In this morning’s yoga class there were six students: one with a pinched neck nerve, one with a strained rotator cuff, one with dodgy knees, one with an arthritic ankle and elbow tendonitis, one with a sore back, and one ‘normal’ (at least for the time being).
In looking at a group ‘remedially’, I saw a collection of ailments. Looking through the holistic lens of yoga, I saw students who are totally fit to practice yoga according to their ability.
For my money, I believe everyone should adapt yoga according to their individual needs and constitution. The teacher who uses this approach has more demands on her than if she were conducting a class where everyone is doing the same routine. It takes skill, knowledge and intuition to teach to individuals, and probably is best done in one-to-one sessions.
Not all can afford private lessons, so we teachers do our best to skill up so we can accommodate and give value to the students in public classes.
Here’s a few things that I’ve found helpful for teaching to individuals even in a mixed class:
- Student information. Have a complete, up-to-date form on each student.
- Attendance sheets. In a comment column, make any notes that will help you remember current injuries/conditions with which the student presents.
- Teamwork. Have a circle of practitioners you are acquainted with who you might suggest to the student if they need an interdisciplinary approach to a problem, i.e. doctors, acupuncturists, masseurs, physiotherapists. Some students may need a thorough assessment plus images.
- Professional development. Yoga teachers need to keep learning. If you are going to teach remedially you need to be qualified to do this. Practice what you learn on yourself first so the new knowledge has been consolidated before instructing others.
- Be inclusive. Students don’t like to be singled out in class for special treatment. Nevertheless, with sensitivity and diplomacy (and sometimes humour), you can allow the student to still feel part of the group.
- Yoga ethics. Practice these yoga ideals to keep yourself on the straight and narrow: ahimsa (non-injury), satya (truthfulness, brahmacharya (continence), samtosa (contentedness), isvara pranidhana (devotion)
When we teachers are mindful of the aim of yoga – the harmonious development of the whole person, that is body, mind and spirit – we are most likely teaching to our highest level of ability.