You might be a master yogi, but you need more than the right knowledge to be a master yoga teacher.
In theory, you might be an excellent yoga teacher. You know the Sanskrit name for each pose; you’re an alignment master; and you wow your class with impressive arm balance demonstrations. In actuality, this does not a good yoga teacher make. In addition to having the right knowledge, a good teacher cares more than anything about their students’ growth. You have to show your students you care; and make the class less about you performing, and more about them succeeding.
Adopt the seven habits below to become a highly effective yoga teacher:
Highly effective yoga teachers plan their classes ahead of time. Write out a sequence, and have an idea of where the class should be 15, 30, 45, and 60 minutes in. Memorize it—referring to a list throughout class does not look professional—and stay on schedule. This way, your class will keep a steady pace and cover all the asanas (poses) rather than rushing through the latter half or shortening Savasana (Corpse pose).
Your students have likely made a grand effort to drag themselves to class—exercise takes motivation—so what message do you send when you’re late to your own class? Be punctual. Better yet, arrive early, and your professionalism will be palpable. This will also give you time to introduce yourself to each individual student and learn their name—another good habit that shows you care.
Respect your students’ schedules; and both start and finish class on time. They have expiring parking meters and places to be. It’s your job to keep your eye on the time; not theirs.
Yoga is a very serious and deep science, but yoga class should be light. Your students want to leave feeling uplifted. As their teacher, make the experience rosy by putting a smile on your face, and even adding a little humor. Take it one step further and encourage your students to smile while they’re holding a challenging pose. The class mood will instantly be elevated.
People can feel your energy. If you arrive to class tense, stressed or agitated, your students will feel, and may even take on, your negative vibe. They don’t want to hear about your fight with your boyfriend or your episode with traffic. Your frazzled and edgy tales of pre-class woes will drain their yogic mindset.
We all have our bad days and mood swings. However, if you arrive to class early, you’ll have some time to get into a yoga mind. De-stress with five minutes of alternate nostril breathing. Rub some soothing lavender oil on the base of your neck. Place a photo of the Buddha or a calming figure in the studio to remind you to relax. And keep that light smile on your face—it’s an instant mood booster.
Your class is about your students, not about you. It’s your duty is to ensure that your students don’t injure themselves. If you’re practicing along with the class, you may as well be teaching with your eyes closed. Pay attention to what your students are doing. Be completely present. They’ll feel your attentiveness and know that you’re invested in their growth.
The key to truly connecting to another human being is eye contact. The key to being a highly effective yoga teacher is connecting to your students. Look your students in the eyes.
The teacher-student dynamic—guru to sadhaka—was traditionally a very sacred relationship. You can imagine that a lot of eye contact was made in the traditional one-on-one teaching method. Now that we primarily learn in group classes, we’ve lost much of this intimacy. Eye contact is the simplest way to regain a deeper connection to your students. Even just a glance gives them a sense that you care about them as individuals.
Your students have come to yoga to relax, so talk minimally. While they obviously need to listen to instructions, they’re otherwise meant to continuously focus on their breath. Give them space to go inward. Constant instructions and alignment cues can be overwhelming, and personal anecdotes and stories are distracting. Give clear, concise instructions and some words of positive encouragement; and leave it at that.
Each of these seven tips revolves around how you make your students feel. If you make your class all about your students, rather than all about yourself, you’re on your way to becoming a stellar and highly effective yoga teacher.