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Vinyasa No: 10 Helpful Tips For Teaching A Basics Yoga Class

in YogaDork Ed
image via terrylittlefield.com

photo via terrylittlefield.com

by Terry Littlefield

Several months ago, I had to get a sub for a level 1 class. In the yoga world, level 1 often means different things to different teachers. This particular class is labeled “fundamentals/level 1.” People show up to this class having never taken a yoga class. People also show up who have been practicing for years to remind themselves to slow down and remember the fundamentals of the practice. It’s been such an awesome journey figuring out how to teach a weekly yoga class in a way that encourages people to come back to class and develop a yoga practice from solid fundamentals. I want them to work on being present, breathing, and finding peace, of course. I also want them to work on yoga poses because it is a yoga class and I’m a yoga teacher. Poses like warrior, crescent, triangle. Poses like sukhasana (easy sitting pose) and savasana (final resting pose).

In my level 1 classes, as a result of becoming an Integrated Yoga Tune Up teacher and completing my 300-hour with Jules Mitchell, there’s a mixture of anatomy and biomechanics. There’s both stretching AND strengthening. And lots of traditional asana, which I’ve been practicing and studying for about 15 years. I’m always learning. I love to learn and I love to share what I learn in my yoga classes.

Back to needing a sub. I certainly don’t expect a sub to show up and teach the way I teach. That would be ridiculous. We all teach what we like to teach. However, I think it would also be ridiculous for a sub to show up and teach a vinyasa flow class to a class that is called yoga fundamentals. Unfortunately, that’s what happened in this situation.

I’m not here to slam the teacher, but rather to ask that as teachers, we recognize and honor the variety of styles of yoga and the different bodies and abilities of the students who show up to practice. Ultimately, we’re teaching people, not poses or classes where “one size fits all.” Because it doesn’t.

I’ll refer to the instructor as Teacher V (V is for Vinyasa). Teacher V probably teaches an amazing vinyasa flow class. However, if you only teach vinyasa flow, and don’t know what to do with a yoga fundamentals class, just say no. No, thank you. Vinyasa no, not vinyasa flow.

I’ll venture to say that Teacher V was overwhelmed and/or underprepared for a fundamentals class. Although the class is listed on the schedule, complete with a description, Teacher V showed up and asked the students for a description of the class. They said words like: gentle, therapeutic, basic, beginner, level 1, fundamentals. All great words to clearly express the level of the class. The teacher responded by saying, “Oh, so you don’t do any poses?”

Yes, they do yoga poses. It’s a yoga class. They don’t flow. That’s what they explained to Teacher V.

So the class started with static stretches for 10 minutes and then a vinyasa flow class was taught. Teacher V apparently couldn’t figure out what the heck to teach other than an abundance of chaturangas and down dogs and plank and one breath per movement and flow and move and reach and jump back and breathe and flow and plank and chaturanga and up dog and down dog and…Whew! I’m exhausted writing this.

An elderly woman that comes every single week chose to take care of herself and leave. I’m proud of her. She said it was so fast she couldn’t keep up. I’m grateful that she left, and I’m sad she had to leave. Who else was there that day? Maybe someone came for the first time ever to attend a yoga class. Maybe they’ll never return. Many of the regulars to that class said the class was like a race, not a yoga class. But Teacher V’s students would probably love the class.

A few thoughts:
Teach what you can.
Teach what you know.
But don’t ignore the students in front of you and teach vinyasa flow.

So what can you do if you are interested in teaching a level 1, non-vinyasa class? First and foremost, go take and/or observe level 1 classes. See and experience them in your body. Take notes. If you’re not willing to do that, perhaps it means you’re not interested in teaching level 1. And that’s okay.

The following is a list of points to consider when teaching a fundamentals class:

  1. Make a plan ahead of time. Plan out a level 1 class on paper and bring it with you to class. I make plans for my classes all the time. A plan will help you stay focused and calm. You don’t have to be glued to the plan, but have a plan. It’s helpful. One of the best teachers I studied with, writes out every sequence and brings it with her to class. After 30 years. Plans are for winners.
  2. Learn some modifications for the poses you love to teach. You must provide options to students so you can meet them where they are. Use props. Lots of props. They most likely won’t palm the floor in forward fold so give them blocks. Maybe crescent pose with the back knee down. Or crescent pose with full crescent legs but hand on blocks the whole time or hands on the thigh.
  3. Spend some time at the beginning of the class getting centered with breath work. This allows students to actually arrive on their mat and feel safe. Remind them that the work of yoga is actually so much about the breathing and that the poses are secondary.
  4. Do some dynamic warmups. The body, muscles, joints, tissues, even cells love dynamic movement. Don’t know what dynamic movement is? Learn. Things like bridge lifts, cat/cow, sufi rolls, shoulder flossing or shoulder rolls.
  5. Teach them child’s pose or a resting position and give them permission to go there at any time for as long as they’d like.
  6. Start standing poses standing. Stand in the center of the mat and then step feet wide apart to create warrior 2 legs or triangle legs or extended side angle. The possibilities are endless. Do one side. Then do the other side. Then bring the legs back to the center of the mat and rest in tadasana.
  7. Modify. Think thread the needle instead of pigeon. Think supported bridge pose instead of shoulderstand. Think legs up the wall instead of handstand or headstand. Think cobra instead of wheel. Practice stepping the legs forward from downward dog instead of jumping forward.
  8. Remember rest. It’s so important to remind all students, but especially new students, that slowing down and being still and aware is practicing yoga. Try the less is more approach. The worst that can happen is they will be bored. Bored is okay. Bored is information that stillness is challenging for them. That means yoga might be a wonderful addition to their life.
  9. Know that every single person in that room showed up and is being vulnerable and courageous enough to try yoga, maybe for the first time. Give them support where they need it. Let them explore in their own time. They don’t need to learn it all in that one hour.
  10. Give them a nice long savasana. As teachers we know it’s the most important pose. It’s where all the magic happens. Yet many teachers give a two minute savasana. People need to rest. Even in a one-hour class, give them at least a 5-minute savasana. At least.

I think it would be extremely beneficial if teachers got together and shared more. Share your sequencing, share your music playlists, share your education and skills. We are all at different levels on our teaching journey. Hopefully, we are all students, continually learning. The more we know, the more we share, the better we will be, the more we will have to offer the students in the room. So who wants to get together and have a play date?

~

Terry Littlefield, RYT-500, Integrated Yoga Tune Up teacher, and long-time practitioner, is a passionate educator with a big sense of humor and an even bigger heart. Her classes are a blend of science and spirit, breath work and ball work, movement and meditation. If you want to have fun and experience safe, functional movement within your yoga practice, she’s your yogi. Learn more about Terry at her website: TerryLittlefield.com.

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26 comments… add one
  • Excellent points! I have been asked to sub for Vinyasa classes, but am totally out of my league to teach this style. I turn down these opportunities. I teach Ananda Yoga which I can modify based on the class level, while honoring the tradition. Thanks for this!

  • Great list of points. My yoga master treats newbies with ultra care 🙂

    https://spinalcordyoga.wordpress.com/

  • As a personal trainer I can definitely attest to the difficulty of teaching a new skill to someone. You did a fantastic job here showing just how to do so. Nicely done! http://www.hathayogabenefits.com/

  • Hello 🙂 thanks for sharing your experiences of teaching yoga. This will definitely help those who are looking forward to start teaching themselves. I wanted to mention that recently I came across an article on SSRF that talked about the extent to which Yoga is spiritually beneficial i.e. how much spiritual progress does Yoga provide a person. It talked about concepts and statistics that many websites do not. It was quite intriguing and I was curious to understand more. You can see more of it here in this link. What do you feel about it ? -http://www.spiritualresearchfoundation.org/benefits-of-yoga-asanas

  • Great post. Always err on the side of caution when teaching beginners, especially beginners you don’t know.

  • Infored

    Every teacher needs to read this. Thank you so much for this article.

  • I love yoga, and I never really thought of how much time & effort goes into creating some of my favorite classes. I didn’t know there was an actual plan & always thought we were doing poses based on how my instructor felt should come next. Very cool :))

  • Great work. Nice article on yoga but i think you need to elaborate a bit more. I like your thought
    Teach what you can.
    Teach what you know.

  • dustin

    http://7500c9cjrgvavlmqz9oayprs9g.hop.clickbank.net/ check out this yoga link program as well people have seen amazing results in as little as two weeks!

