This blog post is one in a series of articles all month long on the topic of Sequencing To The Individual hosted by Kate over at You & the yoga mat. Many awesome yoga experts are contributing to the blog tour throughout the month. Be sure to check out Gabriel Azoulay’s post and tomorrow, check out Adam Grossi’s too. Want to get all the #sequencingblogtour posts? Use the hashtag #sequencingblogtour on Instagram and swing by here to get emails with each post to your inbox all month long.
Yoga can be taught just about anywhere, but to contain the infinitely variable and adaptable art of yoga to the myriad settings we as yoga teachers can find ourselves teaching in requires a specific set of skills. Since I’ve been teaching yoga, I’ve been teaching in corporate settings. Workers end their days and come to the conference room. We move furniture, dim the lights, and settle in for our practice. In front of me are a pregnant woman, a dyad of giggly 20-somethings, a overweight man who is also a smoker, a 60-something woman with herniated discs, 30-somethings who have been practicing yoga on the weekends at their neighborhood studios, and someone with chronic asthma. If this sounds like a motley crew, it is. And it is par for the course when teaching group classes in corporate locations.
I would wager most students in group classes at a fixed location (a job site, the building fitness center) are there because a) it is affordable, maybe even free b) it is convenient and c) they have heard of the benefits of yoga. Maybe their workplace or management company have even hung posters in the elevators detailing them.
Most office workers are sitting there on their mats in the conference room because they want to feel better, they want something different than what they have experienced before, and they are more than a little curious about this yoga stuff. It is now your job as a yoga teacher offering group classes in a corporate setting to meet their expectations while at the same time, meeting their needs. It is an incredible opportunity to turn a whole group of people who otherwise might not seek out yoga onto yoga. Given the range of abilities and aptitudes, the general lack of yoga props, and the novel setting of teaching in a room that just a few hours ago held a stressful meeting, there are few things that I have found to be very effective for teaching corporate group yoga classes:
1. SPEAK UP and SET THE CONTAINER. You are the head of the meeting now. When you take the seat of the teacher, take it with authority. Workers come in revved up and chit-chatting about their day. The conference room is an extension of where they have been all day; they are just in different clothes now. It is your opportunity to shift the energy by drawing their attention away from work. I start by firmly, but pleasantly stating, “let’s begin,” which is usually enough to settle the energy.
From here, the transition from the work world to the inner world begins. Some people cannot sit cross-legged. I invite them to sit on a chair. Any extra mats can be rolled up in to a bolster to help those who need a little lift under the sit bones, if blocks are not available. I look around the room to make sure no one is visibly struggling. If someone is, I coach the rest of the class into closed-eyes breathing while attending to the one person having trouble until we find a suitable seat for them.
2. START WITH BREATHING. One of my favorite sayings, and one I repeat often to my corporate classes, is “if you can breathe, you can do yoga.” I know these folks need encouragement, especially if they are not used to moving their bodies. I strike down ideas of needing to be flexible or thin or young right away. On day one with a new group, I tell them definitively that you don’t need anything to do yoga but your breath and your ability to pay attention and respond authentically. Over the course of our time together, we go deeper into what these ideas are. What does it mean to pay attention? What is responding authentically?
I coach the students at their mats to breathe and move with their breath, placing my hands on areas of their bodies where they can get more space/awareness/breath in. We always spend at least 10 minutes just breathing. But I give a lot of instruction and do lots of hands-on work so they can begin to experience that “just breathing” is actually a very profound subject in its own right.
3. BREAK EVERYTHING DOWN TO ITS COMPONENT PARTS. A challenge to teaching group classes in a corporate location is time. We have one hour. They have an expectation that they are going to “get something” out of their hour. I tell them on day one that we will build the series progressively. The first few classes will be an introduction to concepts in yoga, basic poses they will encounter over and over again, and most importantly, the breath. I tell them that if the classes feel too easy now, just wait (and smile impishly, which usually elicits a few laughs) and that if the classes start to feel too hard, they will know the modifications based on the earlier learning we will accomplish as a group.
I encourage them early and often to listen to their bodies and respond to what they most need, not to what the person next to them is doing. I remind them often of the variations we know for each pose. If I see someone struggling, instead of coaching that person directly, I might remind the class of the variations they already know and usually this results in more than a few of them stepping their practice up or down as needed. This builds a practice of self-care in the students, as well as a degree of autonomy that I want for all my students to have. Nothing makes me happier than to see them coaching themselves.
4. TRUST THE INTELLIGENCE OF YOUR STUDENTS. Starting with the basics and gradually building classes up, while regularly reminding them to choose the variations that are most appropriate for them and coaching them on their breath creates a group of students that is not afraid to be different from one another. When someone needs my help, I come to them, but as I see their intelligence and ability to guide themselves grow, I can be freer in what I teach. Newness is not something to be feared, but a logical and attainable step up, something achievable because they already understand the basic theory or structure behind a pose or concept.
As the group field of the class grows, we are no longer in a corporate conference room. We have transcended that and have become a sangha, a practice group, all invested in one another’s growth. When the group classes reach this stage, I can utilize the pregnant lady or the woman with herniated discs as a teaching example, and then we are learning from one another. When the classes reach this stage, we are building community, which has far-reaching implications for the health and well-being of our people.
One of my teachers Ana Forrest made a spirit pledge to “mend the Rainbow Hoop of the People,” and as a Forrest Yoga-trained teacher, I also take to heart healing at the group level. The group field grows to encompass caring for all the participants by never leaving anyone behind and staying centered in the practice of breath, reminding all levels in the class that it is our ability to breathe and feel that is the true practice of yoga, not poses. When students stay focused on their breath and feeling authentically, the poses come, often to their surprise and delight.