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A student and yoga teacher asks: I teach yoga at a health club, and I was recently given feedback by my supervisor. She recommended that I “add a higher element of fun and joy” to my yoga classes, and said that I need to be more “light and bubbly” like the other instructors. Any thoughts on this? What should I do?
This is a tough one. The trick is integrating the feedback without compromising who you are as a teacher. Each venue you teach at will have its own style and energy. Teaching at a health club is not the same as teaching at a yoga studio. Teaching at a studio is different than teaching at a mindfulness center, and so on.
Students also appreciate different styles in yoga instructors. Some like calmer, more introverted teachers, while others prefer ones that are more energetic and extroverted. It can be tempting to try to match people’s expectations—to morph yourself into a chameleon-like being that blends into her environment but is never herself. You have your own unique personality and character—your own voice, if you will. It is critically important that you remain authentic in your teaching. In other words, don’t try to be someone or something you are not. If you do, you will come across as fake and your students won’t like that either. So, the trick is finding a venue and audience that matches your teaching style, while continuing to enhance and build that style.
That said, I do think many yoga teachers are too langhana, meaning they tend to speak softly and in low tones, with a meditative kind of energy. This is great if you work in a mindfulness center—not so great in a fitness center. And if you are on the shy side, you may back away from interacting with students, which may be part of the problem. Here are some things I would recommend trying.
- Connect with your students before and after class. I’m notoriously bad at this, but try to get to know your students’ names. Certainly get to know them as individuals. And check in with people after class to see how the experience was for them. This is especially important with newer students, who may have questions but not feel comfortable approaching you.
- Continue this connection during class. Try to have a personal moment with every student at least once during class. This can be challenging in larger classes, but is a worthy goal nonetheless. This connection can range from eye contact and a smile to working on the finer points of form. Of course, there’s a balance here. You have to intervene enough to make sure the student knows you’re present, but not so much she wishes you weren’t. You’ll learn that balance over time.
- Smile. A lot. Your voice and presence transform dramatically when you smile. Most of us tend to take ourselves, and our classes, way too seriously. Plus, if you smile, your students are likely to smile back. Smiling students are less likely to strain and struggle in challenging poses.
- Use your full vocal range. Yoga teachers tend to speak softly and in a monotone. This works well if you’re guiding your students toward meditation or trying to lull them to sleep. It doesn’t work will for fitness-oriented classes or classes in which you’re trying to build energy. Vary your vocal volume and pitch to match the energy you are trying to create.
- Be present for the entire room. Way too many teachers teach from the front of the room only. Move throughout the class; instruct poses from different sides of the room; stand near the back as well as the front. This will make you a more vibrant presence for the entire class, regardless of where students have placed their mats.
- Remain committed to your personal practice. Many, many teachers become stale and teach by rote simply because they aren’t practicing yoga themselves. To teach yoga, you have to practice yoga. If you’re not consistently practicing, start again. Take classes from teachers you find inspirational, and continue your practice at home.
- Know when to say when. Not every teacher is a fit for every class or venue. If you feel like you can’t teach from an authentic place, then that venue may not be right for you. In other words, sometimes the best choice is to walk away.
I hope that helps!
More information about Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program can be found at our web site: Yoga Teacher Training at Whole Life Yoga.