Once you start teaching yoga, different scenarios will arise. You'll think back to teacher training and realize that many of these "real life" situations weren't discussed. There will never be a teacher training that covers all of what may arise and much of it will be worked out as you gain more experience and grow as a teacher. The good thing is there’s really no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to handle these situations. I certainly am not saying that the answers below are the only way, or the correct way, to handle these. I’d invite comments about how you’ve handled these situations in your teaching, so we can learn from you!
1. When you have a class with a few beginners and more advanced practitioners, it is better to teach to the advanced students so they don’t get bored.
False. This is something you may find happening more and more these days, as new students take advantage of Group On and other discount deals as a way to join a yoga studio for the first time. This blend of student ability levels can present a challenge and unnerve a teacher. Speaking to the basics of alignment and foundation can be supportive to a beginner but also a great reminder to more practiced students. While you may be tempted to keep the flow challenging for the more advanced practitioners, you also want the newer students to return. Keeping it simple, essential and speaking to mind, body and breath can be a rewarding experience for everyone.
2. When a student comes up to you before class and asks you to “Make today’s class really hard!” you should quickly think of some challenging postures to satisfy the request.
False. This can happen as you develop a more familiar relationship with your students. You want them to feel like they’re getting what they want, but you also have to take into account the bigger picture as you’re a group facilitator, not just there to meet the needs of one student. The presentation of challenging postures may be already in your plan, may be a theme you’re regularly working on with your class or something that might spontaneously come up if you feel it’s appropriate in the moment (a sense you’ll develop as you teach more). If none of those factors are present, it’s not necessary for you to meet the need of one student despite their request.
3. It’s rarely a good idea to teach a yoga class for free as that’s a comment on your worth as a teacher.
False. Teaching yoga is a skill and one that has become more recognized as the growth of yoga continues to soar. As such, there will be more unique requests from charities, non-profits, religious organizations, senior centers, schools and private individuals for yoga. While it’s important to be reimbursed for your time, skill and service, sometimes teaching for free is a great way to build relationships, build good karma and share your name with others. Evaluate each request on the basis of time, travel time, number of classes and preparation needed for class.
4. If you’re teaching outside a studio, it’s best to refrain from using Sanskrit or chanting before and after class.
Depends. It might be worth a quick conversation with your sponsor/hiring contact to ask them if they have any concerns about either. In teaching children, you might hold off on some Sanskrit simply because it might be a bit hard for them to pronounce but again, this may be something you feel out intuitively as you are there. It might be helpful in a non-studio setting to provide some explanation as to what “Namaste” means and a bit of background on why opening and closing Oms are chanted. Also, giving people the option to participate may be helpful in unique settings.
5. If someone asks a question out loud during class, it’s best to ignore them and continue with your verbal instructions to the class or quickly whisper to them you’ll answer after class.
False. I’ll never forget as a new teacher, a student yelled out in the middle of dancer’s pose, “Hey, am I doing this right?” I was so flustered that I lost my place in the middle of teaching. These days, I welcome questions and just go with it. Some people just are curious and learn best by asking; others wait until after class to approach you. Keeping things light; “going with the flow” assumes you will facilitate the experience for the group but you can also handle a few things that may come up that are outside the box.
6. When a student asks you at the beginning of class to assist them in wheel, be sure you are available to them when that pose is presented, so you can meet their request.
False. This used to happen to me with a few students. Again, you’re there to facilitate for the group. If you can support the student individually, you’ll be there, but at that moment in the flow, you can’t always ensure that you’ll be by their side. Perhaps an offer of some work before or after class is an option or you let them know that you’ll do your best.
7. If a student is spending much of the class lying down or in child’s pose, approach them and ask them if they are feeling okay.
Depends. Students who rest during class are taking care of themselves. It isn’t necessarily a reflection on you or your class; it has more to do with them. If you think they look dizzy or unsteady, it might make sense to go over, gently place an arm on theirs and ask how they ‘re doing. If they’re in child’s pose, sometimes a gentle assist is a nice acknowledgement. If you find a quiet time when they’re resting, maybe a “how are you doing?” is a way to make a connection. But give them space to be where they are without making them feel guilty that they’re taking care of themselves. Sometimes saying nothing is fine.
8. If a student tells you the class is too hot, you should immediately go over to the temperature controls and turn the heat down.
False. This is a tricky one. In my experience, this is indeed a time for you to really tune into what the environment is like, to ensure it’s breathable as well as an appropriate temperature. However, once you start working to meet the needs of one, it becomes really hard to run a group class. Learn as much as you can about the heating system in your studio(s), so you can be confident you’re providing a healthy sweat.
9. If a student passes out, have someone in the class take over the medical aid, so you can keep the class moving.
False. It’s critical that as yoga teacher, you are first aid and CPR certified so if faced with a medical emergency, you can confidently take charge. In some cases, you may be the only studio employee onsite, if there is no assistant, manager or front desk associate there. Your role is to immediately go to the student, (check the scene, check the student- first steps of CPR) and specifically ask another student to “Call 911 and report back to me.” Beyond that, additional specific CPR/first aid guidelines should be carried out.
10. It’s motivating for students to hear you acknowledge that they are doing a great job.
True. People like to know they’re on track and like to feel like you’re connecting with them. Sharing words of encouragement, support and kudos, if used judiciously, can make an impact, keep them engaged in the process and build your relationship with them.
As you teach yoga more, you’ll develop your own interesting repertoire of unique scenarios and how you handled them. Having a network of colleagues you can discuss things with as well as a mentor or senior teacher, can be a great resource. Leading with compassion, honesty and integrity in every interaction is much better than trying to pretend to know something you don’t. These qualities will cover you until you can think through the situation so you’re better prepared for the next time it arises.