Not So Scary Yoga for First Time Students
Remember the day you walked into your very first yoga class? You probably looked around the room and noticed shiny designer yoga mats flashing the polished floor and plenty of incredibly fit women in tight leggings and mini sports bras. Cautiously, you walk around the room looking for the best spot to be hidden from both the teacher and other students in the room, simply to avoid any type of self or social judgment. As you lay down your mat, maybe an overwhelming feeling of imposter syndrome begins to wash over your body. Am I really good enough to be here right now? After taking the first few moments to fumble around and grab all of the supportive props you might need, finally the class begins. And with a big exhale out you close your eyes, hoping no one stares at you as you take off your hoody and set yourself up to begin this new experience.
Sound familiar? The truth is that you are not alone. Any first group yoga class, whether it’s at a studio, gym, or even outside, can be incredibly intimidating for a first-time yoga practitioner, especially if there is less support from the yoga teacher.
I believe it is the duty of a yoga educator to create an environment that is welcoming for all levels and body types. Especially during beginner style yoga classes. Yes, of course, there are specific classes that are just meant for advanced students, however when a class is marketed as “open for all levels” how do we as yoga instructors create a safe environment for all bodies to explore the benefits of an enriching yoga practice?
A few tips for yoga teachers who have first time yoga students in their all level yoga classes:
1. Make an effort to introduce yourself personally to the first-time student before the class begins. This means you intentionally walk up to the student and spend about 3-5 minutes offering your humanness and support. You might even ask them if there are any health-related conditions that you should be aware of (specifically physical injuries).
2. Bring as many props to the student as you think are necessary. Does your class have a lot of lunges like high crescent lunge, warrior I, or anjaneyasana? Compassionately bring over 2 blocks for the student before the class begins and let them know that the blocks are there to support their body and that you will later explain how to use the props during class.
3. Use body positive verbal cueing. Instead of saying “for more advanced students come into the full bind” or “only the really flexible students can come into full hanumanasana”, try inclusive language like, “if it feels safe to wrap your arm around your back, come into the full bind” or “another variation of hanumanasana is by placing the back knee on the mat”.
4. If possible, practice without a mirror. This is not possible in all spaces however; you might be able to turn away from the mirror or close a curtain so that students are not fixed on comparing themselves to others. Sometimes, mirrors are a great tool for asana alignment education, however for a new yoga student a mirror might feel incredibly overwhelming and encourage self-judgement which disengages from the philosophy of Ahimsa (non-harming).
5. Ask before you touch. Not all students want to be touched for many personal reasons, so make it a point to either ask the student before class if it’s ok to offer hands-on assistance or right before you think it is appropriate to offer an assist.
6. Check-in with the student after class. Ask them how they are feeling, what they liked about the class, and if they experienced any struggles or limitations during the lesson. Spending at least 5 minutes of compassionate engagement with your student after class can leave such a wonderful and impactful impression. A simple smile and words of encouragement go a long way.
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Check out my other posts about all things physical therapy, pelvic health, and yoga.
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