25 Lessons From Teaching My First 25 Yoga Classes

25 lessons from teaching yoga- Jessica Lawlor

A little more than a year ago, I published a popular post, “100 Lessons From 100 Yoga Classes.” The post detailed the many (100, in fact) lessons I’ve learned on my mat from my wonderful teachers at Dana Hot Yoga.

Since writing that post in August of 2014, so much has changed. I’ve continued my practice as a student (I’m somewhere around 330 classes now!) and I did something life-changing: I completed yoga teacher training.

Now, in addition to being a forever student of yoga, I am also a teacher.

I feel grateful to be able to share my love of yoga with others teaching twice a week at Dana Hot Yoga (join me every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. and Saturdays at 9:30 a.m.!), subbing at other area studios, plus teaching a lunchtime class to my coworkers each week.

Last week, I hit a brand new milestone in my journey as a yoga teacher: I taught my 25th studio yoga class!

(Counting my shortened 30-minute lunchtime yoga class at work, I’m probably somewhere around 50 classes total).

Teaching yoga is very different than practicing yoga. I’ve been amazed at the amount that I’ve learned in the short five months I’ve been teaching.

Here are 25 lessons learned from teaching my first 25 yoga classes.

1. It’s okay to be nervous. I feel butterflies before every single class I teach. Granted, I’ve only taught 25 thus far, so nerves are normal, being a brand new teacher. However, I’ve talked to other more experienced teachers who say the butterflies never fully go away. A little bit of discomfort is a good thing though! It means we’re constantly pushing our limits and stepping outside our comfort zones. I’ll let those butterflies stick around for now!

2. Plan ahead. I’m a big planner, so naturally, I bring that love of planning into my teaching. While I’m still getting comfortable writing class flows, I type them out completely- often times, they are 5-6 pages in length since I write out all of the poses and most of the cues I hope to cover for each pose. I also plan out my class themes and write an opening “speech” and closing “speech” to help me gather my thoughts. I so admire my teachers who jot down a few notes in a notebook and take it from there- maybe one day!

3. But be prepared to throw your plan out the window. Planning is great, but I’ve learned as a teacher that you need to be prepared to go off-script at a moment’s notice. Part of being a great teacher is feeling out the room and teaching to what you see, not necessarily teaching from your planned script. I’ve taught classes where I’ve had a plan in mind (and my handy printed flow at the ready) but quickly realized my students weren’t ready for much of what I had planned- so from there, I adapt. This is a skill I know I’ll continue to hone as I gain more experience teaching, but I’ve heard from fellow teachers that this is perhaps the single most important part of what sets a great teacher apart from an okay teacher.

4. Truly be present in the room. After I taught my very first yoga class, I realized one crazy thing: I barely remembered what happened while I was teaching. I was totally not fully present in the room. I was caught up in my own head, trying my hardest to remember what came next in my flow and completely focused on simply making it to the end of class. I’ll give myself a hall pass on this one: after all, it was my first public class, but after I realized I had no recollection of what was going on in the room, I vowed that I’d make more of a conscious effort to be fully present in the room.

5. Find a support system and/or mentor(s). I feel like the luckiest girl in the world because I truly have the best team rallying around me. It helps that my very best friends are yoga teachers, I’m working weekly with an incredible yoga mentor and so many other experienced teachers have taken me under their wing and offer me constructive feedback after they take my class. I can’t stress enough how important it is to find people who can help support you in this journey. Leaving teacher training (a very supportive, loving environment) and stepping out on your own as a teacher can be intimidating. Find people who can cheer you on and be there for you.

6. Get grounded (physically and mentally). After sharing with my yoga mentor that I was having trouble feeling grounded in the room, both mentally and physically, she recommended something super simple and effective: when you start to feel unbalanced, find actual physical balance by leaning against the wall while teaching. I get grounded mentally by spending five minutes in my car in silence before I teach a class.

7. Get in the right mindset when subbing. Subbing a yoga class is no joke. As a sub, you step into a room where students have a certain idea of what to expect. It can be a little bit of a mind game to gather the confidence to step into the room, take ownership and do your thing. I got quite a lot of experience subbing over the summer, but I still feel nervous when I step into another teacher’s space. I try to mentally psych myself up to teach, reminding myself  that everyone starts somewhere…and hey! I may become that student’s favorite teacher one day by putting myself out there for a sub opportunity.

8. Conserve your energy before teaching. As you know if you read the blog regularly, I’m really into energy management. I’ve been paying close attention to my energy levels during class and I’ve realized something: when I come to class on Saturday mornings, I am fresh off a great night’s sleep and feel clear and ready to teach. When I come to my Tuesday 5:45 p.m. class I’m coming straight to the studio from a full day’s work, often starting my day at 5 a.m. Naturally, I’m tired and not my best self. I’m working to find little things I can do (like drinking a green juice around 4 p.m. and taking five minutes of silence in my car to meditate before coming into class) to help me re-gain that energy to bring my best self to my students.

9. Offer modifications and advancements for poses. I teach an all levels class, so I often have a mix of complete yoga beginners and advanced yogis. I always aim to “call the pose” first (say the name of the pose) so that the more advanced yogis can get right into it and then I offer cues to help those less familiar with yoga find their place. Once I have students in a posture, I like to offer modifications to help make a pose more accessible, as well as advancements to help people take their practice to the next level. I LOVE teaching an all-levels class- it’s so inspiring to see students at various places in their own personal practice.

