5 Ways To Be A Better Yoga Teacher

Yoga training concept

I’m a sucker for  Advice-driven posts like this. I cannot resist, “3 Ways to Achieve Enlightenment in Your Lifetime,” or “10 ways to Stop Cravings.”. I bite every time. So here’s my own “list post”  giving myself the Yoga Teaching advice I need.

Number 1. Don’t close your eyes when you teach.

This is really hard for me. I see so much clearer when I my eyes are closed.  But when I am a student and I am looking at the teacher and the teacher has her eyes closed I feel disconnected from her. I think (and rightly so) that she is in her own world, and what she’s saying has nothing to do with me. Selfishly, I want the teacher to be there for me. I want the teacher to be present.

When I am teaching and tell the students to close their eyes, that doesn’t give me permission to close MY eyes. I need to remember that. Teachers close their eyes because students are really distracting. Their behavior  can really throw you off.

But I must train myself to keep my eyes open at all times. And look at them. As individuals. Not as a “class.”

This is really hard.. I am still, after all these years, terrible at it. I need to force myself to do it, especially when I am centering them. I think the reason I close my eyes is that I am trying to center myself at the same time I am centering them. And that’s a mistake.  I need to remember to keep my eyes opened. All the time. Never close your eyes if you are a yoga teacher.

Number 2. Don’t be afraid to touch your students.

I am really bad at this, too. Every yoga teacher is taught how to assist. Some are way better at it than others. The ones who are good usually have had teachers who have assisted them really well.

I am afraid to touch my students because I am afraid that the touch will be wrong. The way to get over this is to just touch lightly at first. Just give a fingertip touch. The very lightest of encouragement or tweak.

This is hard to get over if you don’t know how. And sometimes students will take the touch as a correction rather than a cue. So you think maybe not to touch is just better. That is a mistake.  People are starved for touch. Even the lightest touch is a moment of being seen. That’s why everyone in a class should be touched at least once.

Number 3. Don’t talk too much.

Oh boy. This is what I really need to learn. It is okay to have a lot of silence in a yoga class. You don’t have to fill up all the space with chatter. I have to remember this because I am a very chatty teacher.

A few  well-chosen cues, widely spaced, can go a long way. I need to think of words as spices. You don’t want to over salt the dish, you want to go easy on the cayenne, the cumin, the curry.

Let there be space for emptiness and breathing and contemplation. Don’t talk too much. Err on the side of silence.

Number 4. Don’t forget to smile.

You don’t have to crack jokes or smile the whole time like a ninny, but learn to put a smile in your voice. If your students are deep in their practice, breathing and listening for the next direction, if your voice has a smile in it, it is really wonderful.

In oder to put a smile in your voice you have to have a smile on your face. You need to practice this. You know how nice it is when you’re on the phone with someone in customer service, and they seem to have a smiley voice? When you can hear something friendly in their voice, it makes the whole interaction go much better.

That’s what you should aim for in the yoga room. Not jokes, not inauthenticity, just warm friendliness. This takes some mirror practice. Work on it.

Number 5. Don’t pretend to know what you don’t know.

If you don’t live the yamas and niyamas, if you don’t struggle to live them in your own life, don’t bring them up. If, however, you do try to adhere to them in your non-yoga-class life, then by all means bring them up.  It’s like talking about weight-loss when you’ve never had a weight problem. Just don’t.

If you don’t practice handstands, don’t teach handstands. If you don’t have a daily practice, don’t preach daily practice.  Don’t preach about virtues you don’t aspire to, or struggle with, or have. If you’ve never had a chakra awakening, don’t talk about chakra awakenings. Stay honest. Stay in your lane.

The Yoga of Kettlebells


I won’t pick up a kettlebell here at home and swing it. I will only swing a kettlebell or do a squat or a push-up or a sit-up if I pay someone to watch me.

Lifting weights and all that jazz is not something I will do here at home, alone. Even though I have weights here at home, and even though it’s good for me.

But once I get into the gym, I’m okay with swinging a kettlebell, but I want to swing it my way: the yogic way.

I want to notice everything. I want to block out distractions:  the babble of my trainer, the bad music he’s blasting.

I want to focus on what’s happening. And not just bodily pain, but the color commentary running through my mind about this pain.

I want to hear myself tell myself the story of how I can’t do this, how much I hate this, how much this barbell stinks.

I want to listen to this whole narrative. And then I don’t. I whine. I  look at the time.

But some days I can drop in. Some days I hit this groove in my brain, and my eyes roll back in my skull and I get this creepy look on my face.  My eyes appear to be looking at you, but I’m not looking at you at all.

Kind of like the Children of the Dammed.

I’m in that gym but not in that gym at all.

I’m on the path to failure, watching myself with a curious detachment.

I know it’s coming, that failure moment, but I don’t know when. My trainer, he’s the one  waiting for the end; me,I’m into the journey.

I’m involved, and not involved. I’m checked in and checked out. I’m watching the movie of me: Me doing squats. Me lifting a 50 pound kettlebell in a “dead.” Me on the rings doing push ups, wondering how many more before I can’t push back up.

I’m watching myself walk the path of failure. Just waiting.

I like that someone witnesses me as I do this. I like to have an audience.

Sometimes he gives me form cues: “Feet wider, sit back into that squat, do just one more.”

He said the other day: “I’m just here to watch you do what you want to do.”

And what I want to do is walk the path to failure. With eyes wide open.

Even though, sometimes, I need to roll them back in my skull to see where I’m really going.