Teaching yoga can be a very fulfilling and meaningful career path. I have been teaching for 15 years and could …
Teaching yoga can be a very fulfilling and meaningful career path. I’ve been teaching for 15 years and couldn’t imagine doing another job with so much joy and passion. However, it doesn’t come without its challenges.
For the first seven years I struggled to make teaching a sustainable job. At first, it took a long time to cultivate my teaching skills and constantly learn from my mistakes. After gaining experience and building a fan base, I was neither financially nor professionally valued. This left me with decreased self-esteem that invaded every aspect of my life. It was only when I faced my obstacles that I was able to improve my teaching skills, my career, and thus my livelihood.
As I look back on my personal development as a teacher, there were some crucial steps I had to take to break the status quo. Similar to a strong yoga practice, teaching only gets better when you are willing to make adjustments.
Here are the six main aspects of teaching yoga that I would have loved to know when I first started.
[READ: Radically Inclusive Yoga.]
Focus on making an impact on popularity
When I started teaching yoga, I was stressed when my classes weren’t well attended. Unfortunately, in most yoga studios, the salary scale is based on attendance, which only disappointed me even more. Like many new teachers, I responded by overbooking my schedule with over 15 classes a week in yoga studios. Unfortunately, instead of increasing my class size, the attendance decreased as students realized that they could attend my classes at many different times. It made me feel discouraged, burned out, financially unstable, and angry with other teachers and the studio management.
I couldn’t break this cycle until I realized that I am not everyone’s teacher. And then I committed myself to those who enjoy my lessons and who I love to teach best. It was helpful to recognize my own personal process with yoga and what progress I have made through the practice. Those who were on a similar path were those I was in contact with: men between the ages of 25 and 55 with a background in sports and navigational injuries.
Since there is an ocean of yoga teachers, the fact that I have a specific niche made my way of teaching more appealing. Instead of hoping to find more students, they found me. My classes grew and I was able to minimize my yoga studio classes, resulting in better, more exciting opportunities in unique places with those who appreciated my services.
[SEE: What to Expect at Your First Yoga Class.]
Offer your students added value
Too often, teachers offer courses that are geared towards other yoga teachers rather than their students. Talk to your students, get a clear sense of what they want and adapt your lessons to their needs. My student body deals with the relief of joint and back pain. I wouldn’t teach them a chakra-based meditation and chanting class. Instead, I offer courses that will help relieve your pain.
By providing specialty courses tailored to the specific needs of my students, it helps me offer a course that effectively achieves their goals. It provides clear markings for people to understand that their yoga practice is effective and inspires confidence in my teaching and its benefits. Had I implemented this plan sooner, it would have saved me many difficult years from questioning my teaching.
Don’t underestimate the basics
As a new teacher, one of my biggest mistakes was trying to be too creative with my sequences and pose variations. It made the rhythm of my class feel disjointed and forced. I was too focused on myself, remembering my sequences that made my classes suffer and made my classes difficult to follow. It’s daunting to see a room full of students confused, bored, and upset. What was worse was that her progress suffered.
To correct this tendency, I focused on teaching the basic yoga poses in a simple way and learned to give students the general shape and foundation. I’ve avoided sequences that string together more than three variations in asymmetrical poses where one leg is pointed forward, like Warrior 2, or in poses where you balance on one leg, like the tree pose.
[SEE: Starting Yoga in Your 50s.]
Example of a good yoga sequence to start with
A good basic format for sequencing is to start with an accessible warm-up flow like cat and cow, followed by a few rounds of sun salutations where you combine every movement with your breath.
You begin this sequence by standing on the top of your mat and stretching your arms above your head as you inhale. Then exhale to bend forward and touch the floor. The next time you inhale, straighten your legs and lengthen your spine, lifting yourself high enough to get an extension in your back. Exhale, put your hands on the floor, step back on a plank and, for a low plank or the floor of a push-up, lower your hips to the floor. Inhale, pulling your chest forward and lifting just enough until your shoulders are sloped back for a cobra.
