6 Tricks to Becoming a Better Yoga Instructor.

Via Lauren Hanna
on Nov 10, 2011
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Photo: Natalie Larocco

Great yoga teachers harbor characteristics that make their classes addictive. We don’t know why we love them, but we do. And we come back, class after class after class – because there is something that makes this teacher stand out among the rest.

What is it?

Every teacher might have a niche that is unique to them: Dave Farmar gives off humor while Kathryn Budig shows us how to play.

In my practicing with and coaching teachers I’ve discovered a few things that across the board can take a yoga teacher from being average to phenomenal. Just like our practice, our teaching is always evolving. Here are 6 tricks I want to share with you to take your teaching to the next level:

1. Control the space

A good yoga teacher not only can teach a good class, she or he can create a safe space. It is not enough to show up to a room and rattle off a sequence. We must be in control of the room. How do we do this? Identify what disturbs a practice: a student on a cell phone, someone swinging their leg in the air and almost kicking a student behind them, someone leaving early from savasana and creating havoc, a group of teenage girls in the back giggling ferociously.

What can we do when we don’t want to be rude or cause a scene but this disturbance clearly needs to be addressed?

We can firmly, yet gently address these students without grabbing the attention of the whole room:

Please refrain from using your cell phone during class. It’s distracting to both me and to the other students.

Please be mindful that you might kick your neighbor when you swing your leg like that. Follow my instructions.

If you need to leave early today, that’s OK. But for the future – make an effort to stay the whole class length, it’s disrupts the practice when a student leaves early.

Girls, I know it’s fun to come with friends. But let’s keep quiet for everyone else here, ok?

Your students will love you for controlling their practice space. Keep them happy, keep the room under control.

2. Energize your speech

If you’ve ever taken a class when the teacher’s speech is all passive language, you know how it can drag on…

Straightening your front leg, reaching forward until you maybe start tipping over until your front hand just might be able to find your big toe and then grabbing hold. Breathing for 3 breaths.

What’s wrong with this picture? Teaching passively is common but is an easy fix. Instead of saying “Straightening your front leg.” You can say “Straighten your front leg.” Take away the passiveness and make your speech active. It will motivate the class and move the momentum forward.

Instead of saying “Maybe bending your front knee.” Tell your class “Bend your front knee.” If they can’t do it, they won’t. Firm, but compassionate directions keep your class active and the pace lifted.

3. Own your story

Too often I meet a teacher that doesn’t feel worthy of being a yoga teacher or doesn’t want to fully embrace who they are as a teacher. And I know this feeling because I once felt the same way. I started teaching yoga when I was 18 years old. I felt vulnerable and incapable in a room filled with 33 people, where many of my students were old enough to have been my parents. Or sometimes peers would come take my classes and I would feel equally incapable – what if they don’t like me? What if they think I’m awful?

Teachers, like students, usually begin teaching for a reason. Many times they have some experience that brought them to yoga that they want to share and pass on. Embrace your story – why did you start practicing yoga? When and why did you start teaching? What about your story do you want to relate to your students?

Own your story and it will show up in your teaching automatically. Whether you are a beginning teacher, young or old teacher, whether you suffer from mental illness or some other chronic disease, anything at all … Own it!

4. Know that the practice has nothing to do with you

Your students do not have to like you. They are not paying you so that you will be liked. They are paying you because they want an experience and they want to feel better. And this has nothing to do with you. As teachers, we want to find a balance between owning our own story and teaching from that position, while also not imposing anything onto our students.

Our job is to be a guide – to lead students through a practice. During this time, we really have no idea what is going on in our students’ heads – what’s going on in their life right now? Why does that girl in the yellow shirt never smile? Why does that redhead at the front always moan on the exhales?

The answers don’t matter. The point is – the practice has nothing to do with you. Be a guide. Let the students be in their practice.

5. Shut up

Have you ever taken a class where the teacher just won’t shut up? I have. Cue after cue after cue and I find myself doing nothing but wondering – why on earth is this person talking so much?

It doesn’t matter what brand of class you’re in: Power yoga, Vinyasa, Anusara, Iyengar, Bikram… Students need space to breathe. They need space to listen to their breath and to listen to the silence of a room and to the breathing of students around them. Our fear as teachers is that leaving students in silence for too long will be awkward and uncomfortable.

It won’t be awkward. It won’t be uncomfortable. Silence is the sweetest component of practicing yoga – find a balance between guiding your students and giving them the space to guide themselves.

And simply shut up from time to time.

6. Practice often

After becoming a yoga teacher, you might find that the time you used to take for practice – you now take to teach. I know too well how it feels to have no time to practice for myself. And it royally sucks! So make time for yourself. Make your practice a priority and keep it fresh – find new teachers, new studios. Keep growing your practice and you will in effect, continue to grow your teaching.


Have a tip to share? Tell us below!


About Lauren Hanna

Lauren Hanna, E-RYT 200, MSS Candidate, is a social worker by day and yoga ninja by night. It was in Pittsburgh that she first discovered the thrill of yoga and her love for social welfare and animal rescue work. With her cats Lotus and Calia in tow, Lauren hopes to someday combine her love for yoga and animal welfare with her career as a social worker. Lauren likes to dream a lot about saving the world – one puppy, kitten and human at a time. Lauren also loves cobblestone streets, arts & crafts, action movies and writing books with her Grandmother. If she had a billion dollars she'd probably spend it all here. Follow her @laurenfoste.


34 Responses to “6 Tricks to Becoming a Better Yoga Instructor.”

  1. Valerie Carruthers says:

    Great article, Lauren. You reallym summed up how the art of balance applies to how a class is taught and experienced as much as to any individual posture.

