A well designed yoga class flows effortlessly; every instruction or posture builds consecutively.  And at the end of 60 minutes you seemed to have magically found the reset button. How is this possible? A successful class does not happen by accident, an experienced teacher will reference set principles to design and deliver their classes. Here are three keys to teaching yoga.

Three Keys to Teaching Yoga:

Connection

Connection happens when we truly take in, listen too, and or observe whatever is in front of us with genuine wonder, empathy and appreciation. This is true of all genuine human interaction. Relationships occur when we set aside our personal agenda and become more curious and attentive.

As a yoga teacher, we can build connections with students by closely observing students.  On the most surface level we observe their alignment.  We can reflect upon the quality of our instructions and if they translate for students.

Teachers can also be attentive to more subtle signals from students; such as the quality of breath, skin pallor, responsiveness, focus and general quality of energy. 

Experience

Most importantly, a yoga teacher is there to provide an experience for students.  They help them feel integrated and at peace. The sequence of a class, and the cues that a teacher uses, either support or undermine a students ability to have an integrated experience.  

Some teachers get lost in the superficial aspects of a class. They focus on the kind of music they play or how to choreography multiple postures together and miss the bigger picture, often falling back on cliche cues

The point of yoga is to connect to a reservoir of peace inside rather than manufacture a sensational experience.  As a yoga student matures, they become sensitive to their environment. Too much stimulation makes it hard to be mindful and attentive.

One of the most important ways that yoga teachers create an experience is through the cues they give.  Different yoga teacher trainings have different views on how to design a training and instruct a class. Students on our teacher training become fluent in four different kinds of language; each of which creates a specific kind of experience.

Briefly said, some cues direct the students attention to the outer body while others ask them to direct their attention to their inner experience.  Additionally some cues awaken the practitioner’s imagination.  These kinds of instructions are more visceral than they are literal.

Coherent

Practiced deliberately, yoga can be very therapeutic. A skilled practitioner knows how to modify their practice based on their circumstances. The practice they do when tired looks different than the one they do if they feel anxious.

The postures need to build off of each other naturally and based on established principles.  A class should to be integrated rather than disjointed.  When a teacher does not understand the deeper “why” behind each pose, and puts them together haphazardly, the class is less potent.

There are many factors that go into teaching a yoga class. Connection, experience and coherence and three important keys to teach yoga effectively.  A masterful teacher knows how to combine these elements to awaken the higher nature of the students.

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.

 

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