How to Teach Therapeutic Yoga
Create a nurturing and welcoming environment
First, you must provide a nurturing and welcoming environment for every student. Yoga is therapeutic in its consistent application. But this will not necessarily be a helpful suggestion for a student who has back pain or an acute anxiety and is looking for a prescriptive “fix.”
Students who are recently diagnosed with an ailment, particularly if they are new, will not initially be receptive to your suggestion that yoga must be practiced regularly and consistently.
Incorporating a yoga practice into a healthcare regime is fundamentally different than taking a pill or getting surgery. Informing students that they must practice forever will be overwhelming. Furthermore, with insidious problems that require therapy such as obesity or back pain, students might be reluctant to embrace the lifestyle changes that are necessary to adjust their circumstances. So, it’s important to be compassionate and welcoming to each student, regardless of their previous yoga experience and expectations of the practice.
Be patient and creative
Next, be patient and creative in your approach. Encourage your students as they develop a regular practice. Although it is obvious to you how yoga is therapeutic, the yogic approach of a mind-body connection might be foreign to new students.
Assess each student by asking questions about their experience, their perception of yoga and what aspects of yoga make them feel better. Elaborate on this by suggesting aspects of yoga that will appeal to them. For example, an injured athlete with a lot of energy may not stick with a seated meditation practice. She might find it boring and annoying. Propose to her instead she try walking meditation. Instruct her to set a mantra before she walks and to repeat the mantra during the walk. Just as yoga is an overarching system to deal with any ailment, there are infinite ways to incorporate yoga into a lifestyle.
Consider how to teach different populations. Think about how you can make students feel comfortable in the practice. For example, obese students might find it uncomfortable to lie on their backs without support under their head.
Exercise: Therapeutic yoga for different body types
Think about ways to offer yoga classes for different body types. Take notes as you work through this topic so that you’re armed with strategies for teaching different types of bodies.
Yoga is a companion to medical intervention
Finally, even though yoga therapy isn’t a replacement for medical intervention, it is a valuable companion to medicine. As a yoga teacher, you have the time to discuss with students what is ailing them and together, you can evaluate lifestyle changes, such as work environment, leisure activities and emotional circumstances. Together, you and your student can determine an effective and useful application of yoga. Furthermore, by consulting with your student, and putting them in charge of their own health via yoga, they have the autonomy to take charge of their wellbeing. Yoga may not be a prescriptive tool to cure ailments, but it does provide a therapeutic elixir of which students can control the dosage.
Exercise: Therapeutic Assessment
Think back to when you first started doing yoga. Ask your past self these questions. Creating a dialogue with your students who have special requests for a yoga practice will help you to cater to their requirements:
What do you expect yoga to provide?
What do you like about yoga?
What makes you uncomfortable in a yoga studio?
What makes you more comfortable in the studio?