Let go of the need to be liked
The need to look good and have others’ approval is everywhere in society, and something I see frequently in teachers as well. They want to be liked, and so spend much of their time trying to prove themselves to others. Their classes are so focused on gaining approval, that they forget the real reason people come to yoga – transformation. For transformation to occur, we must confront those things about ourselves that we believe are lacking or in excess, and build or balance those characteristics. As a teacher, to facilitate this transformation in students, you must have compassion but also the willingness to challenge people, ask confrontational questions and spark enquiry. To really do this effectively, we must drop the approval game and do what’s needed for our students to learn – and sometimes that may mean ruffling a few feathers to be a truly good yoga teacher.
Learn anatomy and physiology
Having a basic understanding of A&P is essential for the modern yogasana teacher. I say yogasana because hey, if you don’t move people then it’s not so relevant. But modern yoga teachers are mostly yogasana teachers, and a lot of students and teachers are drawn to the practice for physical reasons. Having a basic understanding of A&P allows you to safely approach advanced asana, cue students effectively and also understand posture in balances that can be improved through sensible practice. I know for many of you it can be a chore, but it will allow you to sequence with an anatomical intelligence that leaves students feeling balanced in savasana and you feeling like an authentically good yoga teacher.
Create inspiring poetic rhetoric in classes
I’m not sure why so many teachers struggle here. Maybe its because public speaking is the number one scariest thing to do in the world! Well, public speaking authentically about a subject even the teachers find difficult to practice must trump mere pubic speaking alone. So I get it, creating a poetic rhetoric that inspires the hearts and minds of students can be insanely difficult, revealing and scary, but it can also touch people deeply. Leaving a spiritual legacy is about leaving a message inside a person at the end of class, and an essential skill of a good yoga teacher.
Learning basic public speaking structure and delivery can help you here if you are not naturally inclined. And once you have mastered this art and feel inclined to philosophise throughout the entire class, remember that ‘space’ is also an important element.
Make sure the topic you are presenting for people to consider is well researched, logical, spiritual in essence and presented in a way people can follow. Do that and you will rock the house every time.
Balance the elements
I always find that my best classes are when all the elements have been balanced – earth, fire, air, water, space.
The Earth element in a yoga class represents grounding. Good breath cues, alignment and a grounding dialogue is what brings students out of their mind and into their bodies.
Fire tends to be more confrontational. Whether in a dialogue such as ‘have a good look at yourself’, or a strong flow that challenges (yet includes) everyone.
Air for me tends to be the lightness in the class – the occasional laugh, or light philosophy that touches hearts.
Water is poetically delivered with fluid movements and smooth transitions. It creates an environment where students can create deeper and deeper Dharana (concentration) experiences in the body and mind.
Space/Ether is the element that goes out of balance way too often. Be careful not to ramble. Sutra-fy your dialogue, be essential, use minimum words with maximum impact and let students have space to process, receive, download and assimilate what they are learning. Preaching can be good, but if you force your message or your alignment cues, the element of space suffers.
Don’t be too creative
What I love about a good yoga teacher is they bring the same boring old breath and down dog to life, day after day. In some ways it’s easy to be creative, but that’s not always effective. Being super creative is often a need of the teacher, not the student. Some of the biggest and best yoga styles in the world stick to one sequence for years! There is so much to be said for students being able to create familiarity with a sequence so they can evolve past just listening for what is next. Learn to be a teacher who can bring the classical postures to life without the need to be overly creative.
One of my early teachers said to me, “Duncan, forget about inspiring everyone and just focus on staying inspired yourself”. Lead by example as a good yoga teacher and make time to do the things that inspire you, which will in turn help to inspire others.
Develop a good understanding of business
The business side of yoga often challenges teachers. Don’t get the business of yoga mixed up with teaching yoga. Businesses are businesses – they can and should have great values directing them but they need to be run as a business. Yogis sometimes have a very confused understanding of business and what it means to create a platform where your teaching can touch many people.
It will always help a yoga teacher to have a basic understanding of business, brand and social media. This will also help them to understand their own value and hence avoid being taken advantage of. I am all up for charity – but if you want to be charitable, teach students that can’t afford to pay. There’s no need to give away classes to millionaires at your own cost.
Lift other teachers up
We get great by making others great. Try let go of feelings of competition, and allow everyone to stand in the light. Don’t judge other teachers, styles or philosophies – we all started at one point. Generally the generation before us thinks what we are doing isn’t yoga, just like the generation before them – all the way back to the original Rishis who intuited the wisdom. Interesting thing to ponder – All yoga, all GOOD!
Be willing to evolve as a good yoga teacher
This can be very difficult and testing to do in an evolving industry. Once we discover who we are as a teacher, it seems we need to recreate ourselves if we are to continue to evolve. Staying stagnant isn’t an option; we are bound by action so we might as well focus on true self-study and evolution (svadhyaya), even when it contradicts things we have stood for in the past. We must be willing to be humble and willing to be a student time and time again.
Teach yoga as it applies to others, not to you
A good yoga teacher teaches yoga as it applies to themselves, how they feel, what is effective for them and what they believe is right. But a GREAT yoga teacher sees what the student needs and delivers teachings in a way they can learn from, as it applies to them. Forget about your Self, and focus on your students.
About the author
Duncan is the original pioneer of contemporary yoga in Australia and the Founder, Master Facilitator and CEO of Power Living. With 14+ years’ of teaching experience behind him, he continues to share his modern-day yoga philosophy with the community. Learn more at www.powerliving.com.au