Monday, September 28, 2015

More About Boosting Our Students’ Confidence

yoga teacher communication skills
By Kathryn Boland
Part II – Communication, Class by Class

Do you recognize ways in which your students could have a richer yoga practice experience if they could release their strongly held views of “wrong” and “right”? Do you wish they could just trust what their inner knowing can tell them is best for them as individuals? In the first part of this series, I introduced this dynamic through describing a student of mine who presently seems unable to look to herself for her own answers, instead constantly seeking reassurance from me that she’s doing it “right”. I suspect, dear readers, that you’ve encountered similar students.

That behavior, and these students’ underlying lack of confidence in themselves as practitioners, is problematic in a few aspects. Firstly, it limits the potential of their practices because they know things about themselves, things that impact the practices that are best for them, that we instructors could never fully grasp. Furthermore, lack of willingness to look inward for answers stands in the way of their growth into individuals who can find what is right for themselves within themselves – a key part of our journeys as yoga practitioners.

So, all of this considered, how can we guide our students to listen to, to trust, themselves as yoga practitioners? How can we boost their confidence when they come from a culture that all too often tells them that their choices are “wrong”? Firstly, we can foster full and open communication between ourselves and our students. As yoga instructors, it helps us to hear students tell us what does and does not feel right for them, their goals, and the pertinent elements of their personal histories.

That helps us to lead them in practices that more appropriately fit them, rather than the other way around. Even after doing so – as we’re humans who make mistakes, and not perfect teaching robots (how boring would that be?) – students who listen to their inner knowing can make choices to follow what we offer, or make alternate choices (such as resting in Child’s Pose versus taking another Vinyasa flow sequence).

How can we foster that kind of communication? Ideally, what does it sound, feel, and look like? In Part I of this series I described how I tried to deliver these ideas to my student – some of which I would repeat, given the chance, and some of which I know that I could have approached more tactfully and articulately. Otherwise, we can offer students further resources on yogic perspectives and philosophies. There are countless videos, books, websites, et cetera on those topics – accessible and (likely) appealing to all types of people. Perhaps - if they might have the time, inclination, and intellectual capacity – they might even feel up to tackling the Yoga Sutras or the Bhagavad Gita.

If students can’t, or don’t want to, approach these resources on their own, it’s always an option to cite phrases or sentences from them at any point during our practices (full credit given, of course). Many instructors also read passages from such texts at the beginning of classes - or at some point before, during, or to end Savasana. When teachers do this in classes that I take, it most often adds something truly special to my experience of that day’s practice. Exposure to these sources can help students to more fully understand, and hopefully embrace, the yogic view of finding one’s own right path.

That aside, the ways that we directly converse with our students - during classes and in those moments before and after classes - largely determine the success level of the overall communication between us. If we take a commanding attitude over our students - telling them to execute this or that posture, at this or that time, never leaving space for them to ask questions - we convey that they must seek their answers in us. On the other hand, we can ask them meaningful questions, encourage them to ask questions of us, and offer various modifications of separate postures (also emphasizing that they are more than free to choose of those what they think is best for them).

Those actions send them the message that their inner knowing has value, and is even important for finding what is truly right for them. All of that communication is also possible before and after our classes, if we arrive early and stick around afterwards. Even our actions of leaving that space for communication and collaboration open, before and after our classes, is meaningful; it indicates to our students that their concerns, desires, stories of their experiences, questions, et cetera are worth that extra time to us.  Those messages contrast Western society’s overarching message that there is a “right” and a “wrong” way decided by someone or something apart from themselves, with what is “right” being what they must strive for – their individuality inconsequential.

As yoga instructors, we are positioned to help them learn another, more fulfilling way of being and believing – one that is found within yoga. We can help them learn to respect their inner voices, and thus maybe even live fuller lives off of the mat. As an instructor, to me that is a gift – yet a place of responsibility. We instructors, therefore, owe it to our students to remain mindful of this dynamic, and perform our duties as instructors accordingly. As always, I’d love to hear your views on the topic, dear readers – so please comment below. On Shanti!

© Copyright 2015 – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Boosting Our Students’ Confidence

mindsets and yoga
Western-Culture Mindsets and Yoga – Part I
By Kathryn Boland

Do you find yourself trying to boost your students’ confidence as yoga practitioners, they are constantly wondering whether they’re “doing it right”? In my view, those type of self-doubts come from a Western culture mindset that often defines achievement very narrowly, that there is always a right and a wrong way. Yoga, on the other hand, teaches that there are many different paths towards success – the path, and the nature of success itself, different for everyone. This dynamic has been on my mind recently, as I’ve begun working with an upper-middle-class, female, middle-aged client in private yoga lessons. I’ll call her Lacey (for confidentiality purposes).

She is a very dedicated and hard-working student, with a level of committed focus that I truly appreciate. At points, however, she expresses a lack of confidence in her own abilities and an attitude of “just tell me how to do it right”. At one point, she even expressed outright that she is frustrated because “I feel like I’m not doing it right…because you keep correcting me and adjusting me”. I tried, I think successfully, to take a deep breath and overcome a rising judgmental view (“what?” was an initial, more primal thought in my head). I explained to her that I’m not doing those things because she’s doing anything “wrong”, but only to help her deepen her yoga practice experience as well as ensure that she avoids injury.

At other times when she has insisted that I tell her how to do it “right”, I’ve come back with a variation of “Well, how does it feel for you?”. I’m trying to help her to get closer to the point when she can listen to her own body’s wisdom, rather than needing my reassurance. I can see that this frustrates her a bit further, but those types of feelings are part of personal growth. Despite that frustration, she showers me with thanks and joy at the end of our practices. Perhaps part of her knows that she is undergoing important personal growth through yoga.

