Beginners Intro

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, we introduce considerations for teaching students new to Hatha Yoga practices.

Objective

In this lesson, we introduce considerations for teaching students new to Hatha Yoga practices.

Description

Explore ways in which new students may experience their body and thus find yoga to be different from their previous experiences. As an example, describe challenges that a new student may experience in holding a standing pose. Aside from physical fitness, explain why yoga will be more mentally and physically tiring for beginners. Explore a range of considerations for teaching students who are new to the physical practices of yoga.

Remember the Beginner’s Experience

Over time, we may forget what it was like to be a beginner. Here are some reminders!

  • It may be “exotic.” The sights and smells in the room may be new. The teacher’s tone and instructions may be unlike any they have heard before.
  • Some students will be completely detached from their body and find the requests to move their body in particular ways to be confounding as they attempt to find their body in space.
  • Others may have extensive experience in physical endeavors but find the practice and effects of asana to be unique and perhaps even startling.
  • As we can recall from the first times we did anything—driving a car on a 3-lane highway, for instance—the brain is busy processing and reacting to everything that is new to it. When we have not yet developed any neural pathways (habits) for sights and experiences, it can be tiring, challenging, exciting or wondrous in ways that routines are not.
  • A new student is likely to find asana practice quite challenging. Do you remember how it felt to practice standing poses in your first classes? Holding Virabhadrasana I (Warrior 1 Pose) for five breaths, for example, can be extremely challenging for many students. It takes mental focus to process the instructions, maintain conscious breathing, and keep the attention from wandering. There may be intense sensation from tight hip flexors or a weak core.
  • And remember: beginners tend to overwork everything. One sign of experience in anything is to apply just the effort required, without wasting unnecessary energy. Beginners, on the other hand, will tend to tense their face and jaw, hold their breath, and recruit many muscles that needn’t be working. This is mentally and physically tiring.

This first-hand account can serve as a reminder of some of the ways in which a new student may be experiencing his or her first yoga classes:

Personal Story

[My first class] followed the pattern of most beginning yoga classes… At the time, though, it tasted to me as exotic as a jackfruit milkshake. We pushed back into our first downward dog. It felt like I had bricks in my calves. My flabby hamstrings moaned, and my near-arthritic shoulders shuddered… As the practice continued, my body insulted me in many different ways… [My teacher] wasn’t a master, at least not in the gut-straining, semi-didactic way of some of the big-city mega-yogis I’ve encountered since, but I didn’t need a master. I needed someone kind and competent who wouldn’t kill me. She explained the simplest poses in very clear language, keeping the pace slow and gentle; she was the perfect teacher for beginners. – Neal Pollack

Overview of Considerations

Here you’ll find considerations for teaching students who are new to the physical practices of yoga. We have organized our support for teaching beginners into these categories:

  1. Be thoughtful and supportive.
  2. Teach beginners with particular care.
  3. Promote safety.
  4. Sequence mindfully and simply.
  5. Teach clearly.
  6. Be mindful in choosing pose versions.

Don’t Miss The Deeper Teachings!

Here we are simply introducing these topics, giving you a bigger picture perspective and the ability to choose your areas of interest. 

See Also

  • Teaching Seniors – The considerations for Beginners are likely to be applicable for teaching Seniors as well. However, teaching Seniors typically requires additional training, study and experience.
  • Teaching Wise Practice – These are fundamental and powerful points of focus that support all asana and go beyond it.
  • Stepping into New Territory – Review basic philosophy and inspiration for moving into a new area of teaching.

Be Thoughtful & Supportive

  1. Arrive early in order to be fully prepared and present and have time to talk individually with each student.
  2. Personally, welcome each student.
  3. Introduce yourself and ask the student’s name. Hold respectful eye contact and smile.
  4. Help them set up their mat and props.
  5. Speak softly or pull the student aside in order to have a moment of private conversation. Ask questions regarding experience in yoga and other physical activities: Are you under the care of a healthcare provider? Have you had any surgeries? Are you pregnant? Do you have any current injuries or conditions?
  6. Say something reassuring that the student can focus on, such as process vs. attaining a posture, or prioritizing breath awareness.

Teach Beginners with Particular Care

  1. Make it easier for students to see you demonstrate poses by moving around the room.
  2. There is a risk that students who are singled out for support may feel that they are “not good at yoga” or they may simply be uncomfortable with such attention. Thus, when you are considering attending one-on-one to promote safety or comfort, you may wish to carefully consider how often you single out a particular student.
  3. One option, if the number of students is small enough, is to assist each student individually so no particular student feels like she is getting more “correction.”
  4. Be sure to teach some safe pose versions that students can do “right enough” without your individualized teaching.

Promote Safety

  1. Teach students HOW to take responsibility for themselves, beginning with cultivating inner awareness. Rather than telling students what to expect in poses, invite them to take note of effects in their breath and mind and what they feel in their body. This can begin to transfer any expectations for responsibility and awareness from an external guide to the student herself.
  2. Teach students how to distinguish between sensation and pain.
  3. Teach students to use their breath as an indication of their inner state.
  4. Stay mindful of the fundamentals of wise practice.

Sequence Mindfully & Simply

  1. With beginners, “less is more.” Teach fewer poses, take more time, and practice more repetition.
  2. Utilize sequencing fundamentals including proper warm up, mindful preparation for every forthcoming pose, and inclusion of neutralizing and countering poses.
  3. Beginner sequences are not necessarily gentle. Many “beginner poses” are still quite challenging.
  4. When teaching a beginner series, it’s advised to keep your sequence and/or poses consistent. That is, use a sequence template which is repeated week-to-week. This way, students get the benefits of repetition and building on their developing skills.
  5. Use the principle of “scaffolding:” as students show proficiency, build on with new poses.
  6. Since building a proper foundation is critical to safety and proper alignment, it’s important to give new students enough instruction and time to find a proper foundation for each pose.
  7. While a few opportunities to deepen into a posture may be effective, in general it is advisable to avoid long holds within an asana (which tends to be more appropriate for experienced students). Instead, consider including dynamic movement and repetition for newer students.
  8. It’s advisable when teaching beginners to teach relatively few one-sided poses in a row. That is, teach only one to two poses before switching sides.

Teach Clearly

  1. Avoid overwhelming students with too much information; stay focused.
  2. Speak and demonstrate clearly.
  3. Teach Breathing Fundamentals, including the relationship between breath and movement and breathing in held postures.
  4. Teach drishti, gently focusing the eyes on a single point.
  5. Focus on alignment and safety.
  6. Speak respectfully.
  7. Teach students how to ground and then to find length, extension, space.

Choose Appropriate Pose Versions

  1. Student safety is of utmost importance, of course, and therefore being comfortable teaching, many variations and alternatives is a vital skill for teaching beginners.
  2. Choose accessible versions to model and teach.
  3. Know the intention and primary actions of all poses you are teaching.
  4. Share one simple intention of the pose and offer safe ways for students to meet the intention of the pose and to develop their ability to perform the key actions.