8 Teaching Tips from a Yoga Teacher

April Saunders
8 Teaching Tips from a Yoga Teacher

If there's one thing that both yoga students and teachers often forget, it's this: yoga teachers are students, too!

Yoga teachers are forever students because there are always techniques and knowledge to develop, improve, and get a deeper understanding of. All yoga teachers should be willing to learn and pick up tips so they can keep improving their ability to lead an amazing class.

If you're a new yoga teacher, here are a few things and teaching tips I have learned over the years that have helped me as a yoga teacher.

1. Prepare.

Life gets busy. You work, travel, socialize, cook, drive, and parent. It takes a lot of work to keep it all together. Whether you teach once a month or five days a week, preparation is the key to success.

My advice is to plan what you are going to teach, what music will go with it, and to have a backup plan in case of that unexpected surprise — everyone in your class is NEW to yoga!

Some teachers like to write it all out and practice the sequence themselves prior to teaching it. Some also get sequencing ideas from going to another class or various online multimedia sources. Whatever works for you, take time and energy to plan your class ahead of time.

2. Choose music that makes sense.

I used to attend a yoga studio frequently where a common practice of the owner (and the teachers who followed her example) would let the music, any music, play in the background. It did not at all sync with the flow of the class. It's hard to relax and meditate when there's dance/hiphop music playing!

Whenever this happened, the teacher would get distracted and apologize and rush to the stereo or frantically push buttons on their bluetooth iPod to find something more appropriate. The bottom line: create playlists and make the music fit your sequence.

I have several playlists depending on the class I am teaching that I change and update all the time. I am familiar with my playlists and know when it is time to build a flow or take the class down to their mat based on what music is coming up next.

I know that after the first 20 minutes of a 90-minute vinyasa playlist that it is time to move from seated meditation to my first asana warm-up, for example. The music will begin to change and this is my cue that it’s time to instruct the students to move on.

3. Get to the studio early.

Prepare your space, dim the lights (or turn them on), and get mentally prepared to teach. In the Sivananda tradition, the teachers light incense and say chants and prayers prior to teaching each class.

This is a practice I have not yet adopted for myself, but I can appreciate their preparedness when they step up to the front of the room because it is reflected in their energy and voice. A teacher rushing into the room at the last minute, being the last to set up their mat, and breathlessly saying hello to the students while they take off their jacket is unprofessional.

4. Right, left, I mean right.

Don’t get your rights and lefts mixed up. It’s confusing! It’s easy to get lost, and by some universal rule of teaching yoga, you will get it mixed up at some point.

A little tip: use simple, generic terms for instructions. Try “twist the other way,” back foot lifts up,” and “opposite side” instead of trying to figure out right from left. This is called mirroring, and you can find more tips on this here.

5. Try verbal cues instead of visual ones.

There are times when demonstration is unavoidable, but for the most part, students know what you mean when you say “lift your right leg up,” or “find Downward Facing Dog.” Verbal cues allow the teacher the freedom to walk around the room to correct alignment and make adjustments.

I actually teach all my classes with little or no demonstration. The response that I receive from students is that they are better able to “feel” the postures from their verbal instruction and go deeper into the practice than from watching someone else.

When I see misalignment or something that’s wrong, I give a verbal cue before an adjustment. Most of the time the student doing the pose incorrectly will make the correction with the verbal cue alone, and my response is “nice adjustments, everyone looks great!” to the entire class.

6. Speak less.

This tidbit of advice works in two ways. The first is to use less words. This refers to your explanation of how to move into a yoga pose.

Instead of saying, “Pick up your right foot and step it up between the hands then pivot the left foot so it is angled at 45-degrees and lift the arms up to come into Warrior One,” simply say, “Right foot lifts. (pause) Step it up. (pause) Back foot pivots. (pause) Arms lift, Warrior One.”

For new students who require more explanation, maybe talk them through the asana in detail the first time, and use the simplified version the second time.

The second piece of advice is to enjoy the silence. Some teachers feel the need to fill all of the space with words. Silence is powerful. Let the music motivate and your silence fill the void in the room instead of using too many words.

7. Get the students out of their heads.

For most people, it’s difficult to stay present, and thoughts often wander to things they need to do after class, what to cook for dinner, and “Oooh I really like her top I wonder where she got it!”

Try to bring the students back into the room by telling a story or a tidbit of wisdom. Something simple like “do you know what halasana is good for?” and then elaborate. You can also share a little something about your day or yourself — this will help to get the students out of their own head and back onto their mat.

8. Be child-like, not child-ish.

Make it FUN! No one likes a hum-dum yoga class or a boring teacher. Smile, laugh, make it personal. Find kaliasana (goddess squat) and make the students dance with their bum an inch off the floor.

Or simply tell the class “Smile! You are having fun in Utkatasana!” Roar like a lion, rock like a boat, arch like a cat, and be playful with your practice. Keeping it playful — safe, but playful — will leave students loving it and wanting more.

Have your own yoga teaching tips you wanna share? Sound off in the comments below!