Yoga teacher voice

Published on April 27, 2012 by      Print
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By Nadine Fawell

When I first arrived in Australia four years ago, I lost my voice for a little bit. It didn’t last all that long on account of how I can’t refrain from sharing my views with anyone who will listen. But the insecurity about the way I sounded that caused me to go around mostly silently, except for bleating the occasional “yeah” and adding an upward inflection at the end of my sentences? That stayed. For years.

I have a broad South African accent, all hard-edged consonants and Germanic vowels. When I first got to Australia, before I realized I had to ask for “meeelk” if I wanted milk, people didn’t understand me incredibly well. Then there is the swearing. I am a famous potty mouth. Once, at the age of 12, having told my brother to Fuck Off in full hearing of my parents and their friends, I got taken out for dinner to be told about how a young lady should speak.

It had no discernible effect.

My point is this: I communicate in a very…. specific way. All well and good when I was teaching yoga in South Africa, to a bunch of people who, for the most part, had the same accent as me. And were used to the swearing. But, considering how I was having trouble getting milk in my coffee, I was pretty worried about how my accent would go over if I taught yoga in Australia.

Pretty well, as it turns out. In fact, my voice has been the single thing people most compliment me on. 

I still have a rough South African accent, and I still swear when I am teaching a yoga class. Yes, I do. I mean, seriously, if you don’t engage your core in arm balances, you are fucked. How else do you explain it? I have never developed the Yoga Teacher Voice.

Yoga Teacher Voice is a terrifying phenomenon which transforms otherwise intelligent, coherent people into breathy space cadets who sound nothing like their street selves.

I remember going to yoga toward the end of my marriage. I wasn’t feeling very zen at the time. Actually, I was pretty fucked up, and hoping that a yoga class would set me right.  The class was okay, but at the end, the teacher had us all lie down in savasana and started talking us through a guided river meditation thing. Her voice went all breathy, and the pitch changed dramatically. Suddenly, she sounded like a different person altogether. With my eyes closed, it was really alarming. It was all I could do not to sit up suddenly to check whether she’d been possessed like the little girl in The Exorcist. She was no longer our yoga teacher, but rather, The Voice. The Voice wanted me to “surrender to the flow of the river,” to imagine I was one with it. I wasn’t convinced. I knew The Voice had plans to take over my body if I just let it. I wasn’t going with any flow, thankyouverymuch.

Yoga is about connection: people go to a specific teacher’s class because they like that person. It’s really hard to feel connected to someone when they have a fake yoga mask on – especially when they dip in and out of yoga mode depending on whether they are teaching (or guiding a relaxation), or ordering a smoothie.

I would have infinitely preferred that my teacher use her normal voice, and my students often tell me they like me because I say what they are thinking. They know I am in the same boat as them: sometimes I get stressed, sometimes I get out of whack, sometimes life just feels all too much. It’s easier to connect with (and trust) someone who shows their humanity. Even if that humanity comes with a rough accent and salty language. Yoga Teacher Voice? Creepily inhuman, if you ask me.

Yoga teachers, keep your street voices. Trust me, people want to hear your actual self —swearing and all. Who wouldn’t feel more comfortable with a coherent, smart-ass teacher than a space cadet who’s been body-snatched by a horror-movie voice?

About Nadine Fawell:

Nadine Fawell’s edit button doesn’t work: if there is something inappropriate to be said, she will say it. Often in yoga class. She drinks coffee and swears and sometimes she thinks deeply about life. You can find her at www.yogawithnadine.com.

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64 Comments !

  1. marni says:


    haha that was great!
    ill admit i have yoga teacher voice..but the opposite!
    im an easygoing chirpy person off the mat, but i teach bikram yoga so once im up there i become drill sergeant bitch!

  2. Gina says:


    Nice post! Totally made me laugh, and totally caused me to recall a recent bikram class where the teacher sounded like she was both an actress on-stage and an auctioneer. She just seemed to be totally in love with her own voice. She didn’t seem to have any connection whatsoever with the 60 or so students in the class. It was a bodhicitta test to remain in the room.

