All of your favorite teachers have done you one significant disservice: they’ve made teaching yoga look easier than it is! Teaching yoga—or any subject for that matter—is a wonderfully fulfilling experience, but it also requires a major learning curve. Here are a few tips for navigating the unfamiliar—and sometimes rocky—waters of being a new teacher.
- You will feel very raw and exposed
Teaching yoga requires you to be transparent. It requires you to speak to a group of students and orchestrate sequencing, verbal cues, manual adjustments and—perhaps—a playlist. It requires you to give direct commands about the position of the body while encouraging your students to notice the sensations, feelings and thoughts that arise. No, your class is not about you; but, in fact, you are the medium for the teachings and if you feel deeply enough about them you will feel raw and exposed. This is not always easy, but it’s an intrinsic part of your job. Allow yourself to notice these feelings if they arise and go with them—learn about yourself from them. And, get used to them, they aren’t going to go away if you continue to teach from your heart.
- Practice being clear, simple and straightforward
Clear, simple, straightforward teaching is timeless. New teachers often feel compelled to be tricky, edgy and complicated in order to validate themselves and show “authenticity.” But, remember, teaching is an actual skill that takes a ton of practice. Even more, bypassing the fundamental skill of being clear, cohesive and cogent with your teaching will lead to a confused hodgepodge of offerings. The feedback that I give 95% of new teachers is this: “edit yourself, simplify your sequence, and trust that the practice is strong enough that you don’t need to force it.”
- Repetition is a good thing
You will say and teach the same thing many, many more times than any given student will hear it. So, you are going to feel like you’re repeating yourself all the time, but it’s not going to sound this way to your students. You may have said the same thing 10 times this week, but any given student probably only came to 1 or 2 classes so they’ve only heard what you said once or twice (if they were even paying attention). Even more, most students love repetition—and, aren’t there some things in your life that you need to hear time and time again?
- Teaching skillfully requires you to make many, many mistakes
Teaching requires several specific skills and developing these skills comes from making mistakes. New teachers are often afraid to make mistakes because they are insecure, and they worried that their mistakes may lead to injuries for their students. If you are a sane, reasonable, semi-adjusted person your mistakes are probably not going to lead to injuries. If it’s an issue of your insecurity—or perfectionism—well, you just have to put mistake making in it’s proper context: remember that mistakes are normal, natural things and you will learn more from them than anything else. Relax and be accommodating with yourself.
- You need to practice more, not less (it’s your research and education)
If you get so overwhelmed that you are practicing less and less you’re headed in the wrong direction. Sometimes we get a little lost and this is okay. In fact, many of our best changes come from realizing that we’re off our path and we need to correct our course. The problem is that teaching yoga without practicing yoga is unsustainable. If possible (and, it probably is), stay committed to at least one weekly class with your teacher and find make time to do your home practice several days of the week.
Jason Crandell was recently named one of the next generation of teachers shaping yoga’s future by Yoga Journal for his skillful, unique approach to vinyasa yoga. Jason’s steady pace, creative sequencing, and attention to detail encourage students to move slowly, deeply, and mindfully into their bodies. Jason credits his primary teacher, Rodney Yee, teachers in the Iyengar Yoga tradition such as Ramanand Patel, and ongoing studies in Eastern and Western philosophy for inspiring to him bring greater alignment and mindfulness to Vinyasa Yoga.
Jason is a contributing editor for Yoga Journal and has written over 13 articles for the magazine and website – many of which have been translated internationally (including Japan, China, Italy and Brazil). His integrative and accessible teachings support students of every background and lineage, helping them to find greater depth, awareness, and well-being in their practice – and in their lives. Follow Jason on Facebook and Twitter.