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| 15.10.2019

Don’t Be Afraid of Teaching Yoga to Beginners

Teaching yoga to beginners might initially sound simple because ‘beginner’ is often equated to ‘easy’. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. The truth is that beginner classes can be the most challenging classes to teach.

Although the poses you’ll teach to yoga beginners will be quite simple, teaching and explaining a yoga pose (asana) from scratch is a lot trickier than simply cueing the pose. This is because you have to break down each pose step by step – and without using too much fancy yoga terminology.

Another challenge is that new yoga students will come to class with a variety of body types, abilities, aims and interests, making it even harder for a yoga teacher to make everyone feel comfortable in class.

At the same time, teaching yoga to beginners can also be one of the most rewarding yoga teacher experiences since especially yoga beginners are often overwhelmed and amazed by the empowering benefits of a yoga class.

5 Tips for Teaching Yoga to Beginners

1. Don’t Waste Your Breath

Although it’s important to set a solid foundation for safe and healthy alignment, avoid giving yoga beginners too many cues and explanations that will confuse them. Keep in mind that the working memory is limited, and they can only process a certain amount of information at a time. Information overload will leave your students be frustrated and confused.

So, when you teach yoga to beginners, just stick with the basics: Guide them safely into the general pose and just add one or two of the most important alignment cues. Restrict yourself to explaining how to set up the pose and when to breathe, if relevant. Only offer one or two alignment tips if needed.

Remember that the aim in a beginner yoga class is to provide the students with a positive experience of yoga. There’s no need to be extra critical and draw their attention to something that’s not an issue.  And you don’t have to get into all of the anatomy either.

Give yoga beginners a positive experience of yoga. Photograph by janeb13 on Canva.

2. Keep It Simple

Although transitions like stepping or floating forward from Downward-Facing Dog are fairly common in yoga classes, they can be really tricky – and really frustrating, especially if you’re teaching yoga to beginners.

You want your students to build confidence and have a positive experience. That’s why you should keep your transitions simple when you introduce new poses to beginners of yoga. There’s no need for complex choreography simply for the sake of beauty if you’re losing your students halfway through.

This also applies to transitioning from standing to seated or prone. It’s okay to simply ask your students to sit down or lie on their bellies. They might even thank you for that.

3. Speak Your Students’ Language

Don’t assume that students, especially when they are yoga beginners, will know what you mean when you talk about things like mula bandha or ujjayi. Instead, use terminology that non-yogis will understand, or gradually introduce new vocabulary by explaining it.

This also applies to the Sanskrit name of the yoga poses. Name the pose in your students’ language first before introducing the Sanskrit name.

Speak a language your students understand. Photograph by Nick Fewings on Unsplash.

4. Acknowledge Who’s in Front of You

It’s important to note that ‘beginner’ simply means a person who is new to yoga. It does by no means automatically mean that a person who is unfit, not flexible or out of shape. Avoid unconsciously subscribing any preconceived notion to them.

Yoga beginners – like any yoga students – come to your class with a various different fitness levels, abilities and limitations, body types, personal interests, and reasons for practicing yoga. There certainly is no one-size-fits-all approach to teaching yoga to beginners. Be prepared to adjust your class plans according to the expectations and needs of the students in front of you.

5. Celebrate Your Students’ Strengths

Avoid trying to ‘fix what’s wrong’ with your students but focus on celebrating their strengths instead. While this is particularly important for students who are new to yoga, it actually applies to all students – whether they’re yoga beginners or not.

Your aim should always be to do your best to help your students leave the yoga class with a positive first impression of yoga. This can be achieved by simply practicing kindness: Honor each and every student’s individual strengths, for example by offering specific positive feedback.

Try to use neutral language. This means avoiding terms like ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, ‘flexible’ and ‘tight’ or even ‘good alignment’ and ‘bad alignment’. Needless to say, you should also avoid critical tones when you suggest corrections or adjustments.

Also remember that every one of us has poses that are more easily accessible while others are more challenging. This is simply due to our unique body proportions. It doesn’t make a ‘better’ yogi to be able to touch your toes.

