Listen to 6 Step to Becoming a Confident English Speaking Yoga Teacher podcast episode here:
Having completed your YTT in English or another language, you’re no stranger to effort and commitment. But you also know that when you finish a YTT, the effort and commitment don’t stop there. Yoga teachers all over the world, and particularly those teaching in their second language(s), face real challenges. Some of those big challenges include yogic studies, developments in research and the evolution of language. These things are constantly moving forward, as we share new theories or experiences, and as time passes. And we yoga teachers have to learn about them and adjust to them, throughout our careers. In this blog we analyse your language journey and the 6 steps to becoming a confident English speaking yoga teacher.
In order to lead an effective, inclusive and well-rounded class, you need to be informed. And have specific knowledge about specific topics. For example, the asanas and their energetics, anatomy/body parts, cueing and instructional language, metaphorical/theming language and inclusivity. The list goes on.
‘That’s such a yoga teacher thing to say!’
Each profession has its own jargon. Jargon is words or phrases that are specific to a group of people, often linked to their job. Even when you’re a native English speaker teaching yoga, you probably don’t know all the words, expressions and vocabulary. At least when you start your job or training. That’s because they aren’t topics of general conversation that you have at college/uni, amongst friends or at language exchanges .This vocabulary is an area of expertise and you don’t often get the opportunity to practise it until you’re on the job.
For a non-native English speaker who wants to teach yoga in English, using the jargon, the challenge is real. The vocabulary you learn in normal English classes simply isn’t the same as what you need for yoga. And it is certainly not what you need for teaching it.
Let’s explore your yoga teaching skills and what 6 steps to take to become a confident English speaking yoga teacher. They’re designed specifically for non-native English speakers.
Stop for a second and respect the challenge you’re taking on
It’s important to start by truly understanding what you are requiring of yourself. Remember that:
- Learning a language is a challenge
- Speaking a language is a skill
- Teaching yoga in English (or a foreign language) is an expertise
You might be wondering what the difference is between these experiences. In some ways, all three involve their own challenges, required skills and expert knowledge. We are language teachers, too, and we’ve separated these things for a reason. We want to help you understand why teaching yoga in English might seem, or have seemed at one point, too big a challenge to tackle.
Based on our experience teaching students like you, we believe you can make this challenge much more manageable. How? Break it down into steps. Separating them will help you truly understand what you are expecting of yourself at each stage. This will help you break your language journey down into achievable sub-challenges.
Unachievable goals and expectations will leave you burnt out. They won’t give you the momentum you need to become the confident English speaking yoga teacher you can be. So, let’s break it down into achievable steps!
Your language journey broken down
1. Learning a language is a challenge
When learning a language, you’re faced with four big challenges all at the same time: speaking, reading, listening and writing. Each of these requires thorough knowledge of vocabulary and grammar. As well as all their different uses and layers of meaning.
It’s a never-ending process. As we continue learning, we just keep increasing what we know and use. Sometimes it feels like the more you know, the more you don’t know!
Knowing a language isn’t enough. You might know all the grammar and vocabulary you’ve ever been taught. But there are many things you can’t learn until you experience them.
How about adapting to your students’ different accents or dialects? What about how one language varies from place to place? How does it change over time and according to history and politics? Cultural context and references are so linked to a language’s vocabulary and structures.
Learning a language is a way of life. And simply learning a language doesn’t mean you can effectively communicate in that language.
This is why it is important that you know your learning objectives. You can’t wait until you have learned every possible thing about the language before you start teaching yoga in English. You won’t use most of the English language in your yoga classes. Learn what you need to teach, then the rest will fall into place with experience.
2. Speaking a language is a skill
You can learn some parts of language but the real test is: do you put your knowledge into practice? Making phone calls, doing job interviews and developing real friendships are examples of putting language into practice. Writing and speaking in English in real life situations is key. You need this opportunity to use the things you’ve learned in class or in books, in a practical way.
Doing a vocabulary exercise correctly doesn’t mean you will use the same language accurately, in an uncontrolled situation. For instance, during an interview. There is a common misconception among language learners that we need to unlearn. There is not an instant transition between learning something in theory and using or understanding it independently.
But you can’t prepare for every possible outcome. So, for now, work on balancing a variety of linguistic skills and gaining confidence to use them in uncontrolled conditions. Learning the mechanics of language is the first step. Next, develop those skills to communicate effectively and to express yourself, make yourself understood, as well as understand others. That is the real test of your skills.
3. Teaching yoga in English (or a foreign language) is an expertise
When learning how to teach yoga in English as a non-native English speaker, you have to use your language skills to:
- put your language skills into practice to express yourself clearly. Also to understand others in a professional environment, in a very responsible role.
- create a safe space for others in which they can explore their mind and body. To do so, use words and expressions that are generally understood and accepted as inclusive.
As a yoga teacher, you’re helping students to develop their yoga practice. You’re there to transmit the practice, studies or lifestyle of yoga through open, clear and accessible communication. In any language, it takes a lot of communication and linguistic skills to do this. To understand your students and colleagues well enough. To be able to ask appropriate and sensitive questions, and construct careful, informed answers.
