Teaching Truly Mixed-Level Yoga ClassesJan 06, 2022
by Jivana Heyman
Originally published on the Accessible Yoga Training School blog and reprinted with permission.
As the COVID pandemic continues on, the options of practicing yoga in person may once again be fleeting. But there are some real benefits of practicing yoga online, including heightened sensitivity to our inner experience and the possibility of avoiding the trap of competition that can appear in an in-person yoga class.
As yoga teachers, we need to help our students find safe and effective ways to practice whether it’s online or in person. One of the most helpful ways of doing this is to offer many variations and options for every practice that we teach. And even more importantly, to avoid a hierarchy in our teaching which can lead students to think that doing a more physically advanced practice equates with advanced yoga, when it really doesn’t.
Advanced yoga is heightened sensitivity to our inner world potentially leading to connection with our spirit or true self.
Physically advanced poses can be fun, but they are not essential for deepening our yoga practice. One way to emphasize this point is to teach integrated classes where students are practicing at multiple levels at the same time, some on the mat and some in chairs. Or where students are doing a variety of variations on the mat, but there is some central theme or focus to the practice.
The way I approach this is by making sure that my instruction integrates all the students into the same practice rather than teaching one version to one group of students and then separately teaching a different practice to another group. Even though we mean well when we do this, in my opinion it sets up a scenario where one group feels separate, and even less than, another group.
So what I do instead is focus on creating an integrated experience for all the students.
The technique I use when integrating mat and chair practice, is to first teach the preparatory position of the pose, which is usually the foundation, in the chair and on the mat separately. So, if I’m teaching tree post, I might teach the preparatory position on the mat, having students in the chair bring one leg out to the side, placing that heel against the leg of the chair. On the mat, I would have students prepare the foundation of the pose by raising one leg, and beginning to balance on the other. Then I would give a universal instruction for both groups to come into the fullness of the pose together.
For example, “Everyone, exhale, ground down into your supporting foot, then inhale, lengthen the spine and bring the hands together at the heart. If you feel balanced, raise the arms overhead. Keep the eyes focused on one point and the breath relaxed. Then come down together....”
The idea behind this technique of Prepare Separately and Practice Together is that we can find different ways into a pose but in the end we’re doing the practice as a group, creating an integrated experience where everyone present is participating equally regardless of the form their body is in.
This can help to cultivate a sense of equity and a true feeling of acceptance no matter what our ability or disability may be.
Jivana Heyman (he/him), C-IAYT, E-RYT500, is the founder and director of Accessible Yoga, an international non-profit organization dedicated to increasing access to the yoga teachings. He’s the author of Accessible Yoga: Poses and Practices for Every Body (Shambhala Publications, November 2019), as well as the new book, Yoga Revolution: Building a Practice of Courage & Compassion (Shambhala Publications, Nov. 2021).
Jivana has specialized in teaching yoga to people with disabilities with an emphasis on community building and social engagement. Out of this work, the Accessible Yoga organization was created to support education, training and advocacy with the mission of shifting the public perception of yoga. In addition to offering Conferences and Trainings, Accessible Yoga offers a popular ambassador program with over 1000 Accessible Yoga Ambassadors around the world.
Jivana coined the phrase, “Accessible Yoga,” over ten years ago, and it has now become the standard appellation for a large cross section of the immense yoga world. He brought the Accessible Yoga community together for the first time in 2015 for the Accessible Yoga Conference, which has gone on to become a focal point for this movement. There are now two Conferences and over thirty-five Accessible Yoga Trainings per year, as well as a strong underground yoga community supporting them.
Over the past 25 years, Jivana has led countless yoga teacher training programs around the world, and dedicates his time to supporting yoga teachers who are working to serve communities that are under-represented in traditional yoga spaces.
Interested in learning more?
Join Jivana for his upcoming FREE mini-workshop, Teaching Truly Mixed Level Yoga Classes. In this virtual offering, Jivana will share skills for teaching multiple levels of students at the same time. He'll also discuss the curriculum for his upcoming Accessible Yoga Training Online, January 24th-February 7th, 2022. And he'll give away a copy of his new book, Yoga Revolution: Building a Practice of Courage & Compassion, as well as one free spot in the training!
Friday, January 14th, 2022
12 - 1pm Pacific (Los Angeles)
3 - 4pm Eastern (New York)
Recordings will be available for those who register but are unable to attend live!
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