Students in Denver Yoga Underground’s yoga teacher training instruct classes outside of the studio. They offer their written reflections on teaching yoga in the community. Here is one such example from a dedicated student who fully embraced the process.

I enjoyed this teaching exercise. I have a background in teaching, so I am already quite comfortable with giving instruction in a group. As a teacher, I sometimes doubt myself or get stressed when I don’t know the content. This came up when I taught my first two yoga classes.

I was very focused on what I was doing, but it wasn’t until the end class that I actually looked up and realized I had students to engage with! After the first few classes, I started to become comfortable with more of the content and the flow of the class, so I was able to start engaging with the students (this also aligned with our YTT classes as we began to discuss the power of observation and different language techniques).

We began to discuss the power of observation and different language

woman with pink hair teaches yoga to a male student

Like anything, by my fifth class, I became more comfortable with what I was doing. I think I still have a lot of areas to work on, for example: reading the students, working on directive language, adding creativity to the class, and practicing safe sequencing. Overall, this exercise was a great way to jump in the deep end of teaching and just start somewhere.

I am often the type of person who needs to make sure everything is aligned before I start to do something, so I appreciated that this exercise forced me to start and begin to learn something from each experience as a teacher. I would like to continue providing practice classes for friends and family so I can continue learning and growing in my teaching skills.

How to integrate these reflections on teaching yoga?

1. Connection (with students and their needs)

2. Experience (teacher as a guide)

3. Fluidity (sequencing and flow)

As I progressed through my practice classes, I believe I was more and more able to incorporate these intentions into my classes. And discover more reflections on teaching yoga. After a few more practices, I started to ease into what it meant to create an experience for the student.

As part of our YTT, students conduct a yoga teacher training exercise to enhance their skills outside of the classroom.  Here is a sample of one students experience.

As a first step, I set my intention for the assignment. This did not come easy, I have a history with wanting to control outcomes. However, I am can draw on my yoga experience and adjust to get the job done regardless of old anxieties. 

The I set the following intentions: provide a safe comfortable place for students to have a wholistic yoga experience, the students students leave class rejuvenated and to inspire student to continue their yoga practice. And to deal more effectively with their own life challenges.

As I assumed the role of yoga teacher, I contended with my own insecurities around control and a lack of trust in other humans. I doubted if they would even show up and I procrastinated doing the assignment for at least 10 days, until I realized that all teacher probably started with some doubt and reservation. 

Once I was able to overcome this low point, I found the yoga teacher training exercise to be a fun and rewarding experience. In particular, I appreciated the chance to work with novice yogis. I remember my initial teachers and it felt good to be able to support others people who just started the journey.  This exercise revealed that I do have love in my heart and desire to grow as a teacher, despite my initial doubt.

 

How to design a yoga teacher training? A program might have great content but if it is not assembled in an integrated way, you may be in for a rough ride. The design of a programs could be the difference between feeling lost and finding your life’s path.

 It is important that you can assimilate the content you study.  

It takes years of experience to work out the kinks in any training; to integrate theory, practice and pedagogy into a smooth and continuous flow.  Every hour of training is a precious opportunity. You do not want to waste time backtracking or feeling adrift. Imagine a book in which the chapters are in no particular order. Huh?

Imagine a book in which the chapters were in no particular order.

Some programs take the McDonald’s approach and offer many, many homogenized yoga teacher training sessions a year.  It’s a business.  On the upside, the program will be predictable.  They may even have a nice brochure.  On the downside, the presenters may be hemmed in by too many rules and you lose out on the magic of yoga.   It may still be a good experience but not live up to its full potential.

Yoga Training Design

A cohesive and integrated training has three components:

 

  1. The actual content of the training.  Most interviewing students zoom in on this part.  It’s important and there is more you should know.
  2. The quality of the teacher’s knowledge and their ability to present effectively.
  3. The overall architecture of the program (how individual topics fit into the whole).

Denver Yoga Underground takes all of these components into consideration to deliver a cohesive and integrated training.  The architecture supports the students to gradually assimilate the content, and the teachers deliver the content to the student. This combination supports the student’s growth and are essential parts of how to design a yoga teacher training.

