Ever wonder what goes through the mind of a yoga teacher while they’re teaching class? Some think about the next posture they’re going to cue, the next meal they’re going to eat or whatever plans they may after class. I often secretly imagine I’m leading my students through an elaborate game of Simon Says. I cue and the students do whatever I cue. Whenever a student does something other than what I’m cueing, inside I’m screaming, “Simon didn’t say!”
One of my classes last week had me feeling more like I was in an episode of the Twilight Zone rather than a game of Simon Says. As soon as I started class, I realized something was off. Only one side of the room was following along with my cues while the other half of the room stood there on their mats looking around. What the heck was going on? Then it dawned on me. The side of the room that was standing around looking lost were yoga beginners. I had to adjust my teaching style quickly.
I’ve learned quite a few things since teaching my first yoga class back in January. I’ve also learned a few effective ways on teaching yoga to newbies. Here are 7 ways to teach yoga to beginners:
1 – Teach To The Bodies In The Room
The first thing I do when I start teaching a class is survey the entire room. I can get a sense of what the overall level is among the students just by observing them through the first round of Sun A in class. Sometimes I have a room full of experienced yogis. Sometimes I have a room full of newbies. Then there are classes like the one last week where it was literally half and half. Teaching To The Bodies in the Room is an important concept I learned early on in yoga teacher training. It allows me to go off script just a bit and adjust my cueing as needed, based on what I see in the room. I literally teach to what I see and change up my cues when needed.
2 – Be Patient
As a teacher, it’s easy to get frustrated when a student does their own thing in class or just stares at you blankly while you try to cue them in and out of a posture. For new teachers, this can be especially stressful. You might start worrying about getting off track with the timing of your class, the timing of your music or it can throw off your teaching flow all together. When I see a student struggling their way through postures, I remind myself of my first yoga class. I was a hot mess and all over the place. Thankfully, I’ve had lots of amazing teachers over the years who have helped improve my practice and changed my life. I want to be that same teacher to someone else. The extra time you take with a new student can make their introduction into yoga memorable. Why not make it positive experience?
3 – Lead By Example
When I teach my classes, I try to accommodate all of various learning styles. For verbal (linguistic) and physical (kinesthetic) learners, I move around the room while verbally cueing postures and offering hands-on assists to students. Even though I don’t demo every posture throughout class, I will always demo a handful of postures like Star, Horse, Tree, the entire Core section, Frog and Crow for the visual (spatial) learners. Most people don’t have only one learning style. This is why I try to apply to as many learning styles as I can while I teach a class.
If I have a class full of beginners or if I see someone struggling with a posture, I’ll set up next to that student and do the posture with them. Most of the time, students can get in and out of the postures just by listening to my cues. Every now and then a student will need to see a posture in order for it to make sense in their own mind and body. This is when demoing a couple extra postures during class can be really effective.
4 – Keep It Simple
There are many different ways to teach yoga and every teacher has their own teaching style. When it comes to teaching beginners, I find it best to keep things as simple as possible. I love using the Sanskrit names for the yoga postures I cue in class. When I have a room full of beginners, I’ll limit the amount of Sanskrit I use in class and introduce most, if not all of the postures by their English name. Beginners are already overwhelmed with being in the room and trying to distinguish their left from their right. There’s no need to confuse them even more by using fancy names for postures in another language.
Another way to keep things simple for beginners in a yoga class is with cues. I find beginners have an easier time following along when I keep my cues in class short and basic. The goal is always to get students in and out postures correctly. There’s plenty of time to refine a posture as one deepens their practice with the more yoga classes they take. For a beginner, it doesn’t make sense to overwhelm them with a bunch of yoga jargon during their first class. This is why I like to stick to the basics and not get too fancy when I’m teaching to beginners.
5 – Be Kind
Most times when I teach, I feel like I’m conducting a yoga orchestra. There’s a lot going on in a yoga class. As a teacher, I’m cueing to the bodies in the room. I’m constantly adjusting the music, lights, heat and humidity throughout class. I’m also offering hands-on assists to students while I’m cueing. I’m constantly moving around the room to make sure every student can hear me at all times during class.
One very important thing about conducting the yoga orchestra that is my yoga class, especially for a new student, is to create a safe and encouraging space to practice. One way I love doing this is by practicing kindness in my class through the use of words of encouragement to both the class as a whole and individual students. I especially love giving positive feedback during class to the new students. I find most new students appreciate the extra assistance and want reassurance that everything is going to be okay.
6 – Answer Questions
For someone who’s new to yoga, they’re probably going to have a ton of questions about the things that happen in the studio. Anything from why there’s no talking allowed inside the yoga room or why they can’t wear their shoes inside the studio to why everyone says “Namaste” after class. It could even be as simple as wanting to know which way to set up their mat in the yoga room.
For new students, I’ll go out of my way to show them the lay of the studio – where they can store their shoes and belongings during class, where we will be practicing class and the direction they should set up their mat up in for class. During class, I’ll talk about the benefits of some of the postures throughout the sequence. I always encourage students, both new and returning, to stop by the front desk and ask any questions they may have about class, the studio or yoga in general.
7 – Make It Personal
The difference between an awesome yoga class and a meh yoga class is the connection made between the students and the teacher.
It all starts with learning a student’s first name when they check in for class. This is especially important for new students. People love when you care enough to remember their name and use it. Who doesn’t want to feel appreciated and special, especially when they’re doing something for the first time? I love going to a yoga class and the teacher uses my name. It always leaves me feeling special, even if I’m struggling my way through the class. So, when I’m teaching, I like to use a student’s name during class as I’m giving them words of encouragement because as a student myself, I know how good it feels.
Offering a personal share at the end of each class is another great way to connect with both new and returning students. Whenever I teach a class, I introduce a theme and offer an intention for students to focus on throughout class. During class, I sprinkle in bits and pieces of the theme through the form of specific cues or an appropriate quote. At the end of class, I tie the theme together by adding a short, personal story of how the theme has been showing up in my own life, either on or off the mat. Sometimes, my personal shares encourage students to tell me after class how the theme or my personal share has resonated with them. The time I spend chatting with students either before or after class is hands down my favorite part of class. I love getting to know my students.
Obviously, these relationships take time to build. Connecting with students is one of my favorite parts about teaching yoga. It doesn’t happen overnight or with just one class. It starts with learning a student’s name on their first visit, using their name in class, being open to answering any questions they may have and inviting them to stop by for a conversation either before or after class.
Teaching yoga to someone who’s never done yoga before can be challenging, but it can also be quite rewarding. If you take the time to give new students positive energy and attention during their first yoga class, you could be the teacher who helps them fall in love with their practice and help them want to keep coming back to their mat for more.