The ABCs of Teaching Yoga


cropped-IMGP2971.jpg

The ABCs of Teaching Yoga: Autonomy, Belonging, and Competence*

Research based on Ryan and Deci’s self-determination theory indicates that when people experience a sense of autonomy, belonging (relatedness), and competence, they feel self-motivated. Incorporating the ABCs into classes may help students become more engaged in what they are doing, foster their psychological well-being, and increase their ability to self-regulate. If students become disengaged or unmotivated in yoga class, considering whether their needs for autonomy, belonging, and competence are being met. Here are some tips for fostering the ABCs in yoga.

Autonomy

  • Your body is the boss! Empower students to listen to their bodies first and foremost. Nobody knows what’s right for you except for you.
  • Create class agreements as a group. Instead of the teacher arbitrarily laying down the rules, invite students to share what they think is important for having a fun and safe yoga class. Come up with a plan of action if someone breaks an agreement. What can we do as a group to get that person back on track?
  • Encourage students to take a break when they need to. Students can suggest appropriate poses that they can do to take a break, like Child’s pose, lying down (Savasana), or sitting quietly and “taking a breather.”
  • Ask students what they would like to do, and say yes to student requests as often as possible.
  • Encourage students to contribute their thoughts and ideas throughout class.
  • Ask or suggest rather than demand.
  • Discuss rather than lecture.
  • Model/demonstrate rather than tell.
  • Encourage students to take the lead.
  • Allow students opportunities to discover things on their own–engage their “inner scientist.”

 

Belonging

  • We’re a yoga team! What affects one of us, affects us all.
  • Include partner and group activities. Discuss what it means to support your partners.
  • Connect with every student in every class.
  • Co-create the class with students. Encourage lots of opportunities for student input and creativity.
  • Ask students who are struggling or finding it challenging to focus to help you by being your assistant, demonstrating/teaching a pose, turning on/off the music or the lights – anything to help the student recognize that s/he is an important part of the group.
  • Follow through with class agreements in a kind and compassionate, yet firm, way without shaming or blaming students.
  • Get to know students’ interests and incorporate them when planning lessons.
  • Discuss themes like cooperation, feeling left out, compassion, and helping others.

 

Competence

  • If it hurts, it’s not yoga. Remind students that recognizing when a pose isn’t right for them is a sign of competence, not failure.
  • Meet the students where they are. Consider students’ energy levels and mood, and adjust accordingly.
  • Don’t rush just to fit something in. Give students the time they need to accomplish a task to their satisfaction.
  • Remind students that learning new things is a process and it takes time. In yoga we’re not concerned with the outcome, but we notice our attitude when we’re faced with challenges.
  • Let students know that you believe they are capable, and encourage persistence.
  • Be humble and share your own challenges with the students.
  • Have high (but not unreasonable) expectations for every student. Doing so signals that you believe they are capable and increases motivation.
  • Offer achievable challenges for everyone. If something is too easy or too challenging students lose interest. There is always somewhere to grow in yoga.
  • Be encouraging, but avoid empty praise. For example: You’ve got it. You’re almost there. I can see how focused you are, instead of Good! Awesome! Nice work!
  • Recognize effort and perseverance, not performance or abilities.
  • Be mindful of how you offer feedback. When you offer positive feedback or praise for easy tasks, students may interpret this as their being incompetent.
  • Make feedback specific and useful. For example, if someone is wavering in balancing poses, you might say: “Find one spot to look at. Does that make balancing easier or harder?” 
  • Only offer one-on-one assistance to a student when asked. Students may interpret unsolicited help as a sign of incompetence. Instead of asking specific students whether they need help, offer a general invitation to the class.
  • Remind students that every body is different. What some people find easy, others find challenging. There is no “right” way to do a pose, and it doesn’t matter what a pose looks like.
* This post is an excerpt from Jacqueline Maloney’s Kids’ Yoga Teacher Training Manual © 2014