I never dreamt to be a yoga instructor. Although I had two yoga teachers training, my goal was not really to teach. I wanted to learn. First, I was keen to improve my practice, and then I was keen to learn about yoga theory and philosophy.
Random circumstances led me to teach. Some friends asked me for classes. After that, I organized yoga classes in a park in Bangkok. Then, I was contacted by more people for private and group classes, online and onsite classes, classes in hotels, etc. Not long ago I was teaching yoga in a drug and alcohol rehab center in Thailand. Different public, different practices.
Why sharing tips for new yoga teachers?
It has been two years that I have been teaching yoga regularly. I am not very experienced, but I am not a complete beginner as well. I sometimes receive texts from new yoga teachers who have not started to teach yet. They have a lot of questions. How to prepare for my class? How to adapt to the diversity of the students? Should the class be free or not? etc. I thought I could write a blog article about it. So, here are some tips for new yoga teachers. Those tips come from my own experience and are most likely incomplete. Feel free to ask questions that you may have (which probably keep you awake at night) or to add more tips in the comment section!
My 15 tips for new yoga teachers
At the beginning of the class, ask if anyone has any injury or pain
Ask if people accept to be adjusted/ touched
Make students feel comfortable, especially the beginners
Tell the group to take a break at any time
Teach the yoga style that makes you feel at ease
Be transparent and say that you begin as a yoga teacher
Memorize a one-hour yoga sequence, which will be the basis of all classes
Remember that left and right are inverted when you face a group
Encourage the beginners, and do not make too difficult poses
In a multi-level class, include different variations of the poses
During private or small-group classes, adapt the content of the class based on requests
Ask for feedback at the end of the class
Ask for a cheap price to attract clients, and to give you more opportunities to teach
It is ok not to be liked by everyone!
Start now !!!
1/ At the beginning of the class, ask if anyone has any injury or pain
Asking students if they have any injury or pain allows you to identify 1/ poses to avoid, 2/ poses that could be beneficial. For example, someone who hurt her wrist recently will likely not be at ease with arm-balance poses and those that require the weight of the body on the hands (plank, downward-facing dog, etc.). As far as back pain is concerned, many poses can release the pain: side bends, twists, etc. Even if you forgot everything about your anatomy classes, it is fine. What matters is to tell students to avoid all poses that make them feel uncomfortable. And by the way, this applies to every student! Some students are not aware (or forget) of the existence of old injuries or pain.
2/ Ask if people accept to be adjusted/ touched
Although it is important to adjust students’ poses, some people are not comfortable with physical contact. This is more the case since the pandemic. It is essential to respect everyone’s choice and to adapt to it. At the beginning of the class, it is possible to mention: “if you are not comfortable with physical touch when I come to adjust your pose, please mention it to me”. Or ask during the class: “is it ok if I apply pressure here?”, “Are you fine if I adjust your alignment?”. Let’s avoid things like “do you like to be touched?”. When there are men in the class, I am also a bit more cautious. Let’s avoid any kind of misunderstanding there… In any case, it is absolutely possible to adjust a pose without physical touch. The goal is to act like I am the student’s mirror. I would replicate in front of him/ her the alignment he/ she has now, and then show the steps to reach the right alignment.
3/ Make students feel comfortable, especially the beginners
Let’s give special attention to the beginners, especially those who come to a class for the first time. It takes courage to show up at a yoga class when we are complete beginners. Beginners are often a bit ashamed when they say: “I have never practiced yoga so I am really not flexible”. That’s great not to be flexible! Yoga targets first and foremost those people. I find the least flexible people are often those with the most tensions and/ or stress in the body. Let’s make them feel comfortable: it is normal not to be able to do all poses, it is normal to feel lost the first few times, it is normal not to be able to synchronize the poses with the breathing, etc. At the beginning of the class, I recommend telling them to be comfortable to try all the poses they want to try and to skip all poses they want to skip. In my opinion, a well-led class is a class where, at the end of it, complete beginners are happy as they realized that yoga is more accessible than they thought. It has nothing to do with extravagant Instagram pictures…
4/ Tell the group to take a break at any time
When we are so excited to teach our first classes, we may forget to include a short break! I like to make people feel comfortable, especially the beginners, by telling them at the beginning of the class that they can take a break at any time. This is not the army! Although it is not mandatory, it is nice to spend a few seconds –who said it needed to be a long– for a break. It gives time to drink water and relax. I usually include a mini-break after the poses that are more intense than others. For example: after a sun salutation, or standing poses (Warrior, Triangle, etc.). To be aware of the right time for the break, the key is to observe students and to be mindful of their sighs, drops of sweat rolling down their cheeks, or when they look dangerously at you. I remember my first yoga classes, I send dangerous looks after each Warrior pose!
