Public speaking is difficult enough without having to pronounce Sanskrit, name muscle groups and tell people where to put their limbs like an elegant game of Twister. But that’s what teaching yoga requires if your goal is to guide your students closer to samadhi, rather than just give a good workout. It’s all about what you say and how you say it.
During my yoga teacher training at Samadhi Center for Yoga, we all took turns teaching each other. It wasn’t surprising when you heard shortcuts such as, “Right arm on right hip. Lift left foot. Flex foot!” For many new yoga teachers, the brain can’t keep up with what the mouth wants to express. Or, you find yourself with the opposite problem: word vomit.
Here are five things I’ve learned from other yoga teachers and non-yogis alike that have shaped the way I speak when teaching yoga and helped me to overcome public speaking fear.
1. Leave out unnecessary words.
Thanks to my teacher training, I’ve been grilled about the importance of clear instruction. Words and phrases such as “um,” “now go ahead…” and “begin to…” are fillers that offer no help to your students and take up precious time.
The best advice for combating this comes from Denver yoga instructor Karen Lerner, who I apprenticed with. Her mantra is, “Verb, body part, direction.” Example: “Step both feet to the top of the mat. Hang in a forward fold.”
You won’t believe how much time you gain by being concise – and how your students will effortlessly follow your cues. And with this kind of cueing, there’s no need to tell students what not to do, something that can breed negativity in class.
2. Edit yourself.
All great writers know about the importance of editing. (In fact, I just deleted a whole paragraph before this one, only to add in this sentence to make up the difference.)
Often, the shorter and simpler you keep your soliloquies, the better. You’ve probably experienced this before: You’re in pigeon and the teacher keeps going on and on about how you should just relax, let it go, ignore the pain, in fact, breathe into the pain and all you can think about is, “When is she going to stop talking and get us out of this crazy pose?!”
Short. Sweet. Think twice about your next phrase – will it add to the dialogue, or are you just killing time?
3. Give in to silence.
This is definitely a mistake I made as a new yoga teacher – the need to fill up every nook and cranny with words so I didn’t have to hear a pin drop in the studio. And for good reason: Silence is scary.
But there are times, such as in the aforementioned pigeon pose, when students need to hear silence in order to practice control of the breath and the mind without latching on to instruction. When your student is at work, up against a deadline and her boss just put her down, you won’t be there to tell her to breathe. Silence teaches others how to fish, instead of handing them the fish for a quick fix.
4. Project your voice.
Seems like a no brainer, but there’s nothing worse than a student in the back row of a large yoga room who has to strain to hear you because you’re not loud enough. You can tell who they are because they’re craning their necks, looking to see what their neighbor is doing next.
Even when teaching meditation, as I often do, find the happy medium. Ensure that your softened tone is still audible by sitting among the group or encouraging students to gather closer together.
5. Become BFF with the thesaurus.
Of all the tips, this is the one that helps define who you are as a yoga teacher. What you say in class has a big effect on students and can either leave a good or bad impression. Of course, teaching yoga, like anything else, comes with its set of must-use words but there’s no reason you can’t get creative.
- Instead of “lift your arms up” try “extend your arms skyward.”
- Replace “bend to the right” with “inhale your ribs upward and arch to the right.”
- Forgo “step” to the top of the mat for “glide, float or hop.”
Once you master these tips, speaking becomes effortless and you’ll be amazed at how much authority you bring to class. And that fear of public speaking? Nowhere to be found.
Have more tips to share? Leave them in the comments.