It’s important that we receive and send all this information accurately in English. Yoga is a holistic experience. So, teachers potentially influence multiple areas of their students’ lives. We take on the responsibility to be knowledgeable of the practice and the content we choose. And to be alert and aware of our students’ experiences. Being informed and considerate of our students as unique individuals takes work.
Responsibilities of Becoming a Confident Yoga Teacher
We also have to hold ourselves accountable for risks we take and the mistakes we make. We need to communicate a variety of knowledge correctly. Not just of yogic practices, but also of health issues and anatomy. Sometimes it’s education and methodology, or language use. It can also be about the coexistence of cultures, languages, behaviour, and many more.
It’s also about knowing your own boundaries and respecting your students’ boundaries. And also being able to admit when you aren’t in your area of expertise anymore. That’s right – part of your expertise is knowing what you don’t know, and being honest about it!
Becoming a confident English speaking yoga teacher
Now you see how learning to teach yoga is one thing, but learning to teach yoga in another language really takes time, commitment and lots of practice. It involves failing and learning from your mistakes. Which is exactly what you need for the all important ongoing personal and professional development.
As a teacher, I often see my students depending on themselves to get to where they want to, all alone. I really don’t advise this. Remember that yoga and the teaching of it is passed down from teacher to student. A teacher is there to support you, give you feedback and help you to grow continuously to reach your full potential.
That’s why observation has been one of the most valuable parts of my professional development. It’s been a part of many of my jobs both as a yoga teacher and an English language teacher. Your observer is not there to judge you, but to give you constructive feedback. Observation is a great learning tool. It highlights the things you do well and the things you can improve.
Seeking help is never a sign of weakness or of not knowing enough. Allowing yourself to receive the support you need can only push you further towards achieving what you want to do with your yoga teaching career. In order to become a confident English speaking yoga teacher, have the courage to discover what you could have more knowledge of. Find out about your areas for improvement, and recognise when it’s time to seek help. And also know where to get that help.
So what are the six steps to teaching confidently in English?
I’ve identified 6 key steps that will help you become a more confident and effective, English-speaking yoga teacher:
1. Understand where you’re at and define your goals
Try to understand what you’re good at, what you know already, what you need to improve, and how you can improve this. As an English learner and yoga teacher, this point specifically focuses on vocabulary and your receptive skills (listening and reading) and productive skills (speaking and writing.)
After you have worked out what stage you are currently at, it’s time to define your goals.
- How can you turn those points for improvement into realistic goals?
- Where do you want to be in a year from now?
- Who, where and what do you want to teach? And why?
- Which linguistic skills are your strongest? And which skills could you work on most?
- What kind of vocabulary do you struggle to find when you need it?
- How can I put myself in situations where I will put my new skills into practice?
Ask yourself detailed questions to find out your inner motivation for learning how to teach yoga in English, and what your goals are based on your present situation.
In fact, if you want to test your English Grammar and Yoga Vocabulary, please feel free to take the test here.
Setting goals and intentions are necessary to measure improvement and have clear goals to work towards. So, let’s now create an action plan for becoming a confident English speaking yoga teacher.
2. Expand your vocabulary bank for cueing and giving instructions
Next, you can start developing your language for the specific type of yoga you want to teach. For example: yoga for women in the menopause, yoga for children with ADHD, yoga and Ayurveda, yoga for athletes.
All these specific groups have their own lingo and focal points within their practice. This is why it’s so important to define your goals before you start expanding your vocabulary bank. Especially for cueing and giving instructions.
Of course, you do want to get a general understanding of all general yogic vocabulary. Some things are necessary for lots of areas, but make sure the language you use is appropriate for your students and aligns with your teaching objectives. As a result, you will stick to your manageable goals, without trying to learn everything altogether.
3. Learn how to deal with difficult, unexpected, new and uncommon situations
Think of people with injuries, people that leave the room or call early, people that complain about aches and pains. Similarly, people that ask for things you’re uncomfortable with such as ‘can I practise naked in your class?’ Or things you’re unfamiliar with like ‘I have a hip replacement, what asanas can’t I do?’
We’re all different, so we deal with these situations differently. But we still need to learn specific language to deal with them respectfully and confidently. Besides, this is an important part of learning a language! When I taught English in a language school, I loved the classes where we’d practise language for disagreement, negotiating or handling complaints. They prepare you for real life!
Remember you can say you don’t know, that you disagree with something, or that you need more time. Feel free to admit you can’t help someone right now. Also, not having the answer and admitting it is a reflection of trustworthiness and honesty. It is not a reflection of your value as a teacher.
Improving how you deal with challenging situations in the future
Have you ever felt dissatisfied with how you dealt with a challenging situation? This is normal, but try not to push it to the back of your mind or beat yourself up about it. Equally, it’s tempting to try to forget the past because it can be difficult to relive our mistakes. It’s also easier to be angry or annoyed with yourself than to deal with the source of what actually happened. And some of us never forget about our mistakes and give up or shy away from similar situations or experiences.
