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The Joy—and Challenge—of Teaching Beginners

After several years of teaching only mixed and intermediate/advanced students, I'm starting a basics class. My practice and teaching are all about variety and progression, so I'm having a little mental block about how to keep total beginners challenged but not overwhelmed. Where might I begin?
—Tanja

It is also important to help your beginners feel comfortable and safe. You can do that by reminding them that yoga is not just about doing poses, and that yoga is not competitive. Always encourage them to go at their own pace and to listen to their body. Using props and variations is another way to help students feel safe; it lets them know from the start that they have choices.

I like to make my beginning classes fun, and I sometimes make a joke to lighten the energy. (Others teachers choose to bring a more calming and soothing aspect to their beginning classes.) I also try to learn the names of my students and let them know when they are making progress. Again, building confidence is an important goal, so use all the tools you have to create that end.

Here is where you might begin: Visualize what it was like when you started yoga. Then visualize what it is like to be stiff and weak. Put yourself in the body or the mind of a beginner, with all its doubts and lack of confidence. Then visualize how much you love yoga and what a great gift the practice can be. Create a class that will inspire, be thoughtful, and give your beginners the hope that they too can do yoga and reap its benefits.

Maty Ezraty has been teaching and practicing yoga since 1985, and she founded the Yoga Works schools in Santa Monica, California. Since the sale of the school in 2003, she has lived in Hawaii with her husband, Chuck Miller. Both senior Ashtanga teachers, they lead workshops, teacher trainings, and retreats worldwide. For more information, visit http://www.chuckandmaty.com.

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