An Open Letter to the Never-been-to-Yoga-at-the-Intermediate-or-Higher-Level-Class Student because it fits in your Schedule or Whatever.

Via Lindsay Jean Thomson
on Apr 21, 2010
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April 21, 2010

Dear New Student,

Welcome! Happy to meet you!

What’s that? You’ve never done yoga before and you had knee replacement surgery last month? Thank you for letting me know.

Please note that this is an intermediate level class. I very strongly recommend taking at least a few fundamentals of yoga classes before a more advanced class such as this one. Classes labeled for “beginners” are truly helpful for students of all levels of physical fitness and will give you a good foundation in alignment and breath.

I’ll do my best to give variations and modifications during class. Ultimately, you are your own best teacher. Listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right for you today, then please don’t do it. You can rest at any time and for any amount of time. Honestly! If you are having difficultly maintaining a steady breath, it’s a good sign that you’re forcing your body to do something it probably isn’t ready to do yet.

This is a practice. It’s ongoing. The only thing you have to do is breathe. Everything else is optional!


Teachers, does this happen in your yogasana classes often? It seems that no matter how many modifications I offer, new and injured students often attempt the most challenging poses and variations. But hey, strivers are going to strive. (Strivers, you’re wonderful just as you are!) What are your tips for keeping these students safe? And students, what is a helpful, non-condescending way to be advised against doing something?


BIO: Lindsay Jean Thomson loves beginners. Y’all are welcome and appreciated! But she really wants you to be safe. When she says child’s pose, she means you! If you’re going to do the crazy stuff, do it somewhere else. Not on her watch!


About Lindsay Jean Thomson

Lindsay Jean Thomson is a San Francisco-based vinyasa flow yoga teacher. She teaches at International Orange and is the co-founder of Flex Hour Yoga.


22 Responses to “An Open Letter to the Never-been-to-Yoga-at-the-Intermediate-or-Higher-Level-Class Student because it fits in your Schedule or Whatever.”

  1. Brooks Hall says:

    Yeah, I guess people don’t always know where their limitations are… But, it is so great to practice yoga in a group! My yoga utopia would be a class that includes all ages, ethnicities, genders, and all perceived differences practicing with our whole hearts, together! So I guess it remains a challenge to include students that are different from the bulk of the group, but I always want to.

  2. Elize says:

    great post, Lindsay… as a teacher, I think one of the important elements of class is that right balance between safe & challenging for students…. I love Julia's suggestion of sticking to the basic/beginner pose, and have found that when I demonstrate that way, people follow suit… those students who really know/can go deeper into a pose do so on their own, but the majority of students often follow my lead. knowing that people are truly following my example is humbling and weight-y, and I have struggled with knowing what point is the appropriate time to demonstrate the "full" pose so people know where we are heading (since the focus isn't on achieving "the perfect pose" anyway)… thanks for sparking this discussion!

  3. allyblair says:

    thanks for another clever post linds! i love your contributions! my teacher annie would call those strivers 'sensation junkies'. i think we all have our bouts with overachieving and over-striving at times, and in different ways. in a beginning class, i would agree that demonstrating the most basic level of the pose is best…and if people take it further that is on them. you have a responsibility to give proper variations and modifications to students as you see fit, and inform strivers that they may be compromising or creating injury. you can only advise them with the best of your abilities. beyond that, what striver-sensation junkies choose to do with that information is ultimately beyond your control. let them learn from their own path that they may be missing some peace and ease in choosing ego over integrity in each pose.

  4. Mari Carli says:

    Establishing body awareness and letting go of some ego are two of the biggest road blocks for some new students to get passed…. and that’s totally normal. I instruct beginning students and have the same dilemma. Of coarse you don’t want anyone to get hurt in your class, but you really can’t stop people from doing what they’re going to do. I’ve been teaching my basic yoga class for about a year now, and it’s getting to the point where some of the students are ready to move on, but still come to my basic class. I love that they still come to my class, but they do set higher expectations for new students that are just beginning to practice. I continue to encourage body awareness and treating your body with care, and once in a while I introduce a new variation for the more advanced students. Eventually it starts to balance out. The more advanced students inspire the new ones, and I give the new students the opportunity to learn some lessons for themselves. I’ll be there to guide them to a safe practice as best I can, but ultimately they’re their own teachers and will learn their own limitations on their own. I guess it has to be a tough love sort of thing.

  5. shakti says:

    Love this! To your question: "Students, what is a helpful, non-condescending way to be advised against doing something?"

    My teachers simply tell me, "Use a block." Or "What are you trying to do over there?" (as I try to sneak is some quasi-advanced move I was practicing at home). "Do not overdo." "This is not a competition." And once, "Who do you think you are, Iyengar?"

    As you can see, it all depends on how much of a striver I am on any given day. But thanks to all these, which I take in stride, I've mellowed out as a striver. Likewise, my teachers have loosened up a bit with me and said, "Well, I guess you really are like Gumby," and let me be–sometimes. I love my teachers!

  6. am curious as to why some yoga instructors don't simply tell people that a class is inappropriate for them in advance and that they are welcome to practice yoga – but not in that class ….. isn't that part of support and guidance?

