On Wednesday February 17th, I finally got an opportunity to teach my very first yoga class at the gym next to my work. I was super nervous beforehand but once I arrived and put on my Lindsey Stirling album, everything inside me began to settle. I taught a Vinyasa Flow class with six students and themed it to encompass opening through the shoulders and twists.
The experience was wonderful and at the end when everybody thanked me for helping them stretch after a long day’s work, I felt like my entire yoga journey had been worth it for that very moment. Since I had graduated from my teacher training course in August 2015, I hadn’t practiced actual teaching once! What surprised me the most was how it all came flooding back to me 6 months later when I stepped into the class.
Now I am no expert but today I wanted to discuss a few tips & advice that I gained from my first teaching experience:
1.) Take it slow:
When we are nervous, we tend to rush our speech and are thus more likely to trip up and deliver cues that don’t make sense. Before I walked in, I told myself that even though I was teaching a 50 minute class, I wouldn’t hurry it. Going at my own pace and speaking slowly helped me deliver clear instructions.
2.) Practice with your students:
I was most nervous about getting my lefts and rights confused. Directing bodies through space is never a simple task and it becomes more complicated when you are using technical choreography. The best advice I can give, is to practice with your students. By doing the same moves, you will be able to know which hand and foot is which. You may even pick up additional cues. Demonstrations are also incredibly effective in helping students move and transition from pose to pose.
3.) Introduce a theme or purpose to your class:
Students really enjoy when a class is themed. They like to know where they are going and what they are doing. Pay particular attention to the time of day you are teaching. I almost always practice yoga very early in morning so my teachers tend to theme their classes around waking up tight hips and hamstrings. The class I taught was at 5:30pm was focused on shoulder opening purely because most of the participants would’ve just finished work and been hunched over a desk all day.
Other potential themes are:
– A Body Part (Legs, Hips, Shoulders…)
– The Breath (Pranayama)
– The Elements (a fiery class would work the core, an earthy class would involve grounding…)
– A Word (eg, patience, acceptance, love, peace)
– A Mantra (eg, today I will listen to my body)
– A Chakra (the Heart Chakra, the Solar Plexus…)
– A Zodiac Sign (For Pisces you can do Fish Pose, for Libra you can do Balancing Poses)
4.) Breathe with your class:
Something we learnt in yoga teacher training to combat nerves was to breathe with our students. When we tell them to inhale, we inhale too. When we tell them to exhale, we release tension in our bodies. Conscious breaths are such an important part of a yoga practice. They will keep you present and assist with anxieties/fears.
5.) Don’t focus so much on the perfect playlist:
When I arrived at the gym, the CD player wasn’t working properly and I felt frustrated because I really wanted to play certain tracks of my Lindsey Stirling album at certain points in the class. In the end, I let it play random tracks with low volume and just forgot about it. What truly mattered was the energy flowing through the class. I believe the right music can really make a class but it’s also important not to sweat the small stuff!
6.) Offer modifications/variations:
Whether you are teaching beginners, intermediates or advanced yogis, you should always offer modifications/variations. Put your class at ease by suggesting different ways they can approach the various postures. We all have different bodies, anatomical limitations and states of mind depending on the day. At the end of my class, I finished with an inversion. I offered three options: Happy Baby, Shoulder Stand or Legs Up The Wall. The same works for modifications. When it’s time to flow, students need to be aware that they can do this on their knees and even take Cobra if Upward Facing Dog is too strenuous on their lower back. It was wonderful to see the different options my students took.
7.) Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself:
If you do happen to get a little bit tongue tied or fall during a demonstration, just laugh and get on with it. Your students will connect with you more if you’re real about who you are. My favourite yoga teacher in the world, Emily Thomas, always makes jokes and laughs at herself when she wobbles. She speaks to her students on the same level and will even tell us how her body is feeling that day. A teacher that is too authoritative or serious will bring that negative energy into the class and leave students feeling less relaxed than before.
8.) Leave them with something to remember:
The beauty of yoga and what separates it from other physical exercises, is its depth and spirituality. A great yoga class will work the body, mind and spirit. When your students are holding postures such as Half Pigeon or a Forward Bend, speak to them and offer words of wisdom. Some of my instructors will read quotes at the end, others will say something that leaves you feeling inspired. At the end of my class, whilst my students lay in Savasana, I told them that they were not their thoughts. I told them that thoughts speed through our brain like cars on a busy highway and just as we wouldn’t focus on one particular car, we shouldn’t focus on one particular thought. I’m not sure if that resonated but I hope it left some sort of impact.
9.) Be flexible:
This does not mean flexible in the physical sense but rather that you are able to change the set sequence you planned if need be. For example, you may have planned a class that involves a lot of close twists but when you arrive, there is a pregnant lady. Close twists are generally not recommended for pregnant women coming into their second trimester so make sure you check how far along she is before you continue with your sequence. In my case, I didn’t have a pregnant lady but the sequence I had planned didn’t quite reach the 50 minute mark. This meant I had to improvise and add a couple more postures towards the end. It wasn’t the worst thing to have happened but if this does occur, be prepared to change what needs changing and don’t hold on too tightly to your original plan.
10.) HAVE FUN!
The best advice I can give you is to just enjoy the experience of teaching. After my class had ended, I couldn’t stop beaming as I walked to my car. It was so exhilarating and exciting to move and stretch with a class of strangers. I felt proud when I saw them attempting more challenging postures and I laughed when we all collapsed after some serious ab work in Boat Pose. It was an absolute joy and a privilege to guide such lovely people through a practice and certainly one I will never forget…
I hope you enjoyed my tips & advice for new yoga teachers. I took so many things from my 200 hour course but the main lesson that stood out was that teachers need to learn from their students just as much as the reverse. We need to observe, understand and adapt to whichever class we step into. A yoga journey is lifelong and so is the amount of knowledge we gain from our life experiences. I cannot wait for my next opportunity to teach!