20 tips to holding an AWESOME yoga class
I quit my stressful corporate job in 2012 and eloped to India with my best friend to study the ancient tradition of yoga.
We spent 2 months in Mysore (south India) where we trained with one of B.K.S. Iynegar’s devoted students, Bharath Shetty – founder of Yoga India (highly recommend!).
I trained for 10 hours a day, 6 days a week for 4 whole weeks.
I lost nearly 10 kgs.
I became a vegetarian.
I quit alcohol and coffee.
I broke up with a boyfriend I had been seeing in Sydney.
And I overcame my fear of public speaking.
My life was never the same after my Yoga Teacher Training in India, and since then I have gone on to study Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training in Bali, which has expanded my practice and helped me overcome addictive patterns.
I now teach Nude Yoga for women and couples and feel overjoyed that I took that brave step over 4 years ago to change my life, health, stories, relationships and unhealthy patterns.
Here are some helpful tips for yoga teachers starting out:
1. Incorporate a theme
By threading a theme at the beginning, middle and end of the class, the students will feel as though they have learnt something, been educated, inspired or moved, not just practiced some poses and become conscious of their breathing. The class will feel like more of a workshop where you have all come together as one and learnt the similar lesson. Some good theme ideas are patience, love, compassion, stillness, presence, shakti/shiva feminine/masculine), balance etc. Pick something that resonates with you and maybe a theme that you’re going through personally in your life. When you speak from the heart it comes across as genuine, plus students also like to learn a little about their teachers’ lives, so feel free to open up and teach them a lesson that you have learnt recently in your life.
2. Set an Intention
At the beginning of class allow students set their own individual intention. You may give them some examples, such as to try to be more present, focus on the breath, work a little stronger, face a fear, or even dedicate the practice to someone they love or someone they feel needs the energy lift. Anything practiced with an intention is more powerful and healing. Remind them to come back to their intention once or twice during the practice, perhaps whilst in child’s pose.
3. Don’t be shy to chant some Oms
Either at the beginning or the end (or ideally both), don’t be afraid to collectively chant some Oms (A-U-M). The universal vibration is a beautiful way to open and close the class and feel united together as a group. It also helps students open and clear their throat Chakra!
4. Greet your neighbour
Depending on how many students in the class, get students to say hi to their neighbour before class to break the ice. In so many cases, people come, practice and sneak out the back door, not connecting with anyone in their yoga class. Yoga, by definition means ‘union’, not just union of body and breath, but union with each other as well. Plus, some people might be new to town and want to make friends. Encourage building friendships.
5. Ask upfront if anyone has any injuries.
This creates safety. Even if someone has an injury and you’re not quite sure how to adjust them, at least remind them to go gently and show them variations throughout the class. They will feel looked after and a little love from you!
6. Invite students to release sound or emotions
A yoga class is the perfect, safe space to do this. Let the students know that it is totally OK to feel emotions, cry, sob or feel frustrated in asanas, and that it’s not only welcomed but it’s normal. I have spent many a frog pose sobbing like a baby, and the reason I felt OK to do this was because my big, burly male yoga teacher in Sydney admitted to 40 students in the class that he had spent many a frog pose sobbing like a baby! Especially when we stretch and open our hips, many emotions can come flooding out. This is perfectly natural…and healthy.
7. Educate, educate, educate.
Explain at least two things that are happening in each pose i.e. what muscles you’re using, where you should feel the stretch, what the benefit it, common mistake, variations, sanscrit name for pose, what it means, internal rotation or external rotation etc. A lot of western peeps like to know what is going on in their bodies at all times and how they should feel, what sensations they should be experiencing, so try to explain in the best way you can.
Keep going to other yoga classes and workshops outside your own so you can learn. Some of the best advise I was given by a famous yoga teacher in Mysore was this: Always be a student; always keep learning.
8. No talking in the yoga space before & after
Have a quiet time/no speaking policy after the class, as some people may want to stay behind and meditate or try a few poses they struggled with during class. Obviously this depends if there is another class straight afterwards, however from personal experience I recall after one savasana at a popular studio in Brisbane, the minute the teacher said Namaste, there was an onslaught of spray bottles cleaning mats, chatting, laughing, slamming doors, throwing blocks on the shelf etc. I was so disturbed after feeling so blissed out! For some people their yoga class is their only time for quiet and peace.