 

As part of our YTT, students conduct a yoga teacher training exercise to enhance their skills outside of the classroom.  New teachers often experience a lot of anxiety about their new found role and the responsibility it entails. And they may even hesitate to get started.  Once they do get started, they typically find that teaching is not as scary as they’d first presumed.  By the end they feel relieved and event enjoyed their experience.  Here is a sample of one students experience.

As a first step, I set my intention for the assignment. This did not come easy, I have a history with wanting to control outcomes. However, I am can draw on my yoga experience and adjust to get the job done regardless of old anxieties. 

I had the following goals.  Number one, provide a safe comfortable place for students to have a wholistic yoga experience. Number two, the students leave class rejuvenated and to inspire student to continue their yoga practice. And number three, students learn to deal more effectively with their own life challenges.

Students leave class rejuvenated and to inspire student to continue their yoga practice

As I assumed the role of yoga teacher, I contended with my own insecurities around control and a lack of trust in other humans. I doubted if they would even show up and I procrastinated doing the assignment for at least 10 days, until I realized that all teacher probably started with some doubt and reservation. 

Once I was able to overcome this low point, I found teaching my students to be a fun and rewarding experience. In particular, I appreciated the chance to work with novice yogis. I remember my initial teachers and it felt good to be able to support others people who just started the journey.  This yoga teacher training exercise revealed that I do have love in my heart and desire to grow as a teacher, despite my initial doubt.

 

Over the years, hundreds of students participated in my yoga teacher training. All of them were joined by a common love of yoga and a desire to deepen their yoga practice or teach. The latter can be more daunting. How to be a good yoga teacher.

Be A Dedicated Student

Yoga teacher walks in the classroom

We believe that effective teaching is rooted in being a dedicated student.  Teaching then becomes an organic extension of your committed practice.

To say it another way: if you aren’t a dedicated student you have no chance of becoming a teacher with depth. Your personal practice is the foundation for the house of your teaching.

Of course this same line of thought also pertains to your personal relationship with yoga.  If you practice on a daily basis your mind and body will seamlessly adapt to a more complete version of yourself.  It will happen naturally.

Regularity is the key. Practicing a little each day, or on a regularly scheduled occasion is more effective than “stop and go.” Consistent practice builds momentum over time and eventually takes on a life of its own.

I suggest that students build a dedicated practice and find delight in it also.

Developing a personal yoga practice is a little bit like growing a tree, at first you have to be very diligent to make sure it gets enough water, nutrients and sunlight.  You may also have to put some kind of barrier around it to prevent it from getting stepped on or eaten by insects. Eventually the tree comes into its own, is able to fend for itself, provides shade, fruit and intrinsic beauty.

Being a dedicated yoga student entails both regular practice and natural curiosity.  As you learn and apply new methods and self reflect on their effect, you discover how to shape your experience of life towards one of less fear and towards more joy.

Create a Strong, Deep, Personal Practice.

Dedication is an attitude. Your personal practice is the laboratory in which to apply the attitude. Personal practice will reveal how to be a good yoga teacher.  Like any craft, the more time you spend with it the further you progress.  If you want to master the violin, you need to practice.  If you want to get better at painting, then practice. The same applies to yoga. The only way to receive the benefit is by regular practice.  In order for the practices to work you have to do them.

This is the 4th part of an ongoing series that explores the different kinds of language a teacher uses to shape their classes.  In this segment, we look at invitational language when teaching yoga.

Invitational language is a subset of subjective language.  Subjective language asks the student to self reflect (or observe themselves) from a neutral perspective.  “Be aware of how you are breathing” as a simple example. Invitational Language invites students to become aware of their particular needs and gives them free will to act upon them.

Both subjective and invitational instructions ask students to reflect on their experience and sense of self.  This awareness teaches people to be less reactive and more empowered.

This awareness teaches people to be less reactive and more empowered.

Invitational Language is often used in “trauma sensitive” yoga classes. It has been proven to be effective for people for whom agency over their lives was forcefully taken; such as a car accident, combat, or growing up in an abusive household.

In many ways, “Invitational Language” is the antithesis of Directive Language, which emphasizes specific alignment cues and implies a “right way” to do the pose. Invitational Language, freely presents possible variations and encourages students to make choices for themselves.

