When Yoga Teachers Fail the Student

There are a few cues in yoga that teachers use that I just don’t understand. I’m sure they copied something from another teacher, but never asked why. I’m imploring you, study your practice and ask why?

1. Bringing feet together before jumping to half forward fold in sun salutations. This isn’t how I learned Ashtanga. But I realize everyone isn’t doing Ashtanga. But when your surya namaskars look like how I was taught, then you are probably doing ashtanga. For some reason, I’ve found teachers have students bring their feet together from downward facing dog before jumping to half-forward fold, ardha uttanasana. There is really no purpose in doing that. And there isn’t a count in Ashtanga that allows for such a move. My recommendation: keep your feet hip width apart like they should be and jump forward from your downward facing dog.

2. Leaning forward transition from warrior 2: The other one I see is from Warrior 2, teachers have students reach forward before going to exalted warrior, viparita virabhadrasana. Maybe they are seeking length before extending and opening their side body. But the pose itself does it for you. You don’t really need to add that extra move. I see this kind of cue in other ways too. They are usually just flowery excess and totally unnecessary. My recommendation: keep your posture and don’t overextend yourself with excesses.

3. Not balancing your body movements: Remember the days when young men would go to the gym and just do bench presses and barbell curls. Really stupid, right? It creates major imbalances in your body when you don’t balance out the antagonists. A bench press with some kind of rowing movement balances chest and back. A biceps curl should be combined with a triceps extension. But in yoga, we are doing the same thing. We do a bunch of forward folds without doing a back bend. If you work one side of the body, make sure you work the other. Some teachers say, "that’s my intention for the day; to just do one side of the body". But never make your intention to create imbalances. Otherwise you send your students home with a lot of Vritti (chaos). My recommendation: Create balance in the body.

4. Warming appropriately: Muscle is a like a rubber band. A cold rubber band will easily snap apart. But a warm rubber band stretches nicely. In Ashtanga, our common warm-up is sun salutations. Its the best possible way to prepare for an intense practice. In a gentle yoga class, a gentler warm-up is needed. However, when you go to a class like Hot Yoga, the heat accelerates the warming process. You’ll be able to find length without doing as much. I strongly believe that a vigorous hot yoga can do a lot to increase circulation and remove toxins from our body. But too much can be a bad thing. Instead, the value of heat is in body lengthening. To me, that’s the winning secret for hot yoga. And, if you come to class after running a marathon or a Super Hero WOD in CrossFit, you should come prepared. Don’t expect the warm-up a teacher gives to be sufficient. You will need to take a hot tub, foam roll, and some warming up before the warm-up. Otherwise, you are likely to get injured. My recommendation: Always warm your body knowing your body and your environment.

5. Goofy alliterations and misguided beliefs: As a yoga teacher, we are prone to flowery words, fantastic imagery, and spouting a spirituality that is often not organic to our normal lives. It ends up looking very fake. I once had a yoga teacher who’s major was Religious Studies. But he was a wise young man. He knew that people pay homage to many different gods or a religion of no god. So, to not offend anyone, he let everyone celebrate in their own way by not imposing one belief. Its why a Buddha statue or Ganesha picture is never appropriate in a yoga studio. Its imposing a belief on you that is unnecessary and inappropriate. The same is true with the imagery and alliterations we use. I’ve heard people talk naturally to me, then I hear their prayers and I don’t know who they are. They suddenly turn into a television evangelist. Its not how they normally talk. Yoga teachers do the same thing. They have a natural plain language that they seem to check at the door. Instead, they suddenly turn into a completely different person. My recommendation: be true to yourself, be yourself, and communicate effectively.

I always say, all yoga is good yoga. But there is a context to that. As a yoga teacher, I know you have a complicated scheme in your mind for how you plan your yoga teaching. However, with each and every class, imagine that someone comes to your class without ever having attended a class before. Imagine someone visiting your class from out of town who is very experienced in yoga. How do you come across? Are you getting the job done by meeting the needs of mind and body? Or are you on a mission to only work biceps that day because you’ll work on triceps next Tuesday? Instead, make every practice a complete practice. Meet the needs of the body as a whole, not just part of it. Otherwise, your students will walk around with bound up Vritti that can’t be released until the next class you teach. That just doesn’t work. And by all means, don’t create a bad impression on a new student who may never come back because of your poor teaching. Be vulnerable and open. Communicate your intentions without the goal of beating your own chest. Instead, make it about the student. How can you best meet their needs? Yoga teaching is totally about the student, not the teacher!

#yoga #yogateaching #betrue

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4 thoughts on “When Yoga Teachers Fail the Student”

  1. Thanks for bing so straightforward. Although I’m not a yoga teacher, I often wonder why some teachers do not cue basic corrections. For example I sometimes see students standing with their feet very askew in tadasana but the teacher does not give instructions to help them get closer to correct position.

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    1. Hi there! Thank you. I totally agree. I saw this last night in a class I took. Actually, I see it all the time. To me, if you can’t master the basics, then you’d be hard pressed to master something more advanced. I’m totally with you on that!

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  2. I love when a yoga teacher’s personality shines through in their teaching. If you are a practical, blunt person, then don’t put on this fake, flowery voice for your class. I can see right through it. I am just starting my teacher training but intend on keeping my voice, my personality, as I guide people when I am certified.

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    1. Good for you Ashley. People like to see us for who we really are. Its nice to talk to a teacher after class and realize they are the same person in real life. And its totally not an act if you can be vulnerable and authentic. I would love to take your class some day!

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