“Yoga is not about touching your toes, it’s about what you learn on the way down.”

– Jigar Gor

As a teacher, your power should be to adapt poses for different bodies to offer every student in your class a great experience. You want your students to feel safe and accepted in your yoga class instead of being able to perform Instagram-worthy poses.

If you suddenly have to teach a yoga class to beginners but have no time to actually prepare the class, check out our free Yoga Class Plans collection. This free eBook offers a variety of sample yoga class plans for different needs and levels, including beginners of yoga.

A Sample 60-Minute Beginner Yoga Sequence

If you suddenly find yourself in the position of having to teach yoga to beginners, don’t worry: There is a whole category of beginner yoga classes on TINT where you can find useful tips and – most importantly – inspiration for your own class. Try, for example, Yoga for Non-Yogis or The Essentials of Yoga. You can also use the following 60-minute Yoga for the Absolute Beginner from alignment expert Matt Giordano.

1. Mountain Pose (Tadasana)

It’s always a good idea to start on the feet to make it easier for your students. In Tadasana, the feet are parallel in a way one would stand naturally. Squeezing the legs in toward each other helps to tone up the muscles in the legs and to feel the muscles along the thighs engaging.

While the leg muscles are engaged, the mid-section of the body can grow taller by lifting one shoulder up after the other and reaching up from the top of the head.

Tadasana is also a great pose to introduce the yogic breath ujjayi. It sounds like whispering, similar to fogging a mirror, while inhaling and exhaling through the nose.

It’s easier to get a feeling for this breathing technique (Pranayama) if taking one hand in front of the mouth. After inhaling through the nose, the exhale can be like a whisper out through the mouth to feel the warm air in the hand.

After having practiced ujjayi like this a few times, it will be easier to establish this breathing pattern with the mouth closed as well.

Connect the breath with some simple movements like reaching the arms up and lifting the gaze in Urdhva Hastasana on an inhale and bringing the arms back down on an exhale.

Start in Tadasana and begin to connect movement and breath.

2. Chair Pose (Utkatasana)

Start with an easier variation of Chair pose when teaching yoga to beginners.

From Tadasana, bend the knees and place hands on the knees. Lean hips slightly back and try to squeeze the shins inward. Placing a block between the thighs or shins and squeezing it helps to tone the inner thighs.

It’s also important to lift the upper body by lifting one shoulder after another. Bending the elbows at shoulder height like a cactus shape is a great way to open the chest and build strength in the back body.

Open the chest in Chair pose.

Connect breath and movement again in a little sequence: Reach the arms up into Urdhva Hastasana on an inhale and bring the arms down for Tadasana on an exhale. Bend the knees for Utkatasana with cactus arms on an inhale and return to Tadasana on the exhale.

This is a great sequence to bring the students’ awareness to the breath and to gradually introduce the Sanskrit terms as you guide them through the sequence.

3. Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana 2)

Warrior 2 is an easily accessible yoga pose even to absolute beginners of yoga. To enter the pose, step the right foot back and take the feet wide and parallel to each other. Turn the toes of the front foot out so that they point toward the front of the yoga mat. Bend the front leg and gather strength by pulling the feet toward each other. This will engage the back inner thigh.

When the legs are strong, lengthen the upper body and reach the arms out to the sides. Let your students imagine a shelf underneath their hands and let them push down into that imaginary shelf to activate the muscles of the back body.

The gaze is over the front hand and the breath is slow and steady. The pose mimics a warrior, creates a feeling of strength and fierceness in the body while the mind is soft and focused.

To practice Warrior 2 on the other side, simply straighten the front leg on an exhale, turn toes in and let the toes of the opposite side point forward.

Continue your beginner yoga sequence with Warrior 2.

4. Side Angle pose (Parsvakonasana)

You can easily turn Side Angle pose into a yoga pose that is accessible to yoga beginners by using a block as support. Directly transition into it from the wide-legged stance. Turn the right toes forward to point toward the front of the yoga mat. The front heel should bisect the back arch.

