New Yoga Teachers – Do you make these 7 common mistakes?

Denver Clark, C-IAYT, ERYT-500

There are now over 15,000 yoga teachers in the United States and many more worldwide. The entire globe is benefiting from the life altering effects of the practice of Yoga. It’s a beautiful thing that so many people are looking toward holistic practices to find balance and obtain healing and yoga teachers now have a platform to help others in a way never before seen. Of course, “with great power comes great responsibility” and now that millions of people are practicing yoga, there is a great need for teachers who can introduce the practice safely, sustainably and responsibly.

As we grow and expand as teachers, it is common for our own practice and beliefs to evolve. Learning new things, changing our approach and correcting past mistakes show that not only are we teaching yoga, but we are living it as well.

Below are 7 common mistakes I see new teacher making after 15 years in the Yoga Industry…

  1. Attachment to the lesson plan – I know it’s intimidating to be a new teacher in front of the class and of course we want our classes to be “good!” to feel seamless. We often spend hours agonizing over the perfect sequencing, playlists, themes and poetry to share. But what happens when a person walks into the class you’ve planned and they can’t do half of the postures on your list? Believe me, this happens more quickly and more often than you may think. A lesson plan can act as a magic feather yes, but if we aren’t tailoring our class to our students because our ego needs to complete the “plan,” then we are showing up for ourselves instead of them. Practice thinking on your feet and  changing the plan. Watch your students. Respond to what you observe and get comfortable asking for questions and feedback. It may take practice not to take that feedback personally, but I promise it will help you grow as a person and a teacher in ways you never imagined.
  2. Apologizing – New teachers often assume that they’ll be received better if they make sure everyone knows they are new. They may open class by telling students that they recently completed training, or apologize before class even begins because they are new. When they inevitably make a mistake they stop the flow of class to say “oops” or “sorry” before correcting themselves. What many new teachers don’t realize is that this innocent apologizing actually steals your student’s experience. Instead of enjoying their practice, they begin to worry about your comfort and success. We are all human and we all make mistakes. If you forget to do the pose on the other side, just keep going. You have the choice to fold it in later or forget it. As long as your intentions are pure, your class will stand on its own, regardless of the perfection of the sequencing or anything else. In all honesty, I much prefer a teacher who shows they are real than one who seems as if they never make a mistake. It gives me permission to be real as the student too and that is a wonderful gift.
  3. Speaking in absolutes – People drawn to teach yoga are helpers. They want others to feel good and heal in the same ways they themselves have experienced through yoga. Because of this, new teachers often frantically strive to learn absolutely everything about everything all at once, and then make sure to say everything they know every single time they teach a posture or practice. This includes rattling off lists of “contraindications” for poses and often results in teachers saying things such as, “if you are pregnant never ….” Additionally, once we experience the positive benefits of a practice or posture, we may assume that everyone else feels those same benefits or needs them. What works for you may not necessarily work for someone else. Where you feel a pose isn’t necessarily where your students will feel it and that’s perfectly okay! The practice is still helping even if someone isn’t experiencing it the same way as you. Be mindful of the desire to tell students where they will feel a pose or telling students that a practice will “fix” something. Get comfortable with the word “may.” Allow yourself to invite students to explore and let them in on the possible things they might experience but then let them have whatever experience they have and validate that all of it is good. Just showing up and practicing is enough.
  4. Calling out students by name – I once inherited an entire class full of students from another teacher in town because that teacher had made an “example” of one of them thinking she was helping. The student was so mortified to have been called out by name that she left and all of her friends left too! I made a point after hearing this story to never ever make an example of a student in my class. I have personally been called out due to my flexibility or strength as the “example” and it always makes me feel uncomfortable. My favorite part of a yoga class is the anonymity I have and the space it provides to be on my own mat, in my own body with my own thoughts, allowing everything and everyone else to fade away. Whether you are correcting or praising someone, the purpose of the practice of yoga isn’t to compare it is to explore and grow. If you need to help someone with a correction for safety, give the cue to the whole class. That person will listen and others will also benefit from the cue.
  5. Stepping up or down modifications – You’ve probably heard it before: “If you can’t do A, then grab a block and do B..” or the infamous “If you want MORE….” This kind of language implies that there is a better or worse way to practice yoga. This is simply not true. Because every body is different, every pose will look and feel different to every student. If you want to incorporate modifications and options (As I highly encourage you to do) try giving them “popcorn style” so your students decide based on feel instead of what option will be the hardest or best one. This helps create an environment where students are truly listening to their body in the moment and learning more about what works for them on that day at that time. Svadhyaya (self-study) is the goal of yoga. Try using modifications to encourage more of this instead of promoting arbitrary ideal. Your students’ mental health will flourish.
  6. Offering props without context – I am guilty of playing devils advocate on this one. If I am in a class and the teacher says “if you want, you can grab your blocks here.” I will almost always ask aloud “What do we do with them?” Perhaps a bit distracting (here I go showing that I am human) but honestly I have seen so many brand new students completely lost in a class who could benefit greatly from the use of props if they only knew how to use them. Luckily, since I first started teaching we have seen a shift in the industry to more acceptance of props and I no longer experience push back from students when I offer them. In fact, I have made it my goal to incorporate props for everyone in the class and then offer the option to “use them or loose them.” I find that this invites students to explore in ways they may not otherwise because they assume props are for “lesser” students. If you can, try using the props to make the practice harder as well. This reframes the relationship to the prop and makes everyone feel more comfortable using them. The more explicit we can be in the way we use the prop (the angle, position, the where, how and why) the more we empower our students in future classes where we are not teaching. This keeps them safe and gives them options no matter the current state of their body.
  7. No silence in savasana – This one depends on the clientele. I don’t feel the need to leave a lot of silence in my classes with older students in chair yoga who may use the class as a social experience. They often already have a lot of silence in their life at home. However, the average age of yoga students is between 30-45 years old. Culturally this means that your average student is coming from a life inundated with noise and stimulation. Work, television, family, partners, children, traveling, shopping, doing….. it never ends. All day long there is noise and color and multitasking. The nervous system of these students is in hyperdrive. They need sensory deprivation. Silence. A reminder of how to just be rather than always doing. So take 3 minutes or so to read your poem, spray your essential oils, adjust their shoulders but then leave them alone. Give your students the gift of silence, even if only for 5 minutes. Their nervous systems will benefit and they’ll get a little taste of the magic that yoga and meditation have to offer. In a 75 minute class, shoot for 8 minutes minimum of savasana and if you need to “Sell it,” be ready with a list of benefits. Once our students have bought into the why, they will be more likely to try it and feel the why for themselves and that makes for lifelong practitioners.

