It’s been over a year since I taught my first-ever yoga class, and while I don’t consider myself a tenured teacher by any means, I have learned A LOT in my first year of teaching. When I went into training, I had so many fears and concerns, along with an infinite amount of questions… What do I expect? What do I do if XXX happens? How do I create a sequence? When do the nerves go away? What type of style will I teach? Will people come to my classes?
I was absolutely terrified to teach, and I spent the first few months just getting comfortable leading an hour long class (I only taught 1 class a week, so more time spent teaching = the faster you will become comfortable). With all of this being said, yes, I still get nervous, but my mindset has transformed so much with experience. I now teach 3 classes/week, and my style of teaching has even changed along the way.
For the past year, I have spent hours and hours and days and weeks consuming so much more information, learning, taking workshops, and gaining a lot more experience & confidence teaching. With everything I have learned, I wanted to share with others who may be in the position I was 1-2 years ago: new, scared, and needing advice on being a beginner yoga teacher (or any type of fitness instructor)! So, below is a list of the top things I have learned in the past year!
Tips for New Yoga Teachers
1. Preparing your sequence/classes
At first, this was one of the hardest part of teaching a class (at least for me!). I memorized every single one of my classes every week, and was always worried about making the perfect sequence. I put a lot of pressure on myself, and I was always looking for ways to make my classes creative. As the months went by, if I ever felt uninspired, I would look on instagram, pinterest, take a yoga class, travel to other cities & take classes from new yoga teachers/fitness instructors, take workshops, or go through a yoga pose book (check the end of this post for more yoga book recommendations!) to get the creative juices flowing (and I still do this!).
It also helps to have a format for your class – I normally set 20 minutes for warmup/Sun salutations, 20 minutes for my main sequence, and 20 minutes for core/backbends/stretching. I’m a planner, so structure for me is key. I do go off the cuff almost every class now & am starting to plan my classes a little differently, but starting out, this was so incredibly helpful in remembering my classes.
Some people can just walk into a class & teach an entire class, with little to no planning. Personally, that is NOT me. I make sure I am prepared, not only because I am still learning & becoming comfortable with teaching, but also because it helps me relay more info to my students.
My main goal is to have every student walk out of class having learned/heard/understood something new – and by doing my own research before class + studying the anatomy & benefits of poses, I can accomplish this.
With that being said, every person is different – I like structure, so that is how I plan my classes! I would say I spend anywhere from 20 minutes to 4 hours planning my classes, depending on what I’m teaching – this includes research (on something new I’m learning), memorizing new sanskrit, putting together a sequence, practicing the class at my house, and creating something for social media to promote my classes.
***One last thing about planning classes – I bought a journal when I first started teaching to write my final sequence/class in for every.single.class. I carry this with me EVERYWHERE. I can reflect back on old classes, and write down ideas when I get them. Make sure to invest in a good one! I bought mine from Target for $6.
2. Teach it how you feel it
A few months ago, someone said to me, “You teach how you feel it in your body” – and ever since then, I’ve spent less time in my head, and more time in my body. I’ll throw on some music, and get on my mat. My most creative sequences have been created after a long day of work, and my body will just move in a way that feels good to me. I take that time to observe myself & write down yoga poses/shapes/connections/sequences, which makes teaching class more authentic to me AND more fun!
Feel it in your body, and teach what feels right to you. It is you and your practice that makes you unique!
If this is all still new to you, perfect. You are a blank slate and can learn & grow the more you progress in your own practice. No one else could ever mirror that, even if they tried. Allow yourself to think outside the box, add in your favorite poses, anything that speaks to you!
This includes mentally, emotionally, spiritually – read a passage from a book that you really like, a quote that you love, your life mantra, a life experience, or even giving adjustments that that you love getting in your own practice. Start realizing there is so much inside of you that needs to be shared – everything you know & have experienced in your life can help someone else!
3. Mood/energy of teacher
Personally, I think this is the most important part of the practice – there is no other option but to be positive & present for your students. They are taking time out of their day to spend it with you, and it is your job to make it the best experience for them! The last thing they want is to take a class from a low-energy, negative person.
