I usually am not much of a speaker. I prefer to listen more than I talk. That’s why becoming a yoga teacher sounded out of reach. Even my friends didn’t expect me to turn out to be one.
You see, as a yoga teacher, you have to talk and connect with your students, all while demonstrating yoga asanas (postures). With perseverance and telling myself, “You got this,” I was able to become one.
I have to be honest with you, though. It was terrifying at first, especially the first few classes. I have come a long way since then. I can now teach a yoga class without much preparation, and I can get yoga flow inspiration from many things.
If you are a new yoga teacher nervous about leading a yoga class, here are nine things I know now that I wish I knew then about how to teach your first yoga class. As a bonus, I’m also going to share a structure I follow to make yoga class planning easier.
It’s Okay to Feel Terrified
Teaching something for the first time is always terrifying and intimidating. In yoga, we always hear teachers saying, let go. The same goes for you. Allow yourself to feel all the emotions that come with teaching yoga for the first time.
Let go of the notion that you shouldn’t feel scared, nervous, intimated, and other feelings. Even experienced yoga teachers still feel butterflies when they teach yoga. I have been teaching yoga for years. I still feel nervous, especially when new students come or introduce a new pose or sequence.
Keep It Simple
As a new yoga teacher, I understand if you want to create a fun flow. You are eager to please and want to be seen as an expert. In my first class, I included a lot of funky transitions.
I forgot how to cue most of them because I didn’t consider that most of my students were beginners and would need modifications.
To make it easy for you to survive your first class, keep it simple. Stick to simple poses and transitions. If you have to add funky poses and transitions, make sure you know what modifications to offer for any level of yoga practitioner.
Use Your Support System
Don’t forget the benefits of having a good support system. Ask your friends or family to do the flow of your class as you practice teaching it. Ask their opinion about your class—if the cues are confusing or if it’s too slow or fast. Better yet, ask them to come to your class so that you will have cheerleaders as you teach for the first time.
Expect the Worst, But Hope for the Best
Not everything will go according to your plan. Expect that your first yoga class may or may not be perfect. With this in mind, expect mishaps, but prepare and plan your class regardless like it’s going to be the best class ever.
As the Hindu deity Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, you are only entitled to your own actions but not to the fruits. This means the only thing you can control is your action, but not the outcome.
As a yoga teacher, you know how pranayama helps you to stay calm and be present. Before your first yoga class, allow yourself to feel the power of your breath. Practice pranayama to ground yourself and kick out the kinks.
Teach What You Know
As a new yoga teacher, you may want to teach your students advanced asanas to impress them with your strength and flexibility. It’s okay if you know the poses by heart and the students are ready for these poses. But if you don’t know the poses and different ways to get into them, things can go awry with your students.
You may get distracted when you realize that you don’t know how to do the poses yourself and teach those poses. Stick to teaching what you know so that if students have questions or are confused about how to do the poses, you can guide them effectively.
Do the 3 P’s (Prepare, Plan, Practice)
Do your homework before your first yoga class. Prepare for it, make a plan, and then practice. There will come a time when you don’t have to plan for a class anymore. But this time is not it.
Plan every detail of your class—the music you will use or if you will use music, the poses that you want to teach and how you are going to cue them, how many cycles of breath the students must hold for each pose, how long the students will stay in Savasana, or if you will use props or not. Think of all the little details. Write them down.
To plan a class, I follow the Arc Structure of Yoga Classes as shown in the book Yoga Sequencing by Mark Stephens. This arc structure follows five stages.
1. Initiating the Yogic Process
In this stage, you and your students prepare for the yogic process. This starts with greetings. Make eye contact with your students and let them feel welcome. If the student is new, introduce yourself.
After the greetings, begin by letting the students sit still to start tuning in to their bodies. At this stage, you can choose to guide them through pranayama, meditation, or even a body scan. If you want to chant a mantra or read a poem, you can also do any of it at this stage.
This stage can last for five to ten minutes.
2. Warming up the Body
In this stage, you gradually prepare your students for the physical practice by guiding them through a warm-up. Warming up the body is essential as it increases flexibility and reduces the risk of injuries. In this stage, you can also include practicing a pranayama technique that warms up the body.
3. Pathway to Peak
The peak is the yoga practice‘s most challenging part. Because of its nature, preparing for the peak is necessary. Sometimes, this peak is a yoga pose. Sometimes, it can be non-physical, such as meditation. If it is a peak pose, prepare preparatory poses that will help your students get into it.
Break down the peak pose by figuring out which muscles and joints need to be ready. For example, your peak pose is Hanumanasana or the Splits. Figure out what poses you can do before it, so you can open your hips and warm up your hamstrings.
For the hips, you can include Anjaneyasana or Low Lunge for your preparatory poses. For the hamstrings, you can do Uttasana or Standing Forward Bem and Ardha Hanumasana or Half Splits.
4. Peak Exploration
The peak exploration is the stage when you let the students practice what they have been preparing for. This stage can be the easiest and the most challenging stage of all. Some students may find that they can easily do the peak pose, while some may have a hard time.
The results can be different, but so are the reasons. Some students may reach the peak pose easily because they have enough experience and strength in yoga. Other students may find the peak pose difficult because of physical limitations, such as injury or lack of strength and experience.
The peak is essential but is not more important than self-awareness, exploration, and acceptance. Tell your students that it is okay if they cannot do certain poses. Please encourage your students to do the work to get to the peak, but not to get discouraged when they cannot do it yet or ever.
5. Integrating the Practice
After working through peak pose, you integrate the practice by slowly coming to Savasana for total relaxation. In an arc-structured yoga class, you still need to prepare to relax fully in Savasana. At this stage, you can incorporate relaxing seated and supine poses. You may also do cooling down pranayama and meditation before finally going to Savasana.
Once you finish making a yoga class plan, practice teaching it. Doing this will help you remember the flow of the class. Find a friend or family member you can ask to do the class with you.
If you can’t find someone, do the class yourself. Film yourself giving the verbal cues while also demonstrating the poses. This way, you can review the flow, see if it’s enough to cover the whole duration of the class, and check if your verbal cues are clear and concise.
Think Like Your Student
If you’re terrified of your first class as a yoga teacher, think of the student who is also terrified of her first class with you or first yoga class ever. You wouldn’t want to give this student more nerves than they already have. Thinking like your student also helps you to figure out which poses are good for them or not.
Just Do It
No matter how much you prepare for the first yoga class, you will never know the outcome unless you do it. If you want to be a great yoga teacher, the only way out is through. So, do it—even if you are terrified and intimidated.
Doing something for the first time is always nerve-wracking for everyone. Cut yourself some slack, teach your first yoga class, and savor each moment.