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Yoga Hero: Teachers Podcast – Episode 21

21: Tips for teaching yoga beginners

In this episode, we’ll cover some tips for teaching yoga beginners to keep you focused, and to keep your beginners safe.

Teaching yoga beginners fills even many experienced yoga teachers with dread! You want to keep the class flowing for the non-beginners, you want to make sure everyone is safe, you want to make sure no one feels stupid by not understanding something… Meanwhile you’re doing all your normal teaching stuff like making sure the music isn’t too loud, getting your rights and lefts bang on, remembering what’s next in your sequence, and so on. 

In this episode, we’ll cover some tips and tricks to bear in mind to keep you focused and keep your beginners safe. In a future episode, we’ll look specifically at integrating beginners in to open level classes. Also, for ease and simplicity, we’re focusing on in-person classes, but a lot of the information will be very relevant to online classes too.

In this episode we look at:

  • Instructions and cueing
  • Use of props
  • Sequencing
  • Demo-ing
  • About you

And don’t forget, if you struggle with lacking in confidence, overthinking and overplanning, you can join our Shatter Imposter Syndrome challenge, simply go to yogahero.co.uk/shatter to sign up! (it’s free!)

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    Previous Episodes of Yoga Hero: Teachers Podcast

    Episode 43: Should yoga teachers care about money?

    Episode 42: Should yoga teachers demo while teaching?

    Episode 41: Should yoga teachers use Sanskrit?

    Episode 40: The business of teaching Yoga Nidra

    Episode 39: How to develop a consistent Yoga Nidra practice (even with a busy life)

    Episode 38: A Yoga Nidra for yoga teachers

    Episode 37: Yoga Nidra: The art of sleeping to wake up

    Episode 36:: How I Became a Full-Time Yoga Teacher

    Episode 35: How to Become a Full-Time Yoga Teacher

    Episode 34: Balancing having a job and teaching yoga

    Episode 33: Balancing Parenting and Teaching Yoga

    Episode 32: How to teach yoga workshops

    Episode 31: How much to charge for your yoga classes

    Episode 30: How to create your yoga brand

    Episode 29: How to layer your asana classes with yoga philosophy

    Episode 28: What’s your WHY as a yoga teacher

    Episode 27: Setting up your own classes as a yoga teacher

    Episode 26: How would you teach yoga if you weren’t afraid?

    Episode 25: Do I need a yoga brand?

    Episode 24: Tips for new yoga teachers

    Episode 23: Define who you are as a yoga teacher

    Episode 22: Yoga adjustments: Some important considerations

    Episode 21: Tips for teaching yoga beginners

    Episode 20: The joys of being a yoga teacher

    Episode 19: Overcome imposter syndrome as a yoga teacher

    Episode 18: Create your social media calendar

    Episode 17: A complete guide to sequencing yoga classes

    Episode 16: Do you need to teach a new yoga sequence each week?

    Episode 15: Introducing yoga philosophy in to your asana classes

    Tips for teaching yoga beginners – Transcript

    Hello and welcome to our Yoga Hero Teachers Podcast. This podcast has been designed to help yoga teachers teach with passion, avoid burn out and earn a fair living.

    Teaching yoga beginners fills even many experienced yoga teachers with dread! You want to keep the class flowing for the non-beginners, you want to make sure everyone is safe, you want to make sure no one feels stupid by not understanding something… Meanwhile you’re doing all your normal teaching stuff like making sure the music isn’t too loud, getting your rights and lefts bang on, remembering what’s next in your sequence, and so on. 

    In this episode, we’ll cover some tips and tricks to bear in mind to keep you focused and keep your beginners safe. In a future episode, we’ll look specifically at integrating beginners in to open level classes. Also, for ease and simplicity, we’re focusing on in-person classes, but a lot of the information will be very relevant to online classes too.

    In this episode we’ll look at

    • Instructions and cueing
    • Use of props
    • Sequencing
    • Demo-ing
    • About you

    Ok, let’s go!

    Instructions and cueing

    One of the main things to take away from this episode, even if you don’t remember anything else, is that yogi beginners aren’t telepathic. So if you say come to Adho Mukha Svanasana, or even if you say come to Downward Facing Dog, they aren’t going to know what that is. You may as well say come in to babi dee boopee. When we’re doing teacher trainings, we encourage our trainees to write a script for asanas that are commonly taught. Now don’t be concerned about our use of the term script.. we just mean even a couple of bullet points, that you have in your head, or written down in your sequencing book, to concisely break down the safety first cues for the asana.

    Remember that the yogi has a lifetime to refine alignment, so at first, we’re working on a safety first basis. I think this is one of many ways that ahimsa relates to teaching yoga; first and foremost, you make sure that the person is safe, do no harm.

    Also in terms of instructions and cueing, it’s important to remember that practicing yoga helps us connect with our bodies and helps with co-ordination, so someone who’s new to practice may lack this connection and co-ordination. Maybe. Not always. If someone’s disconnected from their body, some cues just won’t resonate. Have you ever said ‘bend your legs’, ‘bend your knees’, ‘bend your legs a little more’ to a newbie in downward dog, and they’ve straightened them more? Or you’ve said ‘relax your shoulders’ and nothing happens? Well this could all be for a number of reasons, but one of them may well be just a disconnect between thinking brain and conscious activity in the body. It’s ok. They will get there! Physical assists can help but that’s a whole separate topic! By the way if you’re interested in learning about physical adjustments, or you’d like to refresh your knowledge which disappeared a bit with the two years of social distancing, we have an Adjustments weekend coming up, which is Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th April at our studio in Leeds. It’s a complete introduction and refresher to adjustments, and all yoga teachers are welcome, new, experienced and those in training.