    Surely 'correcting' a pose, is as important with the mental as the physical?

    my wife is a yoga instructor and is pretty clear about when someone should not be in a class … seems to provide clarity and ease for everyone, and then supports each student in practicing in a way that is most appropriate and beneficial for them

  7. lindsay jean says:

    hi cameron, great question! i try to introduce myself to new students and ask about their prior yoga experience but often students are not upfront about their capabilities. i really appreciate it when students tell me about their injuries, experience level, etc., but when asked many say something to the effect of, "oh yes, i've done lots of yoga. no injuries." and then it turns out they've taken just two or so classes ten years ago or have had a major change in their body that isn't revealed to me until later in the class. on top of that, the information i am able to take in depends greatly on the size of the class, when the student shows up for class, and so on. the point of the post is to say that if you are new to yoga and especially if you have injuries, you should start out in a fundamentals class. after that, if you have injuries (and many of us do!), you should make it a point to get to class early enough to tell the teacher. and that you should be aware of and appreciate your body's limits. a teacher is there to offer guidance, but ultimately you are responsible for yourself. i spend a lot of time in class encouraging students to really listen to their breath, to their bodies. whether or not they actually do is up to them. i want to support and guide them as you say, but that requires something on their part as well.

  8. lindsay jean says:

    i do too! but that's sort of the rub, isn't it? a class should be taught at the stated level, but as teachers we have to take into account who is in the class and what they can safely do.

  9. lindsay jean says:

    thanks julia! i really like your suggestions too. i think that's a great point to say that sticking to the beginner level when demonstrating shows students that any variation can be a great place to be.

  10. lindsay jean says:

    i totally agree! most of the classes i teach are all levels, which is why i give so many variations and modifications. but my challenge is that i find that students who i perceive should be in the least complicated variation often strive for the most complicated, so how do i keep them safe while encouraging growth? i talk a lot about sukha and sthira, about breath, but that seems to resonate least with the students who i perceive need it most.

  11. lindsay jean says:

    thank you elize! very humbling, indeed!

  12. lindsay jean says:

    thank you ally! i completely agree. as you said, what the striver-sensation junkies do is beyond my control but i really feel responsible for what happens in my classes. as a teacher on the healing path, it's terrible to see people hurt themselves. but we all learn in our own ways. thank you for your feedback 🙂

  13. lindsay jean says:

    hi mari, i like your approach! thank you for sharing 🙂

  14. lindsay jean says:

    thanks shakti! you are your best teacher! sounds like you have a pretty good handle on things 🙂

  15. ARCreated says:

    OH amen sister — sometimes I feel like a broken record "practice at your own pace" only do what's right for you…HOLY CRAP WHAT IS THE PERSON DOING TO THEIR BODY…
    sometimes I hate to give the "next" deepening option, because inevitably someone is going to try it that shouldn't…or I dread that advance student doing crazy stuff in the basics class…that beginners try to mimic (don't stop doing what you do…it's those that dont' listen that make me crazy)
    I do sometime go over and pull people out of deeper poses and place them into better alignment, but ultimately I offer what I can and remember it's their journey — but I do warn of possible injuries… a lot…

  16. anouscka says:

    You're the teacher and are captain of the class. If you don't feel comfortable teaching a mixed levels class refer to another class and ask them to leave. The same with pregnant women coming to a regular class. refer them to prenatal unless you don't mind the interruptions for personal guidance during a regular flowing class.
    I also teach in a resort and we get drop ins in mixed levels all the time so safety first. Even those with in their opinion advanced practice (whatever that may entail) I ask not to take off on their own during my classes because it takes away from the class experience and you've otherwise could've practised at home. I do offer time in between for individual experiments depending on the levels of the group. beginners are often intimidated or shied away by the so-called advance students and even though it's not about that I want all levels to feel comfortable when they come to mixed classes. If in doubt, don't teach a mixed levels class.

  17. anouscka says:

    and remember, no matter how much you try people to take responsability for their own practice, when they come to class, their starting point may be: teacher knows best. which by the way is an assumption that may not necessarily prove to be correct…

  18. It is District Attorneys, not police officers, who file charges.

  19. Zoe Rei says:

    I like to plan classes and love the beauty of the fact that right before class I might have to throw out those plans. Usually it means not doing something advanced if a beginner just walked into class and providing different options for different levels. I'm always reminding students to meet themselves where they are and wherever that is is okay. I think I've been lucky so far in that the students who come to my classes have always been respectful of their bodies and know when to take a break or not do something. When I plan beg, int, and adv. classes, i also have a category for intermediate-with-the-beginner-who just-walked-in. I think one of my roles as a teacher is to encourage and guide people in listening to their bodies and I keep a close eye on them. In the event that someone were to get hurt because he/she was pushing themselves to hard (and hopefully they don't, knock on wood) I think that they would have to acknowledge that they found their edge and learn how to listen and respect their bodies more. Injuries are quick ways of getting in touch with where things are. I really like your last sentence "This is a practice. It’s ongoing. The only thing you have to do is breathe. Everything else is optional!" and I think I'll pass it on to my students.

  20. […] If you are a beginner, don’t take an advanced class. This might sound obvious, but truly, the descriptions are there to help you enjoy the conference. If you know you aren’t a morning person, don’t take a class marked “mostly advanced asana” at 8 a.m. on Saturday. All of the class selections have a detailed description and list of recommended items to bring. Which brings me to my next point… […]