  • Thank you for this article! I have YogaFit training and have been teaching Vinyasa Flow for about 10 years. The best thing I ever learned was how to MODIFY. But you all may agree, it’s HARDER to modify so many teachers just “show up” with their agenda and teach in a manner that just keeps the flow going. I have to admit, sometimes I just want to teach without having to offer props, others ways of doing poses, etc. In the end, it is worth it. My client base it higher because of teaching to a wide base of students. I also feel more compassion when I teach yoga this way, and less “showy..posey…lookey.” I loved your comment about if people are bored doing yoga then this may be a sign that they need to practice stillness. Very reassuring because when I offer Yin type of yoga, I almost feel guilty even though I love it. I also need to give more time for Savasana. Sometimes I get so excited about my run down (and YES! I bring a typed out rundown to every class! Amen that you support this!) that I end up squeezing Savasana in at the end, This was a good reminder to tend to this more. Thank you! Namaste.

  • Learn this 10 helpful tips for teaching a basics yoga class to everyone.
    Philip Young

  • I have always wanted to learn yoga! Thank you for sharing!

    • Pues yo creo que el problema es mayormente NUESTRO (De los científicos). Si dejáramos de darle tanta importancia a las revistas serias, y apoyáramos más los sistemas que empiezan a aparecer de revistas libres, éstas ganarían prestigio con respecto a las otras y las otras deeÃrarscepa­an.Pero claro, ¿quién va a tener los huevos a rechazar aparecer en Science? Al final, es lo que decían arriba. Pasiones humanas.

  • Deanna Meiresonne

    Best article ever! There are so many yoga teaching classes, workshops, articles, but few offer actionable recommendations like you did with the bullet points. These are actual tips I can save, rethink, and work on! Thank you!!!

  • I always wanted to try yoga, but it is very difficult to keep still and learn to breath properly. So it is very important to have the proper yoga coach to succeed with yoga.

  • Carlos

    The foundations of Asana and the depth of the fundamentals should be a prerequisite for all Yoga instructors to be able to teach no matter what style is being facilitated. This may sound a bit harsh but if a person cannot teach the basic fundamentals then you probably shouldn’t being in the position to teach in the first place. Otherwise what they heck are you teaching?

  • Great Article. I’ve been practicing for about 7 years and I’ve just taken my first 200hrs RYT course in Vinyasa flow. From my own practice I can identify exactly what you’re talking about with sub teachers. I’ve had the same experience from the students side. Teachers asking us what level they should pitch at before proceeding with whatever it is they normally do (often “Fitness Yoga”)
    I start my first classes in January and this article has great advice for me. My favourites being:
    “Plans are for winners” and “Bored is information that stillness is challenging for them”

  • Hi Terry,
    I would like to add point 11. Listen and talk with your class. I’ve seen tons of classes that the teacher is not communicating properly with people in the room. Ask about their needs, what they want to learn, be a listener. You are there for them, not another way around 🙂

  • K

    I’m curious to hear what responsibility the author took for informing the sub with a description of the class…before the person showed up unprepared? As someone who recieves many, many sub requests, I can say lots of teachers will not care who subs. Many just want their day off.

    If these students are regulars …. why didn’t they know that they could take child’s pose or rest? Does the author not teach that in her own classes?

    Teachers do need to learn how to modify – but vinyasa flow is its own style and can be basic and safe for beginning students. Safety is important, but students also need to be open to change and not driven by ego to master every pose.

    It’s very easy to criticize another teacher but much harder to take steps before to educate the teacher, to mention to students that the only sub you can find is not trained in the same style of yoga as you, to request that the studio change the name of the class that day. Yoga doesn’t have to be about getting each pose exactly right – staying strong in your breath (or opting out) during challenge and uncertainty can be fundamental too.

  • Absolutely amazing post to give helpful tips for Yoga practices. You are doing a great service to humanity. I am also on the same path of helping people in learning Yoga and its health benefits. I am running yoga classes in India for volunteers from around the world. You can check my website spirityoga.org for details of my initiatives. Thanks and keep sharing.

  • Excellent points! Thanks for sharing with us.

  • As a personal trainer I can definitely relate to all of the things your’re mentioning here. Thanks for great piece of advice. A lot of people and aspiring trainers can definitely use this!

  • In my opinion as a personal trainer of yoga is to come prepared with all the information about the types of yoga, you do not have to stand there with no reply when asked you, “What is the goal you want to achieve with yoga?”
    So encourage you to read several articles on Yoga flows!

  • I don’t comment on blogs much, but your blog is so convincing that I couldn’t stop myself from commenting. You’re really doing a great job. Congratulations and thanks for sharing such lovely tips with us.

  • The Yoga teacher training was most fantastic experience in my life, at the first time I felt shy to approach to teachers, but the teachers are incredibly knowledgeable and had a personal approach to every individual student. Their passion made this program an outstanding experience for me.

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