    I teach variations on power vinyasa. I was lucky in that, right out of YTT, I started off teaching in a very small town and often to people that I knew. I quickly regained my own voice because when I first started teaching, I could hear The Voice and kinda made myself wanna barf.

  3. Zen says:


    Love this post! I teach and I sometimes swear in class too, and love it. Its whatever emotion surges inside of you at the time. Other times, I do sink into my yoga teacher voice, its all good, right?
    When I started teaching, my accent was my biggest fear. Turns out, its fast becoming one of the best things about me :) I totally get your post.

  4. Babs says:


    Don’t hate me, but I used the word “ascend” twice teaching yesterday. I’ve never used that word off the mat. WTH. Love your article – I was told in training I sounded like a drill sergeant so I was asked to teach like I would talk to someone I loved. That’s my dog, so “who’s a good yogi?? That’s good yogi!! Wanna go for a ride?” would have been my other option.

  5. EcoYogini says:


    lol- Nadine rocks.

    As a Speech-Language Pathologist I’d have to add that the strange, forced, unnatural voice can also create very serious voice disorders and injury to your vocal folds. Nodules are a very common issue for people who use there voices in an unnatural way- and they can be pretty painful.

    • Nadine Fawell says:


      EcoYogina, right back atcha.

      I didn’t know that about the nodules. But I fucking KNEW there was a reason I couldn’t do breathy. Turns out it’s for my health. Ha!

      • Vision_Quest2 says:


        It’s pure sound-wave physics.

        It is easier for a tall skinny person to have a lower-register voice because the sound has a lengthier reed to resonate with …

        Umm, is that where the word “reedy” comes from …

        I’m not one of the reedy people.

        … you can practically tell a person’s body type without seeing them, just from their (natural) voice timbre

  6. Alexes says:


    Very funny Nadine.

    When I first started teaching yoga, I was told many times that I had a soothing tone, but I am sure I cultivated that, hoping it was more like listening to NPR, but more than likely it was new-agey and spacey;)

    At my last job working for a Mcyoga empire studio, I was coached to speak in a loud, POWERFUL voifce,part cheerleader, part drill seargent, and was given feedback that at times my voice, while perfectly audible, was not loud enough, thus one of the many reasons I was not a BADASS yoga teacher.

    • Nadine Fawell says:


      My voice isn’t very loud either, actually, just inappropriate. I have a constant battle with being audible to the people in the back of the room, especially if it’s one of those monster sized rooms with a gajillion people in it. We still rock, Alexes.

  7. Jennifer says:


    Thanks for the article. I love it and know exactly what you mean, I remember taking a peaceful restorative yoga class that made me want to punch the teacher in the head. Thats not good.

  8. Hayley says:


    Totally in to your post love. I have also got a lot more comfortable with my accent in my teaching over the last few years. I was all breathy and ethereal when I first started, thinking that was what your were meant to do right? And it sounded strained, it sounded weird and quite honestly it sounded like I was just taking the piss out of someone else. I have an East London accent (all be it tinged with Americanisms from living there) and I love teaching in my accent, it’s expressive, I feel full of life and energy when I speak with my real voice! It also seems to get stronger now as I cross the Atlantic returning to the States to teach. Big up the Street Voice and long may it reign!

    • Nadine Fawell says:


      I LOVE an East London accent – actually I love all strong, unique accents. I sometimes sidle up near to people with strong Australian accents just to listen to them. I had a phase of dating rough Aussie men because of their accents. Can we not discuss this too much more, I think I just overshared.

  9. Yoga Teacher Voice « Yoga with Nadine says:


    [...] anything, this has to do with yoga, and teacher voice – pop over to Recovering Yogi and read the rest of my article. Yes, I know I am wrong, in so many many ways…far enough wrong to be [...]

  10. C init says:


    I love this. Or should I say I fucking love you?
    It’s an affectation people. (people, meaning creepy yoga teacher whose face actually has to distort into all kinds of weirdness because she is speaking so unnaturally. Really, your mandibles are not meant to be up to your forehead.)
    When I hear teachers coaching new teachers to do things with their voices, I want to scream. Teach from your fucking heart and soul, and let that guide your voice.

