I Trained to be a Yoga Barre Instructor
Have you ever watched one of those YouTube videos where people train for crazy challenges in a short amount of time?
From military boot camps and full marathons, to beauty pageants and dance competitions, I’ve always been fascinated by super humans like Michelle Khare and Evan Ghang who tackle these crazy goals. What’s going on in their mind? Do they ever want to quit? Watching them makes me wonder if I’d have the same mental toughness and grit to push though.
This past month, I trained to be a yoga barre instructor in a 50-hour program, and I feel like I got a tiny taste of what it’s like.
While I come from a dance background and have dabbled in a handful of yoga classes, I am a complete noob when it comes to teaching. I’ve never been on the instructor side for anything. I don’t know the proper way to project my voice or how to manage a classroom. But deep down it’s always been a dream to lead some type of fitness class, whether its yoga, Pilates, or dance…so when Hot 8’s Yoga Barre Teacher Training (which is also five minutes from my apartment) came along, it felt kind of like fate.
To begin with, yoga barre is completely different from yoga. While it borrows foundations of yoga with many basic poses and movements, it’s more ballet and barre focused at its core. The goal is about toning muscles and creating stronger alignment within your body. There’s a good combination of cardio, weights, and stretching, and every time you finish class, you’re guaranteed to feel like you just got your butt kicked and whipped into shape. In my opinion, it’s the perfect workout.
With little idea of what teacher training would actually entail, I signed up. Before the program even started, I found myself daydreaming about the exercises I’d infuse in class, the music playlists I’d curate, and the type of teacher I’d become.
Boy, did I get ahead of myself. A 50-hour program is only a quarter of the 200-hour RYT programs most yoga instructors go through, and I was overwhelmed, if not a little demoralized, after only the first weekend. To be honest, I was unprepared for the amount of time, energy, and money I’d have to sacrifice. There were countless instances I was so exhausted, I just wanted to go home. Even more times I was frustrated with myself to the point of giving up altogether. But in the end, it was all worth it.
We received our manuals and learned the schedule for the program. On top of four consecutive weekends with 11am — 5pm training each day, we’d have to complete two additional barre classes during the week and two observation classes (making a total of 18 official classes by the end of the month). At the time, this didn’t sound like too much, but the reality is on weekends, we’d end up doing 2–3 classes sometimes in one sitting. If you’ve ever taken even one hour-long class, think about doubling or tripling that. It. Is. Insane.
I met the 15 other people who were in my program and was pleasantly surprised by the diversity in our cohort. Though it was an all-female group, we came from a wide range of backgrounds. We had mid-west gals and LA natives, a handful of actors, students, freelancers, and 9–5 professionals. Based off our “fun facts,” everyone seemed to have an interesting life and a unique personality, but what we all shared in common was our love for yoga and barre.
The leaders of our group were Nancy Norby, the amazing Yoga Barre guru who started it all and Heather, an instructor who actually went through the program herself. We were also supported by the director and assistant manager of the studio, Stevie and Julie. They all seemed lovely and genuinely excited about transforming us into “barre stars.”
After introductions and formalities, we immediately jumped into the sequence. I did not expect to learn the entire 60-minute course within two days, but we did. And it was nuts. I think I even blacked out for some of it because I was so overwhelmed. At the end, we were told we’d have to memorize everything and write our own personalized scripts by next week…
The second weekend consisted of more class, more posture reviews, and more round robin teaching. Essentially, each of us had to get up in front of the room and teach a part of the sequence. Imagine for a moment what it’s like to have a bunch of eyeballs on you as you attempt to describe every pose & movement without looking like you’re thinking too hard or trying to remember what’s next. When you’re a student taking a workout class, you never consider these things. If an instructor is good, you don’t notice their voice, pace, intonation, etc. because it all comes out so naturally — but I’ve learned quickly that none of this is natural. It comes from practice. Lots and lots and lots of practice.
We also attended a Business of Yoga lecture by Vince, the CEO of Hot 8, as well as a vocal workshop from an ex-Broadway actor. Their insights only made me respect exercise trainers and instructors even more. The sheer amount of work people dedicate to perfect their craft and deliver the best experiences to their clients is dumbfounding. I kept wondering, do I have what it takes? Am I invested enough to put so much time and effort into doing all of this?
