5 Tips for Teaching Yoga to Beginners

Teaching Yoga Class in a studio.

Although it may seem counterintuitive, teaching yoga to beginners is the most challenging population to teach. While it may seem easier at first to teach “simpler” poses and sequences, it’s actually extremely difficult to teach a style of mindful movement to students who have never experienced it before. 

This is because beginners don’t know what Warrior II Pose (Virabhadrasana II), Downward Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana), or Triangle Pose (Trikonasana) are, so you can’t just call out the name of a pose and expect them to be able to follow along. 

Beginners aren’t aware of how to engage Root Lock (Mula Bandha) or how to initiate Ujjayi Breath. So, teaching yoga to beginners requires us as teachers to articulate what is going on in a yoga practice in complete layman’s terms. It requires us as teachers to finesse our language and simplify our cues to help those completely new to the world of yoga establish a practice of their own.

Here Are 5 Tips for Teaching Yoga to Beginners

Help ease the challenge of teaching yoga to beginners by following these simple tips.

  1. Simplify Your Language
    teaching beginners with clear language and demonstrations

    This rule applies to teaching all populations. But especially when teaching beginners, you really want to simplify the language that you choose. Don’t assume that everyone knows anatomical terms like glutes and hamstrings. Instead, refer to these areas as your seat, the back of your legs, or whatever other language resonates with your students.

    If you choose to incorporate Sanskrit into your teachings, always offer a translation so no one ever feels excluded because they don’t know the jargon of yoga.

    Speak using inclusive language so that everyone feels welcome in your class. 

  2. Be as Clear and Concise as Possible When You’re teaching Beginners

    When teaching yoga to beginners, try to speak as specifically as possible. Instead of saying a broad phrase like Step your foot forward, give a more direct and specific cue like Step your right foot next to your right thumb. This is specific and clear and gives clarity of exactly what to do. 

    Giving clear and direct instructions will make it much easier for a student to find the alignment you’re cueing.  

    A female yoga instructor is teaching her students to better understand a yoga pose, empowering the yoga student concept.

  3. Offer Empowering Options

    Beginners are new to the practice of yoga, but they often have varying abilities in terms of strength, flexibility, balance, coordination, etc. 

    Many students new to yoga may be strong athletes, former dancers, or gymnasts, but many may also come from a sedentary background. So, when teaching yoga to beginners, it’s important to make sure that you offer plenty of empowering options. You don’t want to hold anyone back from exploring movement possibilities within their own bodies, but you also don’t want to push anyone beyond their own boundaries. 

    The best way to find this perfect balance is to offer many options. But do this in an empowering way. 

    Rather than saying phrases like “if this is too hard” or “if you have tight hamstrings,” instead say “option to … ” You could say, “Option to lower your left knee to the floor.” Or “option to bend your knees.” Or “option to place a block beneath your hand.” Or “option to place your hand on a wall.” 

    You don’t need to say why you’re offering that option. You need to offer it. This empowers your students to choose which option feels best without making them feel as if one option is better than another. 

    It’s also typically best to offer the “easier” options first and then build up to the more challenging options so that you build your students up rather than tear them down. 

  4. Speak to the NoviceDownward Facing Dog Variation for those students with tight hamstrings

    Again, new yoga practitioners don’t know the names of the poses that are so ingrained in our bodies and minds. If you tell them to flow through “Chaturanga to Up Dog,” they’ll likely look at you like you have five heads. 

    Instead of speaking to them as if they already know what yoga is and are already familiar with the vast range of poses in the yogic repertoire, cue them step by step on how to flow through the Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana) to Upward Facing Dog Pose (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana). 

    Cue each step the physical body must take to create those shapes. This will not only help your students understand how to practice the poses, but it will also make you a more articulate teacher. It’s easy to name poses—it’s far harder to actually teach poses. 

  5. Remind Them to Breathe Joyful yoga instructor teaching outdoors

    Yoga is a mindful practice often taught as a collection of physical postures strung together. While this has numerous benefits, one of the greatest is the connection with breath.

    Yoga reminds us to be consciously aware of our breath, deepen our breath, and effortlessly link movement with breath. While this might come as second nature to seasoned practitioners, newbies often hold their breath throughout a practice while concentrating on many body alignment cues. 

    So, it’s always helpful to remind beginners to return to their breath and keep it as a focal point throughout their practice. Encourage new students to breathe deeply, especially if the practice becomes more physically challenging. 

Teaching Yoga to Beginners Is Challenging, But These Simple Tips Can Help Immensely

While beginners may be the most challenging population to teach, they can also be the most rewarding population to teach. Introducing new students to this transformative practice can benefit your students and you as the teacher. Watching your students transform in their practice physically, mentally, and spiritually is such a gift. 

Having the skills to truly teach yoga rather than lead yoga will benefit all ranges of student populations (not only beginners) and make you a far better teacher all around. 

Even though it may require a bit more work on our part, the benefits are immense. If you follow these simple tips, teaching beginners should be quite a bit easier, so you can reap all the wonderful rewards of teaching a novice population.

Leah Sugerman, E-RYT 500, YACEP, yoga writer

Leah Sugerman is a yoga teacher, writer, and passionate world traveler. An eternally grateful student, she has trained in countless schools and traditions of the practice. She teaches a fusion of the styles she has studied with a strong emphasis on breath, alignment, and anatomical integrity. Leah teaches workshops, retreats, and trainings, both internationally and online. For more information, visit www.leahsugerman.com.

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