2
Mar
2015
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How to handle teaching a large yoga class

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I teach a gentle yoga class on Thursday evenings from 5:45 pm – 7:00 pm. I am quite grateful to the studio owner for giving me a popular time slot that is usually reserved for more senior and experienced teachers.

In the past few months, the class has expanded in size. It’s still February. The January resolution seekers are going strong! I have only been teaching for a little over a year and I’m comfortable with a class of up to 8 – 10 students. When the number gets to be significantly greater than that i.e. 17 – 20 people, :GULP:  I start to slowly panic.

I worry about a myriad of things. Here is a brief checklist of items that run through my head:

  • Not being able to properly observe my students
  • Not being able to adjust / assist students
  • Are the students able to get into a meditative state? Is it too crowded for them? What if they don’t like this class and never come back?
  • Is it too loud – or is that just the sound of my panicked breath?
  • Most importantly – Will I be able to teach a sequence that aligns with everyone who is here?

I’m sure with time and experience, this sense of panic will dissipate and I will trust myself. But until then, I have listed a few things I have started doing to remain calm, and steady. Thus far, these pointers have helped me have a successful class i.e. the students leave with smiles on their faces! If you have any more suggestions, please do share!

1. Greet each student

Giving each student a warm welcome is a lovely gesture. It makes them feel like they belong. This exercise gives me reassurance and relieves pent up pressure. Joking and laughing with students is a great de-stressor. I feel connected to the class. It is much easier to do this in a smaller class, but it is important to maintain the same teacher-student link no matter the size. As the students walk into class, I do make sure that I at least say hi. I may not be able to have a mini conversation with each one, but it is imperative that I ensure that the students feel like they’re not cattle. Each one of them has a space in class and each one of them is important to me.

2. Take a couple of extra minutes to set the setting

In a large class, mats are closer together, there may not be enough props, students may have to stagger, people are piling in even as class is about to start, etc. I have learned now that it is OK to start class a few minutes late if need be. But, use that time to make sure that people are comfortable and organized. I like to walk around and do a quick check to make sure that students have at least one prop or so. This way, there are fewer interruptions.

It is a BIG sense of relief for a teacher when the students are comfortable in their space. Take time to ensure that!

3. Extra emphasis on Breathing

In a large class there can be more distractions. There are extra sounds in the room: people are seated mat to mat, we can hear, see, and feel people around us. But, how does one activate that sense of calm despite the crowd? By bringing attention back to our breath of course.

I always start with a breathing exercise or meditation before each class that lasts for 5 minutes. But, for a large class, I extend that meditation time to about 8 minutes or so. I invite students to close their eyes, relax, get into comfortable positions and begin to go inward. Some classes we try 3-part-breath, and other times it is Viloma breathing, or alternate nostril breathing. By the end of the meditation, I can sincerely feel the sense of quiet and calm that has spread throughout the room. The extra time to meditate is not only great for the students, but also beneficial for me.

4. Slow and Steady

The thing that I find most challenging about teaching a large class, is the varied level of practice that exists in the room. In my experience, my gentle yoga classes are quite diverse when it’s a large class. It’s not just the regulars. I have students who are totally brand new to students who have new injuries to students who are long-time disciples (10+ years) of yoga. Again – :GULP: How do I teach a sequence that reaches all of them?

Realistically, I have come to accept that I may not be able to get everyone to his or her highest potential.

But a good way to go about it is to take whatever sequence you had in mind, and be prepared to reduce its length. Start gently and move through asanas at a slower pace than you would normally. This way, it gives you, the teacher, time to survey the room, adjust students, and also gauge how the class is doing. If they are all doing well and seem happy – then maybe continue to follow the plan you had in mind, and add more asanas.

5. The Middle Path

One of my gurus once said, “If you’re not sure, then teach to the middle”. This is sage advice. The less experienced ones will be a lot more comfortable seeing the teacher recommend an easier / more-middle ground variation than the advanced one. The middle path shows those who are new, an achievable goal. The middle path shows those who are advanced, a foundation from which they can grow.

6. Trust Yourself

This is the part that I struggle with the most. In a large class, I am constantly asking myself, “Am I doing OK? Is everyone OK?”

The above inner monologue takes away from being present and just teaching. It adds layers of stress, worry, and low confidence to my being, which in turn affects my ability to give students what they really need – a teacher.

I have to have faith in the training I received, rely on the knowledge I have gained thus far, and have confidence in my abilities.

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I hope the above points help those of you who teach. For those of you aren’t teachers – now you know the secret thoughts of a yoga teacher! If any of you out there are reading this and would like to share some of your experiences / thoughts / suggestions – do let me know!

As always, thanks so much for stopping by and reading.

Namaste

 

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