And finally, lift your hips up and back in an upside-down “V” shape to end up in a down dog. Inhale deeply and as you inhale, place on the top of your mat and bow down. Inhale, straighten your spine halfway up towards the standing position, and exhale, fold again and touch the floor. Inhale, extend your arms all the way up, and stand up. Exhale, bring your arms next to your body, and stand up.
Then do some standing poses like lunges, warrior two, side angles, and triangle pose. Followed by balancing poses, like tree and dancer pose, and a basic arm balance like crow pose when the class reaches chattaronga or a push-up while maintaining a plank shape in the back and hips.
Next up are waist openers and thigh stretches like pigeon and hero pose. Pyramid is a great way to counteract thigh straightening after deep knee flexion. Then back poses like bridge pose, reclined twist, hamstring stretch, and happy baby. Finally, it ends with sitting poses and a good five-minute savasana.
Teaching the fundamentals expertly is an invaluable skill worth cultivating, as students who take group classes are typically beginners to intermediate levels. Even advanced students will find tremendous healing and benefits if they work the basics on a regular basis. In addition, the best teaching opportunities that have been offered to me specifically require that I make my classes accessible to beginners.
Master the verbal teaching
It can be overwhelming to consider all of the different aspects of teaching a quality yoga class, such as class. When I first started teaching I struggled to juggle all aspects of good teaching at once and my communication failed.
After several years of refining my verbal teaching, I realize that this is our greatest tool as a teacher. Concise instructions, which are conveyed systematically from the beginning, help the students to get into their poses quickly and in a targeted manner. This saves time and energy, and helps students embody their poses without relying on the additional support of the teacher – although there will certainly be times when it is important to provide support.
When instructed, start with the breath, followed by an action, a basic hint and the name of the pose. For example, in Warrior Two, you instruct: breathe in, place your right foot between your hands, root your left heel on the ground, and for Warrior Two, come up. Then you can make refinements and teach your students’ needs as they take their poses and observe their form.
Use active language and pay attention to your vocal tone. The students feed on the teacher’s energy. When you give a cue for an energetic pose, say it with high energy. I am amazed at the difference in my students’ poses when I modulate my voice with enthusiasm, especially at the end of my cues. And now that online courses are becoming more common, a platform where your teaching is your only teaching tool, this is proving to be an invaluable skill.
Embrace entrepreneurship and be patient
For years I had no sense of how to deal with self-employment, and it cost me a lot of time, money and trouble. When I asked experienced yoga teachers for advice, the answer I received was to meditate or pray for abundance.
While it is important to have an intention, it is important to put it into action. Lay the foundation for small business success by creating a website, choosing a brand name with a clear focus, and seamlessly getting your message across all social media platforms. Specialize in an area where you have a unique understanding. Create content that adds value to your audience instead of focusing on likes and followers.
Public speaking and writing are useful for other work opportunities such as health-related seminars and blogging. Start an email list and start email campaigns. Stay consistent with your message and give it about a year to see if it makes sense by the amount of quality opportunities that attract you, rather than the attention you get.
The best teachers are the best students. With that in mind, it makes sense for aspiring teachers to spend several years developing their skills. Studios often have new teachers who continue their education at a discounted rate in exchange for lessons. This is a unique process that can allow young teachers to develop. However, it is important not to get stuck in this cycle of free work.
Have annual discussions with the studio owner about the compensation and, above all, make sure that they implement it. Otherwise, it’s easy to get exploited. Limit your studio tuition to two classes a week to reach new students and look for community teaching positions where you feel valued and excited to teach.
Working for yourself is not for everyone, but there is a sense of pride and determination when used carefully. As you progress, focus on quality work rather than quantity. It takes patience to build a culture around your courses and your brand. Be patient and know that anything worth doing will take time.
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Yoga Class Tips originally appeared on usnews.com