Nowadays it seems like everyone and their mother has a yoga teacher certification. If you want to make it as an instructor, you need to stick out. I knew that there would a lot of competition moving to the Bay Area, as it has such a densely populated yoga community, but knowing and experiencing were two different things. I’ve had the opportunity to take class with a variety of senior teachers and it’s been humbling if anything. I can’t tell you how many times the thought went through my head, “And you thought you could hang with these top dogs?” As I began to study them more, one thing became apparent: not only did they teach a killer class, they had…ETIQUETTE. Your instructor etiquette has so much to do with students coming back to class. These are a few tips I’ve learned that have worked for me, I now feel more confident and connected with my students.
1.) Check in with your students before class. This is one of the hardest things for me to do because it really requires me to tap into my most confident self. Before class I walk up to students and introduce myself. I ask for their name, shake their hand, and ask if they have any injuries. If it’s a student that I know, I ask how their body feels and if they have any requests. I can’t tell you how powerful this move is. When your students see that you are mature and confident, they let their guards down and are more receptive during class. Sometimes you can’t get to everyone so let them know at the end of class to feel free to chat with you if you didn’t get a chance to before. You are leading these students through a physical, mental, and emotional journey, they need to know that you are available and that they can trust you. I used to ask the class as a whole before we started if anyone had injuries and people are much less willing to speak up, so make it personal.
2.) Touch your students! The majority of the class, I’m adjusting people. This came from gradual practice. The practice is becoming a second nature and I really dig it. First, let people know people know before class that if they don’t want an adjustment at any time, to please let you know and that it’s totally cool. For the most part, I adjust students how I’m cuing to the whole class. If someone drops into child’s pose, give them some love as you continue to teach. Let them know that you see them. Savasana time? Instead of checking your text messages, give your students a shoulder and/or neck adjustment. I find that adjusting helps me keep my head in the game. Bottom line: people want to feel a connection, it’s part of being human. You can give them that gift.
3.) Make eye contact with your students, especially when you’re up front talking to them before or after class. And I don’t mean a quick skim through the faces, I mean connect with someone with your gaze for a few seconds. These people took time out of their day to see YOU, let them know that their presence is acknowledged. When students feel like you’re not paying attention to them, they check out. You are their leader for that time and your ability to make eye contact with them shows that you’re not only confident enough in your teacher self to that, but that you care enough to do that. Oh, and make sure it’s not a creepy, intense gaze–your soft gaze will soften them..
4.) Practice gratitude. Just because you are a well-known teacher with an awesome time slot does not mean that you *deserve* to have people in your class. As teachers, we are lucky to do what we do and we are lucky to have people fill our classes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen teachers jet out right after class without seeing their students out the door. After your “Namaste”, thank your students for coming and let them know how much you appreciate them. There are too many teachers who let this job go to their head and begin to act and believe that they are on some higher playing field than everyone else. Get on your students’ level and stay there. As their yoga instructor, you very well may be one of the biggest influences in their life. It’s very possible that you currently make more of an impact than…their boss, doctor, significant other, parents, whatever. Understand how important you are to these people and let them know that you don’t take that lightly.
5.) Be yourself. I know you’re thinking, “Blah, blah, blah, I hear this all the time.” This really took on a new meaning when I found myself continually engaging in a particular conversation with myself after moving here. I would go to an experienced teacher’s classes and think to myself, “Oh I should really start teaching like this person. Maybe I should start to emulate that person a bit more.” Don’t do it. Don’t even try. If you notice organic changes in your teaching based off of you being inspired by another teacher or their class, great. That I can get behind. But students like uniqueness and you can’t get that from trying to be like someone else. I can tell you from personal experience, it comes off as funky and awkward and you don’t want your students to get the wrong impression of you, do you? Use other teachers to inspire you, not to intimidate you.
Teaching yoga is hard! I’ve learned that it’s a constant growing process and at no point should you feel like, “you’ve got it down”. Once we give into that mentality, we lose inspiration (which is the foundation for a great class and teacher!) and we become less receptive. If you love teaching yoga, as a full-time job or not, you know that the thought of your class is popping into your head all day long. It should make you a excited and a little nervous/anxious (because you want to be your best self and there’s always a little bit of nerves about having that on display for everyone to see, hear, and feel). Because class is constantly popping into our thoughts, we remain ready to go at all times. Remember, improving our yoga-instructing, bad-ass selves is a PRACTICE. One thing at a time. One thing at a time.