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Tools for Teachers

5 Ways to Be Taken Seriously as a Young Yoga Teacher

What they don’t tell you in yoga teacher training: When you start teaching as a 19-year-old, you’re almost sure to get raised eyebrows from your students. Here’s what one young yoga instructor learned about how to get taken seriously.

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After completing yoga teacher training during my sophomore year of college, I couldn’t wait to start teaching. I was moving back to my hometown in Oregon for the summer and immediately began applying to different studios. I was surprised when I landed an interview right away. Without an audition, the studio manager asked me if I wanted to teach the next morning. And without hesitation, I said yes. Not only had I just graduated from YTT, but I had my first class lined up with no additional preparation besides my name on a 200-hour certificate.

When I realized this the night before teaching my first class, the nerves set in. That evening, I drew myself a bath infused with lavender essential oil, grabbed my YTT manual, and began rehearsing. Luckily, my training provided us with a beginner Vinyasa sequence, which we learned over the course of eight weeks. Sure, we practiced teaching student-to-student, but I was always very nervous—often forgetting what came next in the sequence even though the manual was open right beside me.

I have what it takes to teach a successful hour-long Vinyasa yoga class. This was the mantra I repeated to myself over and over that night. And, something miraculous happened after I said those words: I let go of my self-imposed expectations that I was supposed to teach like a master that first class and stopped second guessing how to cue postures and worrying about stuttering over my words. After scrambling a playlist together and practicing the sequence three times, I felt confident in teaching the next morning.

When I arrived at the studio and started checking students in to class, my confidence from the night before dwindled. I started sweating; I think I even experienced my first hot flash at the tender age of 19. Five minutes before class started, a woman walked in the studio with a concerned look on her face. It was like she could see right through me and knew I’d never taught a real yoga class before. I was busted.

See also Should You Take a Teacher Training To Deepen Your Practice?

We exchanged introductions and she asked me how long I’d been teaching. I thought, What will she think if she knows this is my first time teaching?

“I actually just got certified,” I replied.

“Oh wow! You look so young to be teaching!”

“Yeah, I am just starting out,” I said hesitantly.

She continued into studio, orange-lit from the rising sun beaming through the tall glass windows. I followed, knowing it was time to prove myself as a novice yoga teacher.

I made it through that first yoga class sweaty, nervous, and occasionally jumbling up the Sanskrit I attempted to master the night before. The good news? I didn’t freeze up and run out of the room. Sure, I still had plenty of room to grow and learn, but I made it through—and still had the job when the class was over.

See also So You Graduated Yoga Teacher Training—Now What?

The bottom line: There’s a good chance that teaching your first yoga class is always going to be slightly terrifying, no matter how young or old you are. Yet as a young yoga instructor, you’ll likely face some specific challenges. Here’s how to not only overcome those challenges, but use them to up your game as a teacher:

Don’t take “the look” personally.

As a young instructor, you’re bound to get a raised eyebrow or some sort of concerned look when getting to know your students. Sure, they might be questioning your age and your ability to teach yoga, but don’t get in your head about it. Instead, try to understand where they might be coming from: Maybe they’ve never had an instructor who’s younger than they are? Maybe they just have RBF (resting bi*ch face)? Maybe they loved the yoga instructor who had this time slot before you and don’t like change? Whatever someone’s reason for “the look” may be, simply tell yourself this: That yogi is probably here because he or she needs to relax—and maybe even release negative, built-up energy.

Have confidence in your voice.

There’s nothing more distracting to a student than hearing a yoga instructor stutter or stumble when guiding a class. Your job is to be a soothing voice for your students throughout the hour-plus that you’re teaching. Practice the Sanskrit pronunciations, write down your sequence and memorize it, and try your best to get all your nerves out before you walk in the door. And remember this: It takes time to develop a steady, powerful, confident voice that fills the yoga studio. Don’t try to rush it; the more you teach and the more you practice, it will come.

See also Inside YJ’s YTT: How Teacher Training Helped Me Find My Voice

Know what you don’t know.

When you’re first starting out as a young instructor, you may not know the answers to every question your students ask. I once had a student ask me why her lower back hurts in Cobra and Upward-Facing Dog. Not knowing the answer, I honestly replied: “I’m not sure why this is happening, and my advice would be to avoid any posture that is painful. I can also refer you to our master teacher, who probably has more experience with this type of injury.” Being honest with your students—and yourself—will help your students respect you as a young teacher. So, know what you don’t know and don’t be afraid to admit it.

Teach new sequences you’ve put a lot of thought and time into creating.

One of the hardest things for me as a new instructor was coming up with creative sequences and playlists. When I first started out, I would stick to the same-old Vinyasa flow class I’d learned in my YTT and teach it over and over again. Not only did I notice that my students were getting bored, but I was also was starting to get burned out. I realized I needed to learn how to create new sequences if I was going to stay relevant and keep students showing up. So, I carved out some time for Svādhyāya, or “self-study,” and developed a completely different class than the one I was used to teaching. Not only did my students give me positive feedback after class, I felt refreshed and challenged as a teacher, and started having more fun in my home practice, too.

Assist master teachers at the studio where you teach.

It’s a little weird, at first, putting your hands on the hips of older students in Chair Pose or stepping in between the legs of a student in Happy Baby to press down on the soles of their feet. Yet as a new teacher, hands-on assists that help your students find their full expression of a pose is a good way to gain respect and establish yourself in the room. Since the best hands-on adjustments take precision, it’s important to practice them. One great way to do this is by assisting master yoga instructors when they teach. So, ask a teacher you respect and admire if you can assist her classes once or twice a week, and find out which hands-on adjustments she likes the most (and learn her way of doing them). The benefit is twofold: Not only are you spending a class strictly focused on looking at students’ bodies and practicing hands-on adjustments, but you’re also showing the students in that class—many of whom might take your classes, too—that you’re an instructor this master trusts. 

See also The 10 Rules of Hands-On Adjustments for Yoga Teachers