The Art of Teaching Beginners
Today’s guest blogger, Jen Mullholand, is a Seattle-based yoga teacher and a The Mazé Method Apprentice.
In my 10 plus years of teaching yoga, some of the most challenging and rewarding classes I have taught are classes for beginners, or as I affectionately refer to new students, “yoga newbies.” They are excited. They are nervous. They have no clue (most of the time) what to expect. They listen to you, their very first teacher, intently. They will pretty much do ANYTHING you tell them to do (well, within reason…but you catch my drift). And that’s why teaching beginners IS the most important job that any yoga teacher will ever have.
We all know how great yoga is. And how much fun it can be. But it’s not much fun for the beginner if they are thrown into a class situation where the teacher is not organized and fully focused on the goal of Yoga 101. And to me, that goal is to TEACH PEOPLE POSES. Plain and simple. I am not there to give them a lecture on the Yoga Sutras. I am not there to help them reach enlightenment. I am not there to make them feel better about themselves (although that might just happen as time goes on.) I am there to teach new students how to do yoga poses. Got it? That’s your job.
Along with teaching poses, another part of our job teaching a little basic anatomy and movement language. Newbies can’t help but learn a little bit about how the bodies work along the way, on top of perhaps finally learning their lefts from their rights (because who remembers that past the age of 5? My mom safety pinned L & R to my socks . Good thing I got it straight now). And along with that greater understanding, students discover the ability to be more aware of when they are slouching, compressed or tight. New students actually start to WANT to stretch and do yoga! They even want to bust out poses at work and show all their co-workers all the cool stuff they know. It’s like they are waking up all over again. YAY yoga!
Okay, so back to our job again. Because teaching Yoga 101, or Yoga Basics, or Yoga for Beginners, is a serious task. We as teachers have to know our poses. We have to know basic anatomy. And on top of that, we have to be able to teach the sh#t out of those poses, again and again and again. Because students will forget what you taught them last week! And then, if you are teaching a drop-in beginners class, you have new people showing up every week. So you have to keep coming back to those basic foundations.
So now that you have the task at hand (being a totally awesome Yoga 101 teacher), it’s time to figure out exactly what you need to make this happen. Here are a few tips that helped me a lot in the five years that I taught an Intro To Yoga class:
- Get to class early and introduce yourself: Students want to know who you are. They want to be comfortable with you. And besides, it’s your JOB to know their names, their yoga experience and what (if any) aches, pains, surgeries, injuries they might be working with. The very moment a student walks into your class is the moment that you start to build a relationship. Those relationships that I forged with my beginners are the relationships that have blossomed into private sessions, retreats and seeing profound growth. It’s rewarding for both of you!
- Have a plan: walk into class knowing EXACTLY what postures you are going to teach. Have a sequence that makes sense and repeats postures. Because for newbies, it’s all about repetition, repetition, repetition! What key actions are necessary to make those postures happen? What parts of the body need to be warmed up? What needs to be stretched? What needs to be strengthened? (Check out the YOGA 101 Online Course for some great ideas.)
- Be friendly, kind, compassionate and UNDERSTANDING! I know. You have been practicing yoga for 2 decades. You know your poses like the back of your hand. But most folks don’t EVEN KNOW THEY HAVE A BACK OF THEIR HAND! Seriously. For them, it’s like they are the Mars Rover, discovering new landscape every day. It’s pretty exciting and scary too. So keep that in mind. Remember what it was like when you were new? Yoga is hard. Give people the pat on the back they deserve for even coming into class and putting down a yoga mat.
- Give homework and offer resources: I love yoga homework. Noah is always giving us homework. And while I might sometimes fall a wee bit behind, I make my best effort to make it happen. Give your students a few poses to work on. Send them online to Yogaglo to check out some classes. Have them check out the YOGA 101 Online Course. Keep checking in on their progress! One of my favorite assignments to give folks is Supta Padangustasana (Supine Big Toe Holding Posture), 2x a day. It’s like medicine for the lower back and hamstrings.Also let students know you are available after class to chat. Forging those relationships will go a long way in building trust.
Time to get to work! Check out the YOGA 101 Online Course. Join our Instagram challenge under the hashtag #yoga101 for daily inspiration and encouragement. And let me know how it goes!
Jen Mullholand is a Seattle-based yoga teacher who spent most of 2013 traveling to Los Angeles to study with Noah Maze and is currently pursuing her certification with The Mazé MethodÉ. She’s been teaching yoga since 2003. She was a beginner once herself (in 1998) and feels a deep sense of gratitude for all the great teachers she has had along the way. Learn more about Jen at www.jenmullholand.com.
This very well written and spoke the truth. After teaching over 10 years I am also once again a student of another 200hr TT with Amy Petty. Coming back again is my way of repeating and recharging what I know so I can continue to be my best for MY ‘newbies’ and returning students. Thank you Jen.
Nice article Jen,