How to teach your first Yoga class
Teaching can be intimidating: I remember how I kept on finding excuses why here and now wasn’t the right time to give my first class: Too many participants, the location was too noisy, the participants too advanced for me to teach them,… The truth was that teaching intimidated me. During my Teacher Training, everyone knew me and I got encouraging smiles and compliments from everyone, because we were all in the same boat. But putting myself out there to teach complete strangers was a whole different story, so I waited almost a year before teaching my first class. (One tip upfront: Don’t.)
Here are a few things that helped me and that I’d like to pass on to new teachers to make teaching easier:
1.Teach as soon as you can
Don’t make the same mistake I made: By waiting for a year, the thought of teaching only became scarier and it took me a while to remember the right adjustments and everything we had discussed during the Teacher Training. You’ll forget things sooner than you think, so get out there as soon as possible and implement what you have learned!
Don’t apply for famous Yoga studios straight away: Not only will the pressure be a lot higher, but the chances of them accepting you without any experience teaching is very low. Don’t get frustrated, give a few donation-based classes instead to find your own teaching style and gain some experience. Some hostels offer free accommodation to Yoga teachers, and you can just make your own event and teach yoga in a park/at the beach etc.
Don’t try to imitate other teachers you look up to: There is already so much that you have to pay attention to, the last thing you want to do is to play a role. You’ll seem a lot more approachable and friendlier if you just be yourself. So be authentic and add your own little touch to your teaching: If you like essential oils, you could integrate those into your Shavasana (put some oil on your palms, rub them together and gently hover your hands over your students faces for them to enjoy the smell, or pour a tiny bit of oil into their hands so that they can do it themselves. If you intend to do this, ask your students first if they like essential oils!), quote your favorite author or give them a short head massage.
4.Be flexible (I know your body probably is, but I mean in your planning )
The peak pose of my first class was a Grasshopper – not the easiest arm balance, but I wanted to challenge the advanced students. When I got to the class, none of the advanced students were there and when I asked if it is anyone’s first time practicing Yoga, five people raised their hands. I knew I had to adapt: Teaching Grasshopper pose to a class of beginners just seemed like I wanted to show off and clearly didn’t understand their needs. I decided to drop the Grasshopper and added some more in-depth explanations about the right alignment in Warrior II and how to modify a Chaturanga.
If that happens, don’t panic: Modifying can be very easy. If you feel like your class is too easy, more Sun Salutations and Vinyasas will make it more challenging, as well as giving options for inversions and arm balances. If you’re not comfortable helping people get into inversions or arm balances, emphasize that only people already comfortable with those poses should take them. Generally, I don’t recommend teaching poses where people might potentially hurt themselves in your first classes (see 5. Keep it simple)
5.Keep it simple
Don’t get too fancy: It’s already hard enough to cue, demonstrate and to adjust, you don’t want to get mixed up because your transition got a little too complicated. Stick to what you’re most comfortable teaching and demonstrating. You can always make your sequences more elaborate once you’re fully comfortable teaching the basics.
5.Get to know your students
Don’t just rush in and out of class, introduce yourself and ask them their names. Nobody expects you to remember every name straight away, but you should know the names of your regular students and the things they’re working on to offer modifications. If you can’t remember someone’s name, walk over and help them adjust – that’s a lot better than “you, girl with the red shirt, straighten your legs”.
Also take some time to answer their questions and finish your class with a “if you have any questions, comments or feedback, I’d be happy to hear them”. For me as a student this sometimes makes all the difference: Most people can teach a class, but staying longer to help with poses they’re struggling with and questions they need answered really shows that you care. I’m not telling you to stay an hour after every class, I know you have a life to live, too – but allow for 5-15 minutes after each class for questions. (Keep 7. Be honest in mind!) Some students might even have constructive criticism or helpful comments to offer that help you improve your teaching.
6.Ask the important questions in the beginning
Never forget to ask about injuries, adjustments and if you’re teaching any beginners. If not, you might end up adjusting somebody with an injury and hurting them. Some people are not comfortable being adjusted, but also don’t want to be “the odd one out”, when they’re the only one to raise their hand when you ask. That’s why I usually include the question at the end of my opening meditation: “With your eyes still closed, please raise your hand if you don’t want to be adjusted today”.
You’re still learning. In fact, every teacher is – just when you thought you’ve seen it all, somebody will show up with something you haven’t seen before or has a question you can’t answer. Tell them you don’t know, but you’ll do some research and will let them know next time. It might sound scary, but it makes you a lot more credible than inventing an explanation on the spot that might be completely wrong.
8.Don’t worry if things don’t go according to plan
Students might do different poses than you instructed or leave your class halfway through. It always made me feel anxious whenever that happened: “Is my teaching that horrible? Were my instructions that unclear that they ended up in the wrong position?” The fault might not actually be yours: Sometimes students have to leave early but forget to tell me, or they just don’t like practicing a certain pose. In some cases, students might leave because your teaching style is not their cup of tea or too intense/too mellow for them. Don’t take it personal: Everyone has their own preferences, and that doesn’t make your classes bad.
9.Get there early
This goes without saying, but be there at least 15-30 minutes in advance to find a spot where everyone can hear you and to set up: If you’re playing music, check is your loudspeaker work. Bring a power bank if you rely on electronic devices, just in case. Are there enough mats? Do you know what you’ll say and teach? When everything is ready, take a few moments to center yourself and to calm down.
10.Shift your perspective
I used to worry if people are even enjoying my class when I didn’t see anyone smiling. Then I started paying attention to my facial expressions when I was taking a class, and noticed that I wasn’t smiling either – not because I didn’t enjoy it, but because I was so focused that smiling would have distracted me. The same probably goes for your students: If they’re pulling a face, they might just be exerting themselves and don’t mean to criticize your class. You’ll be surprised how many of them will smile at you during the closing meditation!
11.Take yourself to the level of your students
After doing Yoga for years and becoming a teacher yourself, many of us start living in a “Yoga bubble”: Most of your friends can touch their toes and people in the classes you attend can transition from a wide-legged forward fold to a tripod headstand. Your first class might have some surprises in store for you: I remember thinking “I didn’t even know some people can’t do that”. We often take our levels of flexibility and strength for granted and forget about how we started. Your students can be excellent teachers when it comes to that, and over time you’ll learn to modify poses you didn’t know how to modify before/didn’t know they might need modifying.
12.Don’t be too hard on yourself
You might get left and right mixed up once or twice, and you probably won’t manage to do everything you were planning on doing (cueing, demonstrating, adjusting, deepening stretches, counting holds etc.), but that’s okay. As long as you make it through the class and people are doing Yoga, consider it a success. The rest will come over time.