It’s exciting, rewarding, and shocking to think I’ve stepped on the mat to teach 1,000 times. I know that each time I took the seat of the teacher, I learned a little something new about my character, my habits, my strengths and more importantly, my weaknesses.
If I could press rewind and edit my teaching a few years ago… I wouldn’t change a thing. I would allow myself to be naïve and overconfident. I would allow myself to play inappropriate music or cue a sequence that made absolutely no sense. I would allow myself to do all of these things because each experience opened me up to how I can creatively and intelligently continue to refine the gift of teaching yoga. So here it is—5 years and 1,000 classes later, my 10 tips for yoga teaching refinement.
1. You’re always a student.
Seems like a cliché at this point, but it will never stop being true. Renowned yoga teacher David Regelin once said, “Thinking you are good at something, means you do not expand your effort to learn it, and that you exclude whatever does not easily fit your perceived natural talent.”
If you’re an amazing yoga teacher, you also have to be an equally amazing student. After writing this article, I gave myself a pat on the back, and then took a slice of humble pie and came back to the seat of a student: What else can I learn? What other weaknesses do I have? What bad habits can I shake?
2. Maintain your regular practice.
Three years ago I took a workshop with Tias Little and heard some of the most important words of my teaching career: “If you’re a yoga teacher and you don’t have a regular yoga practice, then I question you.”
After that day I made sure to practice daily. Having a regular practice exposes you to your passions and knowledge of yoga. What you experience on your own mat, whether it be a physical breakthrough or a mental notion, will be communicated to your students. If you don’t practice regularly, then what experience are you teaching from?
3. Know your anatomy.
Anatomy can be daunting—and it still is for me at times. It’s OK if it isn’t one of your strengths, but it shouldn’t be an excuse to not educate yourself on the essentials. This is not only to help your students understand their bodies, but also to help them avoid injury.
Make it a point to understand what is happening anatomically in every pose you teach. Learn how to weave in anatomy tips into your classes.
4. Dharma is important.
I didn’t always offer Dharma talks. I didn’t think people cared to hear me ramble. However, offering students food for thought as they move their bodies really emphasizes the mind-body connection.
Be certain that there are people who will absorb your Dharma. You will have students who will use your talks to get them through class, or perhaps through the rest of their day. Dharma talks don’t always have to be profound or incredibly insightful—they just have to be authentic!
5. You’re here to serve.
At one of my studios, we treat our students with cold eucalyptus towels in Savasana. A fellow teacher recommended we put the towels on student’s foreheads to enhance the experience.
To be honest, there are days I don’t feel like doing that. But then I remember that it is not about me. I am here to serve people and move them toward stillness, calmness, and quietness. So if that means putting a cold towel on every single person’s head, or turning down my music, or making sure everyone in the room gets adjusted, then I do it.
6. Adjust and assist your students.
Speaking of adjustments, get hands on in your classes (when appropriate of course). Each adjustment doesn’t have to be grand or time consuming—a gentle press on the sacrum in Child’s Pose, or hands on the shoulders in Mountain Pose, are quick and loving adjustments that can be offered to everyone in the room—even if your class is packed.
Students enjoy the sensation of adjustments because they are helpful, but also comforting. I make it a point to adjust everyone, because most of the time no one likes being left out!
7. Be professional.
Teaching yoga is a job. Although very different from your average 9-to-5, it should still be treated with the same amount of professionalism.
Arrive on time. Come prepared. Dress appropriately. Know your boundaries. Allow your teaching space to be casual and comfortable, but remember that it’s still your place of work.
8. If you don’t know it, don’t teach it.
It might be rumored in your studio that everyone likes so-and-so’s classes because he or she always teaches hard poses. Don’t feel obligated to teach these poses if you’re not sure how to teach them safely.
The thrill of teaching challenging and “crowd favorite” poses is not worth the risk of injury.
9. Less is more.
Even if you are comfortable teaching a wide variety of poses, you don’t have to include every single one in your sequence. Students can get a lot out of spending more time in less poses. In fact, it can be incredibly challenging for students to slow down in poses.
The “less is more” rule also applies to cueing. Even if you know every alignment cue and anatomy tip about every pose in your sequence, you don’t have to share them all at once. Students will get more out of a few cues and tips at a time.
10. Community is crucial.
Be a friend to everyone who comes into your space. Learn your students’ names. Really listen when they talk to you—even if the topic isn’t yoga related. Attend studio events and take classes from other teachers. Be more than just the yoga teacher that teaches on Friday night. Be the teacher that everyone knows because he or she is a member of the community!
Photo courtesy of the author