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Your Class Modifications For Beginners, Seniors And Prenatal Students

Yoga modifications for beginners, seniors and pregnant students:

Teaching yoga is one of the best things I have done in my life and I am constantly honored to share this beautiful practice with so many people. Yoga is a path of continuous learning and awakening from each class taught and taken.

Over the years, I have found that there are two highlights to my career as a yoga instructor. One is getting to know the students who regularly come to my classes and the other is the challenge of meeting new students who come and go in my classes each and every week.

Through this challenge, I have learned to not only create a class plan that includes room to add or remove sections of my class that do not seem to fit by the time the class starts. I’ve also learned to have faith in myself and the set of tools I carry with me as an instructor, as well as the realization that each person’s journey is personal and not about me when they step foot on their mat.

Over the years, I have found there are 3 different demographics that have tested my teaching skills and helped me become a better instructor. Those are beginners, senior citizens, and pregnant women.

Here are some of the lessons I have learned over the past 10 years of teaching yoga. I hope they can provide some insight and inspiration to you as a yoga instructor.

Yoga class modifications for Beginners

In every yoga teacher training, we are taught to offer modifications for all levels of students from beginner to advanced. Some trainings will touch upon how to interact with beginner yoga students, some won’t. In my training, I was taught to give space for the new student to interact with me, while some of my friend’s trainings taught them to reach out right away to beginner students.

Finding the approach that best suits you is a good foundation for you to fine tune the rest of the details – 

Have a beginner’s mindset– I like to pause and remember what it felt like to be a beginner. When I first stepped on a yoga mat, I was excited to finally delve into this unknown world after hearing about all of the physical and mental benefits. I was also terrified that I couldn’t reach my toes, understand the instructor, or even stay on my mat. With that in mind, I recommend introducing yourself to the entire class at the beginning of each class and letting them know that you are available after class for any inquiries.

Read about relaxation tips for yoga beginners here.

Remind them to listen to their bodies– Honestly, this is important for all levels of students, but especially for those new to yoga. In so many other fitness classes, we are told to go deeper, feel the burn, move past the pain. In yoga that does not work. Yes, go deeper if you have been doing yoga for a while and your body is more flexible, but in the beginning, it’s best to listen to how your body is responding to the stretch and not cause pain.

Speak clearly– Words carry just as much importance as the poses. By stating the name of the pose as well as 2-3 cues for getting into and out of the pose in a concise manner, you are reducing confusion and the overwhelming feeling that can arise in a new student. 

Along with this is the choice of whether to use Sanskrit or only state the poses in English. There is also the option to not state the pose name and simply instruct how to get in and out of the pose. Overall, this is a very personal choice. For myself, I like to say the name of each pose in Sanskrit and then English to provide more clarity.

Click here for some badass poses for beginners.

Yoga class modifications for Senior Citizens

In my first year of teaching yoga, I enrolled in a weekend workshop about teaching yoga to senior citizens. While that was informative, I must admit, in order to feel more comfortable, I decided to take some yoga classes that were focused on the senior population. These were and still are my favorite yoga classes because they have been the most relaxed, non-competitive classes I have taken.

Here are some of the lessons I have learned and incorporated into my all levels yoga classes –

Use Props– As well as being able to use props like blocks and bolsters, it is important to offer items such as blankets and rolling the edge of the yoga mat in to add additional cushion for the knees and back. 

In poses like Cat/Cow, which puts lots of pressure on the knees, the additional cushioning support helps relieve any tension in this area, so the full benefit of opening the upper body is available.

Pay Attention– While you don’t need to modify your class for each person who attends, it is helpful to pay attention to how your students are responding to your cues, vocal volume, class pace, and the poses themselves. By doing this, you will learn what your participants need from you.

What I have learned most from doing yoga with seniors is to create more space between poses. It is not necessary to fit as many yoga poses into your class as possible – what matters is creating space for each student to explore the pose and deepen their yoga practice.

Create a Safe Space– One of my favorite quotes is from A.A. Milne, the author of Winnie the Pooh – “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” This quote reminds me to not underestimate myself and others. 

In this regard, remember to create a safe space for all and do not be afraid to offer any kind of pose in your class. Just remember to offer modifications and alternatives.

For example, balance poses are among the most fear inducing groups of poses due to students being concerned about falling over in the process of getting in and out of them. Once I started easing my students into these poses by discussing the distribution of weight, taking some deep breaths to feel more settled, and offering the wall or partnering up as an option, they have become some of the most popular poses in my classes.

Click here for more yoga for seniors tips.

Yoga class modifications for Pregnant Women

Although the availability of prenatal yoga classes continues to grow, there are many reasons a pregnant woman may show up in your yoga class. Whether they like to take a variety of classes each week, don’t have access to a prenatal yoga class, or prefer a regular yoga class format, from time to time you will have the opportunity to teach a pregnant mama.

There are really only a few things to keep in mind when working with this population – 

No lower back twists– As baby grows, there is less space to comfortably twist from the waist as well as a concern for overstretching the round ligaments in this region. As a result, it is best to offer twists from the shoulders.

No core– This is another caution as baby is taking over the space around the core, so there is a better chance of tearing the core muscles by over-working them. If your class offers planks or core poses such as boat, it is best to offer the modification of lowering the knees to the mat for plank pose and offering a hip opener or side core stretch, such as slow leg lifts in place of boat or other core intensive poses.

Elevate Savasana– The basic medical theory is that it is better for pregnant women to lay on their side or with their heart elevated. This is to allow better oxygen flow between mother and child. In order to accommodate this, I try to bring bolsters or blocks to pregnant students at the beginning of class and let them know how to use them to best support themselves in savasana. 

The two options for these props is to lay on the side and wrap around the bolster with the block between stacked knees or to lay on the back with two blocks under the bolster in order to elevate the bolster so it provides a comfortable space to open the heart and support the back.

If you do not have time before class starts, doing this at the beginning of savasana is an option as well! 

More interesting tips for prenatal students click here.

As I tell people who have not tried yoga; you do not have to be flexible to do yoga because you become flexible by doing yoga! 

You do not have to know every nuance of yoga in order to teach it because yoga provides a union between body and mind, teacher and student, and student and mat that is constantly evolving.

Enjoy exploring each and every opportunity that awaits you as a way to learn and grow! As Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. stated, “A life that has been stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” And really, why would you want to? With each lesson you grow in your knowledge as a teacher, student, and person sharing this beautiful gift.

Michelle Finerty
Michelle Finerty
Michelle has been writing professionally for over a decade. She started in the business world, focusing on cross-cultural communication and technical writing, and is now infusing the teachings of yoga with modern life, blending two of her passions...yoga and writing. Michelle also teaches yoga. Her classes can be found online by accessing her on-demand library which is updated on a regular basis. Check it out here: https://bit.ly/3FJt4DD