    • Nadine Fawell says:


      A-fucking-men. Whoooo, there is a blue cloud round my head THIS morning!

    • Vision_Quest2 says:


      Oh, Yesss!!!

      Enough of that gravely, low-register, wheedling, cajoling Hypnotist voice …

      They should keep their drama club wonk persona back in high school, where it belongs …

      If I wanted to see a magic (or Magick, whatever floats your boat) show I would be at one, not subjecting them to looking at (no touching anymore or I’ll call the police!) my body, seeing me sweat and prostrate myself.

      I so love magic shows. In air conditioning. In a performance venue.

      So …. to those who never outgrew being in the drama club, way to ruin my experience, wonks … !

      • Nadine Fawell says:


        Madi show, bwahaha! Now all I can think about is the assistant lady being chopped in half…

      • Vision_Quest2 says:


        I actually had an experience in high school with a debate club wonk who had been a stoner and just using me as a straight-arrow nerdy-friend front for her parents. Ironically, this ran a parallel path concurrently with my first-ever early involvement with yoga, actually–through a gym teacher (the wonk and I had not been in the same gym class that this teacher taught) – this had been in the 1970s. I don’t trust wonks (even the drama club kind, who are a little nicer) with their in-group out-group politics … they try to create the same pecking order everywhere they go …

  11. Emmanuelle says:


    I noticed something: I am French mothertongue in a French speaking region (Brussels, Belgium), so obviously teach and crack stupid jokes in French. My voice changes a bit to Ze Voice of ze Professeur de Yoga, oui oui.
    Then, when I teach in English – it happens – the rhythm, vocab and tone change as well. I have THE Voice. Still cracking jokes and dropping the F-bomb occasionally, more than in French actually, but still. I use words I would never use teaching in French.
    English calls for more flowery woo-woo language, French is much more down-to-earth type of thing. I would never EVER cue to do anything with “the heart centre” in French. Doesn’t translate very well :)

    • Nadine Fawell says:


      Emmanuelle, I am just intimidated that you speak more than one language fluently – I reckon that gives you total license to do whatever you like! It’s interesting that you say French doesn’t lend itself to flowery language. That’s gonna disappoint so many folks who think it is ze language of lurve…

      • Vision_Quest2 says:


        Could not, in all honesty, say the same thing about yoga taught in Spanish (and I know only a little); but I think Spanish may not be flowery, but it is wordy, as a language; I think that native-born Spanish speakers probably make the best historians (the Whorfian hypothesis would have me thinking that they are naturally long-winded–saying in their language something that could be done halfways more efficiently in English) …

        I’ve been subjected to yoga taught in Spanish … shut yer mouth already!

        • Emmanuelle says:


          Yes, flowery in the lurving way, ie guy meets girl and wants girl in his bed. But in a yoga class, it’s not just the same thing. Also, indeed, you spend twice as long cueing in French than in English. English has a very graceful way of going to the heart (centre) of the matter.

  12. Kat says:


    I have been told that I have a very soothing (teaching) voice. I also have the ability when teaching a power class to shift to Drill Sergeant when it feels appropriate. But, both are authentically me. I can’t get away with swearing in class, but have come close! It just doesn’t seem very yogic to try to be something other than you are when teaching…

    • Nadine Fawell says:


      Exactly, Kat! I am pretty sure I horrify some people with the way I teach, but that’s OK – I am not the right teacher for them, nor they the right students for me. We just wouldn’t learn that well from each other.

      Authenticity is a way of making sure you get ‘your’ people showing up.

      • Vision_Quest2 says:


        In order to get “your” people to show up, it does not depend on a voice.

        I had one teacher whose “yoga voice” was beaten out of her by a later teacher training …

        She still was not the teacher for me, but she (and she was otherwise unfriendly, cold and terse) got a little more business after her voice rose in register …

        When the boy becomes a man, their voice drops …

        When the drama club girl becomes a mature yoga teacher, their voice rises …

        • Nadine Fawell says:


          Yes, this is true, but you know, unless you show people who you are, you don’t give them the chance to decide whether they want to hang with you. That’s what I meant by ‘get’.