    Back to instructions and cueing – to help you consolidate this knowledge and immediately feel more confident teaching beginners, an action step here would be to take a class plan, maybe the class plan you taught most recently, and imagine you were teaching it a a total newbie to yoga. What guidance do you need to give? Will that take up much extra time? What cues have you used before that haven’t resonated – could you make these clearer in any way?

    Use of props

    One of my biggest bug bears as a yoga teacher trainer is hearing ‘now use a prop if you need to’. A beginner – and often even experienced yogis – don’t know what prop they should use, why they should use it, when they should use it nor what benefit it will bring.

    So, definitely use props and offer the use of props but take the time to explain why someone might need to use them. If you don’t have time for this in your sequence, make time or change your sequence. And lastly, I’d strongly advise you using the prop if you’re demo-ing, even if you don’t need it, it just makes it much more  of a natural choice for your yogis to use theirs.

    And lastly in terms of using props – I’d say if you’re going to take the time to explain how to use one and encourage people to do so, then re use it in your class, so that’s time very well spent. So if at the beginning of your class, you start in seated mediation, you take the time to explain why sitting up on a block or bolster or whatever makes the asana more accessible, then you could do some seated asanas towards the end of your class to make use of this time.

    Let’s make this real, so go back to your class plan you were using before, and make notes of any asanas where props may be required, and add in a couple of bullets of how you would explain the benefits, and how to use the prop.

    Sequencing

    Ok. When teaching beginners, and i think this might be the second most important point of this entire episode, so if you’re day dreaming, come on back! When teaching beginners, your class doesn’t have to be easy, it has to be clear.

    I’ll say that one more time.

    Your class doesn’t have to be easy, it has to be clear.

    In the props section I mentioned about being efficient with your time; if you’re going to use a prop then re-use to make the best use of the time you spent explaining it. I’d say the same point is valid here. If you’re going to take some time explaining an asana that’s new to the yogi; which might be plank or downward dog, or mountain pose, try to use that information again in the class. So, if you’re explaining active feet and active legs in Tadasana, re-use that information say in tree pose, in warrior 3, and so on!

    Now of course  – for the avoidance of doubt – some populations will need classes that are not physically challenging, and so hopefully you have styles of yoga under your belt that meet this requirement, like Restorative and Yin (by the way, if you don’t, check out our trainings as we’re hosting both this year, and both courses are absolutely amazing!).

    So, for your action steps, return to your class plan and think about what needs some in-depth explaining, what you can re-use, and, would you need to take a section out of your sequence if you’re teaching beginners – for more on sectioning your sequences, you might like to listen to episode 17 – a complete guide to sequencing yoga classes.

    Demo-ing

    I think demo-ing can be quite a controversial thing in yoga, so let’s be clear about one thing – how you demo and how much you demo is pretty personal to you as a yoga teacher. If you’re true to yourself and what you think is right, your yogis will find you.

    Aside from that, but also related to that, people learn in different ways, some will watch other people, some will watch and mirror your every move, some will listen to instruction. But bear in mind that demo-ing the whole class and holding back on spoken instruction might not be the best course of action, especially in asanas like downward dog, childs pose etc you don’t want people straining to look at the front of the room trying to work out what you’re doing. Plus demoing, speaking, running around between classes, carrying around equipment, is such a short cut to burn out, it’s knackering! We’ll isolate demo-ing in it’s own episode soon.

    In short thought, the pros of demoing are that people can see you and that can serve as a guide as to what to do. The cons are that your body might not represent theirs, that they might have to strain to look at you and that it’s demanding on your energy levels, to name just a few. I’d recommend ensuring that your instructions, cueing and sequence allow for as little demoing as possible, and then how much you choose to demo is a choice of yours.

    About you

    If you can take steps to be welcoming, approachable and warm, to invite questions, you’re more likely to find that people ask you for advice, meaning that you don’t have to say everything that everyone ever needed know about yoga up front, but you can answer the questions as needed. I’d also recommend at the end of class saying ‘if anyone has any questions, I’m in no hurry, please do come and ask’. Not only will this make people feel that it’s fine to ask a question, but also if a few people have the same question, you can integrate this in to your class in future and people will have that information.

    Try to remember people’s names, do what you can to get a touch of insight in to people’s lives, if someone comes a few weeks on the bounce and each week is saying they’re struggling with stress levels, you can weave stress relief in to a class, and let them know. This of course is just absolutely common sense and being a nice person. but yoga can come across as so elitist, it’s well worth a reminder here to just be nice, provide an opportunity to listen and be a good example of yoga!

    So hopefully that’s some good food for thought there on teaching yoga newbies. You were a newbie once, if you can remember that, and remember how you felt, that’s going to help you connect with the newbies that are coming to your classes!

    We’d love to know how you’re finding these episodes, and if they’ve been helpful. Please do let me know by emailing hello@yogahero.co.uk or sending a DM to @yogahero_teachers on instagram.

    And, as always, happy teaching.