How To Prepare For Teaching Your First Yoga Class: 5 Steps to "I DID IT!"
When you're about to teach your first yoga class, it can feel like looking at Everest without wearing climbing gear. Hell, it can feel like looking at Everest while not wearing a coat. Shaking, trembling and wondering what the hell you're doing.
You might even turn to self-hatred (why did I try to do this?), or people-hatred (doesn't anyone have better stuff to do than take a class from me?) or worse, you might beat up on poor yoga which never did anything but help people (stupid yoga, why did you have to change my life?).
Public speaking is a frightening thing. I've been there. As Jerry Seinfeld said, most people would rather be in the coffin at the funeral than delivering the eulogy. It's scary.
Before you start going in all kinds of crazy directions of nervousness and anxiety, let's pull it in and talk about 5 steps you can take to make things go so much better. Preparation is key for anything, but it is especially key for teaching your first yoga class.
After these steps, you'll feel much better about starting the exciting career ahead of you, even prepared, even confident and peaceful.
1. Make two intentions (big and small):
The big intention is exactly that: it's BIG. It's the reason you've decided to go through teacher training and reach this moment right here. It's your mission statement.
Your big intention for teaching yoga comes, specifically, from the heart. The heart informs the mind who then tells you. You will almost know it, or feel it immediately: it makes you feel like you have a heating pad inside your chest. For real. Warm and fuzzy inside, no cliche intended.
Examples of this kind of primary intention: open hearts, improve the health of my town, to increase awareness, to make people feel good, to be a force for peace in the world, to raise souls and uplift spirits (mine).
This is your intention to come back to, especially when you get "yoga teacher burnout." This happens when you lose sight of why you are teaching, when you get tired down the road. So make this intention genuine and let it come from your heart. It is the wholehearted reason you wanted to start teaching. Remember this intention, this beautiful mission statement and let it evolve. Let it change over time.
The small intention is specifically for the class you are about to teach. Just as you might ask your students to commit to an intention before you begin a sequence, so you should form one before all of your classes, but especially before teaching your first yoga class.
Examples of this kind of secondary intention: to energize students for the day, to balance the 3rd chakra, to strengthen the core, to relieve anxiety for my students, to introduce headstand, etc.
So it should not be "to get through this class without fainting or freaking out." That might be a prayer though. It is important to have an intention that is well formed because this will become your class theme, which you can use to build and plan your sequence...
2. Plan your sequence and plan on messing it up:
You're over there like, DUH Liza! But you'd be surprised. And there are a lot of freestyle teachers out there, but for this first time and for the first year at least, let's stick to a plan, a thoughtfully schemed class.
Make sure that it has a nice rhythm to it: a warm-up, an enlightening climb to a climax pose, followed by a lovely, calming cool-down. Your own little personal Everest.
Write down cues and adjustments you might be able to make. Think about which cues have helped you, which cues work to get you better aligned as a student. See to it that, though you make have a theme in mind, you must also include counter poses to certain poses. For example, a lot of backbends in an energizing class need to be followed by a forward-fold or two.
If you're making a playlist, include some songs that energize you, that make you smile and dance. Including some of your favorite songs is like having a friend in the room you always have fun with. It could change the whole entire mood.
Know this, friend: you will mess up. There's a 100% chance that the first yoga class you teach will not be perfect. So drop perfectionism because it's evil. No, it's the devil.
If you mess up a few times, that's no reason to hide in a cave for the rest of the year and burn your yoga mat ("forget respecting the environment and all other yogic philosophies!").
Instead, use your mess-ups to relax yourself and the students a bit. Add some humor, show your magnetic personality. If you forget to do a pose on one side, or forget a side altogether, you can say, "Oops. Poor jealous left side, let's go back and give it some love." It's a chance to loosen up especially if you're anxious. But if humor is not your thing, don't force it. They came for yoga, not a standup comedy act.
Being authentic in your classes will endear you to your students, and they will come back always. Perfection is not possible, but what is possible is genuine connection. Mistakes are your chances for that.
3. Actually practice your class:
Actually do it. Go through and practice poses and feel which ones are right for your theme, for your secondary, smaller intention. Practice what you'll say, when you'll look around and assist if you choose to do that. Pretend your students are there.
