Years ago, I began this series of posts for yoga teachers and people who might be interested in taking a yoga teacher training, as a way to navigate the fears and questions many of us have starting out as a yoga teacher. I’ve shared tips for hosting yoga workshops, ways to generate income as a teacher, and how to offer adjustments without making your students feel uncomfortable in hopes that we can come together as a community and support one another in becoming the best yoga teachers we can be. Now that I host my own Namaslay® Yoga Teacher Trainings, reflecting on my craft and refining my skills as a teacher is even more important.
One of the things I’m constantly reminding myself of is to be mindful of my ego and its reflection in my classes. Teaching yoga is essentially an act of service, and the more I can focus on the needs of my students instead of my own image or agenda, the more they’ll receive from the practice and the less stress I feel in preparation. Here are a few things to consider in keeping the focus on your students:
You have nothing to prove and everything to share. Believe it or not, I still get nervous before I teach, so I’ll repeat this silently to myself. I let it be my mantra when I was invited to teach at a yoga festival in Dubai in front of hundreds of (maybe even a thousand) people. They put me on a huge stage, which I dislike because it literally puts the teacher above people, and I don’t think we should place yoga teachers on pedestals. I understand it was important for logistics - everyone needed to see, but the physical separation made the mental game so much more difficult. Reminding myself I was only there to offer my gifts helped take the pressure off.
In the name of keeping yoga teachers off pedestals, introduce yourself before class. Not only does it help calm my nerves, but I want my students to feel at ease, too. It’s helpful to share my authenticity in a handshake and eye contact, reminding my students I’m just another person, and there are no wild expectations of what they should be doing in their practice. I’m no one’s guru, and I’m not here to cultivate adoration. I’m here to lead a safe practice of breath and movement that will empower others to connect with themselves and find their own inner teacher.
Remember the class is for the students. Teaching is not my time to practice. My eyes and attention are on my students, so I can offer the cues, assists and adjustments they need. I’m there to offer a suggestion for where to go, but I make it very clear at the beginning of the class that it’s for them, and if they need a child’s pose or to fly up into handstands in each vinyasa, it’s all totally cool with me.
Meet your students where they are. I may plan an advanced class with tricky arm balances and challenging transitions, but if my class is full of beginners, how does my demo of a handstand press benefit them? You may be excited that you figured out an incredible tip for a difficult pose and can’t wait to share it, but if you’re on your mat playing in an inversion, and your students are still in the preparation stages, they may leave class feeling disheartened or frustrated. Lovingly encourage them to explore their limits, and keep yours for your own practice.
Keep the chatter to a minimum. Maybe it’s a personal preference, but in a yoga class, I want to be guided and assisted by a teacher, and otherwise forget they are there. A bit of personality in cuing and instruction is great. I’ll welcome some encouragement, an opportunity to ask a question or learn more about my practice, and I think a teacher being themselves makes students feel more at ease. But I’ve taken classes where the teacher couldn’t help but fill every moment of silence. If the energy in the room was low, they would make jokes or call attention to themselves for feedback, probably out of nervousness, but the effect was the students losing their presence and attention for themselves. We spend so much time focusing on work, family, friends, and a million other things. When I come to my mat, I want to focus just on me. Right here. Right now. And as a teacher, I don’t want to rob my students of that same opportunity for self exploration and care.
I’m interested in your thoughts on ego in the yoga classroom or studio! Have you experienced an imbalance in your own teaching or in another’s class? Do you have any other tips for keeping a student-centered approach to teaching? Let us know in the comments! I’m traveling for work and a mini-vacay this week, but I’m excited for the summer schedule at Namaslay® Studios to kick off when we return! If you’re in the Ridgefield, Connecticut area, stop in and take a class with us!