If you’re studying to become a yoga teacher or have graduated yoga teacher training recently, chances are you’ve heard that experience is the most important training for teaching. It’s true. Learning to teach effectively takes practice. Yet what I continue to see in the current teaching landscape are a lot of interested students of yoga who have graduated YTT and want to teach, but have not had the chance to hone their craft.
I’ve had a lot of teacher training graduates approach me with the same basic query: “How do we get ourselves in the door as teachers? How do we prepare for auditions and teaching without having any opportunity to practice?” Landing a teaching slot at a studio has never been easy, especially for new teachers—including those who became certified online without having had the chance to practice teaching in person—ever.
In all honesty, I believe that the amount of material covered in most 200-hour yoga teacher trainings is insufficient to prepare someone to be an astounding teacher. Yet there are things that new as well as experienced teachers can do to continually improve their teaching, outside of a studio environment, including the following ways that I practiced teaching before I had a regularly scheduled studio class.
I continue to practice these today, outside of my class schedule, and you can come back to these tools throughout your teaching career to keep your skills sharp and to keep yourself inspired. No matter how many years of practice, teachers need to work on their approach constantly in order to show up as effective teachers of yoga. In my mind, the number one most important thing as a teacher is to remember that you are—and always will be—a student.
1. Record yourself
Listening to yourself teach is an extremely helpful way to hone your skills. Whether you record a free class you offer to a friend in your backyard or simply capture yourself teaching an imaginary student, you can use the recording to observe yourself and your mannerisms and clean up the details of your teaching.
I guarantee that there are things that say or do that detract from your teaching—and you’re likely unaware of them. Here are a few common things to watch and listen for, whether you sit and listen or actually take your own class.
Pace, clarity, and tone of your voice
Are you rushing your words? Are you mumbling? Do you end each sentence as if it’s a question? Do you sing your sentences? Does your voice change from your authentic way of speaking into what you think a yoga teacher voice should sound like?
We all have words that we tend to use repeatedly, such as “um” and “so,” when we don’t know what we’re about to say next or we lose our thought. You probably already know which ones you use, but you might be surprised at just how often you rely on them. Also listen for those words that you use intentionally but that you repeat often, including “beautiful,” “big breath,”“and then,” or certain verbs, such as “extend” or “lengthen.”
When to offer information
New teachers often say all the cues they can think of when they teach a pose on the first side. Once they get to the second side, students often hear silence. Be mindful of spreading your cues out and allowing students time to integrate what you just said prior to offering them additional instruction. Your students have enough going through their heads already, so clarity in communication can make a huge impact in how they take in the information.
2. Keep a cue book
When I first started teaching, I was given a set hatha sequence by the studio where I took my training. The sequence involved a fixed number of poses in a certain order to taught in 60- or 90-minute classes. While there are pros and cons to teaching a set sequence, I am really grateful that I had time to focus on developing my ability to teach these poses before having to worry about sequencing.
Whether you teach a set sequence or not, I recommend grabbing a notebook and keeping it as your “cue book.” You could also keep notes on your phone or in a Google document and continually add to it—even on the go. Dedicate a page to each pose you teach. On each page, write down the key elements of the pose, instructions on how to transition in and out, variations, and cues.
In my opinion, the best cues a teacher can give are the ones that come from their own experiences in the shape. To help develop original cues, write down what you experience as you practice and observe yourself in shapes. You can also note interesting cues that you hear when you attend classes.
3. Work one-on-one with a friend
After my first yoga teacher training, I was lucky that my supportive partner was up for doing yoga—every single evening. Bless his heart. I taught him private lessons and solicited his feedback for months as I worked on my teaching. Working one-on-one is very different from being in a room full of students, but it is a wonderful opportunity to see how a body responds to the words you say. Sometimes what you say out loud sounds right in your head because you know what you want the student to do, but then you look at their body and they are simply not getting it.
Sure, this could mean that they weren’t listening, but there is also a good chance that you need to say it another way. Working one-on-one gives you an opportunity to troubleshoot your language a little before guiding an entire room of students through their practice. Grab an extra yoga mat, clean your floors, and invite a friend or two over for complimentary yoga!!
4. Commit to a home practice
This is a hard one if you’re not used to practicing on your own. But as you develop as a teacher, I believe that maintaining a home practice might actually be the most important tool to strengthen your teaching. It’s crucial to develop a connection to your practice that is authentically yours and yours alone. Also, the observations you make as you practice will inevitably inform your teaching. Notice what poses are difficult for you to breathe through. What do you wish someone would say to you while you’re doing your best to remain in Warrior II Pose for 5 breaths when all you want to do is walk away from your mat and switch the laundry? Notice what transitions between positions feel smooth versus clumsy for your body. Write it all down and stash it away to be considered for future use when you teach!
5. Continue to learn, study, and seek out new information and experiences
At times, navigating the new teacher space can result in feeling pretty helpless. I remember moments when I desperately wanted to do more to quickly progress as a teacher, but I knew that I needed experience and time. This cannot be rushed. Listening to yoga podcasts, reading books, and seeking out new types of movements and teachers felt pretty productive in the interim as I continued to practice teaching. In the long run, continued learning is essential to staying inspired—and staying inspired is crucial to being an inspiring teacher.
About our contributor
Neeti Narula is a yoga and meditation teacher in New York City. Her classes are inspired by various schools of yoga. She is known for teaching alignment-based classes infused with thematic dharma and yoga philosophy. Neeti believes that the way you move and breathe on your mat shapes the way you move and breathe in your life. You can practice with her in person at Modo Yoga NYC. To learn more about Neeti, check out her Instagram @neeti.narula.