Advice for Yoga Teachers

I am sure it is no surprise to my readers that doing my Yoga teacher training is a goal for me…I will do it one day…but that day is not yet (or soon).

However over the last year,  I have attended a few new studios and classes and met some new teachers, and given a lot of thought to what I do and do not like in an instructor, and what kind of teacher I’d like to be.

So, my thoughts:

1. DO tell the class it is okay to fart. Seriously. From the day I started yoga in classes I told myself  that if I ever teach, I am going to say right off “If you have to fart, it is okay, it is the way you are moving your body, relax and let it happen and move on”. I have waited 2 and a half years for a teacher to say this or something like it, and last week it finally happened. I was so thrilled. It added some humor the the class, but was also true (c’mon, we all know it. Anyone who has practiced yoga has slowly, with their butt cheeks squeezed tight, come out of a pose praying it wont happen, or if it does, it will be undetectable!) and took off some pressure. That said, I am far more mindful of how I eat on days I know I will be practicing later (or the night before if I’ll be practicing in the morning), and it helps a lot!

2. DON’T ignore your students in the waiting area. I  always notice when a teacher makes an effort to chat with me before or after class. I don’t mean taking time away from themselves to stay late or teaching me before or after class…but I mean the teachers that see me come in and introduce themselves or say “Hi Jill, I’ll see you in there” when I walk by the front desk, and say good-bye when I leave. Yes, I know this seems to be a no-brainer. But at every studio there are a few teachers that stand at the desk talking to the other teachers and owners and maybe one or two favored students, and ignore the rest of us as we walk by. If you are going to chat, chat with us. We are the customers. There  is one teacher whose class I went to recently who was standing right there when I said to the desk person “I am so excited to try ….’s class, I have heard he is great” and he did not even look up and smile at me. When I left, he was talking to the other teachers and did not even reply when I said “Good-bye, Thank You”. I wont go back to his class (That is not the only reason, I did not like the class much. But…if he was nicer…I would feel more compelled ot try his class a few more times).

3. DO let your students know it is okay to modify, up and down. Teachers generally let students know it is okay to modify down…but rarely say it is okay to move to the next level in poses if it is part of your practice. I wish they would. It is pretty common for studios to have the more advanced classes during the day, and more accessible classes on evenings and weekends. Which makes sense (to make the busier classes and the ones that pull in new students at the times that more people are available)…but then some students (like me) are often going to classes a level or so below what they are capable of and want to do. It feels like showing off to go further in poses (lift from a squat to crow or practice crow variations when he class is working on crow, flip my one legged dog to wild thing, go to headstand from dolphin, do wheel instead of bridge…as examples…nothing really fancy…I am not capable of really fancy!) but it isn’t meant to be showing off. It is my time and my practice, and I want to get the most out of it. I know most teachers don’t MIND if students do this…but I wish they would say it at the beginning of class, the same way they say “Feel free to take things easier if you need, lower your knees, go into child’s and take a rest when you need to” if they would also say something like “If you have been practicing a while and want to add some modifications that are a part of your practice, feel free as long as you are safe and mindful”. If they said that (and I only know one who does), I wouldn’t feel like a show off when I do it.  Today after a class I did my head-stand pike before rolling up my mat…and a new student said “cool, party trick”.  The teacher said, “Oh that is just Jill, doing her thing”.  That was  an okay response (and she actually did a great job of modifying for me during the class, which was full of beginners, so I cannot complain!) but what I would have liked her to say was something like “Yes, I know Jill likes to take extra time to practice the poses she is working on, and now is the time to do it…when she is in her yoga clothes and on her mat” or something like that. It both would have make me feel like less of a show off, and been a lesson to the class. People always ask me “how did you ever learn to do headstand/crow/etc” and the answer is always “I worked on it a lot”.  Unless you have a daily practice that always incorporates the poses you are working on (like dedicated Ashtangis do, which is one reason why daily Mysore-which I wish I could do- is so awesome) it is pretty hard to learn a lot of poses if you depend on classes a few times a week, many of which don’t even have the same poses in the them. If I had not worked on crows and wheels and forearm stands on my own at home and in the studio after classes, they would never have come to me.

4. DON’T have favorites. If you, do, don’t let it show. It is obvious when a teacher hugs one student when they walk in, focus all adjustments on that one student, calls out on “nice….” to them and only them multiple times during class.  Obvious and annoying…even when you are the favorite (and I am usually not, but have been)!

5. DO take time to adjust and direct the newer and more experienced students. Some teachers ignore new students to assist the more practiced ones into fancy shit nobody else can dream of doing, others figure the more experienced students know what they are doing and ignore them while they work with the never students. The best teachers take the time to adjust and direct (as much as the time and practice allows) both the new students and the more practiced ones.

6. LEARN the art of teaching in a way that make students feel good (or at least not bad) about their limitations, yet still encourages them to challenge themselves. I am sure teaching in this way takes a lot of skill…but it is, in my opinion, the most important thing about a yoga teacher. That ability to help me accept the limitations of my body and my practice while still encouraging it to grow.

I know my wish-list is probably not realistic for many teachers, classes, and studios. I don’t, after all, know the reality of teaching. So it is just my opinion, as a student and a wannabe who was musing and felt like sharing!


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