Teaching yoga is a true gift.
One year ago, I taught my first public yoga class. Since then, I’ve taught 164 yoga classes. I’ve taught in studios, offices, parks, clothing stores and gyms. I’ve taught packed classes with 35 sweaty yogis and I’ve taught classes where one student showed up for practice.
While these tangible milestones are great, teaching yoga has given me so much more.
Teaching yoga has completely changed my world, my outlook, my purpose and my path.
Here are 10 lessons learned from one year of teaching yoga:
1. Plan ahead (but be prepared to throw your plan out the window).
I’m a big planner, so naturally, I bring that love of planning into my teaching. I write my class flows in a notebook and plan out my class themes with an opening “speech” and closing “speech.” However, while planning is great, I’ve learned as a teacher that we need to be prepared to go off-script at a moment’s notice. Part of being a great teacher is feeling out the room and teaching to who we see, not necessarily from our planned scripts. I’ve taught classes where I’ve had a plan in mind (and my handy flow at the ready) but quickly realized my students weren’t ready for much of what I had planned—so from there, I adapted.
2. Introduce yourself to your students before class and stick around after class.
Want to know what makes class feel 100 times less intimidating? Introducing yourself to your students before class. When you introduce yourself, not only do you put your students at ease, but also yourself. Suddenly, the room is filled with actual human beings with names, thoughts and feelings, not just a crowd of complete strangers. Similarly, when class ends, don’t rush out of the studio. Stick around and chat with students after class. When I end class, I usually say something like, “Again, my name is Jessica and I teach here on Tuesdays at 5:45 and Saturdays at 9:30. I’ll be around after class if you have any questions or feedback.” I find this is the best time to really connect with students, get to know them and begin to build a class following.
3. Offer modifications and advancements for poses.
I teach an all-levels class, so I often have a mix of yoga beginners and advanced yogis. I always aim to “call the pose” first (say the name of the pose) so that the more advanced yogis can get right into it and then I offer cues to help those less familiar with yoga find their place. Once I have students in a posture, I like to offer modifications to help make a pose more accessible, as well as advancements to help people take their practice to the next level. I also love to share how props like blocks and straps can be used within a pose! Teaching an all-levels class is extremely rewarding—it’s so inspiring to see students at various places in their own personal practices.
4. Develop a message or theme for the class.
When I decided to become a yoga teacher, I was most excited to develop and share themes with my students. I love finding the perfect quote to start or end class with and I really enjoy developing my themes and messages. During the centering/grounding phase of class, I love helping my students find an intention to focus on and I love bringing that intention back to awareness throughout class.
5. Truly be present in the room.
After I taught my very first yoga class, I realized one crazy thing: I barely remembered what happened while I was teaching. I was totally not fully present in the room. I was caught up in my own head, trying my hardest to remember what came next in my flow and completely focused on simply making it to the end of class. I vowed that moving forward, I’d make more of a conscious effort to be fully present in the room. One of the best ways I’ve found to help me stay present and grounded is to actually breathe with the class. When I cue a pose and say, “Stay here for three deep breaths,” I take those three deep breaths with the class. It helps me to stay calm, focused and present.
6. Don’t be afraid to give physical assists.
As a beginner yoga student, anytime a teacher touched or adjusted me, I thought for sure I was doing something wrong. Now I relish those physical assists! Physical adjustments help create a connection between a teacher and a student and also help the student to relax more or find themselves deeper into a pose. Of course, it’s important to ask permission first and read the body language of people in the room—certainly there are people who don’t want to be touched in class—but for the most part, physical assists and adjustments are a great way to build connection and help your students advance their practice.
7. Find a safe space in the room.
Though I walk around the room while I teach, it’s also important for me to have “safe spaces” in the room where I can go to collect my thoughts and come back to the present moment if I lose it. For me, I usually place my notes on a pile of blocks or on my mat in the front of the room—this is one of my safe spaces to come back to when I feel like I need to check in. Similarly, I use the back wall to lean against for grounding, but also to take a full assessment of the room as a second safe space. I’ve found these various spots in the room give me a little dose of comfort in times of need.
8. Don’t take things too personally.
Remember, you don’t know what type of baggage your students bring into class with them. I’ve definitely left a few classes thinking, “Wow, that girl in the front seriously hated my class!” or “No one smiled or laughed at my silly jokes. What gives?!” but I try to remind myself that I have no idea what’s going on in that person’s life or what brought my students to their mats that day. All I can do is show up, offer the best that I have and hope that students take what they need from it. Similarly, don’t be afraid to embrace your mistakes. You’re going to mess up sometimes. Lefts and rights are confusing. Sometimes I forget the names of body parts. It’s okay. Be human. Laugh it off. Move forward.
9. Be a student first and always.
Even though I’m now a teacher, I don’t ever want to lose my love of being a yoga student. I continue to practice regularly and educate myself through workshops, advanced training and reading. I find now that I need yoga more than ever to help me stay grounded! Practicing regularly with different teachers at different studios also gives me inspiration and ideas for my own classes.
10. Be you.
Perhaps the most simple, yet most complicated lesson of all: be authentically you. Let your true self shine. You bring something unique and special that only you can bring to your class. Embrace it and own it.
Are you a yoga teacher? What lessons have you learned from teaching?
Author: Jessica Lawlor
Editor: Catherine Monkman; Caitlin Oriel