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What I Wish I Knew Before Teaching My First Yoga Class

Being a yoga teacher is one of the most rewarding professions I have ever had. I am so grateful for the people who attend my classes, wanting to share their yoga journey with me. I often reflect back on my first year of teaching from time-to-time and I think about how much I’ve grown as a teacher.

Sometimes, I also think about everything I wish I'd known before I started teaching yoga.

1. Be authentic.

In the beginning of my teaching career, I spent too much time and energy trying to be the deeply philosophical style of instructor that I liked to take classes from. While it is great to have goals to strive for and people to look to for an example, don’t copy other teachers' style, instead take the time to find your own.

Once I stopped trying so hard and inadvertently fumbling my words in the process, I was able to relax and go with the flow. I also found that my philosophical tidbits started to flow naturally as I became more relaxed and as a result they were more authentic.

2. Make friends with the statement: “I Don’t Know”.

Don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know everything. I have had many questions about anatomy, illness, natural medicine, and why certain body parts are hurting (just to name a few!). It can be overwhelming at times.

Remember, while you are in the health and wellness industry, you can only focus on the topics you are trained in. It’s better to share that you don't know something and refer people to go to their doctors and other wellness professionals that they trust.

3. Leave your ego at the door.

I am constantly learning from my students. Learning different adjustments and modifications to poses that they know based on their physical needs. Learning to let go when someone moves into a different pose than the one I instructed. Learning that everyone has their own way of interpreting my message, but all that matters is that they found something that resonated with them.

4. Have a sense of humor.

There have been times where I've confused my left and right, stammered while cuing a pose, or completely blanked out in the middle of my flow sequence. Being able to laugh about it is the best option. Not only does it lighten the moment, but I've learned it can really create a connection with my students.

5. Be present.

It is so easy to be in your own head when teaching. After all, there is a sequence of poses to remember, cues to say, and bits of philosophy to add in.

But the most important thing I've learned is to truly watch the students. Notice how they are responding to the poses, the pace of the class, and the cues you are giving. If they are showing signs of stress, lack of focus, or not responding to your cues, take a moment to pause, breathe, and create some space to allow everyone to be present.

One of my favorite ways to do this is to have everyone close their eyes, with hands at heart center and take three deep breaths—me included!

6. Let go of self-judgment.

Don't forget that the people coming to your class have their own reasons for coming as well as their own things they are working out in their lives. I have spent many classes thinking: "Why isn't anyone smiling?", "Do they hate this pose?", "Why are they doing Pigeon Pose when I said we are doing Shoulderstand?"

Honestly, it wasn't until people started telling me after classes that they had an injury or just an aversion to certain poses that I realized it wasn't anything personal, but instead them knowing their own body well enough to modify.

7. Get to know your students.

Don’t just run in and out of class. Take a few extra minutes to talk to your students while you are all setting up. This is a great time to get to know what brings them to their mats.

It's also important to learn their names to not only be able to address them personally before and after class, but to also use their name during class if you feel inspired to let them know they are growing in their practice.

8. Create space.

Especially when introducing more advanced poses such as Crow pose. For many people a lot of fear comes up when poses such as Crow pose, Handstand, and Supported Headstand pose are brought into a class. By showing how to get in and out of the pose and then stepping back to allow space for each person to explore the pose in their own way, you are creating a safe space for them to explore the pose and themselves.

9. Be flexible when planning your class.

Have a back up sequence in mind for those times when your students are showing signs of stress, lack of focus, or not responding to your cues. There have been times when my sequence seemed perfect on paper or in my head, but in reality it was too fast, too slow, or too difficult for the people in my class to follow. By not only being present to these signs, but making a few tweaks in your sequence to accommodate your students, you will keep them coming back.

10. Add your own zen.

Find something to add to your class that is all your own.  Add a quote, essential oil, or mantra—something that is personal to you and allows you to stand apart from other instructors.

I personally use a mint essential oil that I rub on my students temples and back of the neck at the beginning of Savasana. And remember, when adding an essential oil it is important to state that if people don't want it, they can let you know by raising a finger as you come by their mat.

Teaching yoga is a practice of its own with many lessons. Be confident, flexible, and stay true to your authentic nature. Learning as you go and growing in your abilities. 

Michelle Finerty
Michelle Finerty
Michelle has been writing professionally for over a decade. She started in the business world, focusing on cross-cultural communication and technical writing, and is now infusing the teachings of yoga with modern life, blending two of her passions...yoga and writing. Michelle also teaches yoga. Receiving her teacher training in Vinyasa Yoga in 2007 and adding Prenatal and Kids Yoga after becoming a mother. In her spare time, Michelle likes to meditate, hike, and read.