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How to Teach Yoga Philosophy to Beginners

First a shameless plug: If you’re interested in learning more, check out my online course, The Art of Teaching Beginners. This course provides a complete blueprint for teaching new students and includes the ultimate four-week beginners’ series that you can teach in your local community.

Jason Crandell teaching yoga philosophy.

The yoga tradition is steeped in philosophy. However, teaching philosophy in an impactful, engaging, and concise way is incredibly challenging–especially when you’re working with beginning students.

Tips for Teaching Yoga Philosophy to Beginners

Here are a few tips — and if you’d like to hear me talk about this at length, you can listen to Yogaland podcast, episode 136, Yoga Philosophy for Beginners.

Keep themes relatable.

There are countless philosophical, spiritual, and humanistic themes that you may choose to teach your students. Whichever you choose, focus on keeping these themes easy to relate to. Use clear language and, when possible, relate these themes to the physicality of the practice.

Keep it brief.

Unless you are a seasoned at giving Dharma Talks – and, Dharma Talks are part of your teaching style – be brief when you discuss the philosophical, spiritual, and humanistic themes that you’re incorporating. It’s easy to become a little too tangential and lose track of time when you’re engaging in these conversations.

Use good timing.

I have found that the most effective time to incorporate these dimensions into the practice are towards the end of class. Most students will be arriving to class after they’ve just woken up or after a long day of sitting at work. As such, most students want to get into their body through movement as soon as possible. Students are typically more receptive to contemplative work toward the end of class since they have satisfied their healthy desire to move.

Be respectful of all belief systems.

Be mindful that students may have belief systems that are contrary to yours. It’s good to be an advocate for the philosophical dimensions that you want to teach, but take care that you’re respectful to other belief systems.

Yoga Philosophy for Beginners: Key Concepts

The most important philosophical concepts to teach your students include:

  • The asana practice is part of a massive, all-encompassing tradition that seeks to liberate practitioners from their limited notions of self. As such, there are several philosophical and existential elements that we want to introduce to our students.
  • Without compassion, students will be unable to look within. They will become too frustrated with the practice of Yoga and they will get in their own way. There is nothing more important than helping new students develop compassion for themselves and others.
  • The practice of yoga is meant to be a lifelong process. This is very different than what we’ve become used to in our modern world of quick fixes. Since yoga is a lifelong process and learning can go through peaks and valleys, it’s important to help your students be patient with themselves.
  • Perhaps, there is nothing more important in the pursuit of yoga than perseverance. As a student, you know how yoga has required–and, developed–your perseverance. Helping your students be steady in the midst of difficulty is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a teacher.
  • Satya, or honesty, is an essential element of the yoga practice. One of the most obvious ways this will play out as a new student, is when new students are confronted with their limitations. When confronted with limitations, students often get frustrated and either 1) pull back from their practice and have a negative self-image, or 2) push forward through discomfort instead of being patient and respecting their body. Teaching students to honor their limitations without retreating or pushing too far forward is one of the most valuable lessons you will ever teach.

For more on this topic, check out my newest online course, The Art of Teaching Beginners.

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Tips for Teaching Yoga to Beginners

First a shameless plug: If you’re interested in learning more, check out my online course, The Art of Teaching Beginners. This course provides a complete blueprint for teaching new students and includes the ultimate four-week beginners’ series that you can teach in your local community.

Tips for Teaching Yoga for Beginners

Think back to when you were a beginning yoga student. You may have felt awkward or overwhelmed at least part of the time. And confused by some (or most!) of the instructions you heard.

For beginners, there’s a fine line between getting thorough instructions and getting way too much information. For teachers, striking the right balance can mean the difference between fostering a student’s long-time yoga practice and sending her home feeling like she just doesn’t belong. (We talked about this on episode 138 of Yogaland Podcast — you can click here to give it a listen.)

That’s why it’s so important for yoga teachers to take the time to learn some best practices for how to introduce this complex practice in a way that will set the foundation for a lifetime of practice.

Here are a few guiding principles I use when I teach beginners.

Choose your focus wisely.

You can’t teach everyone everything about every pose in every class. So, don’t try to do this. You’re not trying to teach your beginners everything, you’re just giving them solid, effective fundamentals to build on over the years.

Trust in the power of consistency.

It’s normal to feel like you need to entertain new students with new poses each class. And, yes, it’s important to be engaging and vary your content slightly. However, it’s essential to trust in the power of consistency and repetition. Your students are learning new skills and the only way to build depth and proficiency is through consistency and repetition.

Have a lesson plan and syllabus.

Teachers of nearly every subject matter use syllabi–except yoga teachers. As a community, it’s time to shift our mindset and become more methodical, consistent teachers that are grounded in a syllabus. (The second half of my new online program, The Art of Teaching Beginners clearly defines our syllabus of postures and techniques for every postural category.)

Share your teaching objectives before each class.

It’s much easier to learn something if you know what you’re trying to learn. Unfortunately, teachers rarely lay out their learning objectives for their students. Let’s turn this around. At the beginning of class, take a moment to briefly tell your students what they are focusing on in class today. You can say something like, “Hi everyone, we’re going to have a balanced practice today; and, we’re going to focus on creating strength in our glutes by making sure to engage them effectively in backbends.” Briefly telling your students the highlights of class will help them hone in on the most important details of class.

Use plain, easy-to-understand language.

Sometimes we get lost in our own clutter. And, sometimes we’re afraid of being direct with our students. Other times, we don’t trust simple language, so we mask it in unnecessary jargon. Let’s let these challenges go and always teach in the simplest, clearest, most direct language possible.

When you teach, use the English and Sanskrit names for postures when possible. Don’t stress about this. But, seek to keep things simple for your students while educating them about the yoga tradition.

Don’t dumb things down.

We’re teachers. And, teachers need to believe that our students can learn. This means that we can challenge them by talking up to them instead of down to them. Feel free to teach them details and nuances. Help them grow their Yoga IQ as early as possible.

To learn more or to sign up for my newest online course visit glo.com: The Art of Teaching Beginners.


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