10. Develop a message or theme for class. When I decided to become a yoga teacher, I was most excited to develop and share themes with my students. After all, that’s essentially what I do here on the blog. I love finding the perfect quote to start or end class with and I really enjoy developing my themes. During the centering/grounding phase of class, I love helping my students find an intention to focus on and I love bringing that intention back to mind throughout class.

11. Don’t be afraid to give physical assists. As a beginner yoga student, anytime a teacher touched or adjusted me, I thought for sure I was doing something wrong. Now I relish those physical assists! Physical adjustments help create a connection between a teacher and a student and also help the student to relax more or find themselves deeper into a pose. Of course, it’s important to read the body language of people in the room- certainly there are people who don’t want to be touched in class, but for the most part, physical assists and adjustments are a great way to build connection.

12. Project your voice and keep your language crisp and clear. Public speaking isn’t a huge fear of mine, but it certainly does still make me nervous from time to time. When you’re teaching, you must project your voice and aim to keep your language as crisp and clear as possible to help students listen and move with your cues. This means removing filler words like “now we’re going to do this” or “come to find chair pose” and instead directly saying “Find chair pose.” Definitely still working on this one!

13. Create an overall class experience. Lights. Music. Heat. Poses. Themes. There’s SO much that goes into creating an amazing overall class experience for your students. It can be a lot to think about, but I’m working to create a peaceful and inspiring setting for my students to practice in. For me, this means using lighting, providing an upbeat, yet relaxing playlist and providing strong class themes to help students set an intention for their practice.

14. Don’t take things too personally. Remember, you don’t know what type of baggage your students bring into class with them. I’ve definitely left a few classes thinking something like “Wow, that girl in the front seriously hated my class” or “No one smiled or laughed at my dumb jokes. What gives?!” but I try to remind myself that I have no idea what’s going on in that person’s life or what brought my students to their mats that day. All I can do is show up, offer the best that I have and hope that students take what they need from it.

15. Move purposefully around the room. In the style of yoga I teach, instead of practicing with my students, I walk around the room while I teach. This gives me the opportunity to really pay attention to what’s going on in the room. However, a lesson I learned from teacher training is to move purposefully around the room. Don’t pace back and forth nervously. Don’t stay in one area for too long. Instead, move with purpose, stopping to adjust students along the way.

16. Find a safe space in the room. Even though I walk around the room while I teach, it’s also important for me to have “safe spaces” in the room where I can go to collect my thoughts and come back to the present moment if I lose it. For me, I usually place my notes on a pile of blocks in the front of the room- this is one of my safe spaces to come back to when I feel like I need to check in. Similarly, I use the back wall to lean against for grounding, but also to take a full assessment of the room as a second safe space.

17. You’re going to mess up sometimes. Yep, you’re definitely going to mess up. Lefts and rights are confusing. Sometimes I forget the names of body parts. It’s okay. Own your mistakes. Be human. Laugh it off. Move forward.

18. Promote your classes. Don’t be afraid to spread the word about your yoga classes or sub opportunities! Even when I didn’t have my own class, I used Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and this blog to spread the word that I’m now a teacher. Even still, I aim to post on social media around once a week reminding my friends and followers of when I teach. Know that self-promotion is okay; it’s a great way to build your class following! Also, self promotion isn’t icky when you are truly promoting something you love and something that will help others: yoga definitely falls into that category!

19. Introduce yourself to your students before class. Want to know what makes class feel 100x less intimidating? Introducing yourself to each and every student before class. (I find this especially helpful when I’m subbing- see #7) but it’s also effective for my own classes, too. When you introduce yourself, you put your students at ease, but also yourself. Suddenly, the room is filled with actual human beings with names, thoughts and feelings, not just a crowd of complete strangers.

20. Stick around after class. When class ends, don’t rush out of the studio. Stick around and chat with students after class. When I end class, I usually say something, “Again, my name is Jessica and I teach here on Tuesdays at 5:45 and Saturdays at 9:30. I’ll be around after class if you have any questions or feedback.” I find this is the best time to really connect with students, get to know them and begin to build a following for my classes.

21. Breathe. One of the best ways to stay grounded and present in the moment is to actually breathe with the class. When I cue a pose and say “Stay here for three deep breaths,” I take those three deep breaths with the class. It’s a great way for me to manage class time and how long students have been in a pose and it also helps me stay calm and focused.

22. Just keep showing up. Not every class will be amazing. In fact, some classes may downright suck. You may leave feeling like everyone hated class (they probably didn’t) and you may feel insecure about your teaching. The key here? Keep moving forward. Keep showing up.

23. Be a student first, always. Even though I’m now a teacher, I don’t ever want to lose my love of being a yoga student. I continue to practice around five times per week and continue to educate myself through workshops and reading. I find now that I need yoga more than ever to help me stay grounded!

24. Smile. My yoga mentor reminds me constantly: smile. She says, “When you talk to me about yoga, your passion is so obvious. Your eyes light up and you smile from ear to ear. Bring that into your teaching!” In the middle of a class, it can be challenging to loosen up and remember to smile, but this is something I’m actively trying to remember each time I teach. A smile can be really powerful!

25. Be you. Perhaps the most simple, yet also most complicated lesson of all: be authentically you. Let your true self shine. YOU bring something unique and special that only you can bring to your class. Embrace it and own it.

Here’s to many more years of teaching! If you’re a fellow yoga teacher, what lessons have you learned from teaching? Share in the comments below!

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Jessica_Lawlor_Blog Bio@2x

Meet Jessica

I live by the saying “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” and help others do the same to reach their biggest, brightest goals. Read my story here.

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