I meditate for 20 minutes before every class – and if I don’t have time for 20 minutes, I spend 5 minutes doing some sort of pranayama breath (box breathing is my favorite!). This calms me down & centers me, putting me in a better place to be more receptive & intuitive to my students. If I’m feeling REALLY tired (hello, I teach 5:30 & 8 am classes!), I’ll put on pump-up music during my drive to class in order to get my energy up. Or, just listening to your class playlist will get you in the right mindset/vibe for your class. Regardless of how you do it, find any way to get yourself ready for class!
4. Be personal
Some of my favorite teachers are the ones who are personal. You know, the ones that take the time to chat with you before & after class, seem to genuinely care about you, and remember small details.
Be compassionate & caring towards your students – everyone likes to feel good, and the best way to do that is to make them feel special.
Make an effort to remember all of your students names, their injuries, goals, lives. Learn more about them so you can be accommodating -are they sensitive to scents? do they like to be adjusted? are they nursing an injury? – this will make them more comfortable during class & feel understood! Look for the traits you admire in your favorite yoga teacher, and bring those to your own class.
This is something that will come with time. Finding the correct words to move people’s bodies, as well as the actual yoga pose names can’t exactly learned overnight. When I first started teaching, I would practice on my friend beforehand, and she would give me feedback on what cues she liked or didn’t think made sense. I also started paying more attention to the words other teachers used while I took their classes, then practiced speaking them out loud when practicing my sequences so I felt comfortable saying them in class.
When I first got my certification, I knew basic cues & spit them out regardless of what my students looked like. With practice, I now look to my students for cues. After teaching for a while, you learn what to look for, so you don’t need to say every single alignment cue every time. Constant studying & attending workshops to learn more about anatomy, alignment, etc is key in giving you the knowledge & confidence to cue better. As a new teacher, be patient with yourself… this gets A LOT easier over time!
Music is something personal that took me a while to really connect with my classes. Some people don’t like music in their classes, and that is ok! However, I love a good playlist while taking a class and teaching – it adds to the energy & mood of the class, and you can sync up movements to each song. At first, I thought I needed high-energy, popular music in my classes. Over time, I realized that my style of teaching was much, much more chill AND slow – so my music has changed over time to match.
I personally recommend using Spotify – it’s $9.99/month for unlimited songs, and you can create an unlimited amount of playlists. I find playlists from other yoga teachers, or browse through different playlists/radio stations & listen to them all day. When I hear a song that I like, I add it to my playlist for the week.
Once I reach 1 hour on the playlist, I go in and move songs around based on my sequence (slow in the beginning, a little faster in the middle, and slower/chill at the end). Some people just have a bunch of playlists they use over & over, but I prefer to make a brand new one every week. If you are looking for any ideas, you can follow me on Spotify – search for Nina Hunt 🙂
Lighting may or may not be something you can control, but lighting can make a huge difference. It can set the mood, change your focus… I teach in a dark room, which gives the practice a more relaxed feel – it also allows students to move with more confidence, as no one else can see you!
Smells – this might sound a little weird, but the smell of your class can make a class really great or really bad. People tend to associate smells with experiences, so by having a pleasant-smelling place to teach is critical (no one wants to come back to a sweaty, stinky place!). I burn incense during my class (sets the tone, relaxes students), and the studio gives out cold towels with eucalyptus oil on them during savasana (relaxes students, opens up sinuses, smells amazing). Some of my friends actually put essential oils on their students during class, so test out a few ways to incorporate scents into your class and see what works best for you!
Don’t be afraid to try harder/challenging poses in classes! I prep my students for each “difficult” pose & encourage them to try, no matter how much they think they can’t do the pose.
Believe in your students, build them up, and allow them to explore an unfamiliar space.
Just make sure you are able to do the pose to some degree before you teach it – your students will take you more seriously, because you don’t just know the cues – you also know exactly how it feels in the body.
9. Have FUN
Crack a joke. If you don’t know one, then look one up & tell it during class! People respond to humor, and it makes them feel more relaxed. I like to tell a joke every once in a while to break the tension/seriousness of class – best done when brows are furrowed, and breathing gets heavy, which are all cues that students need to get out of their heads!
Also – mess up. I think it took me over a month before I finally messed up – I cued the wrong leg and was mortified – except, guess what – no one cared. Now, I freely mess up, say oops, laugh, and move on. Don’t be afraid to mess up, that is when you learn the most & appear more human to your students 🙂
10. Continuous education
At least once a month, I take a workshop from a traveling yoga teacher, go to a meditation/self improvement seminar, or travel somewhere to add to my yoga brain bank. It can get expensive, but I consider it all an investment not just for my personal development or career, but for my students. I want to continue learning in order to produce new & creative classes for my students! If I don’t learn, how will my students ever improve? Life is about learning, growing, ingenuity, and constantly seeking out ways to get out of your comfort zone. If you won’t do this for yourself, who will?