          • Vision_Quest2 says:


            Occasionally, a male teacher has the opposite problem. They come off as too intimidating. Is there a way to tone THEM down without their driving away the students who came for “bootcamp” ? Those types can’t even shift gears in time for savasana, they have to be a brute then, too …

            This is a main reason I switched styles. The milder styles had male teachers who have unaffected, but extremely versatile voices … [Lack of affectation and versatility go hand-in-hand, ya think?]

            And it probably also explains why some high-profile male teachers eventually wound up straitjacketing themselves into teaching milder styles … at the cost of teaching fewer actual students or branching out into allied fields (due to lack of market share in students looking for a teacher rather than someone who will upsell them into teacher training, etc.). As Abe Lincoln once said, “You can fool all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”

  13. Chris says:


    I used to do voice training for acting and things – I always found it strange how people would start walking around using their chesty voice all the damn time – ‘oh, I always talk like this’ – isn’t it supposed to be about being more genuine? More connected to yourself? And therefore more truthful? Or maybe just trying to *sound* genuine… And chesty. But discussions on how one should Act can last for generations, and I’m not sure I have the desire to get one started at the minute!

    • Vision_Quest2 says:


      Well, you started one. Many yoga teachers in New York City are frustrated actor/dancer/comedians … once they learn how to control their breath so they don’t speak all nasally twangy or regionally-accented, they can’t let that go.

      Say what you want about the way Seane Corn speaks, but that chick never had voice training to get her to speak … ethereally …

      Seems to me that the “yoga voice” is another fashion accessory for the nouveau faux yoga …

      • Chris says:


        Yes I did, didn’t I? It’s funny how things overlap – if I had a penny for all the personal trainers I know who are also actors, and all the Pilates instructors who are dancers…

  14. Megan says:


    I laughed out loud a few times on this one. I can totally relate to hearing the creepy voice! My favorite teachers are the ones who show their real self and their humanity, swearing and all! Keep on keepin it real ;)

  15. Svasti says:


    What I wanna know is… WHERE does it come from? How does it take over the mind and voice like some kind of zombie virus? It’s so weird.

    Mostly now I do my normal voice although I have to watch it! Or weird Yoga Voice creeps in. Its the oddest thing. Of course, I do find myself having to also make sure I’m pronouncing words properly (my Aussie accent has gotten stronger with age!) so that I’m not slurring words together. Ha!

  16. Warriorsaint says:


    I think the seeds of The Creepy Yoga Voice may have come out of that documentary from a few years ago called Asthtanga, NY. (It was shot in 2001 when Pattabhi Jois was visiting.) I noticed that yoga teachers who had seen it began to mimic Jois’ characteristic E. Indian candence. Flash forward and those early yoga students then became teachers who then taught other students to be teachers. Hmmm ..now that I teach Pilate should I work on a strong German accent to my English?

  17. Barbara says:


    Love it! Its like you are inside my head! I remember a children’s class I sat in on to observe-and the teacher used that ‘breathy’ voice with 5-6 year olds. I don’t have to tell you how THAT worked out. She sounded like a cartoon character-The kids didn’t respect her and the lesson got lost. I had to try hard to not giggle. Other than the cussing in front of kids, I agree that authenticity is ALWAYS the best way to go.

  18. Nadine Fawell says:


    Yeah, maybe not with the cussing in front of the kids…they might end up like me otherwise :)

  19. Laura says:


    It really depends on the teacher and the type of class. I stay away from Bikram, Power Yoga and fast Vinyasa classes. They just don’t agree with me. I end up feeling even more stressed out. I prefer Yin, Iyengar, Kundalini, Yoga Therapy and Satyananda Yoga. The teacher’s voice and choice of words are also very important to me. Some teachers have a pleasant pitch and don’t need to try really hard to have a soothing effect on the listener. Some really get on my nerves, regardless of whether they speak in their normal voice or in some “holier- than-thou” fake voice. I definitely prefer hearing a soothing, calming, low pitch voice in the yoga class than having someone bark orders at me as if it were a boot camp. As to swearing, i really don’t see the point of it. If i am trying to relax, the last thing i need is someone swearing in my face or using more words than needed. Life is brutal enough, don’t we all deserve a respite from all that cursing, swearing and logorrhea?

