Whether you’re teaching 40 health club members or 400 conference attendees, seek to include and inspire in your yoga group classes. Personally, I never bring notes, and I rarely write an outline. I still get anxious before I teach to a big crowd, despite being a yoga instructor since 1993. But the moment you stop being stimulated and nervous, you’ve become complacent and are no longer expanding and growing.
Before teaching, I always say a silent prayer and repeat mantras to try to set aside personal and business issues. Mostly, it’s to help me completely open to the process of connecting to the class. The job of yoga instructor is much less about instructing the biomechanics of each pose and more about being open, inspirational and available to each student during and even after class.
Before class, ask about their fitness levels and experience and suggest that beginners come to one side of the room and more advanced yogis sit on the other side. Novices shouldn’t feel threatened by experienced yogis doing advanced asana in their space, and everyone should feel non-competitive and comfortable. Turn the entire group away from mirrors in the room, dim the lights and set up a mat in the middle of a grounded wall without windows. Personally, that’s my innate sense of feng shui; that’s where I feel most comfortable.
In a seated meditation at the start of class, ask if anyone is injured and if they require modifications. Suggest that anyone who does not want to be touched to simply place their hands on their belly as you walk by during the start and finish of class. In our YogaFit teacher trainings, my instructors are taught about being sensitive to all different types of people in the room. Also, never show an advanced version of any posture — you’re not there to show off. I will usually start with verbal cues for self-adjusting, progress to nonverbal cues to model the basic postures myself and then finally I will begin gentle, hand-on adjustments during class. Certifications in massage therapy and cycling in addition to yoga could also help you feel more confident when making these adjustments.
Be able to adapt your class to whatever props are available — for example, utilizing steps instead of blocks and towels instead of yoga straps. When presenting or teaching to very large audiences, I usually bring one or two fully certified teaching assistants who understand the precautions I take and the way I instruct. We’ll light candles around the room and offer hands-on guidance whenever that’s appropriate. Music is also a very significant part of the yoga class experience. I also play CDs that are calibrated to 60- or 90-minute sessions, and each one plays slower beats-per-minute for warm-ups and longer cool-downs.
Beth Shaw is the founder and creator of YogaFit Training Systems Inc. and is the author of YOGAFIT. Beth presents at all major yoga and fitness conferences worldwide. She holds a BA in Business from Long Island University and numerous yoga, fitness and mind/body certifications. Beth is a frequent contributor to fitness magazines and a huge animal rights advocate, and she has appeared on numerous television programs.
Pilates for Small Groups
By Daniel Wilson
Considering implementing a Pilates program as part of your service offering? That’s good. Pilates is still a very profitable business, as indicated by its 500% growth over the last six years, according to the “2006 Topline Report” by the Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association. Considering group classes? That’s also good. However, keep in mind that the number of people in your group classes can make a big difference in determining your programs’ success or failure. As Pilates continues to grow, class sizes escalate — sometimes too much. This leads to many instructors trying to accommodate more clients and members than they can handle.
“Any overcrowded group exercise class can become unruly. But that is doubly true with Pilates,” remarks Nora St. John, Education Program Director for Balanced Body University. “There are many nuances to the exercises. If an instructor is overloaded and fails to modify a particular nuance in relation to a particular client’s fitness ability, it can lead to client dissatisfaction, or at worse case, someone can get hurt.”
Space obviously affects the amount of equipment a trainer will need to invest in. Reformers are the most popular piece of Pilates equipment, but they take up room. Fortunately, most Pilates equipment providers have recognized this and designed Reformers specifically for the commercial sector. Usually, group Reformer classes have four to six members. This number lets the instructor give personal attention to each individual and makes it more affordable for class members. Many trainers have created successful small group Pilates programming using smaller pieces of Pilates equipment, such as the Chair or Springboard, because they are more economical in floor space and cost than the Reformer.
Regarding pricing, have you ever heard, “What plays in Peoria may not play in Poland”? What is standard in one region may not be standard in another area. Small group Pilates classes can range anywhere from $25-50 per session, duets can range from $40-55, and personal sessions can range from $50-100, depending on the area. St. John notes that the best way to get a feel for class pricing is to call other facilities in the area and see what they are charging.
Marketing is the next challenge. It used to be that someone put a Pilates sign on the door, and people would start walking though. Not anymore. It is essential for a facility to continually market the Pilates program to potential clients. One of the best ways to do this is to conduct demos or network externally. A great first step toward networking your services is to join the Chamber of Commerce. Visit local doctor’s offices, schools and churches. Let them try out the equipment, and guide them on a few different exercises. Give them a special introductory offer to come try your small group class.
An added benefit of small group classes is the social dynamic and energy of a group experience. “As each class gets to know each other they often become an informal support group that helps each member stay committed,“ says St. John. “If a trainer is on their game and can effectively create a sense of supportive competition between class members, then you get the other clients rooting someone on and congratulating them when they accomplish something they may not have been able to do when they first started a class.”
St. John continues, “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that a class member has formed a strong bond with the instructor and other participants. The class becomes a social outlet for the participants. And that sense of camaraderie becomes a huge factor in getting members to return to class each week.”
Today, people aren’t as willing to pay for the one-on-one experience as they once were. Small group classes are a great alternative as they are more affordable yet still offer individual attention from the instructor.
Daniel Wilson is a freelance writer specializing in fitness-related articles.

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