Teaching Challenging Yoga Poses

Crow Pose in Yoga

Yoga “Stuff Happens”

Teacher Question of the Week:

How do you offer challenging yoga poses in your classes?

Is it worth the time and effort? Is it a distraction to those who do not want them? What are the risks and liabilities? What if you have a large class and you can’t tend to every individual or offer many modifications?

A photographer gets people to pose for him.  A yoga instructor gets people to pose for themselves.”  ~Terri Guillemets

I have taken classes where the teacher offers a challenging pose with modifications. We all go into the pose on our own and that is that. She/he (mine is a she) may be offering corrections or modifications as she rests calmly, upside down on her head, or rocking an impressive Crow Pose, but she is not there holding people’s legs up, or throwing pillows onto the floor, or offering the wall for support.

I realize that you can adapt the poses to the level of the class but we all know there can be those few clients who slip into classes that are above their level. That is not necessarily a bad thing, and I have done it myself as a student, to feel challenged and to “up” my practice. However, as a yoga teacher, you have to ask, “How do I offer challenging yoga poses without excluding certain people who may not be able to do the poses? What is my role here? Do I tend to people in the poses or just demonstrate and let them do them to save time and to keep the class moving?”

As a Vinyasa style teacher (where I mix different levels together in one class,) I often struggle with how to maintain the flow of class when I introduce challenging poses (such arm balances) that require time, attention and thorough explanations.

Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.”  ~Author Unknown

For the winter months, I am offering one or two challenging poses a week for my classes such as Wheel Pose, Hunumanasana Pose (split) and Tripod Headstand. These all produce heat and get us out of being stuck in the couch potato zone. They have the potential to be risky, lovely, invigorating, challenging, wrong, right, destructive, freeing, perfect, inappropriate, fun, defeating and humorous.

My approach is to teach these types of poses with a positive spirit and an air of confidence that I try to project out to the students in front of me. My accommodating nature and training leads me to offer many modifications. I take the time to spot people in arm balances, to hold legs in headstands, to give people time to go to the wall for support, and to put down pillows for potential face plants in Crow Pose. I think it is worth it to do this, even if it takes up time. This is my “do unto others” yoga technique. I always think back on my first attempts at challenging poses and this helps me to think less about the quantity and more about the quality of my yoga classes.

Let me know your thoughts! Leave a comment and let’s get this discussion flowing!

Photo courtesy of a4gpa

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