5/ Teach the yoga style that makes you feel at ease
The standard teacher training -the 200hr YTT- introduces a variety of yoga styles. Do we have to specialize in one yoga style? If so, which one: Hatha? Vinyasa? Yin? Ashtanga? Do we have to adapt our style to the public or to the teacher’s preference? I think that when we begin teaching, it is better to choose our style. If you do not know yet what is your style, ask yourself the following question. If you had to prepare your first class, would you spontaneously choose a Hatha yoga class? Hatha Flow? Vinyasa? etc. The answer is usually aligned with the yoga style we practice the most. Once we feel comfortable with teaching one yoga style, when we are confident enough, it is easier to challenge ourselves by teaching other styles of yoga. One step at a time though!
6/ Be transparent and say that you begin as a yoga teacher
What if students see that I am uncomfortable? What if I am shaking? If I forget my words? I collapse? What if I pee myself?? STOOOOOOOOP!!! It is normal to feel stressed out when we start a new activity, especially when it implies facing a group and being considered as an expert at something. If stress and anxiety are such that they could jeopardize the quality of your class, I advise the following tip. Just be transparent. Tell the group that you begin as a yoga teacher, and that you are a little bit stressed (do not tell them you peed yourself, that would not help). Not only it will not change anything to the respect people have for you (that’s obvious), but it will also make people kinder to you. You will feel a lot more comfortable.
7/ Memorize a one-hour yoga sequence, which will be the basis of all yoga classes
Create a one-hour yoga sequence and test it with an audience. If this sequence suits you, then memorize it! It will be the basis of all your classes. This means that your classes will follow the same structure, with more or less the same flow. To include a bit of variety into the content of the class, replace a few poses with others, and that’s it! It is not necessary to change the entire content of a class each time you teach. As far as I am concerned, I adapt the content of my standard Hatha yoga class based on the audience (beginners/ intermediate, injuries, etc.), their expectations (flexibility, cardio, strength, relaxation, etc.), and their preferences (what they like/ do not like).
8/ Remember that left and right are inverted when you face a group
Whether we teach online or onsite, we face a group. The group will perform the poses by using us like a mirror. This means that left and right are inverted. That’s the brain gymnastics of yoga teachers! When we want students to lift the right arm, we have to lift the left one. If we want the class to do the tree pose by lifting the right foot first, we (the yoga teachers) have to lift the left one. I did not take that into account when I started teaching. I did not think about it either in my YouTube videos. Of course, it is not a big deal. But it can be confusing for the students. Somemay wonder what kind of substance we took before the class.
9/ Encourage the beginners, and do not make too difficult poses
Let’s remember our first classes as students. Do you remember those poses that seemed so difficult, sometimes unachievable? How about those moments when yoga teachers and most students would execute crazy poses perfectly while we would look around, wondering “What The Fuck is that?”. When there is a majority of beginners in a class (with less than 6 months of practice), it seems important to me not to make too difficult poses. Otherwise, it would shatter beginners’ self-confidence. Even if some poses appear to be easy ones, they can be challenging for some people. I think the goal to reach is that each and every person should feel comfortable with some poses, and feel challenged by other ones. That way, it reinforces people’s self-esteem and gives them the motivation to keep practicing.
