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Teaching Yoga

7 Secrets to Finding Your Authentic Voice as a Yoga Teacher

Some teachers are naturally eloquent; others have to cultivate their voice with practice—and these tips.

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Anyone who has completed a yoga teacher training knows that being a stellar yoga teacher is not just about content and style—it’s also being able to clearly and smoothly deliver your message. Skillful yoga teachers communicate in a way that enables students to listen deeply and tap into a grounded understanding of themselves. For some, this comes naturally. Others have to develop this skill through practice and awareness.

“When I am teaching a class, my main goal is to cultivate and hold a container that supports learning,” says Sarah Trelease, a Washington-based yoga teacher, therapist, and poet. Be open to asking yourself whether your language is creating this container or spilling on the floor like an unsolved puzzle set. Here are some tips on how to express yourself clearly, effectively—and with a touch of poetic nuance.

See also: 8 Expert Tips to Create a Yoga Teacher Website That Shines

1. Practice being precise

As yoga students, we have all practiced with a teacher who speaks clearly and concisely with impressive verbal economy. Jumbled or verbose instructions draw your student’s attention away from themselves and back into the external world.

Goldie Graham, a Minneapolis-based yoga instructor, recommends using directive language and the clearest descriptive words possible. Prioritize language that flows easily and is highly digestible, using as few words as possible. Practice your instructions out loud and ask yourself if there are ways to make your cues easier to understand or your transitions more fluid. Articulate teaching is a learned skill and can continually be improved. Remember, precision comes with practice.

2. Avoid filler and crutch words

Filler words are words or phrases that we use when our mind wants to fill up space in a conversation or instruction. These fillers include “uhm,” “so,” and “like.” Crutch words similarly fill up space, but are automatic expressions such as, “beautiful!” or “good job,” that we may say when teaching to a blank Zoom screen (that’s right, you’re not the only teacher who has done this!).

Fillers and crutch words distract listeners from your message because they change your energy, says Dr. Jessie Mahoney, mindfulness coach and RYT-200. “When you speak without filler words, your words are more calming to receive.” In other words, when you eliminate them from your teaching vocabulary, it gives your students the opportunity to learn and grow within the teachings. A great way to recognize these patterns is to record your sessions and then play back later; this can serve as a form of feedback that can bring awareness to your verbal habits.

3. Embrace your natural voice

It’s normal to romanticize speaking with a poetically descriptive flow, and if this is how you naturally speak, then roll with it. But if that is not your authentic voice, don’t.

Be yourself. You are beautifully different in how you uniquely express yourself. If you have an accent, don’t try to change it when you teach yoga. Speak as you would in a conversation with a friend, because that is exactly what teaching yoga is—a conversation between teacher and student. When you allow for that conversation to be authentic and natural, it will make space for more connection.

4. Ask questions

“If I show up to a class with a fixed certainty about how it is going to go and what I want to see, then that class becomes flat and lifeless,” says Trelease. “But if I come in with curiosity, a willingness not to know all the answers and to learn from my students, then something entirely different can happen.”

“Staying curious in each moment with your students keeps you open to noticing their needs,” says Melanie Fiorella, MD, C-IAYT, and professor of integrative medicine at UC San Diego Health. This curiosity allows you to skillfully adapt your instruction and language to meet your students where they are on any given day.

I often ask my students to explore how it would feel to alter the pose from its traditional form—such as turning the palms up instead of down or pointing the toes instead of flexing them. This question allows students to explore variations with curiosity rather than automatically following my instructions.

If you notice someone practicing something wildly different from what you are instructing, stay curious and ask questions instead of approaching them with frustration. If they appear uncomfortable in how they are moving, ask how you can help. When we approach our students with deep, thoughtful curiosity, they can connect to an open-hearted energy and are able to treat themselves with the same support and compassion.

See also: Why You Shouldn’t Tell Students to Tuck Their Tailbones—And 4 Other Cues to Rethink

5. Involve all the senses

While teaching, we alternate between movement and stillness, language and silence, sensing and directing. “We learn through all our senses—sight, sound, touch, and even taste,” says Trelease.

We also relate to learning in different ways, depending on what we have internalized of the world around us. To hold space for this difference, pause between your instructions, allow time for svadhyaya (self-reflection), and let the process unfold for each individual without the distraction of too many words from outside.

Encourage the use of all the senses when you instruct. Regardless of your personal approach to adjusting students, move closer to them and roam slowly through class as you observe and instruct.  “This helps students hear your message better because it keeps them awake and connected to you,” says Mahoney.

6. Make mistakes

Yoga teachers are human—we inevitably make mistakes, become distracted, or get nervous. When this happens, we often default to meandering instructions or start talking in circles. These verbal missteps can result in chaos—half the class might exit the pose as they look around for direction, while the other half struggles to persevere.

If you notice you’ve lost your students’ attention because your own mind has wandered, return to the fundamentals, says Bay Area-based yoga teacher and author Sarah Ezrin. “Each pose has a lifecycle: the set-up, entry, posture, and exit.” Return to the intention of the pose to find your way back. “Whatever is on the floor, whatever is your foundation, you instruct there first and build upon that,” says Ezrin.

Mistakes don’t always have to induce fear—they can also be a way to connect more deeply with yourself and your students. Laughing at yourself can add lightness to the moment, bring your students back into the present, and you back into your eloquence.

7. Embrace teaching as a practice

The practice of teaching yoga is not just about helping our students grow, but is a means to becoming a more illuminated version of yourself. Staying awake in the present moment gives you an opportunity to speak purposefully and from your heart.

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?