Bend the front knee and rest the forearm on the thigh. Place the block on the inside of the front foot and press the front heel straight down into the ground to activate the inner legs. Grab the block with the bottom hand and put some weight down into the hand. Let the navel turn upward but make sure that the front knee doesn’t fall in by pressing the heel down.

Pressing down into the heel helps to gather strength in the legs and open the pelvis. The more strength in the legs, the deeper is the stretch in the inner thighs and an engagement of the front buttocks. Stretch the upper arm up to the ceiling and stay in this pose for a couple of breaths.

To come out of the pose, press down into the feet and lift the torso up. Turn the toes in again and switch to the opposite leg.

Practice Parsvakonasana either with the hand on a block or the forearm on the thigh.

5. Goddess Pose (Utkata Konasana)

Goddess pose is a simple but nevertheless powerful pose that strengthens the glutes, hips, and legs. At the same time, it opens the hips and chest, stretches the thighs, and elongates the spine.

Return to your wide-legged stance and turn the toes of both feet slightly outward and bend the knees. To gather more strength into this pose, pull the backs of the heels toward each other. Push down into the heels as if jumping off of the feet. Pause here and keep the strength in the legs. Take the arms up into a cactus shape.

Take full breaths in and out while holding this fierce and powerful pose. Despite the strong muscular position, it allows to soften the skin, the breath and the mind. Give your students some time in this pose to feel the heat building up, before they rise up and bring the feet together.

Goddess is a great yoga pose for beginners.

If you’re looking for more free sample yoga class plans, check out our free Yoga Class Plans collection, which does not only contain a ready-made sequence for yoga beginners, but also practice ideas for the morning, evening, or your yoga warm-up.

6. Tree pose (Vrksasana)

Tree pose is one of the first balancing poses to include when teaching yoga to beginners. To come into the pose, shift the bodyweight into the left foot and bring the right foot to the upper inner left thigh or shin.

Students who are struggling with balance in this pose, can keep the foot on the ground in a kickstand for more balance. Give them the option to choose a position where it’s not too challenging to balance and they feel stable.

To focus on opening the chest a bit more, practice Tree pose with the arms in a cactus shape, drawing the hands and elbows slightly back and spreading the fingers wide.

Remind your student to focus their gaze and that it’s okay to waver or fall and that they can keep coming back into the pose. You can only become more balanced by practicing balance.

Release the pose after a few breaths and let your students feel both feet on the ground before shifting the weight into the right foot and practicing Tree pose on the opposite site.

Let yoga beginners try this variation of Tree pose.

7. High Lunge Variations

Lunge positions are great yoga poses for beginners since they help to gain the strength and stability in the legs required for more advanced poses. There are numerous different variations that you can gradually build into your beginner yoga sequence.

Start by stepping one foot back and pulling the feet toward each other to gain more stability in the hips. To target the underside of the front buttocks, press the front heel down and round the upper back. Get long in the spine and the back of the neck by lengthening the skull forward. Take a few breaths in this pose before you step forward and switch the legs.

Build the foundation for Lunge positions first.

For the second variation, step the right foot back again and place the hands on the left thigh, round the back and come up. Keep the torso in the same angle as the back leg and, instead of sinking into the back ankle, push off of the back foot so that the calf is engaged at its maximum.

Lift the arms into a cactus shape and connect with the breath again: Inhale and open the arms up like wings, exhale and bring them back to the thigh. Repeat this movement for a few breaths before placing both hands back to the ground to bring the feet together and step the left foot back to practice this High Lunge variation on the opposite side.

Inhale – bring the arms up into a cactus shape; exhale – bring the hands down on the thigh.

Then, step the right foot back into a High Lunge position again. Place the hands on the knees and walk the hands back to become more upright in the torso. Push off of the back foot while at the same time pressing down into the front foot.  

Bring the arms into a cactus shape again and reach the arms up on an inhale. On the next exhale, bring the arms back into the cactus shape and open the chest. Repeat this a few times again before switching to the opposite leg.

Inhale – reach the arms up; exhale – open the chest.

For a Low Lunge variation, step the right foot back and bring the knee onto the ground. Use a block under the right hand for more stability and place the left hand on the knee. Turn the chest and the belly open to the left side and stay here for a few breaths.

