Perhaps one of the most common questions I get when I do my weekly yoga Q & A on Instagram is from new yoga teachers who are asking for advice. I get it. Being a new teacher can be daunting…nerve racking, even. Which is why I’m so happy to pop in here with a little bit of big sisterly advice, as someone who’s been in this industry for a decade now.
Before we dive into the post, I just want to let you know that if you’re riddled with anxiety before each teaching gig- I feel you. I was 110% the same. Truly. Like, I’d black out as soon as I sat on that mat up in front of everyone.
To be totally honest, even after 10 years of teaching yoga, I still get butterflies before teaching new students for the first time. Not only is this normal- it’s actually a good sign. Being nervous means you care. So don’t beat yourself up for the nerves when they bubble up, k?
5 Tips For New Yoga Teachers
One thing I want to remind you right off the bat is to remember not to jump on the comparison hamster wheel when it comes to teaching yoga. It’s easy to look at more experienced teachers and think they have it all together. And they glide around the room doing it all so effortlessly. When the truth is that at one point in time, they were exactly where you are right now.
While a more seasoned yoga teacher might be able to facilitate a killer class in what looks like an effortless way, I can assure you that there’s still plenty of time, effort, experience that has gone into that one hour. You will get there one day. But only if you stick with it.
Yes, I’m a huge proponent of avoiding burn out, and not succumbing to hustle culture. And, I also think it’s really important for new yoga teachers to say yes to as many opportunities as possible when they first start teaching.
The reason I suggest this isn’t through the lens of doing more to achieve accolades or worth, like hustle culture would suggest. But rather, so that you can figure out what it is you really like as a teacher. Saying yes to as many teaching opportunities as possible will really help you to hone in on your personal preferences, styles, and student demographic in a way that simply completing a 200 hour yoga teacher training will now.
Sure, saying yes to as much as possible will likely come with finding yourself in a few jobs that you don’t love so much. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from those experiences! Participating in events, classes, or studios that we don’t necessarily gel with are still informing what it is that we do want to surround ourselves with.
In saying yes to as many teaching gigs as possible, make sure that you stay open throughout the process. Staying open will allow true curiosity, and even surprise to occur.
Focus On One Component At A Time
Remember those advanced teachers I was referencing before? The ones walking around the room with the perfect music, the best hands on assists, a unique sequence, and the best cues you’ve ever heard? Yeah, those ones.
When we think about a yoga class, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the big picture of it all. Especially when we’re comparing ourselves to people who have been teaching longer than we have, and do it ALL so well.
As a new teacher, I want you to focus on one component at a time in a prioritized way. What I mean is, rather than spending 4 hours on making the perfect playlist- use those same 4 hours to ensure you have a safe class (physically, mentally, and emotionally). Remember, safety is our primary focus as a teacher. So start there.
Focusing on safety means creating a safe sequence based on all that you know about anatomy from your 200 hour YTT. It also means having clear cues so that you can support people when they’re in these shapes. Once you feel good in your cueing and sequencing, then you can move on to the other stuff like hands on assists, music, environment, etc.
If you took a 200 hour YTT that didn’t prepare you for sequencing and cueing, then you can always take my 100 hour YTT in your own time, fully online. Cueing and sequencing are my freaking love language.
You know that I’m a no-demo girlie when it comes to teaching yoga. That’s right, only words. Which means you need to be really clear with your words. And it also means you will probably be talking A LOT. Chances are, the words you’re using a bit of a mouthful. And not necessarily the ones you use on a regular basis.
Sure, there’s the Sanskrit component- which is literally another language. But, even if you’re teaching fully in English, the anatomical verbiage, directing, and cueing used in a good yoga class isn’t necessarily the same language we speak when we’re catching up with our friends.
We talk a lot about muscle memory when it comes to anatomy of asana in yoga. So creating muscle memory in the mouth will likely make sense to you, right? I’m not a huge talker. So, when I first started teaching yoga, I actually needed to practice getting the words from my head, into my mouth, and out in a clear way.
My favorite way to practice a class is when I’m taking a walk. If you’re worried about looking nuts for talking to yourself, just throw your headphones in, and people will think you’re on the phone. I still practice my sequences out loud on a walk before I teach class. This not only helps me get into a flow of yoga speak, but it also helps me visualize the sequence so that I’m fully confident in SPEAKING the sequence, rather than DOING the sequence.
Start practicing your sequences out loud, and try to turn on your visuals at the same time. This practice alone will improve your cueing, help your words be clearer, and reduce your demo’ing. For more on cues, check out my blog on How To Cue Yoga Poses.
Breathe With Students
Even if you created a safe sequence, and even if you have a solid grasp on your cues- you’re still going to be nervous. That’s okay! Remember, that means you care.
As a yoga teacher, you know allllllll about how the breath impacts the nervous system. So, it shouldn’t be a shock to you that I’m suggesting for you to breathe with your students. This will literally help to ground, and calm you. It’s like that you already know those longer, open-mouth exhales will really do wonders. So use them! When you’re cueing for your students to breathe, make sure you’re breathing too.
The great thing about this method is that the breath not only works on your nervous system, but it helps you stay in the flow and pacing of the class. When you’re breathing with your students, it’s more likely that you actually do each side more or less equally.
Have A Back Up Plan
My hope for you is that your 200 hour YTT taught you about the importance of teaching to the midline. However, I know that many 200 hour yoga teacher trainings do not (unfortunately). Teaching to the midline is another topic that I cover extensively in my 100 hour YTT online, which is extremely valuable for new teachers to have a solid grasp on.
Oftentimes when I talk about teaching to the midline, and having a back up plan in your classes, teachers will tell me they teach a set sequence- so they don’t really have that option. You can still teach to the midline with a set sequence! Honestly, it’s even easier. All you have to do is have a strong grasp on modifications for the shapes in the sequence.
Teaching to the midline means that you’re accessing the students who are in front of you, and then altering your planned sequence as needed. Sometimes that means throwing it all out the window, and sometimes it just means a few tweaks here or there.
As a new teacher, the thought of throwing out an entirely planned sequence is TERRIFYING, I know.
The best way to have a back up plan for your sequence when you’re first starting out is to have a clear understanding of modifications- especially the more challenging asana in the class you’ve created.
Chances are, not everyone will be able to do everything. Even in more foundational classes. This is why understanding modifications is so important, because we want our students to walk away from the class feeling empowered- rather than defeated. The great thing is that the longer you teach, the more you’ll pick up on patterns of what seems to challenge people the most, so that you can come armed with a variety of modifications for those specific shapes.
New teachers, you’ve got this!
I know it can be scary, but you’ve already come this far. YOu’ve completed your 200 hour training, and you’re ready to go out in the world and share your love of yoga. Don’t let your fear stand in the way of that, ok?
I know it seems like there’s already a million and one yoga teachers in the world at this point. And yet, the world is still in need of more yoga, isn’t it? We need you!
Good luck, my friends.