November 10, 2011

6 Tricks to Becoming a Better Yoga Instructor.

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.


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