For Memorial Day, F and I rented a house in Rhode Island with some friends, to get away for the weekend. The house was in a fairly secluded area, right next to a pond, and it had tons of bedrooms and a big kitchen and plenty of space for all of us. Before the trip, I had asked our friends if they’d mind being yoga guinea pigs, and several people wrote back and said yes, they’d love to, and in fact if I hadn’t asked they would have made me teach them some yoga! So on Sunday morning, we gathered up mats (and beach towels for the mat-less) and tromped down to the pond, where we had a nice flat grassy patch to practice on. It was warm out and not too buggy. With five students, it would have been too cramped to practice in the house, and the view over the pond was really nice.
My friends have varied levels of yoga experience. One person has practiced quite a bit of yoga; two had done at least some yoga before but not recently or only with a DVD. And the two easygoing guys had never done any yoga. I was really excited because this group simulated a normal beginners class really well in terms of experience level, making it a really good teaching practice opportunity for me. J tells us that, with a beginners class, you need to teach to the middle. You can’t spend all your time working with the more advanced students, because the new students will be lost, but you also can’t spend all your time helping the newbies, because everyone else will get bored. The answer is to teach to the middle. The more advanced students will be fine and will modify as needed to go deeper; the new students can keep up better when you teach to the middle, and you can help them when you get a minute. So that’s what I tried to do.
I taught the hangover sequence I posted last week. With that sequence I was trying to choose poses that would help hangover symptoms but would also be poses that anyone new to yoga could do without too much trouble. I think the sequence worked really well (the only thing I had to change was legs-up-the-wall, which, having no walls, we couldn’t do, but we did bridge instead and it was fine). It was challenging but not too challenging; everyone caught on to what was expected in a pose pretty quickly. Mostly I just talked through the poses and didn’t demonstrate unless it was something easy to do (like tree pose – I was standing there anyway, might as well demonstrate the foot position while I talked). I also demonstrated leg positions for the seated twists, since I haven’t yet figured out the best way to describe those just with words. But overall I talked. I like to think that I described the poses reasonably well, but I think it also helped that there was one more experienced yogini in the class that people could glance over to as an example. There were a lot of things that I thought of afterward that I would have liked to have said or talked about, but on the whole I think I covered the bases pretty well.
It was interesting to watch my friends and see them as students and try to respond to what they needed. One guy hadn’t done yoga before and wasn’t very flexible, but he got the idea just fine and I never once had to adjust him in a posture. He did great, and he says he’s going to try some yoga at home now. It was actually a bit harder working with the two girls who had done just a little yoga before, which I didn’t expect, but which makes sense when you think about it. I was teaching classical hatha style, making them hold the poses for a while, which some people found really challenging. J tells us that, when teaching, we should get them into the pose, shut up and let them have an experience, and then get them out of the pose; mostly I tried to do that, although when people were holding for a while and starting to wobble, I’d say “Two more breaths here” just to give them hope (that always helps me). A few times I’d explain something and someone would ask a question, which I thought was super-helpful: if you ask, then I can give you an answer that will help you in the pose, and if you ask, then I know what I need to do to explain it better next time.
Overall the whole experience was really, really fun, and received rave reviews from my “students”. Although there was some fly swatting going on, and some loud neighbors calling their kids during sivasana, everybody loved the peacefulness of being outside looking out over the pond. And everyone seemed to feel happy and more energetic afterward. It was a really, really great experience! My only sadness was missing out on practicing yoga myself, but getting to share in this awesome group practice more than made up for it.