1. Be yourself
As a new teacher, it can be really hard to find your voice. Understanding exactly who you are as a yoga teacher can feel like a puzzle that is surprisingly difficult to solve. While you’re trying to figure it out, you can easily get caught in unproductive loops along the way - mimicking other teachers, or repeating the same phrases, cues, and ideas that you’ve heard before, without knowing how to make them your own. And so on. The truth is that “finding your voice” doesn’t have to feel scary or elusive - the good news is that your voice is already inside you, and it has been there all along. All you need to do is look deep enough inside so that you can draw it out.
This is something that I’ve actually struggled with at different points during my years of teaching - if you know me, you probably know that I smile a lot, am super friendly and a little bit silly. But when I teach, I tend to be overly serious. It’s part of my perfectionist nature, and I hold myself back from being fully myself. During classes when I’m able to let loose a little bit more and be more “myself,” I can feel the difference - in a very good way. So I challenge you to embrace yourself with all your personality quirks and explore them! See how you can bring these things into your teaching.
I would also challenge you to think about why you’re teaching yoga. What do you want to share with your students? What experience do you want them to have in your class? Because at the end of the day, teaching yoga is not only about you - it’s about sharing yoga with other people and allowing them to have their own experience, within the context of your class. So my best advice is to be yourself as best you can, and to give your students the freedom to be themselves as well.
2. Be a professional
BE ON TIME. Arrive at the yoga studio 15-20 minutes before your class begins - any later than that is considered late. Seriously, don’t be late. Being on time is such a simple way to show respect for the studio where’re you’re teaching, and it’s an important courtesy to the people working the front desk (who will be freaking out when you are late). It's also beneficial to your students - it’s great to be available for them for a least a couple of minutes before you start teaching.
Basically, treat teaching yoga like any other professional job that you would have. Know your schedule. If you run into a scheduling conflict (hey, it happens), find a teacher to cover your class ahead of time, not at the last minute.
Begin and end class on time. Treat the studio space well. Be nice to the front desk - their job is harder than you realize. In general, be as easy to work with as possible - it’s the easiest way to set yourself up for continued success. Really. If you do all of these things regularly, know that you will probably stand out to both the studio and the students.
3. Teach what you know
This point is very connected to #1 above! Part of being yourself as a teacher means resisting the urge to teach what you think you “should” be teaching, and instead focus on teaching what feels true to you, what feels relevant to your own practice, and what you most want to share with your students.
Please know that you will second guess yourself all the time. You will wonder if your class is too easy, too hard, too slow, too fast, and so on. There’s no one answer to any of these questions - there’s a big range of people who practice yoga, who all have different likes and dislikes. Some people will love your class, and other won’t. It’s just the way it goes. But if you teach what you know - if your teaching is rooted in your own experience, I promise you that you will not end up off course. Every studio and every student might not be the right fit, but please remember: You have to be yourself!!
An example: I never teach Skandasana. For some reason, that pose just does not make sense in my body - both of my feet end up doing weird things and I can figure out where my weight is supposed to be and no matter how many times I try (and I do try, all the time!!), that pose just does not work for me. So I don’t teach it. You will NEVER find that pose in my class. How can I talk people into a pose that I don’t really, fully understand?
Is it a big deal that there’s no Skandasana in my class? Nope! You could obsess all day about the things you DON’T know how to do, but instead, please realize - and focus on and celebrate! - all of the many wonderful things that you DO know a lot about and are able to enthusiastically share with your students.
4. Keep it simple and keep it safe
Especially at first. This means teaching cues and overall sequencing. I promise you, your class does have to be Cirque de Soleil. Unless that’s your thing and in which case, rock on :) Yes, it is lots of fun to get creative with your sequencing, and some students will love you for it. But don’t prioritize coming up with zany traditions - it isn’t the most important thing and you don’t want to get ahead of yourself. You have to be where you are, right now. You will change and you will grow, but start where you are comfortable. Where you are able to pay attention to your students because you’re not working so hard to try to remember what comes next, or how to get lots of complicated words out of your mouth.
5. It will take you a long time to plan a good class
Again, especially at first, although I promise you that it does get easier. This is hands down the question that I get most often from brand new teachers - they often can’t believe just how much work goes into planning a single class (a hint: hours). You can plan a class in less time, but it will not be as god.
As a brand new teacher, you’re still developing so many different skills related to teaching. There’s the skill of putting together thoughtful sequences - sequences that are well balanced, make sense energetically and anatomically, are appropriate for the time of day and the time of year etc. Your class needs to be timed right - are you teaching for 60 minutes? 65? 90? Your class needs to be appropriate for the level of the room (a hint: I suggest having some ideas of what you’ll switch around based on who’s in the room and whether the class goes “fast” or “slow”. Be ready to change things up as needed! This is also why it’s important to keep things a little simpler at first.).
