I am often asked for advice in what to do in different yoga teaching situations. It still surprises me, but I am always honored that I am seen as someone with something valuable to say. I have been teaching for 10 years, so I guess I know something. I don't know everything, I will readily admit.
Tonight I received a call from a teacher, not new to yoga or to teaching, but new to the teaching environment she was in. She is teaching a class that is open to the public, in a hospital setting. She is struggling because of the range of ability in the class. Some are quite able to do the poses, while others need a chair or the wall.
First of all, that is quite a challenge, as a yoga teacher! That means, you might need to demonstrate a pose three ways. And, remove any opportunity for "vinyasa" transitions between poses. You are pretty much teaching poses as individual poses.
All that is fine, but you have to be clear on your expectations.
This teacher is fully capable to do this. Her frustration seemed to be more with finding a way to motivate the students. Especially the ones with limited mobility.
This is a challenge to any teacher! What I rely on is:
1. create community
2. name the elephant
3. set expectations
To create community, you need an introduction. When I am teaching a class with an obvious difference in accessibility to the poses, I like to ask each student to introduce themselves, then to comment on how long they have been practicing yoga.
This serves to level the playing field. One student says "this is my second class," and the person across the room who is also in their second class now wants to make a connection. Also, because a few might say, "I've been practicing for 10 years, and enjoy honing in on my practice," the newer students now have a perspective on how they might progress, and will not be as susceptible to comparison.
Naming the elephant... this one, after the introduction, is easy. State simply and matter-of-factly, "we have a class of diverse levels." You can ease any tension by saying, "none of you are new to life."
Finally, set the expectations. By this I mean, tell your students what you will be doing in the class. I.e. in this situation, perhaps stating that you will be demonstrating various levels of the pose. One with a chair, one at the wall, and one on the mat. That the pose is the same, no matter the level. You will demonstrate the pose, then ask them to choose their variation. Then you will proceed to offer cues that will guide them into a deeper experience of the pose. Here, you can iterate that the depth of yoga is not the depth of the pose itself, but the depth of experience within the pose.
It is always a challenge to teach a class with multiple levels. Even more so when some of the people are feeling defeated in their bodies and abilities, even before the class has begun. While I am extremely aware of the sensitivities a student my have in entering a yoga class, I have found that the less I allow my own insecurities to get involved, the more I state what I observe in a matter-of-fact manner, the better able my students are to accept their bodies and their practice, at whatever level they find themselves.
I hope this has been helpful! Please leave a comment, or contact me directly with whatever thoughts you may have.
Love to you all!
Kristen is the creator of Indieflow Yoga and Yoga For A Cause. She lives and teaches in Denver, Colorado