I have been teaching my regular Yoga class at YMCA for three weeks now and I have subbed a few classes also. I wanted to share some of my (limited) experience in teaching with respect to speaking. Teaching a Yoga class, no matter how many students you have is a form of public speaking.
Speaking in front of a group of people doesn’t bother me too much, but if I do feel nerves I try to trick my brain into thinking that it is excitement that I feel, not nerves. My top 5 tips for speaking as a yoga teacher are as follows:
- Be yourself
- Speak from the belly
- Maintain good posture
- Slow the breath and breathe deep
- PRACTISE PRACTISE PRACTISE
“Be yourself, everyone else is taken,” (Oscar Wilde). Stay true to tour values, otherwise it will be transparent and that will show through your class.
Why do you teach? In all likelihood it’s because you love Yoga. If you get to the why, then you will find the passion and it will shine through in your class. Confidence will flow from that passion. I see this with my own teachers, I see their love for Yoga and their love for teaching and I see it flowing from them in confidence and power. Keep your teachings and offerings true to you.
Speak from the belly. As Max Strom advocates, take your voice from low down in the gut rather than high up in the chest. Not that this is a problem for Max as he has probably the deepest voice I have ever heard. Is it coincidence that he was one of the most impactful teachers I have ever practiced with?
Research has shown that politicians with deeper voices will receive more votes as a deep voice conveys greater physical strength, competence, and integrity. This perception may stem from our more basic minds, coming from a time when physical strength was important in a leader. You are the leader in the class situation, taking the students through the routines and postures.
As Yoga teachers we must be heard. The act of projecting our voices will affect our confidence and mood. Tony Robbins makes a point that people who are slumped and speaking in a low voice will neither project nor hold confidence. Robbins encourages people to speak quickly and energetically. I don’t agree with speaking quickly in a yoga environment, at least not for me, but an energetic voice does not have to be a quick voice.
Carry presence in your voice. Carry presence in your posture. Most of us as yoga teachers will practice what we preach and maintain good posture. Not me though. I find myself slacking on posture all the time. Stand tall with your core engaged. Keep your chest proud and shoulders back. Just like smiling effects your mood (click here for my blog on smiling), posture will affect your mood and confidence. Fake it till you make it (with regard to confidence). If you don’t feel the confidence then pretend that you do. Act like you are confident and the confidence will follow. As yoga teachers we are leading a group of people that look to us for instruction and guidance so we should carry ourselves as such a person. You are awesome, so act accordingly.
If you have the time and space to do it, try a power pose before the class. Stand tall, feet slightly apart with your chest proud and your arms outstretched and look up. This is a classic power position and whether you believe it or not, you will feel more confident after spending two minutes standing like this.
Stay connected with your breath and body and get out of your head. We must Endeavour to remain present both as we practice and teach yoga. A daily meditation practice will help, but also before you teach, get grounded and let your bare feet touch the ground if you can. Slow the breath down and breathe deep in to the belly. Become present. This will also help with your delivery.
Practice your class before you teach it. Practice with a mirror, a camera, teach your friends. If they are not willing then teach yourself, but practice. For my wedding speech, I knew the speech but I didn’t practice saying it out loud. I wanted it to seem spontaneous rather than rehearsed but that was a mistake. I am not an experienced Yoga teacher so maybe you will reach a point that you don’t need to practice and it will just flow, but for me, I need to PRACTISE, PRACTISE, PRACTISE. It also takes away the stress.
Be aware of your tone of voice and body language. Keep your chest open and inviting. Students may unknowingly mirror you. If you come to class with a bad attitude it will almost certainly carry through to your class and to your students.
Don’t over think what you have to say. Keep your words and your class simple. Over complicating anything is a recipe for confusion.
Try to catch the filler words (“uh”, “erm”, “um”, “well”, “so”, “like”, “hmm“, etc.). If you don’t think you do this then you may want to record yourself.
I bought a Bluetooth voice recorder for $50. It clips to my shirt collar and connects wirelessly to my phone. I don’t use this in any of the public classes I offer, but my friends don’t mind me recording my voice during the private classes. Also when I put a new routine together, I work through it myself first, and record my instructions, then I take my own practice a few times. It really helps me see where I need to improve with my delivery. I also bought a Tripod for my Iphone for $20 so I can record a video of my practice.
I also intend to write out my instructions and practice saying it over and over and over (like we have been thought in Yoga Teacher Training). Repetition. Say it again and again until it rolls off the tongue.
Try not to take things personally. If a student leaves the class for example, it could be for a hundred different reasons and in all likelihood has nothing to do with you. You don’t know their story. Try not to read anything from student’s faces. If they look angry or unsettled, they may just be having a hard work out. That doesn’t meant that they are not getting what they want from it.
The fear will be there. It will only go away with experience and practice. There is no such thing as the perfect class. Perfection is a state of mind. Forgive yourself when you stumble or if your class wasn’t what you wanted. It doesn’t matter. The great thing about the present moment is that it starts afresh all the time. The past doesn’t matter. Learn from it, use it and move on. It’s ok to mess up and fumble.