by guest author Louise Thompson, Positive Balance
Do you know what your most valuable tool is as a yoga teacher?
What sets you apart? What makes you unique and special? What keeps students coming back to class again and again? What makes your classes work? What makes your classes inspiring and challenging?
Is it your awesome back bend ability? Your demonstration of a perfect pigeon pose? Your hard-out arm balance?
Your unique sequence of poses and your hard earned teaching qualification? Your encyclopedic knowledge of anatomy and which asana works which muscles? Your laser eye for alignment?
All these things are important, of course, but they are not the most important tool in your yoga teacher tool kit.
Your most important asset by far is…wait for it…your voice.
Yep, your voice.
Your voice is more important than all these things.
Your voice is how you set the tone for class. Create the vibe for the practice. How you make students feel welcome, or relaxed, or energized, or uplifted. Your voice is how you encourage people to try something they think is beyond them.
I believe the tone of voice is the foundation on which the rest of class is built.
That tone of voice should subtly alter throughout the class, depending on the feeling states you are evoking. Energising for sun salutations, soft and soothing for Yoga Nidra, confident for balances, and so on.
If you are using just one tone of voice throughout your class you are missing out on the most powerful way to engage with your students.
Your voice is the primary determinant of the experience in class for the student.
When I go to a class and the teacher’s first words are
Come to the front of your mat.
I have a different experience than when the first words are
Welcome, my name is Penny. Take a moment to centre yourself, prepare for your practice, let go of your day and know that whatever your responsibilities this time is yours to focus fully on your own wellbeing.
It’s a completely different kind of expectation management. No right or wrong, but definitely a very different experience.
When I go to a class where there is some opportunity for silence to turn inward and listen to my own breath and focus on deepening my pose rather than a continual never-ending stream of instructions I have a different experience. Sometimes less is more.
Some classes I honestly come away feeling that I have stretched and moved, but that I have also been shouted at for an hour and a half.
I also think it’s important to think about the balance of correction versus encouragement.
Of course we are there to correct and assist, but too much of that and some students can come away with the message;
I never get it right, I’m no good at this.
Of course this is not what we intend! We are trying to help but nevertheless that can be the takeaway. Aiming for a fifty-fifty ratio of correction to encouragement is a much more inspiring mix to uplift the student and keep them coming back for more. Bear in mind praise can be even more powerful than correction.
This point was illustrated by a beginner student emailing me saying;
When you whispered “well done” to me last night in class it meant sooooo much. I have never been good at sports, but when you said “well done” to me to me last week in triangle I felt for the first time I had found “my thing” finally. I am going to make yoga a regular part of my life.
Words are so important.
Music is beautiful because of the pauses between the notes.
It’s the pattern of silences and pauses between the notes that makes music, music.
When there is nothing in class but a continual stream of instructions there is no time for the student to full sink into the practice and connect with that internal experience.
Some people have been bombarded with connection from the outside all day through their job, very few minutes to call their own in a hectic day. I believe providing a little silence to allow them to reconnect with themselves is exactly what is needed at the end of the day.
Don’t be afraid of silence, at some points of class that’s exactly what the student needs to hear.
Our energy is carried on our voice.
When we sound like we are bored or have repeated the same instructions one thousand times previously that comes across. It may be your twelfth class of the week but it is your students first and only class that week.
When we honour that special opportunity and try and approach it as fresh as that student by altering the cadence and words we use we keep it fresh and connected not just for them but for ourselves too. Going through the motions absolutely comes across, it takes effort to keep that variation on communication but it is absolutely worth it.
These are all tiny details but I believe they add up into a big difference in terms of class experience. It’s all about the voice.
Never underestimate the power of your voice: it’s easily your most powerful teaching asset.
About Louise Thompson
She is passionate about all things well-being and blogs about mental yoga tools and techniques. She loves to run, cook and dance, and is an incurable travel junkie.