Don’t Make Your Yoga Students Feel Bad!
4 Yoga Teaching Tips for New Teachers
by Crystal Gray
Have you ever been in a yoga class where you find yourself worried about the new person in the back, who has no idea what they’re doing?
You notice them getting more & more frustrated as they look around, trying to figure out what to do next.
Their facial expressions show that they feel worse about themselves with each passing minute.
You want to go over and tell them that it’ll be OK.
That you had no idea what you were doing the first time you walked into a class either and that you know of some great, beginner-friendly classes that they’d really get a lot from.
But instead, you try to focus on your own practice, with not much success, as your empathy shouts louder than your pleas for your mind to be still.
This experience is way more common than you might think which is why I’m excited to share my favorite yoga teaching tips with you!
New students constantly start with classes that they probably should not be going into, or even worse, heading into a “beginner” class where the teacher is leading them through crow pose.
How can we expect students to feel good about themselves when even beginners are expected to pull off poses like crow pose?
As a yoga teacher, I made it my mission to teach, coach, and encourage my students to the best of my ability so that they’d never walk out of a yoga class thinking that they can’t do it.
What a shame!
You know how many first-time yoga students never go back to a class after their first bad experience?
I share my yoga teaching tips my yoga teacher trainees because the more yoga teachers we have out there teaching in accessible, empowering ways, the more new students will return to a second class!
I know you don’t want to make your yoga students feel bad, that was never your intention as a yoga teacher!
So then, how do we teach in accessible, empowering ways that will leave our students excited to come back for more?
Here are my 4 yoga teaching tips for new yoga teachers:
Use empowering language
In a standing forward fold, replace words like “touch the floor” with “fold forward and let your arms hang toward the ground.” In a seated forward fold, replace words like “grab the toes” to “tilt the pelvis forward as you reach your chest toward your big toes.” This will give your students a great visual while keeping them safe and not feeling like they have to go so far in a pose in order to be doing it “right.”
Give clear and concise verbal cues
When you say things in a super clear way, it empowers your students to get into the shape of the pose on their own. As a general rule, give cues in the following ways:
- Direction/Action – raise, lift, extend
- Body Part – hands, arms, leg, foot
- Where – overhead, by your side, toward the big toes
- Example – Raise your arms overhead
Practice giving cues to a brand new student without demo-ing and using only your words. It’s quite the humbling experience!
Use clear cues instead of getting frustrated because your students don’t know what you’re trying to say by just telling them to go into Warrior One. You will stand out as an amazing yoga teacher!
Give gentle adjustments
When verbal cues and pose demos fail, it’s time to move into gentle physical adjustments, IF your student is okay with you touching them (always ask for permission before touching!).
We never actually manipulate the body to move in a certain way by manually moving the student’s body for them. This can cause significant injury. Instead, I use gentle adjustments (but firm, it shouldn’t feel like a caress) by placing my hand on the part of the body I am referring to and giving a directional suggestion by moving my hand in the direction I want them to adjust their body.
If I want them to relax their trapezius (the muscles at the base of the neck, heading towards the shoulders) I will apply gentle but firm pressure to the area and make a swiping motion from the base of the neck moving down and out toward the shoulders. This helps them to actually feel the action you are suggesting.
If I want them to stop rounding their back in a forward fold, I may stand behind them, place my knee gently in their mid back as I draw their shoulders back, asking them to reach their chest forward.
Modify, modify, modify – modifications
This yoga teaching tip be super tricky for yoga teachers, especially those that are physically fit, thin, and flexible. I’ll also add young and inexperienced.
When I first started teaching, I was in my early twenties. I gained flexibility relatively quickly in my practice and was strong. I was a new teacher and hadn’t been around a lot of older people in yoga so I didn’t understand how to support those students in an empowering way. The 200-hour yoga teacher training I took taught us how to deepen the pose and take it farther, not how to modify for a variety of students.
The vast majority of my students were beginners and it took many years of teaching many different bodies before I was able to learn proper modifications that would suit my bigger, inflexible, or older students. Now, my 500 hour yoga teacher trainees are the most vocal about how good I am at teaching students of all shapes, sizes, and abilities in a way that makes them feel good about themselves and empowering them that they too, can be “good” at yoga!
The key to this method of modifying is to start with the easiest modification that your specific group needs, then telling them that if they need more sensation, they can go to the next modification and only giving them the hardest modification that group needs as well. I never say, “if that’s too hard, then do this easier modification.” That makes people feel bad instead of empowering them!
I’m teaching all about hands-on adjustments and modifications in my class at the Yoga Teacher Conf – EMPOWER in Chicago!
There you have it. My favorite yoga teaching tips to help your newer students, or those students that don’t think they have a “yoga body,” to feel good in their skin and comfortable with what their body CAN do!
What better idea to instill in your students than that?
If you’re interested in learning more, I’d love for you to check out my online courses, yoga teacher trainings, and retreats at https://www.crystalgrayyoga.com
– Crystal Gray