Be passionate about what you do, it will show up not just in your classes, but in all areas of your life.
Be yourself. This is was hardest for me, as i was so focused on not messing up in the beginning. I’m naturally an introvert AND a perfectionist, which means I am pretty closed off & hate failing… meaning, I’ve had to work HARD to let go & be vulnerable while teaching. All of my teachers/mentors gave me a LOT of tough love – while they meant well, it was something I had to process and develop in my own time, which I’m STILL doing now!
This is your journey, and you are the only one that can control how you present yourself. People can try to help you, give you advice, tell you how to teach, give you tough love.. but ultimately, you are the only one that knows who you are. So take your time, and allow yourself to unfold.
Regardless, you are doing the best you can with what you know.
So just breathe, and know that coming out of your shell will take time. The more you teach, the more your personality will begin to come out. Being authentic means something different to each person, so spend the time making sure the best “you” comes through.
12. the WHY
At the end of the day, when teaching becomes a bore, or training gets hard, or you just feel like you need a break from ALL THINGS YOGA (yes, it happens to me!!), you must always have your “Why” in the back of your pocket to keep you motivated. Why do you teach? Why yoga? The answer to this is what will determine your mindset. It can be a person, it can be a goal, a life purpose.. it doesn’t even have to be something that can be put into words! But before you go any farther in this journey – ask yourself WHY.
Check out the 3rd question on Brian Drury’s Questionnaire here if you need a little help coming up with your Why.
Be patient with yourself! Everyone learns differently, teaches differently, thinks differently.. Some are busy with a family and a have full time job, while others might devote their entire lives to teaching yoga. Go at your own pace, and know that you will progress & grow over time. No one ever became an expert in their field overnight, right? It would be impossible.
When I began teaching, I wrote out every cue, every pose, every transition for every.single.class.
I was so nervous I would forget something and mess up! Now, while I still plan my sequence, it’s more of a general idea, and I deviate from what I write down. It takes time & experience teaching a lot of classes in order to feel more comfortable. So go slow, go fast, go at whatever speed works for you at this point in your life. But most of all, be patient <3
If this all seems overwhelming… welcome to the club! The best thing you can do is focus on one thing at a time, or even just integrating a few things here & there the more you teach. I can’t even tell you how nervous I was when I first began teaching – I had nightmares the first month (no joke – and I only taught 1 class a week!), and it was such a relief when my class was over. Now… I sleep well, and only have a small amount of nerves 😉
We’ve all started from scratch, having to learn & grow. Give yourself time, and enjoy the process. Use this as a time to not only help others, but also to grow & learn more about yourself.
Put yourself out there, and don’t be afraid to be uncomfortable. Because, you will be.
You’ll want to rush through it all, but, I’m here to tell you – don’t. Soak up every single moment and enjoy every bit of the learning process. You’ll look back and be so incredibly proud of your progress, realizing that you needed to go through the scary stuff to get exactly where you needed to be.
I hope this VERY LONG blog post has been very helpful for anyone starting on their yoga teaching journey. If you are just starting out, what are some of your concerns/fears about becoming a yoga teacher? And if you are already a teacher/fitness instructor, what are a few things that you would add to the list? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear from you!
Below are a few of my favorite books/resources I’ve purchased & used for creating classes & workshops since my Yoga Teacher training:
- Journey to the Heart: Daily Meditations on the Path to Freeing Your Soul – I like to read these at the beginning or end of my class!
- 2,100 Asanas: The Complete Yoga Poses
- Yoga Mat Companion 4: Anatomy for Arm Balances and Inversions
- The Key Muscles of Yoga: Scientific Keys, Volume I
- Eastern Body, Western Mind: Psychology and the Chakra System As a Path to the Self
- Visible Body – This is AMAZING – I use these apps for almost every single class to understand the body from a muscular/skeletal viewpoint & learn/memorize anatomy!
Check out a list of my favorite books & current reads here – i use a lot of philosophy & concepts from these books & integrate them into my dharma talks at the beginning of my yoga classes.