One other time she described a belief something like (I’m paraphrasing, as I don’t remember her exact statement) that there must be a right and a wrong way to do a posture. I first told her, perhaps a bit of my own frustration kicking in, that she likely  thinks that way because she grew up in a culture that puts forth that type of black-and-white view. Feeling more composed, I then described the yogic idea that rather than correct and incorrect, there are different things that are right for separate individuals (yes, with certain universal guidelines for safety and practice effectiveness).

Apart from my own feelings as an instructor, I wish to see her grow closer towards that view so that she can more fully experience everything that yoga has to offer. When our students are always looking to us for answers, it’s often because they don’t believe that they have those answers inside of themselves – or, they don’t trust their inner voices. If they never listen to their inner voices, or trust what they hear those voices say, they won’t be able to learn a key lesson of yoga – as I described, that our own answers are right inside of ourselves.

We know ourselves – our histories, our dreams, our strengths, our growth areas – better than any certified instructor ever could. In the larger scope of our lives, listening to our inner knowledge can lead us to make choices that will lead us to fulfilling our dharma, our life’s true purpose. With that reached, true happiness and fulfillment (Samadhi, in yogic terms) is possible. At the level of instructor and student relationships within yoga classes, students need to listen to their inner knowledge so that they can collaborate with us – rather than just follow our instructions.

There’s always another side to the story, and there is something to be said for having a healthy respect for one’s limitations as a practitioner. For instance, beginners who over-confidently believe that they can “handle” an advanced inversions and arm balances class would likely only feel frustrated and limited, not to mention risk seriously injuring themselves! When instructors offer advanced variations in classes, it often keeps practitioners safe and settled to objectively acknowledge that they’re not at that level in practice just quite yet – and thus take different variations.

To do just that, however - to know what is accessible to oneself as a practitioner - takes confidence in itself. That comes right along with the mature inner knowing that tells practitioners what would not benefit them to attempt, just at this stage of their individual yoga journeys. Yoga helps us to detach from the limiting emotional ties that we have to ourselves, to put ourselves in perspective, with all of our strengths and growth areas. Please stay tuned for the second part of this series, in which I’ll describe further implications of boosting student confidence and helping them listen to themselves more consistently. I’ll also offer tips for how to go about doing that. Until then, Namaste!

© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Teaching Yoga Students About Pacing

about pacing
By: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed

Teaching Yoga to brand new students is both challenging and very rewarding. When a new student comes through the door of your studio, he or she will most likely have specific reasons for coming to your Yoga class. For many new students, their main motivation for practicing is often physical. They may want to get into better shape, hone their abs and lose a few pounds. Or they may have heard that practicing Yoga will help to prevent injuries when they are engaging in other sports, such as running on pavement or playing tennis. 

Of course, the many physical benefits of practicing a balanced series of Yoga postures on a regular basis, is well-known to both exercise physiologists and to experienced practitioners. By engaging in a flowing series of Yoga poses, which includes strengthening postures as well as elongating forward bends, twists and backbends, a student will experience greater physical energy, flexibility and strength. However, during the initial stages of establishing a regular Yoga practice, a brand new student will need to follow a manageable pace of postures and breathing exercises. 

As a professional Yoga teacher, it is important for you to offer classes that challenge your more experienced students, while still being accessible to new students. This can be quite tricky, to say the least! You may find that offering a series of Yoga classes, which are tailored specifically to introducing your brand new students to the basic postures of the Sun Salutation and other foundational poses, will help your new students to become familiar and comfortable with the practice in a safe and non-intimidating manner. In this way, you will be able to guide your new students through a slower pace of asanas and pranayama techniques, in contrast to the pace that you would normally set during a mixed level class. 

If you do not have enough brand new students to run a dedicated series of introductory Yoga classes, by crafting an intelligently-sequenced and easily modifiable series of asanas for a mixed level group of students, you will be able to set an accessible pace for your new students, as well as a satisfying and challenging pace for your more experienced students. It is very important that you emphasize safety and respect for one’s own individual level of fitness, flexibility and strength, during the course of your classes. By honoring his or her physical capabilities on a given day, the likelihood of sustaining an injury or burnout is much lower. 

This is particularly true of your brand new students. For instance, you may have a new student in your Yoga class who is quite physically fit, but who has very limited flexibility. Although this student may feel that he or she can fully extend into Triangle Pose without a hitch, by doing so without maintaining proper alignment in the posture, he or she may sustain an injury during class. And, as we all know, walking away from a Yoga class feeling worse than when you started is the quickest way to take the proverbial wind out of a brand new student’s sails!

By setting a manageable pace during the course of teaching Yoga to brand new students, you will help to optimize their ongoing enjoyment and success during the practice. If your students keep coming back to Yoga class, their practice will continue to deepen, as the repertoire of poses that they can practice safely and correctly will broaden naturally over time. Do not be demoralized if you have to keep reminding your new students of the correct alignment of the postures. Over time, teaching a “do-able” and balanced sequence of Yoga poses, pranayama exercises and relaxation techniques will create vibrant physical health and emotional well being, for both your new and experienced students alike.  

Virginia Iversen, M.Ed, has been practicing and studying the art of Yoga for over twenty years. She lives in Woodstock, New York, where she works as a writer and an academic support specialist. She is currently accepting Yoga and health-related writing orders and may be contacted at:

© Copyright – Virginia Iversen / Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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