  2. shawna says:

    Awesome! Great tips Lauren, thank you. I love #5…silence is golden!

  3. Shutting up is so hard to do – I constantly work on that knowing it is what I also want as a student, yet sometimes there are so many students at varying levels, that there is so much to say to keep them safe.

    Great post – thanks, Lauren.

  4. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Awesome article, Lauren! I LOVE this!

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
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  5. Prasad says:

    A very well written and informative article, very very important points not just for teachers to be but also for the ones who are teaching now. Thank you.

  6. I'm a chatty gal and one of my biggest blocks to teaching is how and when to talk. I know it's one of my pet peeves ESPECIALLY telling people how to relax in savasana. If you are doing a guided meditation then fine. Otherwise, stop talking.

  7. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  8. Monique says:

    Amazing reminders Lauren. Will definitely share with my fellow teachers. Another one I try to stress to new teachers is to really see your students. Don’t be in your head and don’t have a set agenda for your class. Be able to sense the energy in the room and if half your class is dying in downward dog skip it and maybe child’s pose is where they all need to be today.

    Thanks and now I’ll shut up. 😉

  9. Danny says:

    Thank you for sharing these imporant reminders, Lauren. I would add, ‘Have fun’ and ‘Be Authentic’. If you’re not passionate about the practice, if you’re disingenuous about what you’re teaching and if you’re not having fun, your students will pick up on your energy, or lack of, and will likely turn off.

  10. Peggy Hall says:

    Great tips — especially the part about simply saying "straighten your leg"! No need to use cumbersome language like "Now I want you to.." or "go ahead and …." just give the clear direction! I've got 20 more free teaching tips you can get at http://www.YogaforSurfers.com!

  11. Haha, thank you Monique!! I love that. "Really see your students." So true. Could probably put that under "Know that the practice has nothing to do with you" — AKA nothing to do with your agenda!

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  12. Erica says:

    Great article Lauren! I do sometimes need to remember to shut up! And owning your story is brilliant advice – it's your reason for being there, so it should infuse everything you do.

  13. Raymond Ho says:

    Great tips – I would only add .. Accept to be yourself and no one else 'you think' the students want you to be.

  14. […] 6 Tricks to Becoming a Better Yoga Instructor. […]

  15. So true. So many more tips I would add as well — i could probably go on forever! Thank you Raymond!

  16. Sophia Paul says:

    Very good article. I would add to give the student space and encouragement. That is what I hear the most from my students, that they feel safe and that they are glad to be in a place where the are not judged and/or criticized

  17. Kristine says:

    Great article. I would definitely add that if the yoga instructor is using music in his/her practice, please change it up often. A class becomes so stale when the instructor uses the same playlist over and over and over again.

  18. Tiffany says:

    Loved this! Thank you! I especially love the part about making your own practice a priority. I've found that maintaining and growing my own practice is by far the best way for me to improve my teaching.

  19. So true! I've recently started keeping a calendar and penciling in my practice times to keep it a priority. Thanks Tiffany 🙂

  20. Anderson says:

    As a new (and young) yoga teacher, my deepest thanks for this.

  21. […] really enjoy reading the blogs at elephantjournal. I thought this recent post titled 6 Tricks to Becoming A Better Yoga Instructor was really great. I also love Teachasana. I’ve been subbing more and more recently and this […]

  22. You are welcome! Best of luck with your teaching.

  23. […] 6 Tricks to becoming a better Yoga Instructor. Waylon Lewis, founder of elephantjournal.com & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green content two years running, Changemaker and Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards & Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | facebook.com/elephantjournal | twitter.com/elephantjournal | facebook.com/waylonhlewis | twitter.com/waylonlewis | Google+ […]

  24. thanks – always love getting words of wisdom from fellow teachers!

  25. karlsaliter says:

    Gracias: good article. Love it when writers know their subject. I will use some of these, most especially the shut up!

  26. rita says:

    I ditto that too…keeping up with persnal practice is what is making me a better teaching. Thank you

  27. […] learned a few things since then and I want to let you in on a little secret: The best and happiest yoga teachers are the ones that put their own practice up on a […]

  28. Rogelio says:

    In addition, teach to who is in front of you, not just rattling off a list of instructions that we memorized in TT.
    As far as silence is concerned, i use to feel the same way, i do/teach Iyengar yoga, and as most of you know we have a lot to say….but if you keep to the subject, be directive, you are guiding the students deeper into the pose/ focus concentration/ the teachers voice provides a path for the inward journey….silence can be good at times but also the mind being what it is will wonder and be distracted… the student will loose concentration/meditation…..but if the teacher is rambling about there [email protected]#$% that has nothing to do with the class or yoga then definitely shut up…

  29. […] Already a yoga teacher? Here’s six tricks to becoming an even better one. […]

  30. […] and I had no problem being up in front of a group, but I felt a bit shy about teaching yoga. I lacked some confidence in my yoga knowledge and skills. However—once I unleashed the beast—the latent knowledge manifested. By not withholding and just […]

  31. greateacher says:

    NO one can control.. people.. or space. A wise person will MANAGE the space. manage means shift with needs, be proactive by coming early, setting principles and guidelines ahead of time.
    truly those 'contorls' you stated will CONTROL people right out of the room. For the leg swinger .."when you swing your leg like that.." will embarrass them. Instead deal with the lack of or need to readjust space. make a general announcement about how close people are together.. or to alternate mats. if one person is swinging her leg.. probably everyone else is also lifting or gently arching or using their core to raise.. use language which directs people to safety.

  32. […] She seemed sort of nervous, so I assumed she was a new teacher. […]

  33. Melissa says:

    This is SUCH a good article, well-written, clear and TRUE! Nice job Lauren Hanna!