Developing Confidence in Teaching Yoga
Listen in to a 20 minute excerpt from a recent group coaching discussion with lead trainer Heather Agnew and yoga teachers-in-training on how to develop confidence as a yoga teacher.
Read the Podcast Notes below:
Subject: Developing Confidence as a Yoga Teacher
What is confidence? I looked it up, and I really liked two definitions:
1) a feeling of self-assurance arising from your appreciation of your own abilities or qualities. This is the confidence in yourself.
2) the feeling or belief that you can rely on someone or something; firm trust. This is the confidence your students have in you.
So, I have questions for you on this. Do you appreciate your abilities and qualities? Do you appreciate the skills and knowledge you have to share with your students?
Can your students rely on you? Can they have confidence that you have their best interests in mind, that you will safely guide them through the practice, that you will hold a safe space for them in their practice?
At it’s essence, confidence is about trust. Can you trust in your own abilities as a teacher, and can your students trust in you?
Finding your confidence on the mat at the front of the class
One part of confidence is in being clear about what spaces you are able to hold, what classes you are able to teach, and what spaces, classes, or students are not in your abilities or training right now.
It’s useful, especially as a new teacher, to think about your own safety and comfort. Putting yourself into situations that you don’t have the skills or knowledge to manage, situations that don’t feel safe for you, where you can feel prepared and empowered, can have an impact on your confidence.
Maybe take some time to think about what spaces you are comfortable holding right now, what types of classes, what sizes of classes, what spaces, what times, what students. This doesn’t have to be forever, you’ll grow and evolve and change of course, but for now, be clear about what can help you to feel safe and grounded so you can focus on your students.
What strategies, skills, resources, or materials can help you to feel safe and empower you when you step onto that mat at the front of the room?
A few things that can help are:
Be prepared – design and practice your sequence, have your sequence written in front of you, have your opening written or sketched out in front of you, plan your time for opening, breathwork, asana, meditation, and closing.
Rehearse – doing some mental rehearsal of areas that you find stressful, maybe it’s in the social stuff that happens at the start of class, maybe it’s the first few words of opening, maybe you find part of the sequence stressful to demo and speak through – practice that a few times in your mind, rehearse what you’ll say, and while you rehearse, also practice being calm, open, and grounded.
Be Open to Change – know that no matter how well you plan, there will also be a need for shifts, changes, adaptations and inspiration in the moment.
Reduce distractions – have the materials, resources and support you need around you when you teach. Set aside anything that is a distraction – that includes your phone.
Developing your comfort with ‘speaking in public’
Teaching is not public speaking. It’s not doing a speech at the front of the class in high school. Especially yoga teaching. You might think of yoga teaching is providing a series of suggestions, asking questions, doing experiments, having a conversation.
Set aside the idea that when we teach yoga we are doing a 1 hour monologue, and instead give ourselves (and our students) some space to have a conversation, to explore, to collaborate, and get creative together.
Some teachers are loud and confident ‘sounding’. Some teachers are quieter and more reflective. All voices, all teaching styles, all volumes, all ‘confidence levels’ are welcome in yoga. What one student loves, another doesn’t. There are students out there who will appreciate your particular teaching style and speaking style.
My #1 tip for teaching confidence – it’s not about you
One of the things that really affects our confidence is thinking that all eyes and minds will be on us throughout class. We are on stage and have to ‘perform’. But, your teaching is not about you. Your students are there for your help, not your performance.
Keep focussed on their needs, and this can really help you to not spiral into thinking about your every word and action. Your words and actions are for them, about them, aimed at what they need right now, and this can help shift your focus and build your confidence.
Understanding confidence comes with humility.
When I began teaching, I thought it was a requirement that I know everything about yoga, or at least appear as if I know everything about yoga. But my students deserve more than guesswork and ‘vibes’, and over the years as I developed my teaching practice, I also developed the confidence to say ‘I don’t know’.
“I don’t know why your knee clicks in this pose, let’s see if we can make that movement more comfortable”
“I don’t know what poses are best for anxiety. What poses help you to reduce symptoms of anxiety and make you feel safe and grounded?”