10/ In a multi-level class, include different variations of the poses
Multi-level classes include beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. As a teacher, it is necessary to think of variations of the poses. Each yoga pose can be adapted to match different difficulty levels. Let’s think of the tree pose, where the right leg would be the standing leg. Level 1 (the easiest level) would be with our left toes pressing on the mat, and the left heel against the calf. Then, level 2 would be with the sole of the left foot against the inner leg, below the knee. Level 3 would be with the sole of the foot above the knee. Once we understand the logic behind this, we come to realize that even very advanced poses have much easier variations. For example, level 1 of the scorpion pose (Pincha Mayurasana) is the dolphin pose.
11/ During private or small-group classes, adapt the content of the class based on requests
The content of private classes is customized to the student’s requests. Since requests can change from one class to the other, it is all about using our creativity and adaptation skills! Instead of panicking and running away, I advise using the content of our standard class and including more customization to it. When a client tells me she is exhausted and wants an easy class, I will mainly teach passive poses and we take the time to breathe. When she is energetic, I include sun salutations, more core strengthening and I challenge her with some poses. Sometimes I adapt the content as the class goes by, based on inquiries that arise or on my interpretation of non-verbal communication (a lot of frustration = too challenging). When it is a small group, it is also possible to slightly adapt the class content, by asking how people feel or if they have any specific requests.
12/ Ask for feedback at the end of the class
At the end of the class, I like to thank the students and ask for their feedback. Feedback can be positive or negative. Feedback is useful because it helps us identify the strengths and weaknesses in our teaching skills or in our sequence. Even when students have different opinions (“I do not like this pose”, “oh really? that is my favorite one!”), it helps us identify what each student likes or dislikes. When students become regulars to our classes, it is, therefore, possible to adjust the content of the class slightly, or to make a joke about it: “And now, we are about to make Karen’s least favorite pose: the Crow pose! Show us your Crow, Karen? Caw Caw“. A fine and delicate joke (obviously, not this one) can put a smile on Karen’s face (or maybe not) and show that we are aware of the extra effort that she is putting to step out of her comfort zone.
13/ Ask for a cheap price to attract clients, and to give you more opportunities to teach
This tip applies to yoga teachers who are free to determine their price. It is not the case for those who work in a studio. A cheap price removes part of the pressure to perform very well. My very first yoga classes were free. My goal was to practice teaching, practice my time management, and my class sequence. Moreover, a cheap price (or no price at all) is the best way to attract our first students! The price is definitely the key ingredient to the marketing strategy. With time and practice, it becomes possible to reach a market price. It is certainly possible to find clients when our prices are high. But it usually works when demand is very high and that offer (i.e. the number of yoga teachers on the market) is very low. Or, we need to be super popular on Instagram and have rich followers! No need to say that I have no experience whatsoever in this regard…
14/ It is ok not to be liked by everyone!
Whether we talk about yoga teaching, working, or being a public person, it is the same everywhere. We cannot be liked by everyone! Even the most popular yoga teachers like Adrienne are not liked by everyone. Each teacher has his/ her own style. Our personality and our interests shape the kind of teacher we become. Some yoga teachers are more spiritual, others are more about anatomy and alignment. Some are dynamic, others are more peaceful. I do not think that we have to change who we are and how we teach to be liked. Each teacher finds his students. What matters to me, is to show respect and attention to each student. And finally, it is even better to have the willingness to learn, to self-develop, to accept our weaknesses, and to evolve. But this applies to every single field of life, doesn’t it? 😉
5/ To yoga teachers: start now!!!
I heard the more we wait before starting teaching yoga, and the least chances we have to actually start at all. The best time to start is right after the yoga teachers’ training (the 200hrs YTT). If your teacher training prepared you well enough, you must have had the chance to teach to a group once or twice. Do not stop! Teach yoga to your family, to your friends, your colleagues, and to anyone who is interested. There comes a time where the most important thing to do is not to ask ourselves so many questions, but to actually do it. Learning by doing, they say. So here is my final tip to all new yoga teachers: it is time to start teaching NOW!