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.

How to design a yoga teacher training? A program might have great content but if it is disintegrated, 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.

You need to assimilate the content you study.  

It takes years of experience to work out the kinks in any training – to integrate yoga theory and practice into a smooth and continuous flow.  Every hour of training is a precious opportunity and you do not want to waste time backtracking or feeling lost. Imagine reading a book in which the chapters were arranged in no particular order?

Imagine reading a book in which the chapters
were arranged 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.

ven diagram showing the three parts of an integrated yoga teacher training.

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.


A lotus that displays all the aspects of a yoga teacher training.Many trainings have five or more teachers, all with a range of expertise and from different backgrounds. The content of the program may be diffused and the methodologies inconsistent.  Students will still get benefit but they will unknowingly miss out on the power of a more concentrated thread of teachings. How many instructors ought to be in a yoga teacher training?

When taught as an integrated system, the power of yoga practice is much greater than the sum of its parts.  If you just want to know about asana, a singular thread of teaching is less important. However, if you want to study yoga as a holistic practice for physical, mental and spiritual well being, a focused approach helps greatly.

If you just want to know about asana,
a singular thread of teaching is less important.

 

Imagine that yoga is like a flower. Each petal represents a different aspect of practice, together the individual petals have a combined magic effect. Recall the serene image of a lotus…. 

Some programs have just a few petals (asana and student teaching).  Other trainings have more petals but they are disjointed, with no common or integrated shape to the program.  It’s a more “grab bag” approach with an amalgamation of teachers who have studied at various places.

Nonetheless, some people naturally feel more drawn to variety and a wide array of teachers may speak to them. It really comes back to what you want in a training – a more broad approach, a more focused approach, or something in between.

In my experience, two to three teachers should be more than enough to present an integrated training.  Anymore than that and it can become diffused.  Ideally, those teachers have studied under a similar master and have a similar philosophy. To go one step further, it helps if the staff has worked together for at least three years, and had time to hone their message and understanding of one another’s content.  

To assess how many instructors ought to be in a yoga teacher training, reflect on what kind of experience you want to have and how deep you want to go.

There are many ways to communicate as an instructor.  In this segment we will explore Figurative Language when teaching yoga. Figurative language is more sensual than it is literal, it invites the student to see and feel their body and mind as a poetic process.  This language invites us to soften the analytical mind with metaphor, imagery and even wisdom.  Figurative language invites the muse to guide the heart, mind and tongue.

It encourages students to see the practice and themselves through a unique lens; a specific color: such as red, yellow, or perhaps green.  Each color has a unique feeling-tone.  This specific color invokes a kind of felt-atmosphere or bhavana in Sanskrit. Different kinds of music carry a particular bhavana and have their own enchantment.

In contrast, Subjective Language is more neutral.  It does not have a particular agenda other than to be aware of what is happening in the immediate moment.  It’s the difference between observing the sunset and being the sunset.

It’s the difference between observing the sunset and being the sunset.

There is a definite place for Figurative Language when teaching yoga. It needs to be authentic.  It is important that Figurative Language be authentic.  Silly analogies or forced metaphors will not suffice.  This language is the voice of creative inspiration that cracks open a layer of insight in the student – a ray of light in a darkened sky. Or simple helps them feel held and more in touch with their imagination.

Generally, figurative language is used sparingly, and makes up about 10% of instruction.

Some may struggle to find their authentic creative voice, and to project it into the room, particularly as a new teacher. However, you do not have to start with a literary masterpiece on the first day. 

Here are a few suggestions to help you begin:
    • Teach depth rather than breadth.  Gear your class towards ONE simple principle, or theme and explore it in detail.
    • Ask provocative and rhetorical questions.
    • Share readings with heart

    • Use metaphor artfully
    • Make use of poignant silence
    • A well timed joke. Laughter brightens joy
    • Teach yoga philosophy in the most simple way possible without diminishing its intent and meaning. Be respectful.

    • Use synonyms to emphasize a particular point. How many ways can you describe a similar action in a posture?
    • Maintain a regular yoga practice and speak from experience
  • Integrate one or two of these principles at a time

 

Words shape our world.  What we say and the manner in which we say it invokes a quality of attention and actionable instruction.  This is true of not only teaching yoga but also pertains to all moments of exchange. Teaching yoga with subjective language, opens a unique view for students.

Subjective Language is the yin counterpart of Directive Language’s  yang. This manner of speech is qualitative in nature, it asks the student to self reflect.  Directive Language emphasizes the outer parameters of the posture, Subjective Language invites the student to observe their interior experience.

In many ways, the deeper intent of yoga is to develop self-awareness, to recognize one’s bright strengths and shadowy impulses with equanimous attention. While much of the deeper work of self-awareness happens in meditation, Subjective Language can begin to build that bridge and generally constitute about 20% of class instruction.  

Teaching yoga with Subjective Language is best suited for quiet moments of composure versus more dynamic or demanding sequences. However there are exceptions to this guideline.

