“Liberate yourself from the prison of your mat!” How to improve as a new Yoga teacher

Have you ever compared yourself to your favourite Yoga teacher (perhaps with a little envy) and asked what makes them so great at what they do? Perhaps you have wondered about your own teaching journey, and how you can become the best teacher you can. Here are some tips to get you thinking about your teaching style and bring a better quality of experience to your students:

Liberate yourself from the prison of your mat! Ranked at #5 on the list of things Americans fear most, public speaking can be daunting. I’ve seen many new teachers deal with their fears by remaining trapped within the space of their own mat - not daring to step, or even look outside their safe haven. My advice? Take small steps. Begin by walking around the studio during a down dog, when nobody is watching you, and then return to your teaching position. Later try instructing a posture while standing in the middle of the room. Soon you might find yourself confidently walking around the whole space as you guide students through class. What are the benefits? Read on…

Look! One of the main advantages of moving around the room is that it gives you an excellent opportunity to look at your students’ postures. New teachers tend to reel off long lists of commands that they have learned in their teacher trainings, often un-necessarily. What is the point in giving a minute’s worth of instructions on the basic alignments of triangle to a class of intermediate to advanced practitioners? They are likely to need much more specific instructions on alignment. You are only going to know what these are by a careful observation of their postures. By looking at the range of different interpretations of a posture, you will become increasingly aware of the different types of body that human beings have, and of what you are looking for in each posture. You can give individualised instructions to the students that need them, or talk to the whole class if you see a more general need. 

One thing at a time. How many commands do you know for refining down-dog? I have met teachers who can (and do) spend a good minute reeling off a long list of instructions. And what’s the response of a student in this position? They might be confused or overwhelmed by so much information - beginners might be unclear on what it means to ‘open’ the hips or ‘lengthen’ the back, and might not have a deep awareness of their own bodies. Or they might just switch off and stop listening to your voice after a long day of work and information overload. Much better to choose one area of focus for each posture, and explore it thoroughly, perhaps with a preparatory exercise. Choose positioning of the hands for this downdog, look at rotation of the biceps next time. And don’t forget the importance of silence from time to time. Although it’s tempting to fill that space with noise we must give people time to connect with their own minds.

Dare to use your hands (with permission of course!) Many of us are afraid to touch complete strangers, not knowing what the effects might be. Will we injure our students, or irritate them? Of course it is very important to proceed with caution when touching others, and always to ask permission before we do so. But helping adjust or assist a student in a posture, or simply placing your hands on another’s body for consolation or release of energy can be remarkably powerful. Give it a go with friends or family first; practice with other yoga teachers and explore how you would like to bring touch into your class. Start with simple things like gently laying your hands on someone’s back in child’s pose, and work towards more complex movements.

Do your personal practice separately. It might be tempting to do all of the yoga postures along with your students, but the likelihood is that you won’t be able to give them the personal attention that might benefit their practice. Speaking from wheel or shoulder stand is difficult to hear; so why not do your personal practice before students arrive? That way you will be warmed up and centred, ready to lead your class!

Get inspired with class planning. It is easy to get stuck in the same few routines taught in teacher training, and we can become stale and uninspired. Why not attend a whole range of different classes in your area and take notes afterwards? Think about the postures and variations that were particularly effective, good cues, and how the tone and atmosphere of the class were managed. You could try planning with more experienced teachers, who can suggest interesting variations and modifications, and help you ask why you are including each posture in your sequence. 

Did you enjoy this article? You might consider pursuing an internship opportunity with us where you can refine your technique, share, experiment and explore under the guidance of experienced teachers - contact us for more information! Check out our articles on3 things they didn’t tell you in your teacher training, and making it as a new teacher for further advice!