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Beginner's Mind

When you teach students who are new to yoga, do your homework, be clear—and get ready to throw your plans away to meet your students' needs.

By Rachel Brahinsky

That may mean that you allow your students to remain in a less-than-perfect pose for a few breaths.

Be Flexible

"Of course," as Lee points out, "if there are disasters happening, you have to take care of them." But, she adds, you can address alignment issues without singling out individual students. "Make up an exercise on the spot to help them, and everyone else will benefit, too," she says.

At moments like this, some students still won't understand what you're trying to convey. When that happens, reconnect to yourself.

"Look at your motivation for why you are a yoga teacher," says Lee. "If your motivation is to be helpful, then keep changing your tools." Continue your efforts until they understand you.

Simpler Is Better

Of course, there are certain poses to avoid in beginner's classes. Lee warns against full inversions, arm balances, and Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose). Instead of fancy moves, focus on the basics, such as connecting to the legs and the ground in standing poses. You can also develop short vinyasas, or flowing sequences that teach how to align breath with movement.

Depending on the yoga tradition you are working from, you may or may not choose to introduce new students to pPranayama. To keep it simple, stick with teaching Ujjayi Pranayama (Victorious Breath), or Sama Vritti (Equal Breathing), in which students learn to balance their inhalations with their exhalations. Focusing on breath in this way can offer a tremendous learning experience.

Similarly, including yoga philosophy in your classes is fundamental—but it's best if it's delivered in an accessible package.

"Your proportions of simple mechanics—simple down-to-earth instruction—versus the more esoteric stuff is a really delicate proportion," says Crandell.

And although it might seem unusual to students at first, there's no need to shy away from introducing your students to Sanskrit.

"You're ushering people into a new world," says Rizopolous. A good usher, she says, will introduce the language of that world.

Teach Your Beliefs

Ultimately, your teaching will be its best when you tap into what you deeply believe and value. If it's chanting in Sanskrit that moves you, teach it with the passion that you have for that element of the practice. If that doesn't inspire you, perhaps it's the wrong thing to focus on.

When introducing philosophy, it's very important for a teacher to be open about his or her philosophical background, insists Crandell. "I don't think it has to be the Yoga Sutra that you introduce; I think it has to be your own teaching philosophy."

Crandell's focus tends to be about balancing effort and relaxation, with an emphasis on moderation and mindful awareness. So, without citing specific sutras, he says, you can still "imprint the philosophical concepts."

Even without spending lots of class time teaching Sanskrit asana names or Hindu chants, you can reach students with some of yoga's deepest spirituality.

As Lee puts it, "There are principles of yoga that are super-beneficial that have nothing to do with culture or religion. They have to do with the individual's own mind, body, and breath. Yoga is right there in the asana practice."

Rachel Brahinsky is a writer and yoga teacher in San Francisco.

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Reader Comments

Christina Song

Namaste, I have completed a yoga teacher's training course in Nov last year and will be doing another one in September to builld my confidence in teaching and deepen my practice. Your article is inspiring and have given me some good advices. I look forward to teaching beginner's class after I completed YTTC at the end of October.Thank you so much :-)

Jim Geier

As a new teacher, I thank the author. I teach my fellow Junior High School teachers, and I also substitute teach level one at a studio. Thank you so much for the informative article. It was inspiring.

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