When I was in teacher training, we'd practice teach to the group. The group consisted of around 50 people and you were selected at random to get up and teach. We’d all be in downward facing dog, waiting for our name to be called. I can remember the sensation of my heart pounding in my chest and the feeling of sheer terror as I waited to hear my name.
While I can’t say I get that nervous now, I definitely have days that I’ve got the butterflies. It could be something else in my life that’s got me that way, or a particular person in class who’s a teacher or colleague and all of a sudden, I’m feeling self-conscious.
The biggest thing that’s changed for me over the years to help in this kind of situation is my sense of what to do; I’ve got some techniques I can implement when I’m feeling jittery. As a yoga teacher, as soon as you’re nervous, many things can happen:
You don’t see the students in front of you, because you’re in your head, thinking about how nervous you are
You might start to wander around the room aimlessly
You may start to assist students as a way to try to create a sense of connection or grounding
Your voice may start to waver or go up a few octaves
You may start to ramble on or use common phrases we’ve all heard in class just to keep talking
So, when you’re nervous, what can you do? Here are some ideas:
1. Stand in one place. Just as we teach our students to “feel your feet,” the same thing holds for us as teachers. If you’re feeling nervous, stop moving and stand in the front of the room. (not the back or the side)
2. Breathe with the class. Take a few deep breaths with the class as you hold them in a pose. This will help you feel grounded and you’ll start to re-build a sense of connection with your students.
3. Avoid practicing yoga. When we are nervous, we may use teaching from practice as a crutch to avoid building connection in other ways. Instead of giving into the feelings of nervousness, stand tall and teach from speaking to what you see and the actions of the pose. Your students will see you as a confident teacher and you’ll start to feel better too.
4. Use essential language. When we’re nervous, we may ramble on. So, something like a Warrior 1 may sound like, “Bring your right foot up to the front and then put your back foot on the mat. Make sure your knee is right on top of your heel and then can you center your hips? Then, reach up with your arms and don’t forget to breathe, right?” Wow. That’s a lot. How about this: Right foot forward. Back heel down. Reach up. Breathe. That’s short, sweet and it gives you much needed time to get grounded.
5. Offer essential postures. Sometimes, we may be tempted to stray from our essential sequence (if you don’t have one of these, you should) to try to impress. This can happen in a teaching audition or maybe one of your colleagues is in the room. When you’re nervous, you need to be grounded. Stick to the basics of your sequence and instead use breath, holding poses and essential language to help your students deepen their practice.
6. Stay with the physical. When we’re nervous, we’re teaching, but inside our brains, the wheels are turning. Just as you want to use essential language and offer essential postures, now is also the time to speak to the physical. Talk about body parts, desired actions and breath. Refer to the ground, the sky and gaze.
7. Keep moving forward. Ignore the voices in your head that tell you that you’re not good enough, that the class isn’t hard enough, that your students are bored. Keep a steady pace and keep moving through the sequence. Most, if not all, of what’s in your head is false and fear-based assumptions. They exist in your head only but at the time, can seem like reality.
8. Crack a joke. It might seem crazy and risky to crack a joke when you’re feeling nervous, but humor is a great way to build connection. I think about classes I’ve loved where the teacher said something funny and many of us laughed out loud. Humor is grounding; it’s a way to build connection. It dilutes stress and keeps things light. These are all things we need more of when we’re in fear and cracking a joke will make you appear in total control.
When the class is done...
9. Let it go. Rather than going home and over-analyzing what happened, forget about it. In the majority of cases, your perception was just that; only yours. Many of your students most likely had no idea that you were nervous.
10. Be compassionate with yourself. Just as we teach our students to be compassionate on the mat, the same holds true for us. Our ability and comfort level as a teacher shifts the more experience we get. Our fears around being a good teacher, having full classes, being known by others and having our students like us are common feelings. The more we teach in the face of these fears, the more the fears subside. The more we keep moving forward and showing up and doing our best, the more we will see that the fears we have are only in our heads.