I’ve been interested in yoga for as long as I can remember. I was in primary school when I first came across yoga. My best friend’s dad had filled her room with wallpapers of mantras and yantras, and her shelves with cassettes and DVDs about meditation and yoga classes.
Sometimes, he would talk to us the same way he did to his adult friends and tell us stories about chakras and the importance of focusing on the present moment. It completely fascinated me. He treated yoga with such respect and the whole philosophy behind it was so simple that it delivered a clear message even to a ten-year-old like me.
In my adolescence, I tried all forms of yoga. From the very first sun salutation sequence, I had printed on my door and practiced in the morning, to the few DVDs I could find on the market that I’d rigorously follow until I had learned them by heart. Later on, I made long lists of online yoga sessions, sorted them by my favorite instructors, and conscientiously followed their practice. I did this on and off for many years until I finally realized how hard it was to maintain the habit of a daily yoga practice at home, with no real guidance from a yoga instructor. So, I decided it was time to try various yoga styles with real yoga teachers, in a real yoga studio.
I started attending everything I could find. Relaxing Yin yoga classes, invigorating Vinyasa and Hatha yoga for beginners, intricate Iyengar yoga, Hot yoga, you name it. Whenever there was a new yoga course in town, I’d happily give it a try. I’ve seen so many yoga teachers with such varied teaching methods and backgrounds that soon I learned that the difference between a good yoga session and a bland one lies in nothing but the little things.
Here is a list of five apparently insignificant things yoga teachers should always consider if they dream of leading an unforgettable yoga class:
Know Your Students Before You Start
Pay close attention to your students. Never sacrifice over the majority. If you have just one absolute beginner in a class of over 20 intermediates and advanced, be there for the first timer. Set your intentions to pay extra attention to them and stick with it. If you have one foreigner, it’s imperative that you run your class in English. I’ve been to quite a few yoga sessions abroad where some teachers simply excused themselves by saying there weren’t enough foreigners for them to lead the class in English. Now, it’s safe to say that attending a yoga class in a different language is the perfect recipe for disaster and complete frustration. The student will always be behind and will constantly look around trying to imitate the other yogis in the room. It will be impossible for them to stay focused in the pose and I guarantee they will never return.
I couldn’t insist more on the importance of patience and on how incredibly visible a teacher’s impatience and lack of presence actually is for their students. Pace your every move and wait patiently for your students to get into the pose. Unless you are teaching a very powerful style of yoga and you need to maintain a fast flow of movement, then there’s absolutely no point in not taking it easy. Stay in the moment and teach your students to do the same. I’ve seen many yoga teachers trapped in their own sequence, unable to actually pay full attention not only to their inner selves but to the vibe of the class. A good way to avoid this mistake is to take up an extensive yoga teacher training and focus more on staying present than on the asanas. Maybe even join one that includes a bit of daily meditation into the schedule. If Asia is too much or too far for you, just pick any destination of your choice: there are plenty of yoga teacher trainings in Europe or America to choose from.
Share Your Philosophy
At the beginning of the yoga session, take a few minutes to prepare your students for the class. One of the best classes I attended this year was called Yogilates, a perfect blend between Pilates and yoga that I just can’t recommend enough! The teacher always started with a few minutes of a monologue on the importance of not rushing through the poses, of staying present, and of never forcing your body to overstretch. His words felt like a little-guided meditation that soothed our souls and steadied our minds right before we began working on our bodies.
Never Stop Teaching about the Breathing
Teach your students when to inhale and when to exhale throughout every step of every asana. We all know how important breathing is during every pose, regardless of level. Back when I first started doing yoga, I would suddenly feel very lost if the teacher stopped telling us when exactly to inhale and when to exhale. Even today, after so many years, it’s still important to always be reminded of it. Over the years, even the poses that I found most difficult to do seemed a lot easier the moment I connected the breath to the movement. Reminding your students about conscious breathing is also the best way to ensure that their minds don’t wander and they stay focused in the present moment.
Create Genuine Relationships
Make eye contact, show empathy, and offer your help every time someone needs it. I once went to an advanced Iyengar yoga class by mistake and even though I was a beginner at that time, the yoga teacher insisted that I stay. The class was amazing. She showed me step by step how to do a Sirsasana (a headstand pose) and I found myself able to do it even if it was my very first try. She was so warm and so genuinely interested in sharing her passion for Iyengar yoga with everyone around her that it got me hooked for years. The impact she had on me was so strong that I actually went to her classes regularly for many years.
I hope that these guidelines will help you understand more of what a good yoga teacher is all about and that you will strive to become better every day. Yoga, like everything else precious in life, takes practice, determination, and patience. So, don’t put yourself down if you haven’t yet mastered every aspect of teaching with grace, presence, and love up until now. Hold on to your passion and rest assured, you’ll get there before you know it!
Irina has been carving her way through yoga for many years. She’s also a travel enthusiast, striving to live every day with grace, presence, and empathy. Her biggest dream is to someday be a yoga teacher.