Most beginners initially come to yoga in pursuit of outward benefits; be it flexibility, weight loss, or a yoga booty. They have yet to learn that yoga has little to do with a beautiful body and everything to do with the union of mind-body-spirit. Focused on the physical, beginners unfortunately bring a sense of self-doubt, competition, or apprehension to their yoga mats. They might fear not being flexible enough, not looking sexy in yoga pants, or being the worst student in class.
As yoga teachers, we know that these fears are futile; we know that flexibility is irrelevant and there’s no competition in yoga. As good yoga teachers, it’s our responsibility to quell beginners’ fears so that they don’t quit yoga as soon as they start. These five teaching tips will make beginning students feel so confident and comfortable that they’ll look forward to returning for more.
Beginners have mustered a lot of courage to brave their very first yoga class, so make them feel welcome and at ease from the get-go. Personally introduce yourself to each student before class starts. Ask if they have any injuries or health concerns that might affect their practice—information they may not be comfortable sharing in a group introduction. Remember their name so that they know they’re more than a number. By showing you care, you’ll begin to build their trust. Once they trust you, they’ll become your committed student.
When you’re teaching beginners, open the class with easy and uncomplicated movements. Guide them through mini-exercises, as simple as neck and shoulder rotations. Remember that beginners either have no idea what to expect from their first few classes or they expect yoga to be difficult. If you start them off with something easy, they’ll foster an attitude of wow, I can do yoga! rather than I suck at yoga. Mini-exercises build their confidence to continue their practice.
If your classes usually embrace spirituality, dial it back for beginners. As a yoga teacher, you know that yoga’s mind-body-soul pursuit is religion-neutral, but beginners might be under a different impression. The last thing you want to do is scare off your students with what they might perceive as mystical, hippy-dippy or occultist mumbo-jumbo. Consider beginning and ending your class with om-chanting to set a peaceful mindset, but otherwise limit your use of mantras, talk of chakras and other overtly spiritual lingo. While you shouldn’t sacrifice your own spiritual values for the sake of attracting new students, you should keep in mind that all students have come to yoga for different, and perhaps purely physical, reasons. They may eventually find a spiritual path through yoga, but allow this to happen organically and in their own time.
Now that you’re a teacher and have an established practice, it’s easy to forget what yoga felt like when you first began. As a reminder, yoga is hard for most beginners. It can be intense, as it tests muscles and balance, which students aren’t used to engaging. Keep this in mind when you’re teaching. What’s easy for you now may be very challenging for someone else—especially a beginner. Every body is different, and everyone has different physical abilities. Expect each student to have a slightly unique expression of the same pose, rather than forcing someone into a position that’s not suited for their body or ability.
If you correct a beginner too many times within one class, you jeopardize their self-confidence and they might not return. Limit hands-on corrections to just three times per student, per class. Even then, correct only when the student might be putting themselves at risk for injury. No beginner wants to be singled out or given negative attention, so never verbally correct them from the other side of the studio, or ask them to demonstrate a pose in front of the whole class. Talk beginners through adjustments quietly and directly. And instead of focusing on what they’re doing wrong, recognize what they’re doing right with gentle words of encouragement like “good” and “nice.”
When you put these five teaching tips to use in your yoga classes, you’ll build the trust, confidence, and self-assuredness that beginners need to become your repeat students.