On new beginnings and harnessing nerves – a blogpost for new teachers
Beyond the sheer excitement of Body Mind Sol going live with a new website, I had a high hit of adrenaline rushing through my system today: first time teaching nerves. You’d think that with almost five-and-a-half years of full-time teaching, meaning thousands of client hours in classes and plenty of weekly private sessions as well as, I don’t know, close to 2,000 hours now of studying yoga, Pilates, movement and alternative therapies, I’d be cucumber cool no matter where and when I teach?
Alas, whenever I am first presented with a setting where performance matters to me on a personal level – such as teaching the NRL referee classes, working with former Vogue editor Kirstie Clements at a recent event or modelling for Bonds next to Sarah Murdoch, nerves normally get the better of me. Familiar settings, I am good with – put me on a reformer on camera, interview me in a bikini on national Tv or have me speak in front of an audience of my peers and I don’t bat an eyelid.
So today, when I felt myself get ungrounded before my first class at the Royal Motor Yacht Club, I went back to the basics. With a nervous system already in overdrive and a mind rushing around, less is more. The below tips are particularly addressed at new teachers.
No matter how good you think you are, every new teacher should start by over preparing their classes in my opinion. You rehearse and train and learn in an environment that you are used to, so that you can perform well and deliver an outstanding session to your clients. This is also a fallback when you are experienced and your nerves are coming on. Like an athlete learning a new move or skill, you want repetition until the moves happen without you having to think about it. The benefit: your nerves system won’t have to add not knowing moves or sequences to the already existing state of overwhelm.
Also, visualise yourself delivering an ace class. This is all part of your groundwork. After checking out as much about the upcoming class as possible (visit location, ask about client level, befriend staff at the venue), you want to rehearse the event you are preparing for in your head. From walking in friendly and confidently to smoothly and flowingly instructing and engaging with clients after the class. Imaging the feedback you will be getting.
Before every class, establish a routine that helps you feel grounded and in your physical body. This is what you are teaching after all, so you need to lead by example. Ideally, you make time before your class to warm up your own physical body with a mini session 20 minutes of Pilates, yoga or walking, say. That way you will feel better when you teach and demonstrate also. The minimum are a few stretches and a short time to sit by yourself before the class – even just in your car – to centre. Feeling your breath let thoughts just pass through and notice your physical sensations.
Failing that, if you are really pushed for time: develop grounding habits. This could be straightening out your outfit and hair before you open the door to the room or taking a few breaths, feeling your feet and belly. Your will often see what looks like nervous habits in athletes – bouncing the ball before they serve, for example, or spitting in their hands and wiping them. It is a mini circuit breaker, allowing you to put a pause before you start,
Make an effort to greet at least a few clients at the beginning of your class. By talking to them briefly and knowing not just names but also what brought them there, you have an opportunity to direct and teach your class to them. It takes away the overwhelm of teaching to complete strangers or a huge group.
Keep up the connection with the whole class room though by putting your hands on someone correcting them or nodding at someone, demonstrating how to correct and them giving them appraisal. This builds positive connection and you will feel as good as they do when they smile or enjoy the exercise more.
Even if you are not funny, crack a few jokes or throw in some random personal comments – not something about you but something that strikes you about an exercise or sillily demonstrating how not to do something. This lightens the mood and if you can give your clients just one thing today, a bit of light laughter should do the trick.
If all else fails and you step into complete overwhelm, practice paring it back. Don’t worry about the things that you cannot control and have a few exercises that you love to share – and can share exceptionally well. These are your golden eggs. You want to freely share them and then let the class hatch from there. What you love and do best is likely what your clients will enjoy too. It will give you the confidence and freedom to express yourself even when you feel under pressure.
If you can remember just the above – and don’t forget to breathe -, you are well on your way to delivering a killer session. Just remember, nerves are normal. In fact, they are even helpful. They show you that you care and aren’t overly confident or disconnected from your work. In my opinion, the more you can work with whatever is happening to you on any given day and share from a humble space with your clients, the better a teacher you will become.