Yoga Teacher Talk is a new series I’m excited to share for current or prospective yoga teachers. I’m hoping that these posts will not only help people, but spark conversation amongst people either below in the comments or over here on the Yoga Forum, where we had a dedicated forum for all things related to yoga teachers. As always, feedback and suggestions for topics are welcome!
So you’ve completed teacher training. Now what? Do you feel like a deer in headlights? Fear not, friends, because today it’s all about learning to find your authentic teaching voice.
One of the things I love about yoga is that there’s so much space for people in the yoga world. (Ok many yoga studios won’t agree, but that’s another story for another day. BTW, if you own a yoga studio and don’t like outside teachers coming in, email me because I am genuinely curious as to why. End rant.) Anyway, in my personal opinion, everyone brings something to the table and has something delicious they can offer.
And as a new student, if you’re anything like I was, you might feel like you don’t offer much. Your handstand is non-existant, your legs bend in downward dog, and you feel like you barely know your asana from your elbow. Guess what? None of that ish matters. You wanna know why?
Because that teacher with the perfect handstand - there’s no such thing as perfect, but just go with me here - that teacher doesn’t come with all your life experiences. You have certainly been through something, worked through something, had personal encounters with different things than she has. So you have something to share- your life experiences. Own them. Step into them. And let them guide you down a path of authenticity.
Here are seven steps to finding your voice as a yoga teacher
1. Be you
We all have that one teacher whose class we can’t stand to miss. The perfect playlist, the best breathwork, the most unique sequences - there’s a special something that we just want to emulate, and we often start by imitating what they sound like and what they say. The problem with that is it’s not really you. Say you’re a soft-spoken guy who like to geek out over alignment, but your favorite instructor is loud, funny, and larger than life. Don’t mimic his ways, friend! It isn’t going to serve you. Rather, be yourself. Maybe work on the soft-spoken bit, but otherwise, be yourself. There’s not rule that says yoga teachers need to be singing songs and chanting OMs. If that’s not you, that’s ok.
2. Pick your “butt” word
Haha, sorry, that is really funny, though so I am refusing to change this! But hear me out because this is important. Saying the wrong “butt” word is the difference between being authentic and being fake. Let me explain.
In teacher training, you might receive some kind of training manual with a suggested script. Your training might even require you to memorize a script. This is a fantastic foundation, but unless you’re a Bikram teacher (in which case I think you have to stick to the script), really evaluate what you’re saying and ask yourself if you’d say that in your life off the mat.
For example, in my teacher training, our instructor asked that we figure out how we were going to say the word “bottom” (he was British). So we had to think. Tush? Butt? Behind? Ass? Bum? Booty? What do you say with your friends or family? For me, “bottom” was just not going to cut it. (I say butt, by the way. It sounds vulgar but it’s more natural to me. Sometimes I say bum. If I said “booty” I would laugh. That’s just not me.)
The bottom line, pun intended, is to make sure you're saying things that feel natural to you.
3. Allow vulnerability
When you design and lead a class, come from a place of continual student - always learning, always curious. Make it clear that you don’t know everything, and stand firm in letting that be okay. For students, at least in my opinion, it’s refreshing to see a yoga teacher be open and honest with what he or she knows and doesn’t know.
4. Add something more
At this point, you probably agree that yoga is a lot more than some poses on a mat. Examine your life experiences and see if you can bring something new to the practice. Maybe something you went through lead you to this incredible self discovery. How was yoga involved? Or how could that life lesson apply to the yoga practice? See if you can weave little pieces of that into your class to give it that extra something.
5. Know your stuff
Remember five seconds ago when I said you should allow yourself to be vulnerable and give yourself permission to not know it all? I meant that, but I also want to add on that it’s important to teach what you’re most confident in. For safety reasons, and to be the most fluid in your explanations and instruction, it’s best, in my opinion, to teach what you know. Never done shoulder stand before? Then this is not the pose to teach!
6. Record yourself
The best yoga teachers are the ones who can talk you through a class. You know, the ones who are walking around the room adjusting people and talking the class through the sequence. The only time where I wouldn’t suggest talking through the class is if you’re teaching people whose native language isn’t your own. In this case, they’d be better off following what you do. Provided you’re not in that situation, it might be a good personal growth project to record your voice and then practice your own recording. See if you can do the sequence that you just spoke. Identify where your weaknesses are and ask yourself how you can improve your tone of voice, delivery and sequencing.
7. Ask for feedback
Coming into your authentic teaching voice means being open to feedback. Ask your students for feedback. A lot of times, students have really excellent advice or really great points, so it might be beneficial for you to hand out feedback cards and ask them to fill one out at their leisure and bring it to your next class. Or, if you have a following on twitter or facebook, you could ask your students to fill out an anonymous survey through Survey Monkey (limit 100 responses before it asks you to pay). They might not say things in the most tactful way, and you might even get a rude response or two, but the majority of people will appreciate that you welcome and respect their feedback.
Let’s talk If you’re a yoga teacher, what advice would you add? If you’re a student, what advice would you add? What speaks to you as a student?