9. ‘Karma Yoga’
This might seem petty to some, but leaving the blankets folded nicely (edge facing out), neatly stacking blocks and rolling up straps is a HUGE weight off a teacher’s shoulders. For some reason everyone seems to be in such a rush after a yoga class and in dire need to get out of the room, pushing in and bumping into people. Instead guide students to move slow, let other people in and for Yogi’s sake, fold the blankets neatly and be considerate (hehe, can you tell this bugs me?!).
10. Use Sanskrit where possible
If you know all the Indian Sanskrit words for each pose, use them. Explain what they mean and the history. Once you have regulars coming to your class, you will able to say ‘Vriksasana’ and they will all jump into tree pose. Plus people like to learn new words and meanings!
11. Sing your song
Rather than walking around a class barking orders like in a cross training session, try to sing a song with your voice, rather than talk words. For example when you say ‘inhale’, give it some oomph, and when you say ‘exhale’, give it some rhythm. Speaking from the heart helps…
Also if you have musical or vocal talent, feel free to share this talent at the end of class whilst the students are in relaxation.
12. Try not to use too many fill-in words, such as ‘like’ or ‘just’ or ‘really’.
Think before you speak and when in doubt don’t say anything at all. Students are very aware and present in class so teachers need to be just as present and aware of their words. We all get into habits, but it is easy to break out of them with some self awareness or maybe by asking a friend to come along to class and give them some tips after. I remember doing a trial once and my teacher who was assessing me told me afterwards, that I was saying ‘just’ a lot. I hadn’t even realised I was doing it! I highly recommend you record your own class to see what your common go-to words are and where you spend most of your time in the space.
13. Walk around the class
When you’re starting out if feels safest to stay up the front and do the class with the students on your own mat so you don’t get confused. However the more you walk around, offer adjustments, talk through the positions with the class the more involved and united everyone feels.
14. Remind the class to breathe
Especially in twists and poses like trikonasana/triangle, where you are compressing your entire side body therefore restricting the lungs. It’s easy to stop or forget to breathe when in positions that condense or constrict your side body or twist your stomach and chest so it’s important to gentle remind everyone to breathe in and out through their nostrils. You can say things like ‘monitor the length of each breath’, or ‘feel how much your body releases and lets go when you exhale and falls deeper into the pose’ etc. You want the class to sound like one pair of lungs breathing in and out together. Teach them Ujjayi breath so they can learn to listen and be aware of their own breath.
15. Share your name
People want to know who you are. After the class, always introduce yourself with your name and offer students to come up if they have any questions or comments. This makes them feel like they can come up and have a chat, especially important if emotions were released or a pose they couldn’t reach.
16. Resist comparison
Stop thinking about what the class is meant to be like and teach your own style. It’s easy to compare your teaching style to others, but it’s a complete time waster. You’re unique and will attract the right crowd for you.
17. Be hands on
A lot of teachers are hands-off and scared to touch the students to adjust them into the correct position. Before I was a teacher, if I knew I was doing a pose incorrectly and the teacher saw me struggle but they didn’t come to assist me, I felt a bit disheartened. It’s very reassuring to have someone assist you or just place a little bit of pressure whilst in a pose. In savasana/corpse, it’s also a beautiful gesture to give a gentle head massage or press onto their shoulders and chest to release any tension.
18. Invest in some lavender eye pillows
A lot of people’s eyes wonder while in savasana/corpse and the key is to keep those beady little eyes closed. Some studios are also very bright and depending on the time of day, it can be hard to keep your eyes closed for 5 minutes or more. The smell of lavender will put people to ease straight away…
19. A long savasana
Try to make savasana a minimum of 5 minutes, ideally with some soft music and incense. No one likes a short savasna! It’s some people’s favourite pose…and it helps repair and regenerate all the muscles after a strenuous session.
20. Remember to smile and use lots of eye contact with students.
Warmth and genuineness radiates from people’s eyes and smile. I can’t begin to emphasise how much a gentle smile and eye contact can go in a yoga class.
When in doubt just be yourself! I started out teaching in 2013 in backpackers hostels in Brisbane. I did this so I could get comfortable teaching in front of people, and also a lot of the backpackers couldn’t speak much english so I didn’t feel embarrassed if I messed up one of the asana names or if I forgot my sequence. They were very playful, fun and forgiving!
Enjoy and let me know any tips in the comments below.
Love Rosie x