Two common arenas in which to apply subjective self reflection:
  1. During more intense postures (such as Warrior One) invite students to soften mental effort or cultivate a more neutral perspective. While the physical pose may be quite active, the mental pose is relaxed.
  2. During more relaxing postures ( such as Child’s Pose) invite them to soften effort, reflect on their felt-self, or breath smoothly. Become aware of how you are feeling and breath into it.
Examples of how to cue subjective experience:
  • Invite rest
  • Ask students to observe the interior posture
  • Surrender more fully to the posture
  • Soften the mental edges of resistance in the pose
  • Give the students assignments such as “ease your way into the posture one breath at a time”

  • Reflect on the effect of the previous posture
  • Refine the quality of your breath
  • Keep the physical posture strong and stable as you relax mentally
  • Teach meditation


As yoga teachers we create a container for people to experience greater joy and become more embodied.  The words that we use help shape that experience.  We can accomplish this by teaching yoga with Subjective Language.

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.


What is the number one responsibility of a yoga teacher?

Is it being able to do handstands? To do wheel pose? Large classes? The answer is surprisingly simple. The number one responsibility for yoga teachers, is to teach yoga. This may seem overly simplistic, but in my view, it is as paramount as it is obvious.

People come to yoga for a variety of reasons. Some come to fix their back, others want peace of mind. Still others come for greater flexibility. Any of these sound familiar? I have certainly taught classes that address these needs.

In the scope of what is possible through yoga practice, these accomplishments (as wondrous as they may be) are relatively minor. Skilled yoga teachers teach you much more than triangle pose, they will help you to understand yourself – the shadows and the gold – with great clarity. They instruct you on how to minimize suffering and skillfully work with adversity. They teach you to generate energy and to use it wisely.

They teach you to generate energy and use it wisely.

Said differently, yoga teaches you to be integrated; such that your thoughts, speech and actions are congenial. It imparts the desire and means by which you can live your purpose in a manner that is beneficial to yourself and others – to live with greater joy and far less fear. The number one responsibility of a yoga teacher is to teach you yoga. They can assist you to the degree to which they recognize yoga in themselves.

Like raindrops that send intersecting ripples out across the surface of a once placid mountain lake, yoga reveals the interconnectedness of all aspects of life. Yoga is reflected in how we sleep, speak, play, our desires and of course in formal practice.

Yoga shows us how seemingly individual components are part of a greater whole. Gradually students see the lattice of circumstances and life-responsibility they inherited from their past thoughts, words, and actions. And more importantly, how to chart a new destiny.

This may sound lofty, however it starts with something very simple – self awareness. The postures, done with proper attention, generate a degree of self awareness. As you consciously breath and mindfully move you become more self-realized. A skilled yoga teacher offers additional methods to expand self-understanding and actualization. That is their primary job.

woman in dog pose in a yoga studio

 

“Why is peace unprioritized?”

I shared this question with my current teacher training students over the weekend.  They looked equally appreciative and puzzled.

You would think that the desire to live in harmony would be greater than the urge for affliction.  Yet somehow that does not appear to be the case.

Like many noble pursuits, peace can easily be dismissed as fanciful, a hangover from the counterculture movement, or even a sign of weakness. Peace is not in keeping with the status quo, a tide of stimulation usurp its place.

“Why is that?”

Years ago, when I first met Baba Hari Dass, someone asked him “how to develop personal discipline?”

His response:

“Climbing is hard, slipping is easy.” 

 

The words still ring true decades later and epitomize why peace is not the priority. It takes deliberate effort to develop positive qualities and the temptation to deviate can be strong.

The impulse to be impatient or disregard the needs of the whole may come more habitually and with greater urgency.  It takes far more energy and thoughtful consideration to create a building than it does to destroy it.

In short, cultivating peace requires dedicated self-reflection and effort – to swim against the current shortcomings and climb towards a noble pursuit. And it can be often far more convenient to choose otherwise.

 

“Where is the priority of peace?”

I shared this question with my current teacher training students over the weekend.  They looked equally appreciative and puzzled.

You would think that the desire to live in harmony would be greater than the urge for affliction.  Yet somehow that does not appear to be the case.

Like many noble pursuits, peace can easily be dismissed as fanciful, a hangover from the counterculture movement, or even a sign of weakness. Peace is not in keeping with the status quo, a tide of stimulation usurp its place.

“Why is that?”

Years ago, when I first met Baba Hari Dass, someone asked him “how to develop personal discipline?”

His response:

“Climbing is hard, slipping is easy.” 

 

The words still ring true decades later and epitomize why peace is not the priority. It takes deliberate effort to develop positive qualities and the temptation to deviate can be strong.

The impulse to be impatient or disregard the needs of the whole may come more habitually and with greater urgency.  It takes far more energy and thoughtful consideration to create a building than it does to destroy it.

In short, cultivating the priority of peace requires dedicated self-reflection and effort – to swim against the current shortcomings and climb towards a noble pursuit. And it can be often far more convenient to choose otherwise.

 

I wanted to take a moment and share our Yoga Teacher Training Covid Response Plan.Thankfully, Colorado is reopening its doors and we hope it will not be an issue. While we are doing our best to be preventative, also recognize that there also factors that are beyond our control and may have to adopt an online format. Not my first preference, but possible necessary in full disclosure.

  • But here is the good news, we have a very robust response plan in place:
  • Our rental space is separate from the rest of the building and is used minimally.
  • Regular cleanings before class.
  • Ample hand sanitizer, tissues, etc.
  • Personal prop kit (including blankets, blocks, a strap and bolster) for your personal use only.
    Free immune boosting course prior to the start of the training.
  • Just nine students, to allow for ample space and maximize the chances of meeting in person.
    Outside class sessions, weather permitting.
  • Spiritual practice for protection and healing including mantra and meditation.