hear themselves. Plus, if you are always giving energy out, you won’t be able to take in (see tip number 9). Create space and time between your directions. Allow the silence to support what you’ve said so the students can receive. Consider the time with your students as a song . . . composed of notes and rests; it’s beautiful music if there is a balance. If not, it’s only noise.
8. Be flexible.
Sure, it’s probably better for the teacher to be limber enough to sit in a seated upright position rather than a slouchy TV pose, but you can guess that what I’m really getting at here is sporting a limber attitude. Be prepared to adjust, change, modify. And have fun! Teaching is fun and learning is fun! Remember, an uptight teacher makes for uptight students. The idea is to let go, release, lengthen, and breathe. That means you too, Guru!
9. Did I say breathe?
Keep your breath steady and know that even as a teacher, you must stay within your capacity. Stay grounded, alert, and in tune. But there is more to this breath thing. Your breath can be a reminder to balance your class like the inhale and the exhale balance the body. Consider the exhale as what you are giving out to your students, and the inhale as what you are taking in from them. Yoga class is a space where both students and teachers are honored for their contributions to the experience being shared, so like the length of the inhale and the length of the exhale, their contributions should be even. Breathe, Teacher. Breathe.
10. Have an intention for each class.
I select an intention and then invite my students to share it throughout the hour practice. That may or may not be your style. What I’m really referring to here is a personal intention for yourself—a way to BE during your teaching. Peaceful, loving, attentive, aware, funny, mindful. Mindful of your energy that you bring to the studio. Even beginning students can pick up on a teacher who is either out of sorts or who welcomes them in with theirchi in check.
11. Be prepared.
Of course, it’s a given that you’ll be prepared with stellar lesson plans. But I’m talking about preparing your Self. For me, that means going to the studio early, practicing the full lesson I have planned, reading something inspirational, listening to music, and then meditating solo in the studio. Whatever your way of preparing yourself is, take the time and the space to do it. Bring yourself to the here and now. You can’t ask your students to be present if you’re not.
You can’t ask your students to be present if you’re not.
12. Be grateful.
You’ve worked hard to earn that place in front of the class. You’ve had to let things go, take things on, and stay focused while life and all its other responsibilities continued to demand from you. And you did it! But it’s more than earning that certificate. It’s that realization that finally you are in this amazing position with endless possibilities to guide people in a practice that changes lives.
Remember that saying, “When you are ready, a teacher will appear.” Ponder that for a moment: whose lives are you appearing in? Who has drawn you in? Isn’t that a humbling, remarkable honor? So whisper thank you, over and over, to all of the powers of divinity that brought you here. That includes, of course, the divinity within You. Feeling grateful will keep you appreciating each moment in a way that frees your inner light to shine and touch those who see you as their Teacher. You’re being driven by your dharma, darling. Congratulations. You are living your light!®
Sheri Mabry Bestor, MA,
Holistic Living & Creativity Consultant, Practitioner, Teacher and Author. Founder/Guide of Life-Artistry. Owner of Balancing Arts Yoga & Well Being Studio, Literary Agent for Willow Words Literary Agency and Private Critiquer for Willow Words Writing Services.