How to Become a Better Yoga Teacher (part I)
Before, During & After Class Strategies
If you’re a yoga teacher looking to improve your teaching skills and increase your impact on students, there are three sections to teaching a class you need to work on: before, during, and after.
BEFORE CLASS: Get Involved
Most studios require teachers to show up 15-30 minutes before class starts. If this is not a requirement, do it anyway. Even if you’re teaching at a busy gym facility or fitness center, show up at least 15 minutes early, and simply ask questions as students arrive. Why ask questions? Because no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care. You need to make a genuine connection with your students so they’ll connect deeply with your teaching.
- How are you feeling today?
- How did it go last class?
- Are you coming from home or work?
- Just out of curiosity, how many classes have you taken here?
None of these questions are designed for small talk. Small talk is superficial, and no one likes it. Instead, ask questions to truly understand the person in front of you. If they tell you they are feeling sick today, suggest the student take it easy and sit out any pose that feels too much. If they say the last class was really easy, tell them you’ll show some more advanced modifications today. If they say they’re coming straight from work, ask if work is high stress or low stress. If they say they’ve taken six classes so far, ask which was their favorite.
As simple as it sounds, almost no one ever does this. Stand at the front desk, ask questions, listen, and watch your student’s spirits lift. We all want to be heard and listened to. We want to feel welcome and understood.
DURING CLASS: Talk Less, Help More
Try to talk less. Most teachers rely too heavily on their voice for teaching, and they forget to use body language and physical touch. This is a huge mistake. As a student, being talked at for 60-90 minutes is pretty draining. That’s why experienced teachers leave big gaps of silence where they work one-on-one with students, gesture or show variations, and use their hands to physically adjust.
Show. You should demonstrate poses as little as possible, but “showing” means using your body as a teaching tool. If you tell your students, “Lift your hands above your head…” you too should lift your hands above your head. This active participation in the class, even if just a gesture, creates a sense of unity, positive pressure, and engagement. Great yoga teachers’ hands are always moving; their body constantly gesturing to give their words more meaning.
Tell. Your voice is your biggest teaching tool, obviously, so you need to use it throughout class. Infinitive verbs are the preferred choice for yoga teachers so have your students: lift, tuck, pull, step, hop, clasp, and lunge. If in doubt, throw a strong verb out into the class and watch your students respond. It works.
Touch. Physical adjustments have a bad reputation in yoga, largely due to styles like Ashtanga Yoga where teachers traditionally were aggressive and strong. For most teachers, strong physical adjustments are not appropriate or safe in your classes, but the use of touch is absolutely essential.
If a student needs to spread their fingers in Down Dog and your words aren’t working, squat down and spread their fingers. If a student needs to retract their shoulder blades in a backbend, tap their upper back lightly to help them understand.
If you’re worried about liability or inappropriateness of touch, you need to practice with a peer group or training group. This is your problem, not your students – they expect it. When a doctor takes your wrist to check your pulse, there is no consent needed. It’s obvious what he or she is doing – they are doing their job. As a yoga teacher, using your hands is part of your job too.
AFTER CLASS: Be Personable
Stand in front of the room, by the front desk or near the exit. Don’t use your phone, and don’t cross your arms. Instead, smile and make eye contact with your students. Say things like “Thanks for coming!” and “How was class today?” Keep your body language open and light.
When students approach you, lean in and listen to what they have to say. Many teachers disappear like a performer from stage never to be seen again when a class ends. Some teachers start conversations with their colleagues or bury their face in their phone. Very few teachers make themselves available for the question, introduction, or connection with a new student.
Want to become a better teacher? Focus on the before, during, and after-class experience. Use these simple tips in your next class, and watch how your students respond.
Want more resources for successful yoga teaching? Find more at the links below.