Whether you’re a brand new yoga teacher just out of teacher training or a seasoned professional who’s been leading classes for years, you’ve probably already realized one secret about teaching: Your voice can make or break a class. Both what you say and also how you say it can make a difference in how your students experience the teachings and how they respond to you as a teacher.
With some practice, you can begin to hone your language skills so that you communicate clearly and precisely. If you’re unsure about how you sound when you teach, try recording yourself in a class and notice your patterns. Do you modulate your voice? Are you explaining exercises clearly? Are you using language that encourages and uplifts?
Once you’ve done your basic self-assessment, start to pay attention to what you say and how you say it while you’re teaching. As you practice your communication skills, don’t be afraid to use recorded guided meditations in class, or listen to them on your own and take cues from what you hear.
To help build your voice and communication skills, you may want to incorporate some of the following suggestions into your teaching:
Choose your words carefully. Be direct yet supportive. Invite students to participate in a way that conveys inclusion, being particularly mindful of students who may not be able to perfect a posture physically. For example, if explaining a particularly challenging position, offer modifications or reassure students to take a break if needed. Acknowledge your students regardless of how “perfect” their posture is, and give them a boost without being condescending.
Watch hmms and haws. If your speech isn’t fluent, students can get distracted. That’s not to say that every word you say has to flow directly from the one previous to it, but try to minimize breaks such as “hmmmm now let me see….hmmm…”. Silence is better than hmmm’ing (see below for more on that!). Also be careful of repeated interjections into your speech. Terms such as “like”, “really”, and so on often pop out of our mouths without us even realizing it! Pay attention, and eliminate these unnecessary terms.
Use connecting language. As you instruct students to move from one posture to the next, smooth the transition by acknowledging the starting point. For instance, if students are lying on their backs but the next posture is standing, rather than just saying, “Stand up”, you may want to invite students to “tune into your breath as you lie on your backs, and then begin to make your way slowly onto your feet.” Students appreciate clarity, and it’s good to remind them that you know where they are at all times.
Don’t be afraid of silence. Newer teachers in particular feel that there’s so much information to convey that you want to say it all! But when you allow for silence, students have the opportunity to go deeper into their meditative state during the kriyas. Explain the posture, give a few words of encouragement, and then let your students have their experience. Pop in from time to time to remind them to stay focused, but be careful not to over-do it.
The same can be said for music. While music can be a great way to boost the rhythm of certain exercises or give the students something to focus on, at times it’s nice to give it a break. Experiment with instrumental music that you can play in the background, such as something by amazing artists like Matthew Schoening or Todd Boston. The students can pick up the rhythm of the music but still keep their focus on the Sat Nam that they vibrate internally.
Our voice is a powerful tool, and when we use it effectively, we enhance our teaching skills. Experiment and see how it feels to use your words and your tone as a way to uplift and elevate. Let us know if you notice any shifts.