Teaching yoga to beginners is my absolute favorite form of teach. Beginners have three specific qualities that make them such great students: humility, fear, and discomfort. New students are humble in that they acknowledge that they know nothing, a trait many advanced students must relearn. Their fears are easy to support and help overcome. And their discomfort is the best tool for highlighting the benefits of yoga.
Here are three important traits that I have learned from teaching yoga to beginners:
Teaching Yoga to Beginners: Humility
Yoga teaches us that there is always room to grow and improve no matter at what level we think we are. Beginners have the advantage of knowing this at the start, and they are excited by the possibilities that lie ahead. Their idea or image of yoga gets them on their mat, eager to learn and explore. As teachers, we can use this enthusiasm to inspire new students to try different poses and introduce new methods of breathing (pranayama) and meditation (dhyana).
Teaching Yoga to Beginners: Fear
The consequence of humility, the acknowledgement that we are not the best, is comparison. Beginners look to others to learn and in doing so often fear that they are not good enough, not flexible enough, not strong enough, not fit enough. Nothing could be further from the truth but beginners use other students and the media to benchmark their progress. This fear has the power to unravel their initial enthusiasm; however, as teachers we can encourage students to focus on their path to growth. Each mind and body is different and the teacher’s role is to help students identify their strengths and weaknesses. The joy of yoga is that there are many paths in which we can be successful, and our goal as teachers is to introduce new students to the many types of meditation, breathing, and poses that will best support a student’s personal growth and cater to their uniqueness.
Teaching Yoga to Beginners: Discomfort
With fear comes discomfort, and beginner students feel most uncomfortable when they think they are doing a pose wrong or when a pose becomes challenging. This discomfort is a great opportunity for either physical growth or for new students to turn inward. As a teacher, we can share with new students the idea that yoga doesn’t start until we go outside our comfort zone. This helps new students realize that discomfort is a part of the exercise. The struggle and overcoming it is the essence of yoga!
Cultivating a Beginner’s Mindset
After six years of practicing and two years of teaching I still describe myself as a beginner. This helps me remember that I too am a student. Each class I take is an opportunity to grow as both a student in my own personal practice, and also as a teacher, absorbing the other instructors’ cues, sequencing, and class environment. As a teacher, this realization of continual learning helps connect us with new students, to feel the same way they feel as a beginner.
My guru, Dharma Mittra, says “If you say something too high or the student is not ready, they will not understand.” It is important to put yourself in the beginner student’s place so we can better navigate their struggles. It is a delicate balance when teaching yoga to beginners between acknowledging a student’s unabashed enthusiasm, expelling their fears, and challenging them to move beyond their discomfort. Their growth in the first couple classes is tremendous and playing to their humility, fear and discomfort are a few tricks to help teach any beginner student.
Whether you are a beginner student or perhaps are farther along on your journey, I would love to hear what you think about this idea of a “Beginner’s Mind.” What do you think is so important about approaching the practice with new eyes? Please share your perspective in the comments below.
By Risa Hiser. Risa has been practicing yoga since 2010 and completed her 200-hour yoga teacher training at the Dharma Yoga Center in NYC with Sri Dharma Mittra. Follow her on Instagram @risayoga