No matter where you are in your teaching journey, the more you learn the less you know. This is a beautiful thing. The simple act of showing up and sharing this practice with intention and love means you are already a good teacher. My hope is you continue to sit with new information such as this and question how you teach – forever. This is what keeps us growing and learning and living our yoga and inspires our students to do the same. Keep sharing, keep practicing. The world needs you. Thank you.

Author: embodiedyogafl

MA#89197 Denver is a certified ERYT-500 teacher , C-IAYT (certified yoga therapist), Licensed massage therapist, certified Ayurvedic bodyworker and RCYT (Children's yoga teacher). She previously owned and operated Blue Mountain Yoga studio in Blue Ridge Ga from 2009-2016 and is thrilled to be back in her hometown of Sarasota/Bradenton as director of the Yoga teacher's training programs at Heartwood Yoga Institute. Denver is also a resident Massage Therapist offering customized sessions utilizing aromatherapy, reiki, hot stones, sound healing and more for the ultimate healing experience. The discovery of yoga has offered Denver the opportunity to connect with her mind, body and breath at a spiritual level that has transformed her life from the inside out. As a life long full bodied woman, yoga has helped heal Denver's relationship with body image and self esteem and her classes resonate with lessons of self awareness and acceptance. Denver's goal is to share yoga with people of all body types and experience levels and she believes that yoga has the power to change everyone's life for the better. She is the creator of Embodied Yoga, a program that uses yoga, breath work, journaling and self-love practices to encourage body positivity. Denver spent many years studying dance and voice. She attended the BFA program at UCF before turning her passions to yoga. She is a devoted mother, vocalist, creative silversmith jewelry artist and spiritual advocate.

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