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My Yoga Journey: What makes a good teacher?

Tadasana, uttanasana, adho mukha shvanasana, virabhadrasana – three weeks into yoga teacher training, flowing through these asanas every single morning has become quite a comfortable routine. However, when you are tasked with stepping up to the front of room and have all these eyes staring back at you, your mind draws a blank. Suddenly you’re not sure if you have to inhale or exhale, if the right foot goes back first or the left foot, or how to count your breaths.

As we learn the techniques and elements of being an effective teacher, it’s been interesting to note how much we have to work on soft skills. What makes a great teacher isn’t the same as what makes a great practitioner. You don’t have to be most flexible person in the room or be the best at headstand. Although that will definitely help to impress and establish credibility with new students, it is more important that you understand things like eye contact, tone of voice, pace of speech, confidence, and facial expressions.

There are small yoga studios, big yoga chains, classes at gyms, youtube videos, and DVD’s…how can you possibly draw people in and make them pick you? How can you convince someone not to go to the free classes at their gym or give up practicing in their pajamas at home to YouTube videos?

You aren’t inherently offering them anything new. You will still be doing the same sun salutation and although there are many different asanas and ways to sequence them, you aren’t reinventing the wheel. So what sets you apart?

Soft skills. Those elusive intangible qualities that yoga teacher training at IHA yoga is making tangible.

Think about upper management in a company. Most are usually very personable and command attention during a meeting. Even if you don’t know who they are, you can sense they are someone important as soon as they walk into a room.

This same theory can be applied to lots of other professions. For instance, the best lawyer is not necessarily the guy who graduated with the highest test scores, but his ability to debate persuasively will win the case. And what makes the jury perceive he is a better debater? His eye contact, the tone, volume, and clarity of his voice, and his disposition.

Same goes for a politician. President Obama’s political resume was by no means super impressive. In fact, he was only a US senator for three years prior to running for President of the US, but he is a gifted public speaker. In my opinion, his soft skills were a major reason he was able to win the vote of so many. His presence, confidence, and ability to articulate himself clearly and thoughtfully, led the country to believe he would be a capable and smart leader.

When you begin to teach yoga, you have to apply the same philosophy and command the room as soon as you walk in. If it takes someone just seconds to draw a first impression of you, you have to remember your disposition and establish your presence as soon as you enter the studio. Then you have to be mindful of your facial expressions, the tone of your voice, how you carry yourself, and how you interact with people throughout the class. It’s not so much what instructions you give (although that is important too), but how you deliver it, the organization behind your thoughts, and how effectively you can communicate it across to ultra beginners who are clueless or advanced yogis who have seen their fair share of teachers.

People form their opinions based on their five organs of knowledge or essentially what they can gather from their five senses. Thus, they want to see a teacher who is composed and making eye contact with them. They want to hear a warmth and confidence in your voice as you speak instructions. And they want to feel an instructor’s competency and ability to lead. No student is going to want to come back if they feel disconnected from you because Flexible Fiona and Handstand Heather are among many, many others who are waiting to step in if you aren’t an effective teacher.

I can tell you that through our introductions into teaching so far, I sure don’t feel confident yet but I will follow these cues to strengthen my soft skills. T-minus two weeks to make it happen!

L. Cheng (200 Hour Hatha Vinyasa YTT)