Every yoga teacher knows the sometimes surprising experience of starting to teach and feeling first-hand the huge difference between the trial teaching at the teacher training, and teaching a real class.
New teachers are usually advised to teach beginner classes. There is a notion that these are the easiest classes to teach, but in retrospect, for me at least, they're the hardest.
When I first started teaching, one of my biggest challenges was letting go of the perfect-looking class. In my beginner class, most were totally unfit, a significant percentage had some kind of injury or sickness, they had almost no idea about yoga, and the ideas that they did have about yoga were quite superficial.
Some of them were also not very open-minded. The amount of corrections and explanations I needed to do in order to even get a “normal-looking" yoga class were far too big to fit the situation. I had to toss my plan pretty quickly if I wanted them to stay.
I was excited to teach beginners and aimed at working with an unconventional target audience, but I was still quite shocked when the challenge really revealed itself. So I leaned on my knowledge of yoga philosophy in order to develop new mindframes, which really helped me work with complete beginners in a way that is satisfying for me and for them.
1. Nothing is Too Strange if You Explain it Right
When I introduce something that I know is outside of my students' comfort-zone, like a new exercise that looks funny or a meditation that works on some ideas that are not common, I always try to first get in the shoes of my students and explain it from this place.
Being honest, straight forward, and looking at eye-level softens everything. We were all beginners once.
2. Accept Them Where They Are
There are students that just won’t get what you are trying to explain, no matter how many times and in how many ways you explain and correct. I give it a few tries and then, as long as they are not on the way to hurting themselves, I just let them be.
Maybe some other students will look at them strangely, but I don’t. Maybe one day the chip will fall, maybe not—it’s important to understand that this is their yoga practice more than it is my class.
3. Allow and Even Encourage Them to Find Their Own Version
If you really follow the concept of fitting the yoga to the student and not the other way around, then every student should have a totally different-looking practice, according to his or her individual wishes, needs, and abilities.
In group classes, especially in beginner classes, the pressure to “get it right” is sometimes way too big, and I feel that as a teacher, my responsibility is to lower this pressure and not to reinforce it.
In the end, there is no right and wrong in yoga. And that is a much more valuable lesson to my students then perfecting all the details of every exercise.
4. Don’t Force Yourself to Like Them All, and They Also Don’t Have to Like You
I accept and welcome every person that comes to my class, but I’m not everybody’s cup of tea, and I’m also not trying to be. I know that for some people I’m the best fit, and this is where I can help, but if I’m not—then not.
Students are coming to my class voluntarily and I also allow them to leave as they want. I give the challenges, but it's theirs to take.
I will never try to make a student stay if I know it’s just not a good fit. Many beginners come to yoga and expect to “get some exercise done” and that's okay, but that is not the class I can give them. It’s not the kind of teacher I am, and by showing them my self-awareness, acceptance, and equanimity in the face of their dramas, I set myself and them free.
So yes, many times my class looks like a mess and nobody would make a yoga video out of them, but yoga was not made to entertain us.
Yoga was meant to set us free by teaching us to let go of our own selfish goals and expectations.~Or Shahar
…and that is what I want to give my students.
It’s sometimes hard to do in a “normal" yoga class. Sometimes it feels like modern yoga has gone such a great distance from its spiritual roots, that the gap is almost impossible to close.
But besides finding more platforms to teach yoga, I think that a yoga class that fulfills all criteria expected from it can still be a great opportunity, when the teacher really embodies the yogic principles to the best of their ability.