As of today, I’m officially an E-RYT200! For those of you that aren’t familiar with yoga lingo: I’ve completed 1,000 hours of teaching yoga, and through Yoga Alliance, I’ve earned the new title as anExperienced Registered Yoga Teacher. It’s exciting, rewarding, and a bit shocking to think I’ve stepped on the mat as a yoga teacher 1,000 times in the past 5 years. I’ve been fortunate enough to say that I can split those hours into 6 categories: Studio Yoga, Private/Semi-Private Yoga, Yoga for At-Risk Populations (i.e. cancer, addiction), Workshops, Gym Yoga, and Community Center/College Campus Yoga. Although I cannot remember every detail about every class, I do know that each one was special in its own way. I know that each time I took the seat of the teacher, I learned a little something about my character, my habits, my principles, my strengths and more importantly my weaknesses. If I could press rewind and edit my teaching perhaps a few years ago… I wouldn’t change a thing. I would allow myself to be naïve and overconfident at times. I would allow myself to play inappropriate music or cue a sequence that made absolutely no sense. I would allow myself to do all of these things because each and every experience opened me up to how I can creatively and intelligently refine the gift of teaching yoga. So here it is — 5 years and 1,000 classes later, my 10 tips for yoga teaching refinement.
1. You’re Always A Student
Seems like a bit of a cliche at this point, but it will never stop being true. David Regelin once said, “Thinking you are good at something, means you do not expand your effort to learn it, and that you exclude whatever does not easily fit your perceived natural talent.” If you’re an amazing yoga teacher, you have to be an equally amazing student. As I started writing this post, I gave myself a pat on the back for my E-RYT accomplishment, and then took a slice of humble pie and brought myself back to the seat of a student. What else can I learn? What other weaknesses do I have? What bad teaching habits can I shake? Continue to receive feedback, observe yourself, digest it, and grow.
2. Have a Regular Practice
Three years ago I took a workshop with T.S. Little and heard some of the most important words of my teaching career: “If you’re a yoga teacher and you don’t have a regular yoga practice, then I question you.” After that day I made sure to get on my mat or my meditation pillow daily. Having a regular practice exposes you to your own passions and knowledge of yoga. What you experience on your own mat, whether it be a physical breakthrough or a mental notion, will be communicated and passed on to the people that you teach. If you don’t practice regularly, then what experience are you teaching from?
3. Know Your Anatomy
Anatomy can be daunting. It still is for me at times. The truth is some yoga teachers are better than others at understanding the body and how it works anatomically in yoga poses. It’s okay if that isn’t one of your strengths, but it shouldn’t be an excuse to not educate yourself on the essentials. As a teacher, you must know the fundamentals of yoga anatomy and alignment. This is not only to help your students understand their bodies more, but also to help them avoid serious injury. Make it a point to understand what is happening internally in every pose you teach. Learn how to weave in anatomy tips into your classes.
4. Dharma is Important
I didn’t bring dharma talks into my classes at first. I was scared I’d sound silly, or worse, ramble on and scare people away. However, dharma is important. Having food for thought as people move their bodies really emphasizes the mind-body connection. Although not everyone in your class will absorb your dharma, be certain that there are people who will. You will have students who will use your talks to get them through the class, or perhaps through the rest of their week. Dharma talks don’t always have to be profound or incredibly insightful. They just have to be authentic!
5. You’re Here to Serve
At one of my studios, we treat our students with cold eucalyptus towels after the hot classes. A fellow teacher recommended we put the towels on student’s foreheads to enhance the Savasana experience. To be honest, there are some days I don’t feel like doing that. But then I remember that it is not about me. I am here to serve people and move them towards a better state of mind. So if that means putting a cold towel on every single person’s head, or turning down my music, or making sure everyone in the room gets an adjustment, then I do it.
6. Adjust and Assist People
Speaking of adjustments, get hands on in your classes (if it’s appropriate of course). Each adjustment doesn’t have to be grand or time consuming—a gentle press on the sacrum in Child’s Pose, or hands on the shoulders in Mountain Pose are quick and loving adjustments that can be offered to everyone in the room—even if your class is packed. People enjoy the sensation of adjustments because they are helpful, but they can also be comforting. I make it a point to adjust everyone, because no one likes being left out!
7. Be Professional
Teaching yoga is a job. Although it is far more laid back and likely more interesting than your average office job, it should still be treated with the same amount of professionalism. Arrive on time. Come prepared. Dress appropriately. Know your boundaries. Allow your teaching space to be casual and comfortable, but remember it is still your place of work.
8. If you don’t Know it, don’t Teach it
It might be rumored in your studio that everyone likes so-and-so’s classes because he or she always teaches handstands or really cool deep backbends. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, especially if this particular teacher is seasoned and comfortable teaching advanced posture. However, don’t feel obligated to teach difficult poses if you’re not entirely sure how to teach the pose safely. The thrill of teaching challenging and “crowd favorite” poses is not worth the risk of injury.
9. Less is More
Even if you are comfortable teaching a wide variety of poses, you don’t have to include every single one in your sequence. Students can get a lot out of spending more time in less poses. In fact, it can be incredibly challenging for students to slow down and spend time in poses. The “less is more” rule also applies to cueing. Even if you know every alignment cue and anatomy tip about every single pose in your sequence, you don’t have to share them all at once. Students will get more out of a few cues and tips at a time.
10. Community is Important
Be a friend to everyone who comes into your space. Learn your students’ names. Really listen when they come to talk to you—even if the topic isn’t yoga related. Attend studio events and take other teacher’s classes. Be more than just the yoga teacher that comes on Fridays at 6:00pm, but the teacher that everyone knows because he or she is a member of the community!