5 Ways to Make Every Yoga Class Approachable for All Students
By Daniel Sernicola
As a beginning yoga teacher, I immediately realized the old adage, the more you think you know, the less you actually know. My yoga teacher training prepared me to teach a decent class, but what I wanted to really know was how to make classes approachable for all students so they continue returning week after week. Here's five tips to meet your students at their level and help them feel welcome, supported, and safe.
Greet students and discover what brought them to class
It may sound simple, but many teachers skip the important step greeting students and helping put them at ease. Introduce yourself to students and ask what name and pronouns they like to be called. There is no sweeter sound to a person's ear than their own name. So learn it and use it. Ask students what brought them to class. Did their doctor suggest coming to lower their blood pressure? Are they trying to be more flexible so they can reach their feet? Are they looking for a cardiovascular workout? Are they looking to add a little bit of calm and chill to their life? Finding out what brought them to class can provide a lot of insight to you as a teacher. Most students are coming because they've heard about the benefits of yoga including becoming more flexible and calming minds. Give them what they came for.
Avoid showboating your yoga knowledge.
Knowledge is power and sometimes too much knowledge can be a complete turn-off to students. Liberal use of Sanskrit, anatomical terms, and yoga philosophy can be intimidating to newer students. It's tempting to lead a class and call poses by Sanskrit names or want to share something amazing we've just learned in a weekend workshop. Is this really meeting students where they're at or giving them what they came for? Many times the result is confused students wondering what the teacher is talking about instead of experiencing the full benefits of yoga. It can even be a barrier preventing them from returning to your class or they may give up yoga entirely. As yoga teachers, we teach because we love yoga and want to share this passion with our students. Remember, most people come to yoga first for a physical practice and eventually catch the spiritual component. It's something that can't be forced
Make broad statements in your teaching.
Most yoga classes cannot possibly give the individual student the attention they need. When teaching, make statements that speak as broadly as possible to your class so every student feels you're directly speaking to them. Avoid singling students out while giving verbal cues. Address the entire room. If one student would benefit from a verbal cue, there's a good chance other students could benefit from a sweeping statement. Yoga can be intimidating enough without a student feeling embarrassed they were singled out.
Be body positive.
Remind students to listen to their body. After all, they're living in it and know it best! We aren't as much yoga teachers as we are facilitators helping students get to know themselves better. Remind students that yoga isn't competitive and their poses don't have to be perfect. The goal of teaching is not to get students on the cover of a yoga magazine. It's to help them feel good in their body. All bodies are different and won't practice yoga the exact same way. So, all poses won't look the same. Avoid shaming students' bodies or making statements about burning off calories. Give students opportunities and suggestions for exploring how their bodies move, what creates tension, and what feels great. Encourage students to notice sensations in their bodies. Help them discover how their physical bodies move and how their minds react. Let them know that your class is a safe place to experiment not by telling them, but by teaching in a way that encourages exploration. When advertising, stay away from themes of weight loss and body improvement. New Year's ads are infamous for encouraging students to be a "new you." What's wrong with who they already are? Encourage students to try a new view and see themselves through a lens of compassion.
Promote yoga respectably on social media.
Use your social media to invite people behind the curtain so that they can see how yoga influences your life. Be deliberate in your posts and allow readers to become swept up in your yogic lifestyle. Years ago someone told me that what you put on social media is what comes back to you. I've found this to be true when it comes to teaching and promoting classes. At the beginning of my yoga career I posted many shirtless photos and found I was attracting only muscular men to my classes. It pigeonholed my teaching and most people didn't realize I also taught women. Lately, I've noticed a lot of cringey takes on the word, Namaste. This can water down your teaching and make students not take you seriously. Like it or not, it's also a form of cultural appropriation and can be interpreted as offensive - even when that's not your intention. Promote yoga positively and your students will develop love and respect for the practice.