By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500, YACEP
How to teach a beginner Yoga class is a heavy responsibility. There is a good chance that people in the room have never practiced Yoga before. New students may be uneasy and fear awkwardness or failure. You may become the first teacher they have ever worked with, and their impressions of Yoga as a discipline, art, science, sport, lifestyle, or however they regard it, will be based upon your example and behavior. A new student who has a good class experience may continue to practice for years or decades. On the other hand, a student who has a bad experience will most likely not come back, but will share his or her experience with many people. That said, teachers who work with new students are emissaries of Yoga. Any facility that hires teachers, should be aware of how critical the task of teaching beginners is and program coordinators should make every effort to have a kind, gentle, and compassionate teacher in place for new students. The mission is to retain the next generation of Yoga students for as long possible – starting today.
“In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities; but in the expert’s mind, there are few.”
~ Shunryu Suzuki, Zen priest.
Teacher Tips for Training Beginners
Here are ten tips about how to teach a beginner Yoga class. You can build on this list as you continue teaching beginners and seasoned students.
1. Introduce yourself and let the students know how long the class is going to run. If your class is going to finish in 90 minutes, but the website states 60 minutes, it’s wise to give your students the full picture. Unfortunately, mistakes happen, but clear communication eliminates confusion. An overview of the class format is appreciated by students. For example: Let your students know that there will be warm-ups, pranayama, a variety of seated and standing poses, followed by flowing sequences, such as: Sun Salutations or Moon Salutations, which may take minutes to complete. Additionally, let them know the end of class will be spent practicing stage-by-stage relaxation in Savasana, or in a resting pose for meditation.
2. Always emphasize student safety from the beginning to the end of Yoga practice. When considering how to teach a beginner Yoga class, safety is a key factor, for our students to be mindful of, at all times. Students should be warned against forcing and learn their “personal edge” in regard to safe range of motion. People have a tendency to push themselves and can be impatient with their personal progress. Encourage and become an example of patience.
3. Ask if anyone has any initial questions. Suggest a quiet method, for anyone who needs help during the practice, to signal you – such as by raising their hand. A class without communication encourages injuries and accidents.
4. If props will be used, explain their purposes at the beginning of class, and have the students collect all that will be needed for the duration, at the beginning. They should not need to break a pose to run to the closet and get a block. Props prevent injuries, and teachers who demonstrate how to use them, take the mystery out of using them. In this way, there is no shame associated with props, which are foundational tools that keep practitioners safe.
5. For student safety, native language is usually a priority and Sanskrit is an option. If your facility requires Sanskrit, introduce each pose by its Sanskrit names and its translation; for example, “Let’s move in to Uttanasana, or Standing Forward Bend.” Referring to poses by their Sanskrit names, exclusively, can be intimidating; and referring to them only by their traditional names, may not help beginners appreciate the rich history of the Yoga tradition. Additionally, some students struggle with foreign languages. As teachers, we present knowledge gradually, while our students reconstruct what they learn in their minds. If we constantly overload their minds, our students are more likely to leave during the early days of their training.
6. Ask each student for permission to assist before performing any hands-on correction during the asana practice. Beginners may be surprised if they are adjusted manually. Additionally, assisting may become a lost art as sexual harassment lawsuits and pandemics change the landscape of how to teach a beginner Yoga class, or any class for that matter. Some facilities have begun to enforce “hands-off” assisting, which is verbal guidance only.
7. Emphasize to the students that practice is about performing each asana fully and in harmony with one’s own body and breath. Racing to keep up with one’s Yoga instructor or classmates is not necessary. Teachers must be aware of students who are struggling with pace and those who use force to move into a posture.
8. Ask the students to set an intention before they begin the class, and thank them at the conclusion for taking the time to deepen their connection within. Procedures such as: Opening, rooting, grounding, meditation, relaxation, and closing are part of the complete experience. These traditional concepts separate Yoga from other group fitness classes. In many cases, these procedures and techniques are some of the reasons why new students seek us out.
9. Always remember to integrate pranayama techniques into the class. For new students, the first true connection between mind and body is usually during pranayama practice.
10. Provide loaner Yoga mats, if at all possible. Many beginners will not have their own equipment. A cleaning protocol should be set up, such as: Making cleaning supplies available and letting students know that cleaning a loaner mat at the end of class is standard procedure. Some students will want to clean them before class, which is fine.
Remember – by introducing these students to the wonderful practice of Yoga, you may be helping them lead happier, healthier lives. Teaching an expert class may be physically and mentally challenging, but the true reward of teaching Yoga lies with teaching those who are new to it – to love it, as you do.
© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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