The difference between being a good instructor and a great teacher is authenticity. Instructors pass on skill; teachers share and inspire knowledge. Now more than ever, as countless trainings pump out a steady stream of people wanting to teach, it is vital to address a growing problem that affects us all: The Yoga Voice.
Undoubtedly you've heard it — that slightly monotonous, throaty tone three degrees above a whisper. It can be soothing and effective at creating a gentle environment for yoga to bloom. Often, however, it makes the yoga teacher sound like a space cadet or a hippie and can be mildly irritating to everyone in the class.
Why does the Yoga Voice work for some and not for (most) others?
A few years ago, I took a class at an outdoor yoga festival co-taught by two women who were nearly indistinguishable from each other. They took turns teaching a yoga class with all of the trimmings: a quote from Rumi, an easily digestible mix of English and Sanskrit, lots of sun salutations, and a playlist prominently featuring DJ Drez, MC Yogi, and Jai Uttal. It was extremely hard to tell which one was speaking unless you saw their lips move.
Later that evening, we struck up a conversation over drinks. Both were still largely interchangeable, right down to the glass of white wine. Number 1 spoke in the exact way she did during class: clear and direct statements delivered with compassion. Number 2 recounted a boisterous tale, gesturing emphatically with one free hand while holding both glass of wine and dangling cigarette in the other.
This was vastly more engaging than the class. Not because it was a good story, mind you. It was authentic. Passion and personality shone through her every owned moment.
"Why don’t you teach like that?" I asked Number 2.
"Like how you just told that story.“
"Oh, god no!" she said. "It’s too rough and loud. People don’t want to hear that.”
Oh, but I wholeheartedly disagree!
1. Authenticity goes a long way.
There are three potential outcomes that result from trying to sound like everyone else.
- You'll sound like you're trying to sound like someone you are not.
- You'll sound like everyone else.
- You'll lose sight of what you actually sound like.
Would you want to take a class from someone like this?
2. Know your audience.
What's their skill level? The individual challenges and limitations? Don’t teach to the high or low — identify the average and offer variations in each. It's as important to understand your audience as it is for the audience to understand you.
3. There is a difference between speaking in YOUR yoga voice and having THE Yoga Voice.
Remember those times as a kid when you were having fun and an adult told you to "use your inside voice"?
Great times were still possible, just a few decibels lower. The same rules apply for your yoga voice. It's possible to be powerfully gentle, just like it's possible to be gently powerful.
4. Authentic does not mean purposefully edgy, humorous, sarcastic, or esoteric.
These qualities polarize audiences. Don't make unnecessary puns, drop F-bombs, or get heavy-handed with Sanskrit terminology or chanting unless you're willing to own whatever comes from it. There is a fine between arrogance and confidence. That line is called "having a clue." You might not be able to tell, but your students always will.
5. Good teaching is a dialogue, not a monologue.
Be open to feedback from students. While they might not ask questions, look for non-verbal cues to help guide the teaching conversation. Teachers skilled at inspiring creation make suggestions based on experience and offer directions with intention. If you feel like you're up there talking at people, there is a good chance people feel like they're being talked at.
6. Be clear on how you wish to be heard before you start speaking.
Don't try to sound like someone else. If there's another teacher or speaker you admire, work toward including their desirable qualities into your own delivery. Otherwise, you might put a lot of effort into sounding generic.
What are some of the qualities you enjoy from a good teacher? What are some of the things you dislike? Share in the comments below!
Daniel Scott is trained as an E-RYT 500 Ashtanga Vinyasa teacher and a Certified Level 2 AcroYoga (AYI) instructor. He has spent over 15 years taking and teaching dozens of styles and methodologies of yoga.