By Faye Martins
How to make yoga classes safe is a puzzle for some teachers. Quality yoga classes are designed to unite the body and mind in spiritual harmony. Instructors who are leading sessions for beginners, however, will want to make sure that the sessions themselves are as safe as possible. When students are given the proper tools, they can gently move through the target poses without becoming injured or discouraged. Here are four superb ways that classes can be made safe for students of varying skill levels.
1) Monitor the Breathing of the Students
Instructors will be well on their way to running safe yoga classes when they attentively listen to the breathing of their students. Slow, rhythmic patterns will indicate that the body is in exactly the right place. When multiple students are breathing too rapidly, however, instructors will likely need to choose different poses. Yoga sessions, in fact, can be considered hour-long breathing exercises. They are designed to bring various components of the body together. Students should feel exhilarated instead of exhausted when the class is over.
2) Watch for Technically Correct Poses
As students move through the poses, instructors should look for slow and steady movements. If individuals are collapsing out of poses or having trouble holding a pose for the required time, they will have a higher chance of injuring themselves. This is especially true for beginners who may not be as flexible as their veteran counterparts. Poses for beginners might include the tree, triangle, low warrior, high lunge, plank, cow and modified cobra.
3) Use the Right Language
Quality instructors will usually avoid flowery language and instead be as clear as possible. When students are attempting an especially difficult pose for the first time, they will need supervision. The camel and the inclined plane, for example, will require students to carefully contort their bodies into unique positions. The goal is to gently guide students through new poses so that they might even practice them on their own time. Concise language will help students stretch out their muscles without falling prey to unnecessary strains or sprains.
4) Use Accessory Items Correctly
At the beginning of class, fairly bright lighting should be used. Once students have completed their warm up stretching and the instructor is satisfied that each individual is capable of performing the poses correctly, atmospheric lighting can be used. Likewise, all students should have soft mats, which will allow them to complete the session without injuring their backs or necks. When teachers have ensured that every effort to make yoga classes safe are in place, sessions can proceed without any problems.
© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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Want to Make Yoga Classes Safe – Suppress the Ego
By Kathryn Boland
Do you get praise as a yoga instructor? How does it make you feel, and do you think it ever alters your teaching? Do you recognize dangers within letting praise “go to our heads” in this line of work? Compliments and sincere gratitude for what we offer with our teaching can be quite positive – helping us avoid discouragement through the difficulties in the field, affirming what’s working, and plain feeling good!
Yet, if we take it too significantly and seriously, it can be dangerous – leading us to not seek the continuing education we should, brush off constructive critique, and disregard safety. Perhaps most significantly, mis-receiving praise can undermine the “taming of the ego” so central to yoga practice. How are we to then model separation from ego that is our duty in which to guide our students? At best, that’s inauthentic. At worst, it’s hypocritical.
There are a few mindsets to praise that can lead ego to be helpful, and not harmful. One is to regard yourself as a vessel for the practice – it does not come from you, but through you. You’re not the one who designed the balanced, wise, and dynamic sequence of a Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation), or how to do Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing). It came from centuries of the wisdom of minds, bodies, and spirits coming together towards greater human wellness.
Like a vessel, you have your own unique shape, colors, and contours, but the inner contents of yoga that you offer your students are not of your own making. Another analogy for this is that you as a teacher are a stained glass window – you let the light of yoga shine through you, and both you (uniquely crafted and colorful) and the light are enhanced. Yoga comes to your students through you, but you are not illuminated before them without it.
This mindset helps you to stay humble to the fact that you aren’t offering something healing, empowering, and life-enhancing to your students on your very own. It also helps you avoid over-criticizing yourself with feedback that’s not as positive, through establishing a more detached view. The criticism isn’t a deep rebuke of all that you are, only how you may be shaping the gift of yoga that you’re offering. That’s a much more manageable adjustment!
Another way to stay similarly humble is to remain aware that yoga is a vast ocean of knowledge, and there will always be more to learn. Students’ praise affirms that you’ve gotten a handle over an aspect, or a few aspects of that vastness – well, great. You’re in a place to offer them that. Again, with not-as-positive feedback, it’s just something else to learn on your yogic journey. That can be incredibly fulfilling and fun! Infusing all of this with a beginner’s mindset, one of curiosity and fascination, makes it all the more enjoyable.
Filled with ego, fueled by students’ compliments, you may scoff off the need for constant continuing education. With a beginner’s mindset, however, you will crave that consistently ongoing learning. You’ll continue to learn from yogic authorities, as well as from your students themselves. This perspective also helps you to avoid guiding students in potentially injurious ways, or ways that simply don’t offer them best practice, despite the information they’re offering towards a better direction – just because inflated ego has led you to doubt that your instincts or knowledge could be wrong.
Another helpful trick is to take compliments in perspective. Students often feel a good deal better after practice, and – at the same time – you as the instructor become a concrete symbol of the practice they’ve just experienced. With those things together, they might often channel gratitude and positive regard for the practice towards you. This can be as undeniably overt and gratifying as students applauding after “Namaste”.
It all goes back towards the fact that you are not the practice and the practice isn’t you – something students might not be aware of, or at least act with awareness of after a blissfully restful Savasana (when our brains and full functioning aren’t always immediately at top-notch – it takes time for our systems to move into that). Take praise with mutual pleasure and gratitude, but don’t let it stoke your ego in negative ways. Instead, let it help guide your teaching by making more clear what is working (and in turn, perhaps, what isn’t).
Let it boost your confidence, as something to help fight discouragement in harder times. Let it fuel your desire to continue learning more and improving your skills as an instructor, rather than let it make you think you “know enough” and therefore, don’t need further learning. Make yoga classes safe, we can be content with what we offer, and receive praise with gratitude and grace, while also striving to be (yet not fixating on being) better and better. That’s the yogic way of non-attachment. Om Shanti!