Decide where you'll put cues, and how long you will hold the students in your poses. This will help with rhythm. This will also help you add or remove poses that seem random for your class. The asanas should lead into and resolve one another. They should all be connected. Relieving and bolstering each other.
It will also help with timing. One time, in one of my first few classes, I had a couple of students roll up their mats and leave with a little wave and sorry-mouthing (when a student mouths sorry to leave early). "This self-confidence stuff is BS. I suck!" That was my immediate thought. But then, I looked at the clock and realized I had gone over time. They had to go to work! So pay attention to that. Honor people's time. You don't know how long it is until you go through the whole thing. Time it. Cut or lengthen according to your timer.
When you're practicing teaching, you might put on a "teaching voice." This is okay. You might find you have many teaching voices over time (I personally can go from drill sergeant to breathy earth goddess to Tony Robbins to gabby gal-pal in no time). But remember the best voice is your own authentic voice. Be conversational and open. It's hard when you're nervous but talking to the students will help you to relax.
Be sure to prevent any kind of weird, condescending teacher tones that put you in actor mode as opposed to teacher mode. It's unsettling to hear a teacher in conversation before class, and then hear a drastic change in tone and pitch like she is possessed.
If you’re including music, here’s a little free help with that:
4. Visualize the whole awesome class:
Sit comfortably and close your eyes (yeah, it's a meditation coming).
See your happy, confident self as prepared and excited, on your way to the place where you will teach. Visualize what you're wearing, how healthy you look! See yourself confidently come into the studio or wherever you're teaching.
See all the really kind, understanding and friendly students. Imagine you say to yourself, "I am about to uplift all these people!" Feel the excitement and gratitude of the opportunity you've been given. Feel the enthusiasm.
See yourself going through your whole sequence with the confidence of a French king. This is your palace. You nail every cue. Your students are focusing and breathing deeply, having a great time. You are smiling. You are relaxing and showing some personality.
At the end, they feel great. Maybe there's sweat. They are smiling. They have that post-yoga glow. They all have that awesome post-yoga trance wherein they feel strong but calm and serene, wherein they are aware and at peace.
Imagine yourself at the end. Seeing yourself feeling great, feeling triumphant. It was a success! You are saying to yourself, "I DID IT!" There's a huge smile on your face, and you are walking on air. You are glowing with pride and accomplishment. You might also feel like a huge weight has been lifted off your shoulders. So feel that way now. Like you're standing on top of a mountain (like you've scaled Everest, maybe).
A little gift because I’ve been there, and I wish you the best:
5. Give self-care in the time immediately before your first class:
These tips may seem obvious but when anxiety and fear are in high gear, it can be easy to forget things like getting plenty of sleep the night before, eating an hour before (or earlier depending on your metabolism), drinking plenty of water to clarify the mind and hydrate the throat.
Take a short yoga practice online to center and calm yourself. This will also help you to feel strong and feel devoted to the practice again. After this short, calming practice, repeat your visualization meditation from step 4.
Watch your blood sugar. Teaching your first class, as with any first endeavor, will cause a surge in cortisol which increases blood sugar. So the meal before class should be energizing but contain protein. What would be perfect is an egg over some greens or a banana with plenty of almond butter. Have something ready for after class in case there is a major blood sugar drop. Nuts or a protein bar are perfect.
Go to the bathroom right before your class, not only to empty yourself (because you've been drinking water of course), but also to get out of the mind and back into the heart. Circle back around to step 1 and remember your BIG intention.
Remember that you are here to love, and if you're feeling a lot of fear, remember that love is the only thing that can break through to the other side of fear. You are here to love them through your gift of teaching yoga. Sometimes we get stuck inside the mind, and this can have really negative effects. So take a deep breath, get into the heart so that all your words and actions come from there. When you speak, feel your words come from the heart.
It's going to be wonderful! No matter what happens. There is so much to learn here. Because you are daring, flexing your spiritual muscles. Congratulations on being an all-around fantastic soul. Teaching your first yoga class is not easy, but when it's over, there's no feeling like it.
Much love and power to you! As a a little gift for venturing into this profession, here’s a little pre-class checklist:
If you are a teacher coming to the front of the room for the first time, what are some of your woes and worries? What are some things you are excited about? How long have you waited to do this? Comment below.
If you are an experienced teacher, share your story of teaching your first class. Comment below.
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