Read Desirée Rumbaugh's reply:
Yes, coming to a yoga class for the first time may be so far out of some people's comfort zone that they might be shy about being singled out as "the new guy or girl." They may hope to hide out in the back and follow along unnoticed. It's likely they don't want to have to identify themselves with a show of hands in front of the whole class.
A safer way to gather this information would be to greet everyone individually as they enter the class, introduce yourself, and privately ask whether each person has done yoga before. This is also a great way to help yourself learn students' names. When yoga teachers can call their students by name, it changes the entire tone of the class and makes everyone feel welcome. If you teach in a health club or another situation where it's difficult to get to know each student personally, try to arrive early enough to meet students in the hallway before they enter the room. There you can exchange a quick handshake and introduction.
If all else fails, brand-new students will probably be fairly obvious to you as you begin the class. They'll be looking around at others to make sure they are doing it "right," and they'll miss the small things, like turning their feet parallel, engaging their leg muscles, or breathing deeply.
When you notice these signs, you can quietly let them know that if they have any physical limitations or injuries, you will be happy to talk with them after the class. Then you can keep a watchful eye on them throughout class without hovering too much, so they feel safe but not picked on. It's a good idea to adjust a new student only a few times during a class so they don't feel like they're doing everything wrong, which is how too much attention could make them feel.
Desirée Rumbaugh teaches from the experiences of more than two decades of practice. She was one of the first students to study with John Friend, and one of the first to be certified in his Anusara method of yoga. As a full-time teacher, Desirée travels the world offering workshops, which are innovative and transformative, challenging and compassionate. She has a well-earned reputation for deepening the most new to the most seasoned practices, through humor balanced with a quest for authenticity. September 2007 marked the release of her first DVD entitled Yoga to the Rescue, which is specially designed for those who have avoided yoga because of a lack of flexibility, low fitness level or chronic pain. Her newest DVD entitled Yoga to the Rescue for Back Pain was released in January 2008 with wide acclaim. For more information, please visit www.desireerumbaugh.com.