By: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed
One of the primary ways of improving Yoga student safety in class is to format your class wisely. This essentially means to lead your students through an appropriate sequence of postures that matches their current level of ability and aptitude for Yoga practice. Although formatting a class wisely might seem quite straightforward and simple at first, choosing a challenging, yet manageable series of Yoga postures to present to your students can be a bit tricky if you have a mixed level class, or if you have a group of students who are practicing at very different levels of ability and experience. Formatting a class wisely can also be challenging if you have a number of students in your class who are healing from a physical injury or recovering from a recent surgery.
The first step to determining what kind of Yoga sequence, or krama, to offer to your students is to assess the general ability level of most of the students in your class today. Remember that you may have to modify the sequence of Yoga poses that you planned to lead them through, if you get to class and find that your students need a faster-paced class, or a more restorative class, than the one you had planned on teaching! The dexterity to be able to quickly modify the sequence of asanas and pranayama exercises that you had planned to teach will come with time, as you gain more experience as a Yoga teacher.
It is also important to take into consideration the advertised level of the class and the environment in which you will be teaching. For instance, if you are teaching Yoga to a group of teens at a runaway shelter, the level of ability will differ substantially from teaching Yoga to a group of fitness buffs at a local health club. In the same way, teaching a multi-level class to a dedicated group of students in a professional Yoga studio will differ substantially from teaching a Yoga class to a group of people at a local community center, where you will most likely have a group of students with very mixed levels of ability.
Also, taking into consideration the time of day that you are teaching a class is an important criterion for determining the Yoga postures that you will offer to your students. For instance, if you are teaching an early morning class at 6 a.m. you may need to begin slowly, because most people will be quite stiff at that time of the day. On the other hand, if you are teaching a Yoga class at noon or in the early evening hours, most of your students will feel more limber than they would early in the morning. This enables you to start your class off at a more vigorous level than you would early in the morning.
As a professional Yoga teacher, you will be able to quickly evaluate the fitness level of most of your students, especially if you are acquainted with most of your students. Making sure that there is adequate time for your students to communicate with you about any physical challenges they may be experiencing is one of the critical elements to having enough information to format your class wisely. Setting a 10 or 15-minute time slot aside, either prior to or just after your class, when you are available for your students to speak with you personally, will facilitate good communication between yourself and your students. This personal communication will help you to determine the most therapeutic sequence of postures to offer to your students.
Speaking with your students individually will also give you the opportunity to guide your students to other levels of Yoga classes, or other styles of Yoga, if necessary. For example, if you have a few students who are struggling to keep up with the sequence of asanas you have chosen to teach, or you have a few students who seem to far surpass the ability level of the class that your teaching, you may wish to recommended that these students go to other Yoga classes that more closely match their ability level. As you begin to ascertain the overall level of most of your students in the classes that you teach, you will more easily be able to lead them through a sequence of asanas that is both accessible and challenging, while still maintaining the safety of your students throughout the practice.
Virginia Iversen, M.Ed, has been practicing and studying the art of Yoga for over twenty years. She lives in Woodstock, New York, where she works as a writer and an academic support specialist. She is currently accepting Yoga and health-related writing orders and may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.