Working with a new group of students presents a host of opportunities and challenges for teachers creating intro youth yoga classes. For long time teachers, new groups can enliven and invigorate our teaching practices. New classes offer us a chance to be reflective on our teaching repertoire. What has worked in the past? What do we want to improve upon? Are there new methods we want to try?
For newer teachers, spending good time preparing for and crafting introductory classes can make the difference between a successful on-going group dynamic and otherwise. I always encourage new teachers to invest deeply in the first few classes; to be incredibly consistent and diligent with boundaries and to define the terms of yoga as clearly as possible. This intensive work and focus will set a new group on a sustainable path.
I’m working with four brand new groups this week and find the preparation process deeply inspiring and exciting, actually. Parsing out the elements involved in the intro class, four pieces stand out as vital: seeding an inclusive culture, creating a safely held space, scaffolding knowledge and generating relevant context for the ways yoga practice can impact daily life.
Ask questions that help every child enter into the experience in the first couple of minutes.
- Raise your hand if you have practiced yoga before.
- Raise you hand if this is your very first class.
- If you have practiced before and you liked it, raise your hand.
- If you have practiced and you did not like it, raise your hand.
- If you have never practiced and you are excited to try, raise you hand.
- Raise your hand if you have never practiced and you are not sure about whether or not you will like it.
- Physical- Establish immediately that yoga is a non-competitive form. Competition can be healthy, but not in yoga. We learn to listen deeply to our bodies in yoga practice. That is not actually possible if we are comparing ourselves to others.
- Social- Speak one at a time. Listen mindfully to each other. Speak and listen from the heart.
- Emotional- Be supportive of each other. If you need support with the feelings you encounter, speak with an adult you trust.
20 years ago, I could introduce yoga to young people under the assumption that most of them had no previous knowledge or experience. This is certainly no longer the case! The good news is that kids are more readily exposed to yoga now; in schools, after school programs and by way of the millions of parents practicing today. In other news, some kids have already decided they either know everything there is to know about yoga or don’t like it based on previous experience. It is critically helpful to discover where our students land on this spectrum. When we know what their base level of knowledge is, we can easily build upon that. Sometimes this inquiry reveals the need to move slowly, step by step. Other times, we learn that our students have level of understanding that allows us to move more quickly into the depth of lessons.
One of my favorite questions to ask a new group is: “What do you love?” In the answers are found endless possibilities to tie in yoga with their daily lives and the things they care most about.
While the introductory yogic practices offered will vary greatly based on ability, environment and experience, I have found that building intro youth yoga classes on these four pillars creates a strong class structure based on mutuality, respect and authenticity.
What other pillars would you add to this list? Please comment below with the elements of the introductory class you have found indispensable.