On a funny note, Cornelius — the ex-Broadway actor — made us practice these crazy tongue twisters and singing exercises. I discovered I have a very limited vocal range (like literally maybe one octave) and practically no head voice. I also lose my voice quite easily because I came home afterwards sounding like a croaky frog. Note to self: project from the diaphragm.
The third weekend started with me doubling up in the morning because I couldn’t squeeze in all my classes during the week. I took a 9:30am Barre class with Candice followed by a 10:45am class with Nancy. And at 12:30pm, we had to take a ballet basics course with a lovely guest dancer named Damara.
My legs were jello by 2pm. I couldn’t even feel them anymore. Every body part was sore and screaming at me. I realize I sound like a whiny baby, but after three weeks of back to back barre classes, my body was wrecked. As someone who considers herself pretty in shape, I felt very humbled by this.
Our lead instructor Nancy Norby is 64 years old and she still teaches multiple barre classes, has phenomenal posture, and can do abs for days. Oh, and she pumped out six kids. Lol. Pure. Goals. Check with me when I’m 60 — I hope I have her figure and stamina.
At this point, I was starting to question my sanity, but I had already invested so much time. The one thing that kept me going was how every girl in my program seemed to be so dedicated to this process. We had Kerttu, a fiery blonde who announced to everyone on the first day that she was going to be a kickass teacher. Michelle, Paola, and Cindi were the quieter ones of the group, but they each found a solid, grounded confidence that worked for them. And everyone seemed to be cultivating their own distinct style. Jenny was the unpredictable bombshell; Saya, the ruthless dancer who could make your legs shake; Dani had the most powerful, commanding voice; and one of my closest friends in the group — Skyler — was an infectious ball of energy. Honestly, if it weren’t for these girls, I’d be so over it.
But they pushed me to push myself, and I found myself reciting the sequence everywhere. On the subway, in my car, in the shower, while I was cooking in the kitchen. By next week, whether I was ready or not, I’d have to bring it.
The last weekend is when we finally got to teach a real class and showcase what we’ve learned this past month.
I was split into the Sunday group with seven other girls. We were each given a different part of the sequence — I got the arms/weights section — and instructed to come up with a playlist. I ended up choosing hip hop to go with my part (ayy Drake!) because the bass sets a strong beat for multiple reps.
Showtime finally arrived at 2pm and I was both giddy and nervous. We’d gone through the sequence countless times, and I knew in my heart I had it down. But I also knew when I got up in front of the room, everything could fly out the window. Taking a moment to compose myself, I consulted Adriana, who has done three trainings by now. She has a ritual of saying a little prayer before she teaches, so we stood together and just had a quiet moment. I didn’t even realize it at the time, but this simple bonding moment was one of my fondest memories. I came into Yoga Barre training very competitive and focused on myself, but it was the community that ultimately made me enjoy the experience.
A few friends arrived for the 2pm class to support me and I positioned their mats near mine so I could seek out familiar faces while I taught my section. When it was my turn to step up, seeing their smiles and everyone else’s calmed my nerves instantly. I started bellowing out eight counts like a scout leader and pumping up the classroom. As someone who usually has a pretty calm, soothing voice, I was surprised by how loud and assertive I sounded.
Ultimately, I don’t think I delivered the most flawless section I’ve ever taught, but I was proud of how comfortable and confident I felt marching up there, being able to tell people how to move their bodies, when to breathe, and where to engage their core. It feels good when others look up to you, and in that moment I realized how much I wanted to teach in the future.
As cheesy as it sounds, this last weekend was a breakthrough for me. After weeks of training, I finally felt at home and at peace. I made lifelong friends, discovered a new kind of inner strength, and found my community. Thanks to Nancy, Heather, Stevie, Julie, and my fellow barre stars, I’ve decided to continue my yoga journey and enroll in a mentorship program, where I will deepen my practice and start teaching community classes first.
Hope to catch you all at the barre! Check out Hot 8 Yoga here. :)