One of the challenges you may face as a yoga teacher is working a private corporate gig and having people with different levels of experience attend. This certainly can happen in a studio setting, but a privately contracted teaching job presents other factors to consider, including:
- What kind of class and style of yoga were you hired to teach? A beginner’s class or an all-levels class?
- Is your training in power yoga, but now that you’ve met the students, your sense is that something more restorative would be appropriate?
- What is the hiring contact’s familiarity with yoga practice?
Privately contracted jobs give you some room to work with in terms of customizing the offering to best meet the needs of the students. In a typical studio class, the class format, style, and offering is determined beforehand by the studio owner. A teacher is placed in that time slot to offer that style of yoga, and for people attending, that's pretty much what they’ll get (power yoga, restorative yoga, beginner’s yoga, etc).
One of the scenarios that can arise in a corporate setting is that you’ll find a group with mixed levels of experience. Some people find that a corporate yoga offering is the perfect way to try yoga for the first time; others who have experience enjoy having class right onsite. Some companies provide incentives to employees for attending class, so you may find that students who are just getting into yoga after injury or a period of inactivity also gravitate to the class. As a teacher, you can handle these variables in a variety of ways.
Here are some tips to consider:
1. Clarify with the sponsor the style of yoga you will be teaching.
If your contact is new to yoga, you may want to have them attend one of your classes or share any DVDs or videos with them so they can get a feel for your teaching style.
2. Clarify up front who will provide mats, blocks, straps and blankets.
In a corporate setting, it is critical to have these items on hand, as you will want the option of offering students one or many in several poses. Generally speaking, ask the sponsor to provide the mats or ask them to let people know to bring one. Blocks may be a little harder to get them to purchase up front, but people can buy one at a sports store, Whole Foods, or online (Amazon sells great cork blocks). If blankets can’t be provided, ask people to bring a beach towel instead. Remember, the less you need to lug to class, the easier it will be.
3. Offer lots of modifications right from the start.
Share different ways to approach each posture. When you teach modifications (both to intensify and to accommodate) you educate people on different ways to approach the pose, without having to say out loud ,“And, if it’s hard for you to move from high to low push up because you’re not strong enough, drop your knees.” Many people do the more intense version of side plank, for instance, because they have no idea they can drop their knee down. Your role is to provide many ways to do the same thing and with this approach, you allow for people with varied levels of experience to be in the same class.
4. Stick to a standard sequence.
It’s hard for people to build competency in yoga when they’re in classes with different sequences from class to class. Support your students' growth, especially at the beginning of your corporate class series, by providing the same sequence each class. This not only allows them to build strength, flexibility, and familiarity with the flow, but also allows them to build confidence and competence. This approach allows you to be more present for them because you are less focused on what you’ll offer next.
5. Follow up with the sponsor to discuss how the class is going.
After a few classes, set up a meeting with the sponsor to share any thoughts about the mix of students, what you’re offering, and any overall concerns about how the classes are going. Bring up the issues that may be in the way of an optimal experience for everyone. If there are issues with the environment or props available, such as lack of equipment, noise, temperature, or lighting, discuss alternatives. If you find that there are people who regularly struggle in class, look for private times before or afterwards to ask them how they are doing. This usually will open the discussion to a point where you can offer some suggestions.
Talking to the sponsor is also a time to see if there is a potential disconnect between what you believe is needed and what he or she wants. If you find that the bulk of the class is filled with beginners but the sponsor is a hardcore practitioner who prefers a class filled with arm balances and a fast pace, talk about how you can structure a class that works for everyone.
6. Ask for feedback after class to see how people are doing.
As a teacher, it’s easy to make assumptions about what people think of your class. The person who appears to be having an awful time may love the challenge. As people are wrapping up after class, ask them how they feel and if they have any specific questions that you can answer. This opens the door for you to offer suggestions to people who are working to build strength and familiarity with the practice.
7. Look for opportunities to work one-on-one with people who are new to yoga, working with injuries, or lack conditioning.
In one of my corporate classes, there were two instances where one person showed up. This student is someone who, by her own admission, is working to build strength and flexibility and is frustrated about the offerings in general yoga classes. She looks to these corporate classes as a way to get some personalized instruction. In these two instances, we worked together to create a series of modifications through the one-hour power yoga sequence so that she could feel steady and strong in each pose.
If this doesn’t happen spontaneously for you with those in your class who are having trouble, ask them if they can show up 15 or 20 minutes before class for a little individual time. This will show your investment in their time and will increase their enjoyment of the classes overall.
8. Suggest less effort and give examples.
Many people come to yoga with a workout mentality. The “no pain, no gain” approach to running, lifting and other gym-related workouts doesn’t work as well on the mat and certainly runs against the underlying philosophy of yoga. However, many people don’t know how to approach yoga poses with both strength and a sense of ease. It’s your job to show them how so they can leave feeling more balanced and less stressed. Things like holding poses and encouraging breath, speaking to the parts of the body that should be relaxing as other parts work, the use of props, the use of resting in Child’s Pose if one feels pushed to an edge, are all tools people can use to help them manage their energy and effort in class.
Your role as a teacher in corporate settings is as the expert. You’re not only providing the classes but any background information on the benefits of yoga as a practice. Be confident and clear in your approach and look for ways to accommodate everyone. You’ll be making a contribution to their yoga practice and giving the students tools they can use as they take class in studio or on their own.
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