If you’ll be playing music, you also need to get your playlist right - your music has to be timed properly with the overall class time, have the right atmosphere for the day and time of the class, and needs to sync up correctly with your sequence.
Make no mistake, these things can take A LOT of time, particularly when you’re just learning how to put it all together. There is really no short cut to experience - the more you do these things over and over again, well, the more adept at them you will get.
All of this is not to say that you have to be a perfectionist, but you do need to thoroughly prepare. Yes, of course, there are plenty of yoga teachers who don’t do much planning, but I guarantee you those teachers have been teaching a long damn time and have put together so many sequences that they can put a great sequence together on the spot, very successfully.
I will tell you that I ALWAYS walk into class with a plan. Sometimes that plan might need to change, but I never “wing it” - I already have a clear plan (and back up plan(s)) in mind. Having that plan and having prepared will make you feel much more confident about the fact that you know you’re giving your students a great class.
6. Teach the people in front of you
Another tempting trap to fall into is teaching yoga poses instead of people. I’ll find myself doing it too from time to time - mindlessly saying to lift your hips in Downward Dog and so on without actually looking at the people in the room. LOOK at your students, and teach them. Not the people at your last class - teach the people in front of you right now.
7. Don’t obsess about being liked
I mentioned this before, but I made a whole special bullet point for it too, because this can be really hard for new (and experienced teachers to understand). As awesome as you are, please understand that some people just will not like you or your class. It’s nothing personal - we just physically cannot be everybody’s favorite teacher.
People will walk out of your class. People might criticize certain aspects of your class. Getting feedback is great, but know what to take in, and know what to let go of. You might not know at first, but you will learn. You will also have days or weeks or months full of times when you doubt yourself - who you are, your teachings, and so on. Try not to get caught up too much in this doubt. If you’re working to be yourself and you’re teaching what you know, from your heart, please know that you are offering something of great value to the world. Your students will find you. I promise.
8. Don’t stop practicing!
It’s hard to make time for yourself while you’re running around town teaching yoga, but please know how important this is. Practicing regularly with other teachers will keep you out of teaching ruts. There will come a time when you feel like you’re just teaching the same things over and over, and I promise you that going to 2-3 classes with other teachers will reinvigorate you and reignite your curiosity and creativity. Having a home practice is essential, but getting out of the house is very important too.
9. Teaching yoga = hustle It’s not only a hustle, but also know that you’re definitely going to have to hustle at least a little bit when you’re starting out. If you think you can sit back and wait for awesome studios and students to find you, please know that it’s not going to happen - definitely not here in New York City, and probably not anywhere else either! My biggest advice to you is this: If you want to teach, teach. Find ways to make it happen. You might not get hired at the exact studio that you want right away, and you might not be making $150 per private client right away. But you have to start somewhere, and teaching consistently will help you build momentum. It will give you those very valuable hours of teaching experience. Post ads on craigslist (or your town’s equivalent) offering private yoga for $50-75 an hour. Offer to teach friends/coworkers/family for free or for discounts. No one is going to make it happen for you if you don’t seek it out. It’s a lot of work, but the reward is teaching yoga :)
10. But take care of yourself too! (especially your voice) This is the flip side to #10 - as much as you need to hustle, you also need to balance hustling with taking good care of yourself. Every single teacher I know has gone through a period of teaching too much and getting sick too often. You’ll need to figure out how many classes you can comfortable teach per day (for me, it’s an absolute max of 6, and ideally 4). Take a day off every week as soon as you can. I didn’t do that for my whole first year of teaching - sometimes you have to say “yes” to everything, but sometimes you really need to also say “yes” to yourself. Also, no one tells you how important your voice is. Take care of it. Don’t scream at loud restaurants and bar. Every hour that you teach yoga is one full hour of you talking. Most of us aren’t used to talking 4-6 hours per day, non stop. And when you do lose your voice because you didn’t listen to me (ha), get a bottle of Singer’s Throat Spray (it’s the only thing I’ve ever tried that actually helps bring your voice back ASAP!) :))
BONUS #11: It’s ok to make mistakes!
So now that I’ve thoroughly scared you and told you all the stuff you have to do.... Know now that you will also make mistakes - and it is ok! Making mistakes is not the end of the world. You might accidentally skip a pose on one side, or twist to the left first, or mess up your breath count or forget what you were going to teach next and so on - AND IT REALLY IS OK. All that you can do is your best. We’re humans, us yoga teachers, and humans aren’t perfect. I have never once taught a “perfect” class, and I definitely never will. Because perfection doesn’t exist, and because perfection is not the point! You can teach a great, meaningful class even if you mess up “right” and “left” a few times. People aren’t there to judge you - they’re there to do yoga, and they want to have a good time.
They want you to succeed, and *I* want you to succeed. Good luck out there :)