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How to Teach Beginners in Mixed-Level Classes

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.

How to teach beginning yogis in mixed level classes

On episode 139 of Yogaland podcast, Andrea and I talked about the challenges to go along with teaching beginners is balancing in mixed-level classes. (You can listen here.) In an ideal world,  new students would come to an introduction to yoga series before attending mixed-level classes, but this is often not the case. So, teachers have to be prepared to balance the needs of students with varying degrees of skill and experience.

In this post, I share my best tips for nurturing the beginning students in your classes, making them feel welcome, and challenging your other, more experienced, students, too.

Top 3 Challenges of Working with Beginning Students in Mixed-Level Yoga Classes and How to Address Them

Challenge: Meeting Everyone’s Needs

As teachers, we strive to include and support every student in our class. However, there are significant limitations to our ability to take care of disparate needs, especially when beginners come to mixed-level or experienced-level classes.

Tip for Meeting Different Needs:

My best advice is to be kind, do your best to provide variations, and to surrender the idea that you’ll be able to make everyone’s experience perfect.

Teaching Beginners in Mixed Level Yoga Classes

Challenge: Keeping Beginners Safe in a Mixed-Level Yoga Class

Maintaining safety is paramount in all yoga classes. There are several things that you can do to promote safety for all your students in your classes.

Tips for Keeping Beginners Safe in Mixed-Level Yoga Classes:

Create a culture of safety.

First, you can promote safety through culture that you shape in your classes. This means that aren’t telling your students to “push it” or that they can “handle anything as long as they are breathing deeply.” Instead, encourage the process of students listening to their bodies and taking care of themselves. Regularly communicate to your class that yoga can be challenging and, at times uncomfortable, but it should never hurt. If something hurts, stop doing the pose and ask for the teacher’s feedback about the posture when the class is over.

Emphasize awareness.

The second key to promoting safety is to make it clear to beginners that they are responsible for paying attention to the comfort of their bodies. Let students know that you will let them know if you see any obvious misalignments. But, ultimately, students know their own body best and should come out of poses that don’t feel appropriate.

Address safety concerns first.

The third and fourth keys to promoting safety may overlap. The third key is that if you see a misalignment that may be injurious—or a beginner doing a variation that is clearly inappropriate for their level—communicate this to them. The fourth key is to not allow beginners to do inversions unless they are closely supervised. If you see a beginner doing an inversion—even Shoulderstand—and it looks precarious, make sure to have them come out of the posture and provide them with something else to practice.

Challenge: Keeping Beginners Engaged in a Mixed-Level Class

This may be the most significant challenge for working with beginners in a mixed-level class.

Tips for Keeping Beginners Engaged:

Manage expectations.

First, help manage new students expectations in a mixed-level class. I like to tell new students in this scenario that their goals should be to learn a couple of things and have a good time. I always let them know that learning takes repetition and consistency over time. I also remind them that no one is watching them and there is nobody to impress or disappoint. Finally, I try to convince them that learning takes years and that the yoga room is good place to get lost and confused at times.

Start simple.

Second, I always include the simplest way to do every posture throughout the class.

Then, I amplify intensity as the class proceeds. For example, everyone starts with Locust and Cobra before Chaturanga and Up Dog. This way, new students see the value of the simpler options. When new students see the value of simple options, they are more likely to take them instead of jumping forward to the hardest option that may not be appropriate for them.

Leave room for exploration.

Lastly, I try to let students experiment and make mistakes without correcting every single alignment issue they’re having—unless there is a clear probability of injury.

Don’t forget to check out episode 139 of Yogaland podcast and The Art of Teaching Beginners if you want to learn more.

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Why I Meditate

I Don't Meditate | Yoga Meditation | Jason Crandell Yoga

“I don’t meditate.”

“I don’t do yoga.”

“Meditation and yoga are for New Age, magical thinkers who are out of touch with reality and have too much time on their hands.”

These might have been some of my own personal excuses I made to the person that was dragging me to my first yoga class more than 20 years ago. She didn’t listen to me. And, really, why should she have listened? I was wrong on all counts. At the time, it was unclear just how profoundly wrong I was. Time would tell a different story.

So, what was my deal? Well, it was simple: I didn’t understand anything about meditation or yoga. So, my mind made up an incorrect story based on very little information. If this sounds familiar, it’s because we all do it from time to time. One of the many problems with this hard-headed tendency is that we cut ourselves off from experiences that can be incredibly valuable to us—like yoga and meditation.

