Teaching my first yoga class

Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.

— Margaret J. Wheatley

Happy International Women’s Day!

I’ve learned in my life that reflecting back helps me appreciate my journey and recognize what I’ve learned. Today I’m honoring the first yoga class I taught a year and a half ago.

It was for a practice group with a fellow teacher trainee and two of his friends. Both of his friends were new at yoga and eager to learn. I’d prepared a 60ish minute flow and carefully selected one of Shiva Rea’s flow mixes to play in the background: introspective but not distracting. I was really nervous about what they would think of my class.

As we settled onto our mats to begin, I felt my heart pounding and all (three pairs) of eyes on me. It was thrilling and scary. I asked them to bring their attention to their breath and begin to go within. As their eyes closed, I gazed at my *very first* students with nervous excitement and remembered this: it’s all about them right now. I had a Matrix moment. Time slowed down and I let go of my ego, instead scanning the energy of the room. What did they need today, and how can I help them find it? After they finished setting their intention and we Ommmmmed, we started moving together. My cues were basic and direct and I confused the left side and right side a few times, but it didn’t faze me. I had clicked with them, and I was guiding their energy through the practice. It’s such a high, being connected to my students and feeling their trust in me, trust that I could and would serve them by being their guide. It’s this connection and exchange of energy that I chase. It pushes me to be a better yogi, a better teacher. It motivates me to practice creatively, try new perspectives, read more do more be more. It forces me to say “not now, ego” and listen to the needs of myself and my students.

Here are some reflections from other yoga teachers about teaching their first class. Happy yoga-ing!

 

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What makes a good yoga teacher?

What makes a good yoga teacher?  I’ve learned a lot in my first year as a yoga teacher, and in order to keep improving, I check in with a short list of things I believe are necessary to be a good yoga teacher. I’ve created this list from my experience as a yoga student practicing on the East Coast, Midwest, in Mongolia and South East Asia and also as a yoga teacher in the Midwest and in Vietnam and Laos.

Being prepared, but also listening to the room

The best yoga classes that I’ve attended or taught are ones where the teacher had a plan for the class and also read and incorporated the energy of the room into the class. Sometimes that meant checking in with the students at the beginning of class, other times it meant sensing the energy levels/flow of the room. If the students were expressing a need for something other than what was planned, the teacher adjusted their plan to meet the students’ needs.

Making it about the students, not the teacher

As a student, I notice when the teacher is focused on themselves, trying to impress the class and exude “good yoga teacher” energy. As a teacher, I notice when I am thinking about how I look or come off to the students, or whether they will think this is a good class. But when the focus is on the teacher, the students aren’t able to go inside to their deeper koshas and the teacher isn’t able to hear or sense what the students need in the moment. In these cases, the teacher is probably feeling nervous (trust me, I would know), which is a natural reaction to caring about bringing forth a great class. When this happens  to me as a teacher, I take a deep breath and remind myself that I’m here for the students and become more connected and in-tune to their needs.

Putting safety first

This one is really important to me. Providing a safe environment for students to explore is paramount to being a good teacher. For me, this means understanding the physiology of yoga and understanding that every body is different and has had different experiences. This means that poses will inevitably look different on different people. This means it’s important to understand the intent of the pose (e.g. opening the inner legs) beyond superficial cues (e.g. straighten the knee). When students feel safe and supported in class, they can do more exploring and gain a better understanding of their own bodies. They will also appreciate more the quirks of their own bodies and tailor the practice to what they need.

Keeping up your personal practice

As a teacher, maintaining your personal practice means you won’t be tempted to practice along with the class you’re teaching. That’s not your time; that time is for your students (see point 2).  It also means you will continue to develop a better understanding of the physical yoga practice. It means you will have experience in the pranayama (breathwork) and meditation that you lead in class. It means you are focused and ready to teach come class time.

Being a lifelong learner

Finally, being a good yoga teacher (or any teacher) means you don’t stop learning. For me, this means keeping up my personal practice (point 4), attending other classes and studying yoga materials: books, articles, workshops, and trainings. These things build on existing knowledge and sometimes offer a new perspective on yoga.

As my yoga journey continues, this list will evolve. I encourage all the yogis out there to create a list of their own. Knowing what qualities are important to you will help you find your dream yoga teacher or become a better one 🙂