Opt for a Low Lunge for a gentle twist in your beginner yoga sequence.

Bring the hands on the ground and put the block aside. Walk the hands to the inside of the left foot and lift the back knee. Turn the back foot so that it is parallel to the short edge of the mat for a modified Side Angle pose.

Place the hands either on the ground or bend the elbows out to the sides to bow down lower. Pull the feet toward each other to activate the inner legs. Press the front heel down and stick the buttocks up to the sky.

After a few breaths in this pose, walk the hands back to the front of the yoga mat and step the opposite leg back to repeat this sequence, starting with a Low Lunge, on the opposite leg.

This modified Side Angle pose also is a yoga pose for beginners.

Prevent your students from forcing their bodies into the poses – which would actually cause the body to tighten. Flexibility is gained over time, so rather encourage your students to stay in a place where they feel a gentle stretch, but not too much.

8. Forward Fold (Uttanasana)

Forward Folds are a great way to release the spine in between poses. It’s accessible to all levels of practitioners and is therefore also a yoga pose for beginners. You can try different variations, depending on the flexibility and range of motion of your students.

With both feet at the front of the yoga mat, bow the upper body down over the legs. Encourage your students to bend their knees as much as they need to in order to avoid too much stress on the hamstrings. Place the hands on the outside of the shins to create a little resistance. Push the backs of the heels and the hamstrings outward as if trying to turn the fronts of the thighs inward and at the same time push against the strength of your hands.

Although you want your yoga beginners to do their best to move the legs toward straight, prevent them from simply pressing the knees back. Rather create an energetic movement toward straightening by pressing the toes down and lifting the sitting bones up.

Lean forward into the big toes with the bodyweight. Pressing the big toes down into the mat will engage the arches of the feet to avoid falling over. It also activates the muscle chain of the back body through the calves and hamstrings up to the buttocks.

Encourage yoga beginners to accept the limits of their bodies.

9. Wide-Legged Forward Fold (Prasarita Padottanasana)

You can also incorporate a Forward Fold with the legs apart into your beginner yoga sequence. Just make sure you have blocks handy since yoga beginners may not be flexible enough to place the hands on the ground.

Start by stepping the feet wide. Bring the hands on the hips and soften the knees. Tilt the pelvis forward and bring the fingertips down on the ground or on blocks. Pull the feet toward each other to feel the thighs engage while at the same time lifting up the buttocks.

Students that are more flexible may want to bend the elbows out and bow the torso down. Remind your students again that they should not push themselves down but only feel a stretch of about 50%. Encourage them to focus more on the strength of the legs than on bowing down.

To come out of the pose, bend the knees and place the hands on the hips to raise into standing.

Blocks can be very helpful, especially in beginner yoga classes.

10. Triangle Pose (Trikonasana)

Also in Triangle pose, a block can come in handy when teaching yoga to beginners to help them increase their range of motion. Turn the front foot forward again like in the previous pose. Bend the front knee and place the elbow on the thigh.

Use the block on the outside of the front foot and bring it further back so that it is right underneath the shoulder and the arm is vertical. Push down into the block with the hand to lift the body up.

Turn the pelvis and the chest slightly toward the ground and start to straighten the leg, if possible. While maintaining that position of the leg, press the big toe down to activate the arch of the foot. Start opening the hips and the chest slightly. Putting some weight into the block will take some of the bodyweight away from the legs.

Hold this pose for a few breaths and, to come out, bend the front knee and push the hand into the block to raise the torso up. Repeat the pose on the other side.

Turn Trikonasana into a yoga pose for beginners by using blocks.

11. Half Moon (Ardha Chandrasana)

This may be the most challenging pose in your beginner yoga sequence. But blocks make this pose accessible to yoga beginners as well.

Place a block in front of the left front corner of the yoga mat and step the right foot back. Place the right hand on the hip and reach the leg up. Encourage your students to feel the balance and to lean back slightly to feel the engagement of the buttocks.