See also Change Your Day with a Lovingkindness Meditation

If we fast-forward two decades to the present moment, I do meditate and I do practice yoga. Both are inextricable elements of my life. If you’re familiar with my classes or online content, you already know that I practice yoga. It’s possible, however, that you don’t know that I meditate. I do. Here’s why.

Why I Meditate

There are countless modern articles that extol the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of meditation. Arguably the entire tradition of yoga would not exist without meditation. Personally, I meditate for three reasons—any other positive side effects of my sitting practice are an added bonus:

1) Sometimes my life feels like a run-on sentence and my meditation practice gives me much needed punctuation. Like everyone else I know, I jump from one thing to another thing in a seemingly endless series of minor events. My meditation practice helps me press the pause button in my life. It helps curb my neurotic impulse to plow through every moment of my life without registering any of them.

2) My meditation practice helps me bear witness to the sensations of my body, the thoughts of my mind, and the feeling of my breath. All of these things are genuinely interesting to me. I’ve always been curious about the human condition and my meditation practice gives me a live glimpse into the phenomenon.

3) My meditation practice balances my active practice by providing me with a complementary physical experience. I like to work intensely in my body. But, I also like the sensory experience of being still. Working intensely and being still both provide physical feedback loops that I use to focus my attention. For me, they’re an inseparable pair.

5 Common Excuses for not Meditating—and why MOST of them are weak

Excuse #1, “My mind isn’t still.”

Counterpoint: Your mind is never going to be still. Never. And, whoever gave you that impression didn’t meditate either. Instead, when you meditate, you’re going to simply observe the activity of your mind so that you can witness your thoughts with greater objectivity. Your mind will still be active because you’re still alive. But, when you meditate consistently, your mind’s activity (usually) settles just enough that there is a lessening of pressure around your thoughts.

Excuse #2, “I don’t have time.”

Counterpoint: You actually do have time, you’re just in the habit of doing other things with your time. And, honestly, you may not be able to make time for meditation every day of your life. Life can get away from us once in a while. However, sitting for 10 minutes a few times a week is plausible for nearly everyone.

Excuse #3, “Meditation is for New Age, magical thinkers who are out of touch with reality and have too much time on their hands.”

Counterpoint: What kind of a person would think this?!?!

Excuse #4, “I can’t sit still.”

Counterpoint: Honestly, this is someone of sound and able body saying, “I can’t move.” Yes, you can. You can sit still. You might be lousy at sitting still. Sitting still might drive you crazy. But, you can sit still. In fact, this makes me think that you might need some practice sitting still. But, wait, how can one practice sitting still??? Oh, that’s right.

Excuse #5, “I don’t know how to meditate.”

Counterpoint: This is NOT lame. This is legitimate. Like so many other things in life, it’s helpful to have some guidance when you’re starting something new—or, trying to stay consistent. If this is your excuse, you’re in luck. I have answers for you below.

How to Start Meditating: Yoga and Meditation Tips for People Who Don’t Meditate

There are countless resources on meditation online, in books, and in local communities. Here are a few resources that you may find helpful.

#1. I’ve released a program on Yogaglo.com called, “I Don’t Meditate.” Clearly, this program was the inspiration for the title of this blog and my recent podcast on Yogaland with Andrea Ferretti. The program consists of 6, 10-minute meditations. You can learn more about the Yogaglo program, here. And, if you haven’t listed to the podcast, please check it out here. Yogaglo has additional meditation classes from exceptional teachers like Sally Kempton, Harshada Wagner, and more.

#2. Jack Kornfield and other meditation teachers at Spirit Rock in Woodacre, CA and the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, MA, are exceptional resources. Jack—and many of the other teachers at Spirit Rock—offer podcasts, guided meditation, and dharma talks that will provide you with endless guidance along the path of meditation.

#3. Local dharma teachers or groups in your area can provide you with guidance and community. Not everyone will have access to a local community of meditators. However, many do. You may even consider driving to a meditation center or sitting group once a month if you live further away. These communities provide support and inspiration that can be invaluable.

I hope that these resources will get you sitting, taking inventory of yourself, and making sure that you don’t make the mistake that I made of saying that you “don’t meditate.”

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