If you’re an aspiring yoga teacher—or even if you just want to deepen your personal practice—taking a yoga teacher training (YTT) is a logical first step. Studying asana, Sanskrit, anatomy, philosophy, sequencing, pranayama, meditation, and more will give you the basics needed to successfully guide a group of yogis through a practice.
But if you are like most new yoga teachers who feel woefully unprepared when setting foot into a classroom for the first several times after their 200-hour YTT, you are not alone. YTT isn’t supposed to turn you into a yoga expert. It’s supposed to give you a foundation to build upon to become a great teacher. Think of the knowledge that went into earning that certificate as the beginning of your journey as a yoga teacher, not the end of your learning process.
Here are just a few of the things that you simply can’t learn in YTT. They come only with practice. You can look forward to fine-tuning your approach as you gain experience leading others through their practice.
1. Timing, timing, timing
There are numerous instances of timing when it comes to teaching yoga. First, timing in the sense of how early you need to arrive at the studio to set up for class. For starters, give yourself more time than you think you’ll need to get to class. (And if you feel particularly anxious before class, rely on these tips to help you calm down.)
Timing also applies to how long you leave students in a pose. Watch your students. If several students start to come out of a pose before you cue the next pose, chances are you’ve left them in it for too long. If some linger in an asana after you cue them out, let them sit a little longer next time. (They won’t even know they’re being your guinea pigs!)
Then there’s learning how to orchestrate your playlist so the music syncs with your sequence. So much of this comes with trial and error. You might want to start with playlists created by other teachers instead of inventing the wheel and trying to create your own. Run through your class on your own to practice with the playlist to get a feel for the timing. When creating your own playlist, think about how your class starts slower with a warm-up, builds up to more intense poses, then comes back down. Your music should follow suit—the last thing you want is a fast, upbeat song when your students are trying to slip into Savasana.
2. How to best prepare for class
Everyone has their own preparation process for sequencing a class. Perhaps you decide on your peak pose and then research poses to build up and cool down from there. Or maybe you take inspiration from other teachers’ sequences. Or you can draw inspiration from your personal practice and take notes so you can teach the same to your students.
The key here isn’t how you prepare but that you prepare. As you gain experience, you will be able to approach class with an idea in mind of what you want to teach but be able to tweak your plans based on who shows up for class and what they need. But when you’re a new teacher, it can be helpful to write down your sequence, run through it a few times at home or with friends and family, even take notes to class with you. Not only will this prepare you for class, but it will build your confidence because you know exactly what you’re going to say and do when you’re standing in the front of the room, which can help with any jitters.
3. How to teach to your students’ needs
Many new teachers plan a precise sequence for class ahead of time and feel like they have to stick to every single detail. As a new teacher, this can be incredibly helpful. Learning to deviate from your plan and modify on the fly is a skill that you will learn over time and is essential.
In the meantime, if you are teaching a beginner class and an advanced student shows up, stick with your beginner plan. If you are teaching an advanced class and a beginner shows up and you aren’t certain how to handle that student without interrupting class for the rest of your students, you can mention that learning takes time and practice and encourage students to take breaks when needed. If you are teaching an all-levels class, things get a little trickier. You’ll learn in time.
A couple simple ways to modify your class on the fly: If your class seems too “easy,” hold poses for longer or add in a few extra Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar A) or some ab work. If you class seems too “hard,” offer ways to modify the poses or use a less challenging option. For example, if you planned to do Dancer Pose (Natarajasana), change it to simpler balancing pose such as Tree Pose (Vrkasana).
4. The art of flexibility
No, not flexibility in the sense of a perfect Head-to-Knee Forward Bend (Janu Sirsasana). Flexibility in terms of how to handle the unexpected occurrences that will, inevitably, happen during class. You may mix up your left and right. A student may completely ignore your cues and do whatever they want to do instead, like Handstand when you have the rest of the class in Tabletop. Someone might come in late and disrupt your opening meditation. Even better, your body might make an awkward noise during meditation (hey—it happens to all of us!) or the business next door is loud and totally ruins Savasana.
These things happen. It’s OK! The important thing is that you just keep going. Often your students won’t notice these things because they’re so into their practice. Control what you can and let go of what you can’t.
5. Your unique teaching voice
You will be told to emphasize your unique voice as a teacher in YTT, and you might even start to experience it toward the end of YTT, but like everything else, your voice will evolve over time. You may have started YTT as a fitness instructor and come out as a spiritual yogi (or vice-versa). You might find, as you gain teaching experience, that some themes or styles feel more natural to you. It will get easier to stand in front of a group and let yourself and your approach to yoga come through. It takes time. And your voice, as your practice, will change. Always allow your teaching style to be an extension of who you are, and you can’t go wrong.
Want to learn more about making the jump from yoga student to yoga teacher? Check out our guide: So You Finished Your Yoga Teacher Training… Now What?