YJ Entry #33
At the Monday breakout session of the Anusara Grand Gathering, I attended Ross Rayburn’s Teaching Advanced Poses to Beginners. I went to the workshop to … well, learn how to teach advanced poses to beginners. I had expected instructions for different poses ~ step 1, step 2, step 3 ~ with perhaps a few clever tricks, assists and shortcuts thrown in. Instead, Ross reiterated the essential Anusara Yoga method: Teach the Universal Principles of Alignment.
The workshop did offer some important guidelines for working with beginners, much of which is covered in the Anusara Yoga Level I Teacher Training curriculum. Ross emphasized that we have three main objectives with our beginning students:
- Get them to move.
- Get them to breathe.
- Teach them to work.
As such, he said you need to get your theme set up quickly ~ no long drawn out monologue. When you are working with beginners, it’s easy to get pulled into the trap that you need to explain EVERYTHING before you do it. This often begins with the Anusara Invocation, the chant, or our “song” as Christina* is fond of calling of it. Ross said that it’s not so important to understand what it says, as what it means!
Aside: He made a very funny observation about the first time he went to chant in front of a class ~ his mother’s Southern Baptist voice in his head and what THAT voice said about the chant! How many of us can relate!
Next we want to get our students up and moving quickly. Start dynamically, movement led with the breath. Don’t worry so much about their alignment (unless of course, it’s for safety). Our tendency is to OVER teach beginners. I thought about Christina saying, “Whatever you do don’t teach them tadasana right off the bat!” (Or should I say “mat”?) She pointed out that if you get into a detailed explanation about the four corners of the feet and the subtleties of the arches you will lose them on the mountain … pose.
You also want to teach them how to WORK, the effort that is required in asana practice. Ross had us move into utkatasana and hold it. When the comment was made that you wouldn’t have beginners hold it for so long, Ross said that well, yes you would, particularly in a pose like that. By its nature, utkatasana puts your students in proper alignment ~ thighs back ~ without a lot of additional instructions on technique. It is a good “safe” hold, so it is a great place to teach beginners to work. They are not going to get hurt staying there. Let them feel their thighs burn, and the relief of the forward bend afterward.
The keys to working with beginners? Get them move, get them to breathe, and teach them to work! “Keeping all THAT” (as we like to say) teach the Universal Principles of Alignment. As the workshop came full circle ~ exactly how DO you teach advanced poses to beginners ~ the answer was revealed like that of a trick question. You teach advanced poses like you teach the beginning ones: with the Universal Principles of Alignment. It reminded me of that great weight loss “secret.” Consume less calories than you expend, and forget the tricks and gimmicks. Like dieting, the lesson is the same.
There’s beauty in the simplicity, but there just ain’t no shortcuts!
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*Read more insight on the Anusara Invocation and the whole chanting “issue” on Christina Sell’s blog. She has had some wonderful posts on this topic recently: