How To Survive Teaching Your First Yoga Class

So here you are, 200 hours later, a fully-qualified yoga teacher. Take a moment to congratulate yourself because it’s no easy feat. You’ve endured hundreds of sun salutations, countless chair poses and enough warriors to make you weep. On top of that, you’ve grappled with Sanskrit, the subtle body, chakras and crystals.

It’s a magical mind-fuck and, at times, you’ve probably thought “WTF AM I DOING?”. I know I did anyway (usually while holding boat). But despite the moments of crippling self-doubt, you passed — it’s time to take on the world.

Fast-forward to now — you’ve just secured your first yoga teaching gig.

The problem? Well, it’s been weeks, months, even years, since graduation. Teacher training feels like a fuzzy dream and you’re pretty sure all the knowledge you accumulated has perished in a dark corner of your brain.

Before we go on, let me get one thing clear — you’ve already done 95% of the hard work. From here, it’s just a matter of confidence.

Before teaching my first yoga class, I was a wreck, all wide-eyed and jittery (probably over-caffeinated). My heart flew loose around my chest, so much so I genuinely considered a trip to A&E.

“Has anyone ever died from teaching yoga?” I wondered, while nervously chewing the inside of my cheek. What if I forgot everything? Or hurt someone? Why would people want to come to my class anyway? I have zero experience.

Just know it’s normal to feel this way.

One day, teaching will feel like breathing, easy and natural. It takes people different times to reach this point — it might be ten classes for cool as a cucumber Corinne and 361 for anxious Annie.

Whatever the length, it will come. It’s the day we’re all waiting for and probably the first time we’ll feel like “real” yoga teachers instead of imposters.

These things can’t be rushed — it happens when it happens. However, don’t despair. Until our metamorphoses, there are methods we can use to manage our performance anxiety and flagging self-belief.

I’m by no means an experienced teacher but by using the following, I’ve managed to overcome the worst of my nerves.

Tips for teaching your first yoga class

Bring a class plan because you will forget things

It’s incredibly easy to forget things in the heat of the moment, especially if you have a dozen eager yogis staring at you. Suddenly, your words become weighty and harder to hold.

Do you need a good memory to teach a good class? Absolutely not — you can avoid stuttering and accidentally skipping things with a simple sheet of A4 paper.

Write a rough class plan, outlining all the postures you’re going to include and any cues you’re struggling with. Then, if you lose your train of thought, just direct everyone into trusty child’s pose and take a cheeky look. Voila — problem solved.

Go back to basics and teach what you know

Things go wonky real quick if you include headstands, arm balances and backbends in your first class.

Complicated postures require more demonstrations and cues, which means more talking and more chance of fudging your lines.

How to fix this? Don’t bring out the big guns straight away. Keep it basic until you get a feel for speaking out loud and interacting with students.

My other piece of advice is to avoid teaching postures you can’t do yourself.

As a teacher, you have to walk the talk. If you don’t know how something is supposed to feel or can’t demonstrate it, it’s impossible to effectively get your students into it.

Go with the flow and get used to winging it

We’ve spoken a bit about class plans, now let’s talk about what happens when that plan crashes and burns.

Picture this…

You’ve prepared a brilliant class focusing on hamstrings. You’ve recited it infinite times, prepared cues and written it out on paper. You feel confident — it’s your time to shine. But in a stroke of bad luck, two of your students are suffering from hamstring injuries.

(At this point, you might be thinking “why would someone with an injury come to class”. HAHA. I am telling you now, it happens all the time).

What do you do? You can’t carry on with the plan because it’s no longer appropriate. Well, luckily you’ve got a few backup routines memorised and can swap out postures.

The lesson? Prepare for the unexpected. Have a few easy routines up your sleeve to fall back on in case of an emergency.

Come prepared to teach all bodies

It’s essential to make your classes inclusive — this means having a range of adjustments and giving options for every body type.

If you don’t specify a level for your class, you’ll attract beginners right through to experienced practitioners. You will likely have a mix of genders, plus young, old, fat, thin, tall and short people. You potentially will teach pregnant women or those with disabilities.

Obviously, you can’t know everything, but you can always know more. Just be curious and receptive — being a student is a part of teaching yoga.

It’s totally normal to confuse your rights and lefts or muddle up your limbs (is that a foot or an elbow?).

The key is to stay cool and brush off these errors — which is hard because we’re all terribly British.

Here’s the thing — when you make a mistake, nobody cares and, 90% of the time, nobody notices. Don’t draw attention to it by apologising — just roll with it.

Ditch phoney voices and be yourself

There’s nothing that makes me cringe harder than a yoga teacher who sounds like a hippy on helium.

Establishing your voice is a lengthy process and something I was very concerned about in teacher training (I flunked drama). I thought I had to sound ethereal and drop profound, Rumi-esque quotes throughout my class.

But your students can see through that shit. It’s best to sound like yourself. For me, that’s an Essex girl who swears like a sailor.

Remember your students want to have fun

Your students haven’t come to yoga to laugh at, moan about or judge you. They just want to have a good time and learn some cool stuff.

There’s no expectation beyond that — they’re not going to roll their eyes if you can’t do a headstand or snigger if you get something wrong.

Make your classes a place people want to be — an hour they look forward to every week. Don’t be frightened to laugh or crack a bad joke (of which I know several), just loosen up and your students will follow suit.

Prepare for silence and blank looks

This is kind of freaky when it first happens — everyone goes slack-jawed and wide-eyed like the cast of Walking Dead.

It’s nothing to worry about though. I look exactly the same after five breaths in trikonasana.

If people look vacant, they’re probably in the zone. Or, in pain. As long as no one squeals, you’re good to continue.

I’m not going to lie, my cardio isn’t great (I’m a chronic stair avoider). It means teaching, talking and scurrying round to adjust people gets tiring. Dry mouth is real, at least for me, and I sip water throughout the class.

Set-up the class before it starts

One time, I planned a particularly brutal groin class that relied on straps (I’m an evil genius). Then, when more people turned up than expected, I realised I didn’t have enough to go round.

Another time, I couldn’t open the stereo case to turn on music and almost had to serenade students myself.

Don’t be me and make sure to prepare blocks, mats, straps and music beforehand. It will save you an enormous amount of stress on the day.

Give yourself an hour before class to chill

You’ve planned, performed and prepared your props — now it’s time to relax.

Give yourself an hour or so before teaching to unwind. I meditate, shower, read or scroll through Instagram.

Also, don’t smoke, drink coffee or eat a huge meal during this time, which is hard for me to say because I have a penchant for all three. You want to keep your throat unsticky and belly empty (have you ever tried forward folding after a Wetherspoons breakfast? It’s not pretty).

I don’t like being told not to eat… usually.

The most important thing is to have fun and to understand you’re going to make mistakes. Like I said at the beginning of the post, eventually, this stuff will feel natural. I’m not there yet but I gain more confidence every time I teach.

It’s a privilege to be able to share something you love with the rest of the world. Remember that and you’ll be thankful instead of terrified whenever you hop on your mat.

Originally published at https://ashleighmayesyoga.com on September 23, 2019.

My name’s Ashleigh — yoga teacher and mental health advocate.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store