By: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed
Teaching Yoga to brand new students has its own unique set of challenges and rewards. Of course, it is incredibly rewarding to see a new student take to the practice like a fish to water. When a brand new student discovers the many benefits of practicing Yoga several times a week, every week, he or she is likely to continue with the practice for many years to come. A regular practice of Yoga postures, pranayama exercises and meditation techniques can improve a student’s strength, flexibility, physical stamina, self-awareness, and promote vibrant health and overall well being.
In order to teach Yoga classes to new students safely and effectively, patiently explaining how to move in and out of the postures, as well as how to maintain the correct alignment in the poses, is very important. If a student performs asanas with poor alignment, he or she may sustain an injury during class, which is likely to diminish the student’s interest and motivation for continuing to participate in a Yoga class. One way to make a brand new student feel comfortable in a mixed level class is to offer modifications for Yoga postures, which may be too difficult for a new student to practice in their traditional form.
Over time, many of your brand new Yoga students will be able to practice most of the asanas without modifications or props. At first, however, it is important to impart a “can do” attitude to your new students, so that they do not become frustrated or demoralized by a potentially slow learning curve in your Yoga class. Offering your new students modified versions of traditional Yoga poses, will help them to become familiar with the poses, as their bodies begin to open up and strengthen enough to practice the postures in their traditional forms.
When you are teaching your brand new Yoga students modified versions of traditional asanas, maintaining the correct alignment and intention of the classical version of the postures is of primary importance. For instance, you may have any number of new students in your classes with very tight hamstring muscles. The hamstrings can become shortened and tight from most athletic activities, including bicycling and running on pavement. When a new student with tight hamstrings is holding Downward Facing Dog, the lack of flexibility in the back of the legs will become readily apparent.
In this situation, recommending that your student bend his or her knees slightly during the practice of Downward Facing Dog will help to create more space for the upper torso to lengthen in the posture, without sacrificing the correct alignment in the pose. Of course, whether or not a particular student has bent or straight legs in Downward Facing Dog, do make sure that his or her palms are shoulders’ distance apart, facing the front of the room and flat on the floor, with the hands firmly and evenly rooted into the mat. In this way, the basic alignment of Downward Facing Dog is maintained, even though a brand new student may need to practice a slightly modified version of the posture.
In the same way, if you are teaching a Yoga class geared for beginning students, or you are teaching a mixed level class with both new and experienced practitioners, by offering both the traditional versions and a number of approachable modifications of the classical postures to your students, you will enable all of the students in your class to practice a wide array of poses in a safe, effective and “do-able” manner. This will further encourage your brand new students to return to your class again and again. With time and patient practice, even your newest students will become adept Yoga practitioners in their own right.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Copyright – Virginia Iversen / Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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