In order to prevent the standing knee from falling in, let it turn out as best as possible. If available, the pelvis can be slightly opened like in Trikonasana and similar to Parsvakonasana.

Take a few breaths in this pose as well and come out of the pose by placing hands and the right foot onto the ground and bowing into Forward Fold before you practice this pose on the opposite leg.

With blocks, you can even include Half Moon into a beginner yoga sequence.

12. Child’s Pose (Balasana)

After these various standing poses, it’s time to unwind and lower down to the ground. Bring the knees down onto the yoga mat and come into a table-top position. Arch the back on an inhale and bring the buttocks back on the heels on the exhale.

Advise your students that they can also place a pillow or blanket underneath the buttocks if this is more comfortable. If the hamstrings are tight, they can also use a pillow or blanket between the calves and hamstrings. This is much easier on the knee joint.

Allow your students to get comfortable in this shape and hold it for a few breaths.

Let your students unwind in Child’s pose.

13. Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

Of course, the iconic yoga pose of Downward-Facing Dog can also be part of your beginner yoga sequence. With a little modification, it’s even easier accessible for yoga newbies.

From Child’s pose, come back onto all fours and take the feet as wide as the yoga mat. Tilt the pelvis forward to stick the buttocks out. Move the hips back toward the heels while keeping the back of the buttocks up.

Encourage your students to keep the knees bent to avoid too much stress on the hamstrings. Rather draw their attention to lifting the buttocks up. For some, it may even feel more comfortable to turn the heels out. Let them enjoy this full body stretch for some breaths.

Modify Downward Dog to make it easier for yoga beginners.

If you’re looking for more tools to make your teaching easier, have a look at our free collection of Yoga Class Plans, which you can use for various different class types and levels.

14. Supine Pigeon Pose (Supta Kapotasana)

Coming closer toward the end of your beginner yoga sequence, it’s time for some gentle stretches that are accessible to beginners.

Let your students lie on their backs with the knees bent. Cross the right ankle over the left knee and flex the right foot to access the muscles of the outer shin that align the knee joint. Bring the left knee towards the chest, grab the knee and pull it toward the chest. Bring the head back onto the mat or let it rest on a pillow or bolster.

For a deeper variation, bring the knee closer to the chest and wrap the left arm around the right foot and the right arm around the right knee to create a little cradle with the arms. If available, even straighten the left leg.

Give your students time to feel into the pose. Then, release the leg and bring the feet mat-width apart and let the knees fall together and let the pose settle into the body before repeating it on the other side.

Remind your students to check in with their bodies whether they feel a hip stretch and not knee pain. Encourage them to make choices that are appropriate to their bodies based on where they’re at right now and on what is suitable for them now. Inspire them to respect their physical bodies and what their bodies want.

Encourage your students to chose the option that is appropriate to them.

15. Supine Hamstrings Stretch

Before transitioning into the final relaxation pose is a good time to gently stretch the hamstrings – an area where probably most of the students in your beginner yoga class hold tension.

Bring the knee into the chest and interlace the hands behind the hamstrings. Pull the skin behind the hamstrings toward the knee and press the leg into the hands. Flex the foot and reach the heel up as far as possible.

If available, straighten the left leg to increase the stretch or even reach the hands to the calves. Maintain the stretch for some breaths before bending the knee and releasing the foot to the ground to change the leg.

Students can modify this stretch according to their needs.

16. Corpse Pose (Savasana)

This is the rewarding and well-deserved final relaxation pose at the end of your beginner yoga sequence. With the legs straight, the toes falling out and the palms facing up, encourage your students to do their best to completely let go so that the body can completely surrender. In this pose, the bones can settle into the ground, the mind can settle into the sensations the body is experiencing and the muscles can relax. Allow your students to surrender and relax to become heavy and still like the earth.

End your beginner yoga sequence in Savasana.

Watch the Video: Yoga for the Absolute Beginner with Matt Giordano

If you’re more a hands-on kind of person, roll out your yoga mat and let Matt Giordano guide you through a sequence of yoga poses for beginners. You can watch the full class on TINT, where you can also find a wide variety of other yoga classes for beginners.

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