On Teaching Beginners

I had the wonderful opportunity this week to teach another teacher’s class- a group of level one beginners who mostly started practicing yoga with her in January. I found myself uncharacteristically nervous, worried at the prospect of this group of newer students accustomed to the teaching style of someone else maybe finding my way different and less enjoyable, of planning a class that was either too easy (boring) or too difficult (frustrating), of not being as awesome as their usual teacher (who is also a teacher of mine and someone I admire).

In the end, I’m not sure if I succeeded in what I wanted, which was to give these people a nice, juicy release, to help them get into their hips and maybe into their lungs and hearts a bit, too. But I sure learned a lot.

For some reason most of the folks who come to my classes (I teach a mixed-level class which I tweak according to who shows up) are people with some kind of regular practice, which is both wonderful and terrible. Wonderful in the sense that I have the opportunity to lead them deeper into places that are familiar to them; they are familiar with the language I’m speaking even if they aren’t fluent. But the thing about teaching intermediate or advanced students as opposed to beginners is that it’s easy. I don’t have to really get into the nitty gritty of most poses to lead the class through them, they know where their feet and their hands should be and if I remind them to slide their shoulder blades down their backs, they know how that should feel.

But nothing shows you just what you aren’t saying like teaching a class of beginners. If you omit some detail in the cuing of a pose, the students simply don’t do it. And you have to find a way to describe the action you’re leading them through in plain English! I had a friend once tell me that the one time he tried yoga, his teacher couldn’t tell him exactly what she meant when she asked the class to engage their arms. He never went to another yoga class again! The pressure is very real, the prospect of turning people off of what I believe is something we all need in our lives, the practice of taking time to introspect, to move our bodies, to breathe. Sharing this is the reason I wanted to become a yoga teacher in the first place.

So I chose my words carefully. A couple times I caught a little tremor in my voice as I asked the class to fire up the muscles of the legs from ankle to knee, knee to hip, over and over again. I felt silly repeating myself but I said things again and again until they did them. And at the end, most of the class was smiling and I was only shaking a little bit.

I’ll just have to know I did my best, and let go. And maybe teach a level one class in the new year.

Namaste,

Hope

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