I teach classes for students over 40 who were not physically active in their earlier days, and they request gentle and restorative sessions. I encourage them to try more, but they aren't in the mindset to physically challenge themselves. I feel they are missing out on so much. How can I motivate these students to move forward in their practice?
Dean Lerner's reply:
Finding the means to motivate, inspire, and raise the students' level is a task that faces all good teachers. Keep a positive and upbeat attitude with your students, and your manner will inspire them to do more. Remember, it is the job of the teacher to direct the students, so don't allow lethargic thinking to inhibit you. Be energetic in your teaching, yet conscious not to go beyond their level. Teach to your students' level so that they will want to come back, and then build them up little by little.
Practically speaking, even fundamental poses can be broken down into doable parts that the least adept student can learn and perform. Then put the parts back together into the whole asana according to the students' capacity. This will develop their confidence and instill in them an enthusiasm to learn more. Inspire the students further by stating the many benefits of the poses they are learning.
You can also teach them to work. Determine the capacity of your students, and then take them 10 percent further. You and your students may both be surprised by how much their capacity increases. Show them how this will benefit them on many levels, and how, afterward, the relaxation they feel will come more readily and be deeper. Work and relaxation go hand-in-hand to bring integration and balance.
Lastly, temper the students' perspective. Have them consider the enormous blessing they have found in yoga, and help them appreciate that they are able to use their bodies and minds to perform asanas to their highest capacity. Gradually, they will understand that they have a special opportunity to practice, which they should earnestly and fully embrace.
Certified Advanced Iyengar instructor Dean Lerner is co-director of the Center for Well-being in Lemont, Pennsylvania and teaches workshop across the United States. He is a longtime student of B.K.S. Iyengar and served a four-year term as president of the Iyengar National Association of the United States. Known for his ability to teach yoga with clarity and precision, as well as warmth and humor, Dean has conducted teacher training classes at Feathered Pipe Ranch in Montana and other locations.
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