But, in order to avoid them in the future, you need to take your responsibility as a yoga teacher, practise Svadhyaya and assess how they happened. Next, evaluate ‘how can I avoid that in the future?’ ‘what do I need to improve?’, ‘where can I learn this or who/what do I need to learn this from?’
4. Understand the different experiences and abilities of your students and learn how to make your classes suitable, personal and adaptable to as many as possible
When teaching in a studio and even online, you’ll (hopefully) see many different types of students. My teacher once said: ‘The best teachers have a variety of students in their classes – if all the students look the same, the teacher’s likely to teach according to their own body type.’
Make your classes suitable, personal and adaptable for everyone. To do so, you’ll first need to learn how to read bodies in-person and online. You’ll need to learn how to recognise what asanas are challenging or less challenging for different body types. You’ll need to learn how to explain variations. Similarly, you must learn to explain the use of props, according to your observation of your students’ needs.
Being a confident yoga teacher = being an honest yoga teacher
You might not be knowledgeable enough at this point in your career to teach for certain needs and you should not pretend you can. We can’t know everything all the time. Include your students’ different experiences to the point you can responsibly. For example, imagine someone who is pregnant turns up at your class. However, you haven’t studied prenatal yoga. In this case, you must be honest in order to ensure their safety.
Normally, being honest with your students about what you can and can’t do will help you gain trust. Being unable to provide for your students is sometimes the best way you can help them at that time. It shows responsibility and understanding. However, it should also cause you to take that responsibility further and learn more general knowledge about it. And that’s true even when it is an area you choose not to train in as a specialism.
Knowledge is something you can gain after realising you don’t have it. Being trustworthy and honest is an integral value that needs nurturing over a lifetime. Students will respect and trust a teacher who goes away to learn more. They won’t trust a teacher who pretends they have the answer(s) and isn’t honest.
5. Create a well-rounded experience and offer more than ‘just’ asana – learn how to write mindfulness script, meditation scripts and use metaphorical or language for imagination during your yoga classes
Calling all language learners! Think back to the first time you understood a joke or a sarcastic comment in another language. Without having to think hard about it. How did that feel? I bet you felt a little proud to have reached the next level in your language learning. You must have felt like you were truly effective in that language. Understanding humour and participating in more ‘complex’ conversations is not easy.
The same happens with teaching yoga. One thing is to instruct a yoga class, but another thing is to create an experience. And you know all too well that your students do not come to yoga only to stretch their bodies. Also, they come to enjoy a moment to themselves. They want to connect mind, body and breath. Maybe they want to reflect on specific themes, set intentions, cultivate positive energy or release negative energy. Whatever it is, this type of experience requires more than simple instructions.
Therefore, to become a confident English speaking yoga teacher, it’s important you know how to write and structure scripts. Equally important is knowing how to use metaphorical language, language for imagination and humour appropriately. Also, you’ll need to consider how to do all of this in an inclusive way!
6. Reading your students – learn how to read your class and individuals, and choose themes according to what you see, feel and hear when you enter the (Zoom) room
Sometimes, you have a sequence prepared, know your theme and maybe even a playlist. But when you ‘read the room’ you can tell that, for this class, it isn’t at all appropriate. You might have heard the phrase ‘to read the room’ in your yoga teacher training or heard other teachers say this. What does that actually mean?
It means using body language, facial expressions, gestures, emotions, feelings, and energies to sense how others feel. For example, in more formal social situations or when you don’t know people very well. It’s about picking up on how others feel or what their opinions are, without them having to tell you.
Even when you’re teaching virtually, you can still sense a lot from your students online. You might just have to reassess what clues you look for. For example, online you might not be able to see how a student is walking or signs of tiredness in their face. But you might become more conscious of the depth and pace of their breathing and their intonation as you listen to them.
Learning to adapt to your students/classes builds your confidence
Your class is not about you, but about your students. By really investigating their needs and looking for clues with the knowledge and resources you have, you can adjust your content to them. Adapt your class plans, even take requests, and create classes according to what works for them, at that moment.
To offer these personalised classes, it’s important to keep a bank or notebook. Fill it with different types of asanas, sequences and maybe even themes. As a result, you’ll always have something to refer to. You’ll always be prepared in some way, no matter who shows up and what their needs are that day.
Learning to read the room, and adapt to the atmosphere or conditions accordingly, will help you become a more confident teacher. You will go into classes feeling like you can teach comfortably, even if things don’t quite go to plan.
Teach Yoga in English: Mini-Course
If you liked today’s training and would like to find out more, I’ve got a free, 3 day mini-course for you starting on the 7th of September.
If you’re serious about your learning process I’d love to invite you to apply for the English for Yoga Teachers course where I’ll teach all these 6 steps over a period of 6 months! Find out more about the course here.
Listen to 6 Step to Becoming a Confident English Speaking Yoga Teacher podcast episode here: