October 26, 2014

Yoga Teacher Fails: What not to Do.

yoga teaching

Most of us become yoga teachers because of a deep desire to share something we love so much that has helped us personally in ways that are hard to put into words.

We don’t necessarily know the first thing about how to teach, we just know that we want to.

There are essentially two parts to becoming a teacher regardless of the subject:

>> having a firm grasp of the content or subject matter—this is the what of your teaching, in our case, yoga; and

>> understanding teaching methodology—this is the how of teaching, which greatly affects how well your students receive the what of your teaching.

If you’re lucky, you’ve had some teaching experience elsewhere in your past, since during a typical 200-hour Yoga Alliance-registered teaching training, only about 25 hours are dedicated to teaching methodology.

What this means is that most new yoga teachers struggle a little while getting their footing in this area.

The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.
~ Mark Van Doren

As a trainer of yoga teachers, I’ve noticed some mistakes we all tend to make during this stage (me included!). Here are the top 10 yoga teacher fails.

1. Not learning your students’ names.

This is so critical that I’m mentioning it first—if you don’t learn your students’ names, they will not return to class. Most students come to class to feel connected to others. If you don’t take the time to learn their names, they will not feel like it matters whether they’re there or not. Pure and simple. This is a no-brainer.

2. Not welcoming new students to class.

Also in the no-brainer category is taking the time to welcome a new student. It seems so basic but I myself have been to classes where the teacher never approached me.

3. Thinking that class time is your practice time.

Yes, I know that your personal practice time suffers once you start teaching…really, I get that. But you must fight to keep your own practice time sacred so it doesn’t bleed into your teaching time. If you want inspiration, watch this video about B.K.S. Iyengar’s amazing dedication to his personal practice.

4. Watching yourself in the mirror.

If you have mirrors in your studio, pretend they don’t exist, unless you need them to see a student. Do not preen, adjust your clothes and hair or watch yourself walk across the studio in your new yoga outfit. I know this sounds harsh, but it just sets a bad example. Trust me, you look awesome!

5. Assuming that students can do what you’re asking them to do.

People who become yoga teachers tend to be the ones who have a propensity for it. If this is you, then please be aware that students can be clueless about what you’re asking them to do. This is your opportunity to get precise about what goes into executing something that is easy for you but not for them. Give clear, detailed instructions. Then pay attention. If you notice students aren’t responding to your instructions or don’t understand vague remarks like, “Melt your heart,” don’t use it. Try something else instead; your students will appreciate your desire to communicate in a way they understand.

6. Talking in a sing-song “yoga teacher” voice…or a baby voice.

I’m not sure where this one started but new teachers often talk in an airy, falsetto voice that sounds like they’re talking to a child. It’s much more effective to talk in your real voice. We’re not trying to look and sound like some image of a yoga teacher. We’re communicating information and inspiration with authenticity and clarity.

7. Using the collective “we” when giving instructions.

When you say things like, “Let’s take our right foot and move it forward,” it’s a lot less potent than, “Take your right foot forward.” Again, clear instructions trump everything.

8. Not giving permission for all levels.

This one harkens back to mistake #5…your students will come in all shapes and sizes, and the need to give them permission to not compare themselves to others and work within their own comfort zone cannot be overestimated. We’ve been raised in a “no pain, no gain” society where we’re encouraged to live by the standards of others. It takes constant reminders to overcome this tendency in students.

9. Not setting the proper expectation/excitement for them to return to class.

Rarely do I hear a teacher end class with a reminder about what’s going to happen in their next class. It’s important to give students an incentive to return by saying something like, “In next week’s class, I’ll be covering arm balances and how to get into them step-by-step.” This will draw your students back by creating something to look forward to. It’s a helpful aid to keep them on track with their practice.

10. Not giving a clear outline of your class.

This is really Teaching Methodology 101. First, tell your students what you’re going to cover, then cover it, then tell them what you covered. This will go a long way in helping them retain what they learned and appreciate the journey on which they have embarked. My students repeatedly tell me that they like it when I tell them upfront what I have planned for the class…even when it’s not much different than what we normally do. It helps their primitive brain to relax a little.


~ Rupali Embry


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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Author’s Own

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