In front of the group, you must compile what you know about yoga into concise bytes that reflect the theme and pace of the class. You must speak clearly and skilfully about a topic that you don’t know everything about. And you must gauge your student’s comprehension and tailor the instruction accordingly. All this is overwhelming, especially when you are a new teacher.
Teach from your authentic voice
Teach from your authentic voice. This means teaching what you know and being honest that you don’t know everything (nobody does). You have attended hundreds of hours of yoga classes and all the cues and ideas that you’ve heard will influence your teaching voice. This is good, but remember your own perspective and voice is good too! You offer a unique contribution to yoga. Honour this contribution by speaking honestly. Be authentic.
Speak clearly. Consider what verb tense you are using. Are you speaking in declarative sentences “stand up and breathe in.” or are you employing gerunds “next you’ll be standing up and breathing in.”?
“exhale and jump back into chaturanga.” Instead of
“next we’re going to exhale slowly and jump the feet back into chaturanga.” The difference is the former phrase is a declarative sentence that clearly articulates your instruction. The latter is a narrative that describes the process. Neither is incorrect, but the first phrase uses fewer words and concisely declares your intention
The more clearly you speak, the more authentic your teaching will be. As you learn to speak declaratively, your confidence will soar. Believe in your teaching and clearly communicate your instructions. This strategy will eliminate the feeling that you need to “perform” the yoga class.
Direct Conversation vs. Instruction
There are two types of speaking you’ll do during a yoga class. You’ll speak to the group when they are looking at you, usually at the beginning and end of the class. We’ll call this direct conversation. You’ll also speak to the class while they are immersed in the sequence and not looking at you. We’ll call this instruction. Both demand the same type of speaking: speak with individuals within the group. Note that you are speaking with (not at) your students. Their reaction is part of the conversation.
When you are engaged in direct conversation, make eye contact with someone in the group and notice their reaction. Are they nodding, smiling and considering your statements? Or are they frowning, fidgeting and appear confused? Respond appropriately to cues. Then direct your words to another person. Note the reaction and adjust your delivery accordingly. This way, you are using individuals to represent the entire group and you are able to tailor your talk to the group.
For example, you are discussing karma yoga in your introduction and suggesting participation in selfless service. Are you teaching this concept at a 90-minute Saturday morning class? Or are you teaching the concept at a 12pm class where everyone is on their lunch break?
Amend your detailed instruction to appropriately fit your audience. The 40 minute lunchtime crew isn’t uninterested in karma yoga, but the timeline is so short, consider how many minutes to use for each aspect of the class. The Saturday morning people have a little more time to consider the philosophical offerings of yoga.
When you are engaged in instruction, pay attention to how one person is responding to your verbal cues. If you have instructed virabhdrasana B (warrior two) and someone is in virabhdrasana A, specifically instruct that student to extend their arms into virabhdrasa B.
It’s possible that other students misunderstood as well; by directing your instruction to an individual, you are acknowledging one person as a representative of the group. By tailoring your instruction to something that is relevant to at least one person, you avoid saying generic instruction that isn’t useful to anyone. Furthermore, you are contributing to the conversation by noticing one person’s non-verbal reaction to your instruction and adjusting accordingly.
Speak clearly, tailor your words to suit the class and only teach what you know. By following these three instructions, you’ll be confident and honest in front of your students. The authenticity will shine through and students will appreciate your knowledge. Accept your humanity and all your imperfections and your students will trust you to lead them through a yoga class.