We reached out to some of our favorite yoga teachers and asked them two questions. We wanted to know what advice they got when they first started teaching, and now that they are seasoned pros, what advice do they give to the new kids on the block. Here are the powerful, practical—and sometimes surprising—insights they offered.
What was the best advice you got as a new yoga teacher—and who gave it to you?
I was walking into my very first on-the-road yoga workshop in Nashville, Tennessee, more than 30 years ago. I was extremely nervous, almost petrified. My host in Nashville, June LaSalvia, whispered into my ear as I was going into the big room, “No one is here to judge you. Everyone just wants to have a good time.” That put me totally at ease. Well, almost.
Rodney Yee’s advice has stuck with me for many years and through all that time has always been right on. He said, “One thing. Just say one thing.” Teachers tend to give too many instructions. Learn not to talk just to fill space but to say just one thing and then let the yoga conversation unfold. Watch the students to see if they understood and assimilated that instruction before going on to the next thing is the best teaching advice I ever got.
David Life told me to practice every time before I teach, so that my words are embodied and not just an idea. When I tell people to root their tailbones and lift their chests in trikon-asana, the imprint is still in my body.
“Don’t separate yourself.” This sentence startled me when my yoga teacher, Sally Elsworth, said it to me quietly. I was on my first yoga retreat as a student, and our cozy group was suddenly awash with new people arriving at the retreat center. I realized I was feeling proprietary about “our” space, “our” practice, and “our” retreat center.
Once a psychic revealed to me that my words had little effect on other people, but that the energy we shared together could inspire them. That was when I stopped offering narration of yoga and started the conduction of prana.
Svadhyaya: When you have a deep connection with yourself, you are able to connect more deeply to your students.
Hamsa Newmark gave me this advice: You are always a student. Maintain the desire and passion to learn more about the practice.
The best advice I received was to keep doing my practice.
Embody the knowledge before you teach it.
“You should learn to meditate.” These words of encouragement from Swami Rama opened me to a lifelong practice.
What advice would you give to new yoga teachers?
When you walk into class to teach, first connect with yourself. You cannot connect to your students if you are not in touch with yourself. Then connect to the student, the human being standing in front of you right now. Finally, connect to the task at hand, often an asana. Keep this order and you will like what you say and do next. Teach from your own wisdom with love and compassion.
My number one advice for new teachers is always the same: “Don’t teach what you know, teach what they don’t know.” In other words, make sure that you aren’t just listing all the wonderful instructions that you know for trikonasana if your students already have a clear understanding of trikonasana. Instead, take a close look at them in the pose and see where there is a gap in their understanding of the work in the pose. Where is there a lack of awareness? Where are they working too hard? Where is the alignment too loose? Then, based on what you see and feel, give them what they specifically need for that gap in that moment.
Work on your communication skills, constantly listen and adapt based on what you’ve learned.
Practice a lot, teach a lot, but don’t talk a lot.
Don’t try to fake it and teach something that you have not spent a lot of time on. For instance, if you go to a workshop and come back with this new information that you are really excited about, don’t teach it for at least three months of practicing it every day. Make it your own, and teach from that place of knowing.
Do your own practice. This is your greatest teacher and guide in yoga.
Never let go of the first moment you fell in love with yoga.
Flexibility. Plan your class, but be ready to let the plan go. For example, if you planned a rigorous backbend class, and right before you begin teaching you notice that some of your students look very tired or some have a cold, be ready to abandon your plan and teach something else.
The best advice I would give a new teacher is to ask for and be open to feedback from your students. Listen, reflect, and then either take it in or let it go; but remaining open to their feedback is important, as it could be the only way the universe can give us the guidance that we need.