Teaching beginning yoga students is one of the more challenging tasks for any yoga teacher.
Ironically, it tends to be the newest teachers who teach the newest students. Following are some tips on how to maximize the experience from both ends.
1. Let your passion drive you, but not over the edge.
When I was a beginning teacher, I got a little too worked up about everything. I wanted to squeeze in every cue, pose, and Sanskrit word I could manage. I clearly recall looks of consternation on my student’s faces. I wish I could have advised myself that teaching yoga is a process.
You’re never going to convey the totality of the practice in a single class.
2. Try and remember this isn’t your practice, it is your class.
Again, I learned this one the hard way. As teachers, we can get caught up in our own poses at the expense of our students. I used to routinely leave my students hanging in whatever asana while I myself worked my way through it. I was trying to find the best words to describe how my body was moving so my students could follow along, but at a certain point, I became more worried about what I was doing than what my students were doing. I abandoned them right when they needed me most!
Over time I developed the courage to know that I could lead a class better if I was directing my energy outward, even if my words weren’t perfect.
3. Be honest about things you don’t know.
Every teacher, including me, has been tempted to supply a made up answer to a perplexing question. No one wants to not know—especially when you’re supposed to be the expert.
Fortunately for me, I did this in the very first class I taught in teacher training, and my teacher was there. I gave some hackneyed answer about how to handle one of my student’s/peer’s tear in her hamstring insertion that was so far off base it was laughable.
My teacher cautioned me that I could injure people badly by advising them on subjects about which I was ignorant. I never did it again.
1. If you are in a beginning class, consider (kindly) asking how long your teacher has been teaching. New teachers can be wonderful, but they are not yet seasoned and it might be helpful for you to know that.
If the teacher is a beginner like you, then approach her classes with respect but caution. You will be learning together, which is a remarkable and fruitful process, but make sure you always listen to your own intuition.
Obviously, this is true for all classes, and indeed all situations in life, but when yoga-student-virgin meets yoga-teacher-virgin, it is especially key.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
This is such basic advice I almost didn’t include it, but I know for myself that I sometimes lack the humility to ask questions.
In yoga, we try to check our ego at the door. Questions don’t reveal ignorance, they reveal a desire to grow.
3. Be willing to suck.
Few are the lucky people who can breeze into a yoga class and rock the poses. Some of those people include teenage gymnasts, ex-ballet dancers and that’s about it.
Don’t expect to look great or be great right away. And remember, how you look in yoga isn’t the point.
We are not there to look a particular way, but to feel and think a particular way. You can do that no matter how uncoordinated or oafish you may be.
The physical piece is more or less challenging for everyone, but every single person who has any mobility no matter how limited can benefit from practice. Again, it’s more about setting the ego aside and just allowing yourself to be.
Whether you are a beginning student or a beginning teacher, rejoice! You are on a well worn path proven to bring lightness to your spirit, physical health and peace of mind.
We all are students and we all are teachers, and we all have to begin somewhere. Let’s treat each other tenderly as we stumble toward the truth together.
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Ed: Catherine Monkman