Health and Fitness

5 Tips for Teaching yoga Students with Chronic Conditions

Yoga has worked out for many as a complementary therapy to ongoing medical treatments. It potentially offers many benefits to the ones who are suffering from life-threatening diseases.  Regardless of the myriad of benefits registered yoga teacher training offers, some training may not address every issue. Medical conditions like chronic ailments need special attention.

This is all the more important for the ones teaching yoga. Today, we share our expertise with you. When dealing with students with chronic conditions, there are certain suggestions that you as a yoga trainer can consider. Take a look.

  • Medical Approval

First things first, it is so important to begin the training with professional medical advice. It helps in several ways as medical approvals are a clear indication of whether your student is capable of performing yoga poses. Consulting a medical professional clears all doubts and potential issues.

Students with chronic conditions should be made aware that yoga should not be considered the replacement for medical care. Regardless of its supreme efficacy, yoga helps them in their journey.

  • Consistency over Challenges

Yoga is all about stability. Especially in terms of students with chronic conditions, you need to focus on the core ability. The aim varies depending on every student. Some could be dealing with postural imbalances while others need assistance with anxiety. Regardless of how you choose to address their needs, it is so important to progress slowly. The pace matters here, the practice should be conducted in a way that is effective, regardless of the duration.

  • Safety and Comfort first

In support of the aforementioned tips, begin with poses that are the safest for your student. The key to a successful yoga session, in this case, would be relaxation.  Chances are high that the student might begin the asana in an anxious state. Make sure the practice focuses on calming them first. The practices should be soothing for your student. It must improve the student’s chronic symptoms and help them psychologically and physiologically.

  • Let the Students Take Charge

Make sure to check their mood and energy level while starting a session. Also, ask them what they want to do for that day–such as quieter, more activity, more rest, and more movement. Instead of setting a count or time duration for practice, let the students move with the pace of their breath and rest when they choose.

Ask them to focus on unconscious signals of strain like a frown, a clenched jaw, or held breath. Encourage them to express what they felt during the practice and afterward. Also, ask them to compare their present feelings with how they experienced them at the beginning of practice. Let them decide if they are ready to move on, and what they would like to have in future sessions.

  • Progress Matters

It should be made clear that progress matters more than treatment. Acknowledge the fact that s/he is making steady progress with each day passing. The emphasis would shift from time to time but it is the steady advancement that works the best in such conditions. As your student improves their ability to sense the more subtle body signals, the next thing is to guide them over a skillful decision in their practice and preparation.


A student who understands their chronic condition very well is aware of what causes their symptoms to worsen and what alleviates them. On the other hand, the opposite is true for many others, and their lack of knowledge can make them uncertain and even anxious. Understanding how the parasympathetic nervous system impacts secondary symptoms, it’s clear that a student’s anxiety needs to be reduced enough to recognize their body’s early warning signs.

When students ignore pain signals or symptoms in order to carry on with their lives, they may be unable to recognize the early signs of fatigue or discomfort. Several years after being diagnosed with Lyme disease, one of my students experienced periods of apparent improvement followed by overexertion and burnout. She was no longer confident that she could make decisions that would facilitate recovery. She was able to gauge how she was feeling after each active pose by timing a restorative pose after each one. Her body became more attuned and she learned to trust her own decisions again with this pattern over time.


Different students will need different exercises: strengthening core muscles and joints, improving circulation, increasing range of motion, addressing postural imbalances, and promoting better breathing or sleep. Regardless of what program you have in mind, once you have a plan, it’s tempting to want to move forward with it as quickly as possible so that students can benefit as quickly as possible. But with a chronic condition, rushing into a new practice may create a negative reaction.

I worked with a student who had degenerated lumbar intervertebral discs, resulting in nerve compression that influenced leg function and gait. His intention was to use yoga to build core stability and standing balance, but the potential for nerve pain from unfamiliar positions or movements was high. Putting isolated supine movements on all fours and combining them, followed by more highly loaded standing work, proved to be the fastest route to progress.

As you begin your asana practice, start gently, allow time to check-in, and construct a program of poses and practices that provide the student with a sense of enjoyment and safety. Performing one or two poses daily is more beneficial than performing a longer program once a week: a couple of tried and tested poses each day will be more beneficial.


As a whole, yoga is meant to help students prepare for life. In order for your students to become skilled at noticing more subtle signals from their bodies, the next principle is to empower them to make skillful decisions in their practice as preparation for making them outside the classroom.

Check-in with their mood and energy level at the beginning of every session. Ask them what they need each day-such as more movement, quiet, activity, or rest. Instead of assigning a time duration or a count for a certain pose, let the students move with their breath and rest when they are ready. Watch for subconscious signs of strain – clenched teeth, tightened jaws, and frowns. You may want to ask them what they noticed during the practice, and how they felt afterward. Compare what they feel now with how they felt when they started practicing. Decide when you’re ready for them to move on to the next session and what you would like them to do.

Skills like these were key for my student who was recovering from Lyme disease. Her ongoing ability to notice how she felt between practices, and to make decisions accordingly, empowered her to trust herself enough to return to physical activity off the mat.


It’s human nature to focus on the next step, rather than celebrating how far we have already come. It is not surprising in the context of a chronic complaint that your student may feel frustrated by the challenges that remain, rather than acknowledging the progress so far. So as your student takes control of their practice, the emphasis of your role may shift from teacher to witness. Some days will represent sideways or even backward steps, but you’ll be there to remind them of the progress they’ve made—not necessarily advancement in poses but in measures more relevant to healing, such as freer breathing, improved sleep, decreased compensatory patterns in the neck or jaw, speed of recovery, examples of fine-tuned body awareness, or decisions to stop or rest when required.


Yoga teacher training aims to equip students for life. A fine-tuned body and mind awareness with a chronic condition is an achievement. For a yoga teacher, it can be quite intimidating to take on a journey like this. Nevertheless, yoga taught with the above-mentioned tips kept in mind can empower you and influence your student.

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