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Sage Rountree: 6 Steps to Creating a Welcoming Class

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

sage-rountree-6-steps-creating-welcoming-class-1Attending yoga for the first time – or taking a class with a new teacher or in a new studio – can be incredibly intimidating to students. By intentionally creating a welcoming environment, you’ll ensure students have a positive experience that leaves them open to yoga’s benefits and eager to return.
The welcome and introduction you give in the first few minutes of class are like the greeting and instructions your flight attendant announces as your plane taxis to the runway for takeoff. For those new to class – the nervous flyers, in this analogy – this is an opportunity to receive important safety information and orientation to the space. And while frequent flyers may tune out the seat-belt fitting and emergency landing instructions, hearing the familiar spiel gives them a cue to wrap up what they were doing, power down their electronics, and prepare for the transition to flight.
As you prepare your welcoming remarks, remember the 5 Ws and the one H: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Briefly cover these at the start of class to give students a clear picture of where the class is going and the tools to care for their needs.
Who, What and When
As students arrive, be a gracious host—just like the flight attendant standing by the door. Whenever possible, welcome them individually, one on one. Shake hands, learn names, and ask what you should know about their bodies. Is anything hurting? Does the student have a condition you should know about, from low blood pressure to pregnancy to glaucoma? Help students get situated.
As you begin the class proper, even in a class full of regulars, it’s polite to introduce yourself. Say your name! If you are subbing a class, share a few words about your teaching background, so students have some context for their upcoming experience.
sage-rountree-6-steps-creating-welcoming-class-2In pre-flight announcements, flight attendants mention the flight number, destination, and flying time. Do the same for your students. Tell them the class name (especially when there’s another class with a similar start time, or if there’s a chance they could be in the wrong room!). Give a broad overview of the class intensity. Be sure to say what time class will end, which both holds you accountable to ending on time and wards off student frustration if the end time is unclear.
Example: “Welcome! I’m Sage Rountree – and yes, that is my real name. This is a 75-minute yoga for athletes class; we’ll end with a nice, long relaxation period and wrap up at 7:15. In yoga for athletes, my presumption is that you’ve already gotten in a workout for the day, or you’re taking a rest day today, so we keep things simple and low to the ground to help you balance the work you do in training.”
Invite your students to take a moment to orient themselves, finding exits and restrooms and props. Taking the time to explain the physical layout of the space encourages students to take care of their own needs during class, breaking for water or picking up props.
Example: “If you need a break during class, please use this door. The bathrooms and water fountain are just outside. Props are along this wall. Help yourself to them now or at any time, as they can really enhance your experience.”
Why have you chosen the sequence of the class? What effects will the poses have? Do they build strength? Flexibility? Balance? Beyond the physical, why are we doing yoga? Explain these reasons to your students briefly at the beginning, and return to the reasons as class unfolds.
Example: “As athletes, we develop sport-specific strengths. The shadow side to this are sport-specific weaknesses. In tonight’s class, we’ll investigate where these imbalances may hide in our bodies by comparing the experience in standing poses on one side with the experience on the other. This will show us where we can shore up our weaknesses to greater apply our strengths, and this goes for the breath and mind just as much as the body.”
What is the mood of class? Is there an attitude students should cultivate? Are we approaching the poses with courage, holding them longer to build strength? Are we instead looking to soften and relax? Set the tone for your class by encouraging students to set an intention around how they will be in the practice.
Example: “As we observe the less strong parts of our bodies, we might feel surprise, frustration, or a strong urge to fix things right away. And as we notice the parts that are strong, we might feel relief or pride. When these feelings arise, let’s notice them objectively. This teaches us equanimity, the ability to maintain center in the face of shifting circumstances.”
All told, your welcoming remarks won’t take very long—the combined examples above take under 90 seconds to read aloud – but they will have a major impact on the students’ experience. To see how this works in practice, please enjoy my classes on YogaVibes. And for more, please see my online course Sequencing Yoga Classes from Welcome to Namaste.
~ Dr. Sage Rountree, prAna Ambassador, yogi & E-RYT500
Sage Rountree is an internationally recognized authority in yoga for athletes and an endurance sports coach specializing in athletic recovery. Her classes, training plans, videos, books, and articles make yoga and endurance exercise accessible to everyone. Her goal is to help people find the right balance between work and rest for peak performance in sports and in life. An Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher at the highest level (E-RYT 500) with the Yoga Alliance, Sage is on the faculty at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. Her nationwide workshops include weekends on yoga for athletes; trainings for yoga teachers on working with athletes; and running and yoga retreats. Her students include casual athletes, Olympians, NBA and NFL players, and many University of North Carolina athletes and coaches. Sage competes in running races from the 400m to the ultramarathon and triathlons from the super sprint to the Ironman. She holds coaching certifications from USA Triathlon and the Road Runners Club of America, and she writes for publications including Runner’s World, Yoga Journal, and USA Triathlon Life. She lives with her husband and daughters in Chapel Hill, NC, and co-owns the Carrboro Yoga Company and the Durham Yoga Company.
Learn more about Sage

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