First impressions are everything when you’re just starting out as a yoga teacher. When I met my first teacher, Louisa Sear we were both at a creative dance class. I couldn’t help notice her back bending effortlessly to the pumping music. A few days later we met on the street. Her laugh was contagious. She enticed me to do yoga with her in a dingy hall in the back blocks of Mullumbimby but the location was irrelevant. Louisa had me at hello.
As a new teacher, it can be nerve-wracking. I don’t know anyone whose confident at the start. There is so much to think about, from planning your class, to learning the studio software, to wanting to create a sense of harmony and wellbeing for the group.
So how do you calm those nerves and make your student the priority? How can you create a warm and welcoming atmosphere so that everyone feels, safe and cared for from the moment they arrive until the time they leave?
In the yoga tradition, it’s called Vinyasa Krama, a phrase coined by the father of modern yoga, Krishnamacharya. He believed that the stages of practice didn’t just extend to postures, breathing, meditation, mudras, and bandhas. A vinyasa practice happened from the moment he greeted a student at his gate until he escorted them back out.
“The Vinyasa grants both the teacher and student a sense of completion that is also a preparation for the next phase of our life” – Ishta System Manual
So what are the steps we can take to both settle our own nerves and support our student through the stages of their own practice?
Find out their names. Greet them when they come into the room. Make sure to use their names throughout the class and when they leave. If you have trouble remembering names ask them about themselves when they come in. It’s easier to remember a name when you can identify something specific about them, like, that’s Carrie and she just dropped her boy off at preschool for the first time today.
Normalize everything. The beginning of class is always a little awkward for everyone. The room is quiet, students are not sure where to set up or what props they need. Suggest where to place their mat (i.e are they going to set up at the wall or in the center of the room) the props they’ll use and let them know you are there if they have any questions.
Check in throughout the class. As you lead them through the different phases of the class make sure to check in with the group and individual students. Especially if you are offering corrective and hands-on assists. I often say things like, “ Is this okay?” “Can I adjust you?” “or that’s perfect Tracy, just make sure to bend your knee because it’s easier like that”
Show your imperfections. Sharing your own challenges and vulnerabilities as a yoga teacher goes a long way in class. If you fall out of a pose while demonstrating make a joke about it. Offer more comfortable variations at the wall. Talk about your first experiences while attempting a challenging pose. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes like forgetting which side you’re on or your next planned pose. When in doubt wing it and be yourself. Your students will love it.
Finish the class with a personal touch. After Savasana and right before the close of the class bring everyone to a comfortable seat and offer a moment of reflection. They might like to think about what they’re grateful for or something they’d like to achieve for the day. Helping them to set an intention seeds the energy they’ve gained from the practice into their lives. It also gives you a moment to settle before the hustle and bustle of the end of class.
Connect with the students again before they leave. Bearing in mind how Krishnamacharya led his student to the gate to say goodbye. Make sure to allow for time to farewell the students as they go. Check in again as to how they faired in class, wish them a beautiful day, whatever feels appropriate in the moment.
Bringing these simple strategies into your class may feel a little forced at first because there’s so much to think about as a newbie but remember, yoga is so much more than just the practice. Yoga fosters community, teaches compassion and bridges differences. When you show up for your students from beginning to end it shows you care.
A teacher who shows interest in their students is a keeper!