Being a yoga teacher is hard! It’s not enough to master asana, sequencing, how to set up a beautiful space – the physical things. The best yoga teachers make their classes come alive through an authentic teaching voice. Your words have to jump from your body and mind to your students’ bodies and minds. They have to be translatable into discernible actions. And you have to deliver them in a fun, engaging way.
I tell my students that you cannot each authentically until you’ve discovered who you are. And it’s often said that the successful teacher must speak from the heart. It’s not always clear what these ideas mean, though – especially for new teachers.
So that’s what I’m going to share today: my tips and insights into finding your own authentic voice – regardless of where you are in your own yoga journey.
“It’s like an “Instagram” theory—that you can emerge from yoga teacher school fully formed knowing all the flowery words to say.”
In my experience, people in yoga teacher training often expect to be skilled from the start, giving very little effort to the process of developing as teachers.
The truth is we all come to yoga unformed. Our yoga training certificate is just the door into the lifelong school of experience. Take me, for example. I’m skilled at what I do, and my “voice” sounds more complex because I have taught billions of hours to thousands of people. I truly eat, breathe, and sleep the art of teaching yoga.
But it was not always this way! I was very shy as a child, with stuttering, dyslexia, a very closed throat chakra. I’ve been working on my speech patterns and social skills from childhood – and I’m proof that an authentic teaching voice develops over a lifetime.
I also teach that “you can only teach what you know, and you only know what you practice.”
“The problem is not that my students don’t know enough—it’s that they think they should know.”
Most of my students have not discovered who they are. Others have lost their way, and still others think they know themselves, only to find out there are deeper layers they’ve never explored. A deep practice of yoga, such as we experience in training, offers students the chance to truly discover who they are – not what their parents or society thought they should be.
How does this translate into finding an authentic teaching voice? It means that the first hurdle is to accept that it’s a process. It takes time. Being a living, growing, changing and evolving person without all the answers – you do not need more to be an authentic teacher. It’s enough to be on the path and live fully from that place.
Here’s a beautiful example of this. My students sometimes “mess up” in practice teaching sessions. Yet they’re already talking from the heart because they’re living from the heart. They’re surprised to hear me say, “I would love to attend their class” because they feel the mess-ups make the teaching “not good.”
But mess-ups are just mess-ups. They are authentic! And living and teaching from the heart is something I can’t teach.
Now that we’ve laid the foundation for your authentic teaching voice, here are some concrete techniques you can use right now. These are proven to work and based on my experience.
1. Strive for economy of words.
A common mistake among new yoga teachers make is “verbal diarrhea.” I once heard a student complain, “The teacher kept telling us to listen to our bodies, but she never stopped talking long enough for us to do it!”
Besides being distracting to students, you’ll exhaust yourself if you try to cram physical cues, breath cues, cautions, modifications, enhancements, benefits, energetics, Sanskrit, and the Yoga Sutras into every pose. Always keep the economy of words in mind when cueing postures – the fewer words you can use to give direction, the better. As you grow and develop as a teacher, you’ll have more knowledge, but a good rule of thumb is: the more you know, the less you say.
Study of anatomy should be an ongoing part of your teaching. You should know the anatomical terms, but use plain language – for example, say “your thighs” instead of “your quadriceps.”
Of course, it’s important to use enough words to keep students safe. While going overboard can result in verbal diarrhea, too little directed focus from your cues could be dangerous. As in everything, it’s all about balance.
2. Don’t try to sound like a yogi.
Yoga teachers want students to feel a certain way or engage energetically with others. There’s nothing wrong with this, but don’t feel you need to use a lot of flowery words to be a good teacher. Every day in training, my students have ah-ha moments when the realize what a waste the trending phrases are.
Go easy on the Sanskrit, especially with new students who can barely get ahold of where their feet and their hands should be. Challenge yourself to be a better teacher by giving step-by-step instructions in language your students will understand. And remember to speak slowly, placing mindful pauses throughout your sequence.
3. Practice on a friend.
A helpful way to develop your voice is to have a close friend or mentor take one of your classes to listen to your words, help you find your repeaters (the words you use often), and help you understand what your delivery is like from a student’s perspective.
By simply having someone else listen and provide honest feedback, you may realize you use words or phrases you were unaware of, or you may learn better, more useful ways of cueing postures and transitions.
4. Bring in the spirit.
My philosophy of Really Real Yoga is that you’re delivering an experience to your students, not a workout. To me, there is always something to say about the spiritual process. And the longer you practice yoga yourself, the more you’ll find it effortless to incorporate this into your teaching.
I’ve noticed that I respond only minimally to what my students are doing physically, including giving compliments. I’m too busy bringing the experience from the heavens through me and into the space of the group practice.
Because I teach “learn anatomy and live the philosophy,” a phrase like “Inhale your arms up. Exhale fold forward. Inhale, lift halfway. Exhale, downward facing dog” becomes “As you inhale, feel your breath expand your arms out and up, as you exhale feel your breath body relax into a forward fold.”
See the difference?
5. And finally, begin where you are.
If you’ve read this far, you know that the conclusion and secret to finding your authentic voice is being who you are in this moment. If you’re 20 years old and just starting your teaching career, that’s fine. Your perfect beautiful truth is that you know what you know – to try to sound like a seasoned teacher with 20 years’ experience, an anatomy degree under her belt, and decades of hard-earned life lessons – this will not be authentic.
Dare to sound like yourself, right exactly where you are. Your acceptance of your own, evolving self will come across to your students.
It’s not about being perfect, it’s about being real! Being “really real” is about discovering who you are and why you’re, and then living your purpose here on Earth! Finding your voice is as easy as starting on that journey and believing in it with your whole heart.
Find your voice and a whole lot more with me at one of my YTT throughout the world, and year. Learn More