There are many different ways to best communicate with students, depending upon one’s ability as a teacher and the needs of the students.  And there is an optimal place to use invitational language when teaching yoga. Gradually, a yoga student becomes a seasoned teacher, and learn when to use the appropriate style of language to best meet the needs of students. (You can find out more about our yoga teacher training here).

Examples of Invitational Language:

  • “If you feel like it……”
  • “When you are ready.”
  • “If you want to…”
  • “I invite you to try and _________”
  • “As an alternative, you can bend your knees”
  • “You don’t have to do any of these postures, you have free will”
  • Give people the option to participate or not

The words we use and the associations attached to those words tell unique stories. How we use words and language communicates a particular relatedness and brings forth certain possibilities; ranging from confusion to revelation. The language of yoga teachers creates a unique reality.

Encoded within a language is a unique history, set of values and cosmology. For indigenous tribes of the North West their names for a particular plant indicates: what it looks like, the season it grows in, where it is typically found, if it is edible or not, and possible medicinal properties.  The name may also carry mythological significance, which unpacks yet more layers of significance.

Conversely, the name of the plant “Scotch Broom” doesn’t tell you as much.  Maybe it came from Scotland? Though I do see how it could be used as a broom.

As students of yoga, we can be thoughtful about the words we speak and the effect they have; even more so when using the language of yoga teachers.  This can be a little daunting for newer instructors.

This is certainly understandable and very common. In the beginning, teacher training students struggle to translate their own thoughts and words into a corresponding response in someone else’s body.  They may know what they mean but it does not always register for the one who hears them.  

Clear communication is the difference between
saying the “right words” and being heard and understood.

With time the aspiring student learns to use the language of yoga teachers more effectively.  They learn to communicate not only the basic instructions about how to get into and out of a posture but they learn to do so with grace and poise.

They come to read the expression on people’s faces with greater clarity, observe bodily posture, and interpret subtle cues in how students breathe.  All of which inform their spoken instructions 

Ultimately, the job of a yoga teacher is to invoke an experience inside of the student.  They can guide them to recognize deeper parts of themselves not only through the techniques but also through the thoughtful use of language.  The words we speak awaken a particular reality.

 

I have been in the yoga teacher training trade for almost 20 years.  The first training sessions were nowhere near as polished and the current program.  Still, the students loved the spirit of the training, even with the rough edges.  Initially, practice student teaching was an afterthought and now it is a mainstay.  Yoga teaching language is one of the most important skills we present.

While 65% of people learn visually, 5% kinesthetically, and 30% auditorily, the great majority of yoga instruction happens on the auditory leve.  A teacher projects their presence and voice into the room.  As such, what you say, and how you say is critical and it happens on a variety of levels.

Perhaps you have experienced a class where the teacher gracefully cued you into a pose, offered whimsical metaphors, challenged you, and helped you to feel ‘whole’.  Chances are pretty good that did not happen by accident, there is a method to how they use yoga teaching language.

There is a method to how they use yoga teaching language.

In this series we will look at three principles of yoga teaching language.  For today we will look at Directive Language.

Number One: Directive Language 

Directive language makes up roughly 80% of posture instruction. It is the most base-line aspect of teaching.  The goal of directive language is to provide clear instruction – the teacher is clear in their intent and the student is clear on what to do.

Contrary to directive instruction, is ambiguous speech which consists of filler words such as “umm”, “like”, “sort of”, “kind of”, “now we’re gunna”, or excessive use of gerrings.  

Gerrings are words that end in “ing” and are to be avoided.  It is the difference between “Lifting” and “Lift”;  “Stepping forward” and “Step forward”;  “Opening your top chest” and “Open your top chest”.  Can you hear the distinction?  One is more passive and the other more declarative, which is important if you want to guide a group of people.

Another enemy of Directive Language is to state the overly obvious and or vapid.  Cues such as “feel the stretch” in a forward fold or “feel your back” in cobra pose detract more than they add. After holding warrior three for 45 seconds, why remind people that “this is a hard pose”?

“What does not add subtracts”
– Aristotle

In addition to making instructions clear, directive language moves the class forward.  Every word serves a purpose towards a specific end. The end goal could be a particular posture, a final meditative practice, or to learn a key physical action.

Economize words and learn to cue with brevity.

Directive language is quantitative  You can count, measure or specifically apply the instruction.