Beginner yogis are great. They are a mixture of open enthusiasm, fresh outlook on yoga and anything it could represent to them, and at the same time, a bundle of insecurities and prejudice towards this ancient practice.
Will they be able to do it, is it for them, what is it all about, what will happen during the class and what on earth is the teacher talking about? These are some of the questions that might be running through a beginner's mind during their first yoga classes.
So as a teacher, you have to keep the classes simple and approachable. Here are some tips to keep in mind when teaching beginners.
1. Keep the language simple and easy.
Every teacher has their own style, and at the same time their own yogic vocabulary. 'Breathe into your heart space' may not be a clear instruction for beginners who are still searching for what yoga actually is.
So it's good to keep the instructions very clear, and anchored into something physical and familiar. Although you would normally go through the majority of the poses in Sanskrit, maybe for beginners it's good to reverse this, and keep the Sanskrit to a minimum.
Your students will be more concerned about understanding what to do, rather than what the pose is called. But as you slowly introduce them to poses, you will naturally weave in Sanskrit as well.
2. Anatomy and body awareness might differ per student.
As you progress on the path of yoga, your awareness of the general anatomy and your own body gets more advanced. However, a beginning student may have very little awareness of their body and what the different bones and muscles are called.
Instead of asking the student to externally rotate the femur, you can ask the student to check that the knee points towards the little toe. Again, the students are trying to experience their bodies for the very first time in these poses, and the time and the space for detailed anatomy will come.
3. The concept of yoga is new.
The emphasis of asana practice often gets interpreted as yoga, and the other seven limbs may be quite unknown to new students. Maybe students come to yoga for stretching or because of an injury they want to heal in a gentle way, and slowly get interested in the spiritual side of yoga.
You can slowly introduce the concept of yoga during the classes, and reveal a little bit of the background at a time, without overwhelming the students with a philosophy lesson.
4. Give extra encouragement.
Am I doing this right, you want my leg where, how is this supposed to feel?
New students need more assistance and reassurance that everything is okay, and that the way they can access the pose is just fine. The image of a 'yogi' lives strong in the media, so when you don't even bend close to what you have seen in pictures, you might get discouraged.
However, we don't all start with the same level of flexibility or strength, and yoga is a personal process. As long as your students look safe in their poses, you can assure them to trust the process.
5. Explain why we do the things we do.
It's always nice to know why we do the things we do. Instead of assuming your students would know, you can explain a few things per class, such as the meaning of Namaste, or the meaning behind some more common mudras used.
A beginner is not always comfortable to ask, especially in a bigger class. And even if your student would know already, it's always nice to hear how someone else explains things, and you'll learn something new every time.
Teaching beginner's yoga classes will also teach you something about yourself, the way you view yoga and the way you experience it. Sharing your passion is a nice gift, and you might light up many hearts along the way.