It could be that the hardest class you'll teach will be based on the simplest poses.
Teaching yoga to beginners—students who are not familiar with yoga's eclectic language—takes so much skill, thoughtfulness, and patience, it may seem like the wrong job for a brand-new teacher.
But even though it can be challenging, introducing a newcomer to the world of yoga is often a deeply rewarding experience, giving teachers a chance to hone their language skills and master the subtleties that can bring their teaching to a whole new level.
A classroom of beginners presents teachers with a complex set of variables, according to beginners-yoga expert Jason Crandell. "You have more things to navigate and manage when working with people without a baseline understanding," he explains.
At the same time, it's essential that new yogis receive clear and knowledgeable instruction. "They will pick up the habits and essence of what's taught to them," Crandell says, "so it's important that there's a deep quality to what's being taught."
Teaching beginner's yoga is challenging, says Cyndi Lee, founder of Om Yoga in New York City, because beginners may not know what to expect. Many people, for example, come to yoga believing that it’s simply a physical exercise.
"But don't get confused and think that because people are beginners in yoga, they are stupid." she warns. "They either don't know this vocabulary, or they don't know how to relate to their bodies in this way."
Before you teach a beginners' class, Lee advises creating a thorough class plan, and then spending time mindfully making your way through your sequence—so you can understand it in your own body. "This doesn't just mean going slower," she says, "it means finding variations and deconstructing the asanas."
If you can feel the pose from the inside, rather than solely relying on what you've learned a pose is supposed to look like, you'll amplify your ability to reach students effectively.
Teaching as Conversation
Lee emphasizes using clear, accessible language. But even if your language is precise, she warns, your new students may not understand.
"Watch your students," Lee says. "Give them a chance to respond to the information that you offer them, so it's a conversation."
For beginner's expert Natasha Rizopolous, the conversation between teacher and student is one of the reasons that working with beginners can be so rewarding. "They come with such openness and enthusiasm. They are so appreciative," she says, adding that it's also satisfying because so much growth is evident with beginning students. With them, she says, "you are really teaching—as opposed to just calling poses."
It's All about Balance
As you teach, it's important to balance the information you give to new students. You'll want to give instructions on proper alignment—but it's also important not to overwhelm them.
"Your first responsibility is to keep them safe," says San Francisco yoga teacher Les Leventhal. Your next charge, he adds, is to let them begin to feel the effects of the yoga for themselves.
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