One of the best ways to strengthen your yoga teaching is to practice with as many different teachers (and styles!) as possible. This is a great way to easily round out your experience and knowledge base. Beyond this though, there are a few other, fairly easy habits that we can also practice to strengthen our teachings. Some of them may surprise you.
Hopefully these quick tips will help you to stay authentic, find your voice again (or even deepen your message), and provide a more full experience for your students.
1. Take a break from asana
What?! I know, I know. But the truth is, there is a lot more out there than asana practice. Hear me out.
I’ve found inspiration and personal growth in lots of areas that have nothing to do with physical yoga. Watching a movie, cooking a delicious meal without distractions, spending time with old and new friends, going on a date, simply going out for ice cream by yourself—these are all examples of shaking up the routine.
They can give you new language and points of perspective to use with your students, or simply cleanse and reset the brain. I was exhausted and skipped a yoga class to take a nap the other day, but I woke up with a sequencing idea for a flow class that I was teaching later in the evening. Sometimes, it’s hard to see the forest through the trees. Take a step back and let your yoga find you again.
2. Anatomy, schmanatomy
As yoga instructors, it’s vital that we have a working, practical knowledge of anatomy. But the subject of anatomy is so vast and complicated that one could easily spend days just reading about the little toe (the one that goes ‘wee, wee, wee’ all the way home).
A great way to tackle anatomy and grow your skills in this area is to bite off little pieces of knowledge where you can. Try researching one bone, joint, or muscle for 10-15 minutes and then share what you learned with your students. Better yet, design a sequence that really displays and practices what you learned.
For example, I love the shoulder socket, and I learn something new about it every time I Google it or open one of my old medical text books. Sometimes, I cannot wait to share what I have read or simply to use it to cue Plank pose or Chaturanga dandasana in a new and different way.
3. Read! And while you’re at it...write!
Reading up on other philosophies has a way of shaping our minds to be more open and receptive. Additionally, reading anything has a way of broadening our vocabulary and language skills. The best part: this doesn’t mean you have to read yoga-related material.
I find new ways to think, speak, and cue my classes with creative language when I read fiction novels. And when you get a dose of inspiration, try writing in a blog format, or even just jotting down a few notes in a journal. These are great little nuggets of your own thoughts to come back to when you want to freshen up your classes. Self-reflection is a wonderful way to share your authentic self with your students.
4. Use props
I joke in my classes that I am a “prop-ponent." *Cue the giggles* In my home practice, I am surrounded by props like a nesting hamster. Blocks, straps, bolsters, blankets, and pillows are wonderful tools that can take your practice and teachings even deeper.
The down side: many students feel that props are for “beginners,” so they avoid them. This is a great way for you to broaden your students’ practices by showing them a new variation that might be either more accessible, or even more challenging, simply by using a prop wisely. And this goes back to staying inspired and learning anatomy.
If you don’t know how to use props effectively, take a workshop or do the research. The process of active learning will make you a better teacher.
5. Pry yourself out of your comfort zone.
When I first started teaching workshops, I felt like my little heart was going to explode (partially because I was excited and honored, but mostly because I was scared out of my mind). But I knew deep down that there was something that I wanted to share that went beyond what I could fit into a 60-minute flow class.
I had my notecards, my laptop, my journal, and a pair of adult diapers on for my first few workshops. I was shaking like a leaf and stuttering. But I invited friends and fellow teachers, and I asked them for real, honest feedback after each session (something I still value and ask for to this day). Eventually, the nerves faded and, after I taught the same things a few times, the messages and sequences became more clear and evolved.
The point is, if you want to teach well, you have to put yourself out there. This process of unfolding is both scary and beautiful at the same time. Being able to sit back and observe yourself growing is a gift.
6. Above all, stay you.
People come to your classes because they enjoy you. So don’t feel the need to change that or carbon copy another style or teacher. Take inspiration and make it your own? For sure! But remember that students appreciate authenticity.
Honor your skills and talents; they are the essence of what you have to offer. Practice them, hone them, and develop them in your own way. Your gift might be your humor, or the way you cue effectively, or even the way you make people feel when they walk in the door. Embrace the strengths, work on the other stuff, and don’t stress.
Share your light. Shine on.