Five common mistakes (new) yoga teachers make

5 Common Mistakes (New) Yoga Teachers Make

Listen to our podcast: 5 Common Mistakes (New) Yoga Teachers Make.

We can only teach from the perspective of our current experience and knowledge. So that means that when we look back at the way we used to do things, it’s very likely we recognise some mistakes we’ve made in the past. We are also still learners of the teaching profession and, as we develop, we hope to make improvements and do things better as time goes on. There are several things we can do independently in order to improve our own teaching skills. We can evaluate our own teaching after classes by noting down things that went well and not so well. We can keep a teaching journal to help us remember and solve problems we had during class. Doing such things helps us to plan our future classes based on what we know does and doesn’t work. But these are quite gradual processes and it can take us time to realise our mistakes. I hear you asking ‘what kind of things can I be more aware of today?’ In this blog, we explain five common mistakes (new) yoga teachers make to fast-track your professional development!

Five practical and very common mistakes (new) yoga teachers make

These are some common things many teachers do and probably don’t even notice. I’ve chosen five that I have found are particularly problematic when teaching international and multilingual yoga classes in English. They cover two categories: being more aware of the language we use, and being more aware of our behaviour and attitude during our classes. Sometimes the two merge.

Language

1. Passive language 

These phrases show that someone unknown, unimportant or obvious did an action to an object. They focus on the object receiving the action: not the subject doing the action. 

Other examples of the passive in a yoga class:

‘Come into eagle pose, the right leg is hooked under the left leg’
‘Stand in tadasana, the arms are lifted up to the ceiling’. 

 ‘Passive language’ focuses on the object and ignores the reason why we’re in a yoga class: to become present or create presence. In the examples above, the passive focusses on a body part and not ‘I’ as a subject who has the ability to do the action. The passive takes away our agency and ownership of our yoga practice. Passive language isn’t only more complex, but also takes away the attention from the action in the present moment.

Instead, use simpler, active cues in a yoga class:

Cross your left leg over your right, eagle pose’
Stand in tadasana, lift your arms next to your ears’. 

2. Look at me, like this/that/so

Sometimes it’s challenging to describe certain actions, especially to multilingual students. So, we ask people to look at us doing the action instead. It is often easier to show them what you mean instead of finding the words.  

However, when we ask people to stop and look at you to watch what we’re doing, we take away from the experience on the mat. Concentration is disrupted.

Depending on the pose, causing people to move their heads and necks into unnatural positions just to see the screen could cause discomfort and, potentially, injury.

Try not to rely on them looking at your video for guidance. Instead, learn effective cues that people understand straight away so that they can follow you without having to look at you. This is important for when there’s no video available, when you’re teaching with audio only or if a student has a visual impairment.

3. Non-inclusive language 

This is a big one. See Ways of Being Inclusive in Your English Yoga Classes  and Ways of Including ‘Every Body’ in Your English Yoga Classes for more to do with inclusivity. Today I’ll simply draw your attention to some examples of major problem areas which are simple to change today:

  • Speaking about levels or using words associated with level (i.e. ‘beginner’)
  • Addressing people using gendered words, commenting on physical characteristics or making assumptions based on physical characteristics (i.e. suggesting all women have periods or assuming someone uses the pronoun ‘she’ when they actually identify with ‘they’)
  • Praising and calling out people by their name in group classes (i.e. praise everyone, not individuals)

Attitudes and impressions

4. Making the class all about the teacher

Who’s the priority in a class? The teacher or the students? And what does good teaching mean? Does it mean showing how good the teacher is at something? How much knowledge they have? Teachers often feel the need to prove that they know enough to teach. But isn’t it supposed to be about your students? We should focus on listening to their needs, their desires and their personal stories: not projecting our own ones.

Teaching is about serving your students, meeting them where they’re at and creating or designing an experience that serves them so that they lead their own yoga journey. 

Often teachers are so worried about how they come across and how good their students think they are. We worry about knowing the right words, doing the asanas right, our students liking us enough to come back. We’re often very focussed on ourselves while teaching! It’s normal and these are not necessarily egocentric things. They’re more likely to be a result of insecurities or limiting beliefs. 

However, try and turn the story around. Arrive to your class 15 mins early. Move your body, revise your sequence, and play a playlist if you use music. Greet your students, get to know their names. Ask them how they’re doing and focus on their experience. What do they need from you right now? How can you serve them? What’s something you needed, or still need, when you go to a yoga class? How can you offer this to your students now? Maybe they happen to be low on energy and you can then adapt your plan to that: add a couple of extra restorative poses. Think of a quote, an affirmation or a phrase you know that might help them today. Maybe it’s something you needed to hear and you can share with them now. 

This doesn’t only take away your focus on your insecurities, but it’ll also help you to lead more compassionate classes.

5. Apologising when it’s unnecessary

It’s right to apologise when you really have done something wrong, but a lot of teachers apologise unnecessarily. For example we say sorry after mixing up left with right, or forgetting a side during a vinyasa flow. First of all, it’s okay to make mistakes and it’s okay to forget something. In none of these cases does anyone get hurt, bullied or ignored. 

Before apologising, ask yourself if you actually did something bad or harmful. Saying sorry can make your mistake sound bad when it wasn’t really. It may create a subconscious negativity that causes your students to think less of you. If we do it too much, it builds up a feeling that you make a lot of real mistakes or that you don’t know what you’re doing. Every time we say sorry, we add to the often false idea that we did something wrong.

To avoid this, change your mindset and your language. Think before you speak – ask yourself ‘is this really a mistake? Have I caused a student to feel bad, or put them in danger?’ More often than not, you haven’t. Choose more accurate language for what happened. Instead, you can say:

Excuse me: left, not right!’ or
‘No, I meant to say left, not right!’

Correct yourself and make sure they’ve caught up. Have a little laugh and carry on.

Apologising when it’s necessary 

Of course, as learners and teachers, we are in constant development. So, sometimes we do make real mistakes. And they can be damaging. So, if you do make a hurtful, serious or offensive mistake, it is a million times better to admit to it immediately! Never assume that nobody has noticed a true mistake. Even if only one person did, you will reinforce your value as a teacher by owning it, acknowledging it and using it as a learning opportunity:

‘I apologise for using the pronoun ‘she’, not ‘they’. It was wrong of me.’.
‘I told you the wrong translation of the word ‘namaste’. I told you it meant x but it really means y. I’m very sorry for giving you the wrong information.’

Your classes are a place of nurture and empowerment. If you make a bad or misleading mistake, do the right thing: to ignore it is to be more disrespectful. Apologise directly and quickly in order to minimise the damage. Authentic and responsible teaching means the wellbeing of your students is top priority.

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