Understanding your students is a fundamental skill that is developed over time. Understanding is developed through the relationships that we build with our students and is what creates and guides the energy of your classes. To develop this skill, you must set aside time at the beginning of your classes to informally speak with your students. It is recommended that you arrive at least 15 minutes early for your classes, so that you can have bonding time with your students. During this time, you can have short discussions with your students, so you can find out:
- What are they looking to get out of this class?
- Do they have an injury or health concern that you should know about?
- Why did they come (especially if they are new to your class)?
Creating this understanding of your students allows you to be more connected with your students and helps you to be able to adapt your lesson plan to for all the students in your class. The more you do this, the better you will be able to adapt to your students and ensure the best experience possible for each student.
Communicating with our students at the beginning of class allows us to properly set the tone and prepare our students, as well as ourselves for class. However, this cannot take away from the importance of observing our students during class time. Sometimes, students feel uncomfortable communicating with anyone about their ailments or will not speak up when they are in an asana that is causing them pain. Especially, since you will have some students that still believe in the “no pain, no gain” theory. However, students should be pain free as they practice each asana. Due to this, it is up to you to carefully observe your students throughout class to make sure that everyone is safe and not in pain because of a posture.
You can also ask students if they feel any discomfort, pointing out common areas where they can potentially feel pain, as they could either hurt themselves, or not be able to fully relax into a pose. If a student cannot relax, they will not get the full benefit of the pose. Modifications, variations, or a different pose can be provided for the student(s) to relax. As you can imagine, Restorative Yoga teachers are kept very busy during classes. Providing modifications, options, and variations, adjusting props, ensuring proper alignment, reassuring inexperienced students, and providing hands-on and verbal assists, all while remaining attentive to the whole group, can be challenging. However, by having a lesson plan laid out and properly communicating with your students, you will be able to master this challenge and guide your students.
To help assist you with developing your skills in observing and assisting you students, there are common types of students to be aware of that you will encounter during your time as a Yoga teacher.
Below is a list of some common types of students:
- Healthy and Active: These students understand their bodies and are able to move in and out of many asanas with ease. They are good students that connect with the instructor and the practice, so they are great to use as models for students who are struggling or for newer students. However, because these students tend to pick up the practice quickly, and understand how to use props, they can sometimes be overlooked when we observe students for alignment, adjustments, and physical assists. Be sure to spend a little time ensuring that they are doing okay.
- Difficulty Using Props: Using props can be foreign to some students. The key here is to be patient and help them to be comfortable when asking for help. Show them as many times as it takes for them to remember and feel comfortable using the prop(s) during their asana practice. Repetition is the key.
- Stressed, Emotional, or Have Anxiety: For these students, you will want to work with the breath and address the mind. Although there are times when a student is just stressed, emotional, or anxious, you can have students that are dealing with a combination of these states of mind. For example, you can have a student who is highly stressed, that becomes emotional due to the high levels of stress they are experiencing. Help these students to breathe and relax. Be gentle with these students. Check for shoulder tension and constriction around the chest, so that you can provide modifications or assists as needed. You can also offer support at the end of class, if the student wishes to share with you. There are sequences that you will learn in this course to assist these students, but keep in mind that sometimes all these students need is a tissue for their nose and/or tears, and an understanding teacher, to help them relax and release anything negative that has built up. Also, your touch can be a great way to help students reconnect with their bodies and breath during asana practice. However, keep in mind that you should ask permission before ethically touching them.
- Ill or Recovering from an Illness: This is where learning about your students before class becomes important. You want to find out what their illness is and ask questions, if you are not familiar with it, so that they can educate you on what they can and cannot do. This will allow you to advise them properly during class. If they are not sure what they can and cannot do, you should advise them to check with their doctor. You can also research the illness more after class so that you are more familiar with it in the future. However, remember that you are not a doctor, and it is very important to refer your students to their doctors to make sure they are safe. All in all, try to assist this student through what they can do and remind them that it is okay to go as slow as they need to.
- Injury or Physical Condition That Requires Additional Assistance: These students are similar to students who are ill or recovering from an illness. You will want to speak with them before class so that you have an understanding of the injury or physical condition that requires additional assistance. Injuries can include sprains, broken bones, muscle tears, etc. Physical conditions can include issues with the feet, ankles, knees, hips, back (upper and/or lower), shoulders, neck, etc. These concerns can typically be cared for through modifications, variations, or different asanas. Make sure to pay extra attention to these students and advise that they can move as slowly as they need to. Also, make sure to create an environment where they feel comfortable letting you know if a particular asana or even modification is uncomfortable or painful for them. In this way, you can help them through an asana or recommend a different one. Keep in mind that when you have students that need extra attention, you can decide who you will help first. Some teachers assist the students that need minor adjustments first and then move onto ones who need more attention. Others go back and forth between students. The key here is to make sure that all your focus is not on just one or two students. You must make sure that all of your students get the attention they need, and deserve, in an efficient manner.