Teaching *beginner* beginners

I taught another free yoga class this weekend, and four people showed up: a friend from high school and her three law school friends.  It was my first time meeting these women.  They were all brand new to yoga.

What I told them: “Hooray, congrats and welcome!”

The internal anxiety secretly lacing my enthusiasm: “I hope that I don’t fuck this up and turn them off to yoga forever.”

I had spent the past few days thinking through my sequence for this class.  I thought a lot of about the asanas (poses), the introductory dialogue, the cues to emphasize, themes to weave into the practice.  I definitely thought about it more compared with other classes I’ve taught.  Why?  With my teacher training video review happening in mid-May, I wanted to “test run” a few ideas for my section of that program with this freebie class group.

Little did I know that I’d wind up chucking my carefully thought-out plan moments into the practice.  Actually, it was clear before our class even began that I’d need to keep things basic-basic-basic.  As in, real basic.

Before we got situated on the bolster for the seated intro, two of the women shared their concerns about not being “good enough” to practice, and being self-conscious about how they might “look” compared to others.  I addressed all of this as compassionately as possible, secretly wishing I was wearing a baggier top and looking a little less like brunette Yoga Barbie, and encouraged them to not let their ego get in the way.  My mission was for them to focus on the breath, and less on the physical shapes we’d be making with our bodies.

Regardless, I knew that I’d have to switch up what I had planned, which included some fun challenges that have appealed to my other practice classes — i.e. inversions from box pose, chatarunga from plank — or risk exhausting them to the point of … turning them off to yoga forever.  Instinctively, I knew my “script” wouldn’t be appropriate for this group.  Although I panicked slightly at the realization that I’d need to construct the practice on the fly, I knew that I was armed with sufficient tools to get it done.  This would be a good challenge.  (I’d have to apply yoga myself!)

The constructive criticism: I felt choppier versus other classes I’ve taught.  I missed some of the cueing that I wanted to stress — “Monday morning quarterbacking” on this point.  I had one student stop me to ask what “asana” meant — oops.   One woman was unable to get her arm all the way through for thread-the-needle, and I stumbled to devise a modification — oops.  I forgot to turn on the lights as the sun was setting — oops.  I forgot to turn off the lights during savasana — oops again.  I wanted to give more adjustments, but didn’t want this to be interpreted as them being “bad” or creating discouragement.  I also was a little concerned that the practice wouldn’t be challenging enough for my high school friend, who has yoga experience with the more aerobic Core Power Yoga.  So many things to think about!

Self-doubt and self-criticism aside, I guided a 1.5-hour yoga class that emphasized hip openers.  Hooray, hooray, hooray.  Hopefully, some of the little lessons I sprinkled throughout the practice will stick.  And hopefully, they will come back to the mat.  I just hate clinging to that uncertainty — even 24 hours later.  Will I take each class so personally?  I need to find a way to let go, and move on.  Note to self: Ask experienced yoga teachers about this.

On top of an incredible learning experience, I take away something very tangible from this practice class: comment cards.  I asked each to fill out a blank piece of paper with anything that they thought would be useful for me to know: What they enjoyed, what confused them, how I could improve, etc.  I told them to be honest.  Brutally honest, in fact.  It would be completely anonymous, and their comments would only help me improve.  It’s the first time I’ve done this.

After they left the studio, I scooped up these pieces of paper.  I was really nervous about reading them.  This was a pretty sassy group of women — lawyers with a career expertise for analyzing the details! — so I anticipated these women pulling no punches with their comments.  But, to my surprise, the feedback provided makes me feel better about my effectiveness as a yoga teacher.  (I just hope they didn’t feel compelled to be “nice” — says the skeptical journalist in me.)

My favorite is this one:

“I really enjoyed your class.  The pace was perfect and I could keep up easily.  I had been intimidated to try yoga and now I look forward to doing it again.  Thanks!”

Hallelujah.

Comment cards from my Saturday yoga class.

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