“I don’t know what’s happening in your chakras, but, how are you feeling today, how can your practice support you today?”
“I don’t know why another teacher says the alignment is X. Let’s work together to find an alignment that suits your body today”
On the subject of humility – Humility doesn’t mean you have to downplay your knowledge or experience or skills. Humility isn’t the opposite of arrogance. Humility is acknowledging what you don’t know, not denying your strengths or skills. You don’t have to diminish yourself or others, rather, be generous in elevating others and supporting them to develop their own practice and knowledge and skills.
Self-Assessment vs Self-Criticism
Learning to balance self-assessment and self-criticism
What you say to yourself has a huge impact on your confidence as a teacher. While taking time after each class, or each week of classes, to review, assess, reflect, and plan ahead is a great idea to continue to develop your practice, be aware of the difference between self-assessment and self-criticism.
If you are spending time after each class telling yourself what a terrible job you did, focussing on all the things that went ‘wrong’, and generally bringing your confidence down, perhaps it’s time to reconsider your self-assessment strategies.
You might go back to some of the Yamas and Niyamas to journal what’s coming up for you, you might seek out support from a fellow teacher, mentor or friend, or you might spend more time reflecting on the positives of your teaching – what worked, what flowed well, how are you seeing your teaching practice evolve?
Sometimes what I hear from students is criticism in areas that are more about expectations than reality. Especially if you are a new teacher, what are you expecting of yourself vs what should be expected of you?
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Let go of unrealistic expectations of what you should know or what skills you should have, especially as a new teacher.
You are still a student. Whether you have been teaching for a week or a decade, you are still a yoga student. Teaching is a process of discovery. You will make what you think of as mistakes, you will learn along the way, and your students will be contributing to your learning – as long as you keep listening.
Doubt your doubts – when you see those doubts arise, I don’t know enough, I am not enough, I’m not sure I’m cut out for this, other teachers are so much better than me – take some time to doubt those doubts. Is that true? Do you not have the knowledge and skills to teach yoga? Or, are you, like the rest of us, building on a foundation and continuing to learn. I hope I never get to the place where I think I know it all – that would be the end of my teaching practice.
Have faith in yourself. Come to your teaching armed with the skills and knowledge you have, and have faith in your ability to observe, listen, respond, and work collaboratively with your students through your class. Keep your mind and heart open, both to your students needs and ability, and your own needs and abilities.
You don’t have to be ‘charismatic’ to be a great yoga teacher. I understand that for many, charisma and confidence are really attractive, and can make you feel safe – this person knows what’s what and I can just follow their instructions. They give me answers that are simple right/wrong, black/white and that makes me feel safer.
But, perhaps as our practice matures, or as we better understand the potential dangers of following the charismatic leader, we might seek out a teacher who provides us with a space to explore and question, rather than blindly follow.
We have a lot of examples of charismatic leaders in yoga, spirituality, fitness and movement but charisma isn’t what helps our students. Our teaching, our holding of space, our openness to the contributions of our students, our willingness to explore and learn and change – these are the skills to develop, rather than charismatic confidence.
A Few Final Tips:
A few ways to keep learning, growing, and building confidence as a teacher:
• Go to classes. Any classes. If you can’t get to a class, follow videos, listen to podcasts. Keep your practice inspired, listen to the cues of another instructor, soak up the environment they create, see how they handle client management – this is all great learning.
• Assist at someone else’s class – this might involve observing, instruction, hands on adjustments, student and/or prop management, checking students into the studio system, set up/pack down etc. It’s all useful learning.
• Make a regular date – with friends, colleagues, family – find a regular time once a week/fortnight to teach a class
• Find a practice partner – another teacher trainee or graduate who wants to continue to practice and develop greater skilfulness and confidence. Get together regularly and teach each other through a sequence or a full practice.
• Further Study – take a workshop, training, or course in a related skill. There is no end to your study as a yoga teacher and building on your education is an annual commitment that will pay off in your practice and your teaching confidence.