Friday, August 26, 2011

Begin at the beginning

Teaching yoga to loved ones can be very instructive.  I taught my first private class to a loved one who had never before practiced yoga before.  Here's what I learned about teaching:

1. Start with practicing the foundations together

  • For a beginner show and tell is very important, they've never practiced before so show them what you want them to do first
  • Show the posture,  then show again (while describing) and practicing together
  • Sun salutations are a great foundation to teach, as are the warrior postures
2. Flow is not as important as safety for a beginner
  • Teaching the basic sequencing and how to get in and out of a posture is key
  • Make sure that your student knows to back off of anything that hurts
  • In movements where the torso is moving away from the thighs remember to teach your to engage the abs to protect the back
  • Only teach what you yourself practice.  If you practice safely you will teach safely
3. Don't throw too much at a beginner
  • If you need to practice the same sequence of 4 four asanas 10 times, so be it. You may think it boring, but it may help your new student to gain confidence and stability in this new practice
  • While seasoned practitioners know that breath and movement go hand in hand, it can be a point of confusion for the beginner   
  • Instead try teaching one or two points during the first few repetitions of the postures.  Add more tweaks after the student is confident and safely getting in and out of the postures
  • Use simple words to try to convey what you want the student to do.  Be clear and concise
4. Breath is important
  • Breath is very important, even for the beginner, especially for the beginner
  • Gently, simply remind them to breathe
  • Pay attention to the rise & fall of the chest make sure your student isn't holding the breath
  • Again, gently remind them to breathe
These are just a few things that I gleaned teaching someone who is brand new to yoga.  As teachers inevitably we will have students who are brand new to yoga.  They won't know what a downward dog is, let alone a sun salutation.  I certainly overwhelmed my newbie.  In designing the class I was so focused on doing things that would get fluid moving in her joints and not adversely affect her knees that I lost sight of the fact that she was truly a beginner and need to know the foundation.  Obviously we can't teach all of our classes at a beginners level but we can certainly be mindful of the fact that there are beginners there and their needs will be different from a seasoned practitioner.  While this was a private class it really made me aware that beginners only need one or two cues to start with or else it becomes confusing and overwhelming.

I really felt honored that I was given such honest feed back.  I am learning to teach and there's a lot that I don't know.  There's also a lot that I do know, I just have to remember and put it into practice.  Our students truly are our best teachers.  Just remember that for those who are new, begin at the beginning.

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