It's tough teaching general yoga classes. Have you ever watched new students struggling while wondering if the more experienced students were bored? Perhaps you've felt bad at the end of class because you didn't get around to offering an adjustment or modification to every student who would have benefited from one.
If that’s a familiar scenario, it’s time to change your approach to teaching open group classes and learn how to put your students at the very heart of the practice.
Yoga was never meant to be taught in big groups. Traditionally a student would live with a teacher who tailored their instruction to meet the physical, psychological and spiritual needs of that individual.
In modern classes, most teachers do not have this close relationship with every student. It’s not always possible to glean full details of each student’s physical, emotional and spiritual condition and even if you could, how do you adapt your class to meet the needs of a group of people with different needs?
And yet, as a teacher, it is your responsibility to offer instruction that is safe, meaningful and guides students towards the state of yoga. That’s quite different to ‘teaching to the middle’ and hoping that everybody gets something out of it (without getting injured).
The simplest way to ensure each student gets the best practice is to turn THEM into the teacher. You might be the person giving the instructions, but your student’s experience of the practice is largely determined by their own unique physical and behavioural patterns. It’s your job to help them refine their self-awareness so they can adapt what they do to meet their individual needs.
This approach is more challenging and satisfying for both student and teacher, requiring both parties to become fully present in each and every moment. Rather than persisting with the ‘monkey-see-monkey-do’ model of demonstrating poses and hoping students will eventually get it, you can empower students by helping them to become immersed in their own experience.
Teaching students to cultivate a deep awareness of their own practice has multiple benefits:
1. It teaches them internal focus and clarity
2. It allows students of all abilities to work at their own level.
3. It reduces the risk of injury as they become present to their own bodies
4. It empowers them to develop an authentic practice that truly meets their needs.
You can start teaching this approach right away. Ask your students to really FEEL what is going on with the body and the breath. Continually remind them to observe their practice, encourage them to recognise the difference between challenge and strain and to notice when their attention wanders. Ask them to watch their mental responses to different asanas – do they feel strong, discouraged, competitive, fatigued, elated?
Nikola Ellis is the founder of Adore Yoga, yoga therapist, counsellor and teacher trainer. She conducts regular trainings that help people of all ages, shapes and abilities enjoy the benefits of yoga and meditation, including Meditation Facilitator Certificate Trainings; Level 1 200hr Teacher Training and Post Graduate Yoga Teacher Training in Mental Health, Adaptive Asana and the Foundations of Yoga Therapy and a highly regarded professional 650hr Graduate Certificate of Yoga Therapy.