Fall is in the air! As the school year starts to ramp up again, it is important to think about your first yoga class of the year. First impressions are lasting--especially with teens--and the first class will set the tone for the entire year (no pressure!). Whether you are teaching yoga to teens in a school setting, studio setting, after school, or any other setting, these five tips will set you up for success for the whole year:
1. Break the Ice: Do you remember the first day of school when you were a teen? Most teens are nervous, self-conscious, sometimes excited, and usually a bit apprehensive of what lies ahead in the new school year. You can help take the edge off with an ice breaker activity. It can be as simple as having each student introduce themselves, share something they know or think about yoga, and share something they like to do. This also helps you as the teacher get to know your students and how excited (or not excited) they are to be in a yoga class. Take note of what they say they like to do, because you can tie it back in to help hook them into the practice. For example, if a student says they like football, you can casually mention that several professional football teams practice yoga to help improve their game. The more you can make yoga relevant to their lives, the more quickly they will connect to the practice.
2. Define Yoga: Students have a lot of ideas of what they think yoga is, and it may or may not be on target. Share your own definition of yoga, and especially if you are in a public school setting, make it very clear that yoga is not a religion, and that it is a universal practice that anyone of any religion or no religion can practice. You can also share that yoga is more than just a physical exercise--it is a practice of getting to know who we are, connecting to our inherent goodness and worth, and developing the courage to share who we really are with the world.
3. Share Your Story and How Yoga Has Changed Your Life: Students are always curious about you as the teacher. They want to know who you are just as much as you want to get to know your students. Share some information about yourself and how you got into yoga. Why do you practice yoga? Telling students about the impact yoga has had on your life, and challenges yoga helped you overcome will help students start to connect to the benefits of the practice and why it might be worth their while to give it a try. The more transparent and vulnerable you can allow yourself to be, the more students will respect you and see you as a real person. Setting this example of honesty, vulnerability, and authenticity also creates a safe space for students to show up in a real and authentic way themselves.
4. Set Expectations and Class Norms: Having a consistent class structure creates a sense of safety and predictability for students. From the first day, establish a routine students can expect for each class. How should students enter the space? Do they set up their own mats or are mats already set up for them? Do they need to enter quietly? Where do they put their shoes and belongings? Getting clear about these routines and communicating them to students will help create structure for a successful class.
It's also important to clearly lay out expectations for behavior and other class norms. You can create a class contract that outlines all of the expectations and have students sign the contract to show that they agree to following these expectations. Or, if you want to take a more democratic approach, you can come up with class expectations as a group and have students share what expectations should be in place to have a successful class. Either way, make sure students understand what is expected of them--and remember to hold students accountable to those expectations throughout the year.
5. Give Them a Taste of the Sweetness: It might take most of the class period to do ice breakers, introductions, and to go over class norms and expectations. It is nice though to end the class with at least a little a taste of an actual yoga practice. If you have time, you could do a few simple yoga poses. You can also lead a guided relaxation practice with the students. Relaxation is often the favorite part of class for teens, so if you can give them a taste of feeling calm, relaxed, and peaceful, they will likely want to come back for more. :)
Feel free to email if you have additional thoughts or questions about how to make the first class of the year a success.
Good luck and have fun!!
Erin Lila Singh
Founder, Yoga for Teens