  20. Nadine Fawell says:


    Laura, you deserve a respite from ALL things that stress you! Of course. The beauty of life is that we are all different: it stresses me to try to pretend I’m someone I’m not. You know?

    Now, I’m off to look up logorrhoea because I don’t know what it means :)

  21. Joe says:


    The more I read in RY the luckier I feel that my first and only yoga teacher not only knows how to take care of my knees and back but is also completely natural in class.

  22. Stella says:


    Thanks for this! I’ve tried doing a yoga voice, but decided to stick with my normal, awkward way of explaining things. People will laugh or give me puzzled looks; either way it feels good to be me:)

    Response posted on May 1st, 2012 , 7:58 am Reply
  23. abcd says:


    Nice one! My yoga teacher is a very nice English lady, with a prim and proper BBC accent, but as soon as she starts teaching she sounds Indian. I mean Really Indian. Ok, she studied yoga in India but talk about being possessed! It freaks me out no end…

  24. Donna says:


    So happy to read your article!!!! I’m just about to do a yoga teacher training and know without a question that I cannot do breathy, peaceful yoga teacher voice – although being Australian maybe it’s my accent that will be the problem. Possibly you ran into some kiwis in Oz though if they were trying to give you meeelk instead of milk :-) I think ‘re right BTW – crow with no core engaged means you’re fucked :-)

    Response posted on May 7th, 2012 , 1:04 am Reply
    • Nadine Fawell says:


      Donna, you are a cracker! And yes, it’s true, the Kiwis have weird vowels going on too :)

      But since I pronounce ‘milk’ as ‘mulk’ you can see why I have trouble. If your name is Bill, rest assured, I will be calling you ‘Bull’. Unfortunate, no?

      You are going to be just the kind of yoga teacher I love, from the sounds of things!

      Response posted on May 7th, 2012 , 2:46 pm Reply
  25. Erin says:


    I teach elders–some with dementia…I think yoga teacher voice would terrify them, not to mention elude their hearing aids! Teaching them has been a beautiful lesson/training/gift in simple language, clear demonstration, and attention to the class energy level from day to day. Maybe all teachers should have to go to Y.T.V.-recovery programs where they teach to elders and reconnect with their real voices.

    Though I have to say, I went to a class the other day and there was a newish teacher who WHINED through the whole class….oh my goodness, I wanted to run out! “Oh I KNOOOWWWWWW……chair pose agaaaaaaaaaaiiiiaiiiiiiinnnn?! It is my FAVORITEEEEE.” It was so painful. Humor in class is great. Fake whining for a laugh? Not so much.

    • Nadine Fawell says:


      It’s all about balance, eh Erin? I nearly peed myself laughing when I thought about the hearing aid/dementia/yoga teacher voice combo. Yes, I know that makes me a bad person.

  26. Brian says:


    This is great. I agree completely and as a new teacher, I’ll do my best to keep this in mind. :-) ))
    Brian

  27. Yoga Teacher Voice | Yoga with Nadine says:


    [...] anything, this has to do with yoga, and teacher voice – pop over to Recovering Yogi and read the rest of my article. Yes, I know I am wrong, in so many many ways…far enough wrong to be [...]

  28. Christine says:


    Always love your voice, though I’ve only had the pleasure in print :)

  29. Julia Beauchamp says:


    I love this article. It speaks precisely to what I am working with yoga teachers on. Many yoga teachers ( and people in general) haven’t received training and haven’t had experience about how to “be themselves” in front of other people. Part of facilitating a yoga class experience is performing the role of public speaker. As you said, the most interesting public speakers are those that truly share themselves, take off their mask, and let themselves be vulnerable. This is partially just balls but it’s also very concrete, experiential vocal, breath and body awareness training specifically for public speakers. Check out juliabeauchamp.com for more info!

    Keep it up, Nadine!
    Blessings,
    Julia


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