10 Things You Should Know About Your Yoga Instructor
Every yoga teacher will give you a different answer as to why they teach and what they’d like their students to know. There are some overlaps, however, and you’ll find them in the following list. Remember, though, these points are not set in any yoga mat; they are universal threads from personal experience and years on the mat and in front of students. They are nuances that flow unspoken, and my hope is that they’ll be of service to students and teachers alike.
SEE ALSO: Buddha’s Scientific Guide To Happiness
1) We’re just as much of a student as you are
Becoming a yoga teacher does not mean that we’ve somehow transcended the level of student. It’s quite the opposite! By keeping an open heart and mind, we’re forever humbling to the core of being a student in a practice and lifestyle that we’ve come to love. We’re still learning, we’re still expanding our own consciousness and tapping into our own experience to share with you. Some days, we’ll glide through a class seamlessly; other days may be rougher around the edges. Work with us. We’re all here just trying to understand ourselves a little better.
2) Don’t put us on a pedestal, please
We’re not saints, we’re not “perfect,” and we sure as hell haven’t figured it all out. We’re there, with you, moving through yoga. We have flaws and fears and demons with which we battle, just as much as you do. They make us wholesome and from that experience, we draw parallels to remind you that it’s OK to fumble your way through life. If anything, take us off the pedestal and place us right next to you, for we are one in the same.
3) Some of us can’t do a handstand in the middle of the room
I never teach poses that I cannot do myself, not because I’m hiding behind my ego or my fear, but because I cannot actively speak about the posture or demonstrate it to the student in a safe and effective manner. That’s not to say that I don’t offer the more advanced postures to the class. If you’re dying to kick up into a handstand before we settle into Savasana, please, go for it if it’s in your practice! I will remind you that we have blocks, blankets, and four wonderful walls to use for support, but I will not saunter to the middle of the room and kick up into an inversion from which I’m sure to fall out of. That’s not going to give you encouragement. It may, in fact, scare the shit out of you, and that’s not what we’re striving for in yoga. Some teachers are bad-ass yogis whose body movements are forces to behold in pure wonder. I am a chill hippie who likes Forward Folds and an occasional yogi squat. That’s the beauty in diversity.
4) Sanskrit knowledge is a journey of its own caliber
I love Sanskrit. I know many teachers who do, but I also know some who do not. If you come across a teacher in that latter, Sanskrit-hating category, don’t fret. Sanskrit isn’t always a part of the teacher training package, and even if it is, some teachers get turned off by learning a dead language. Sure, we may have Westernized the hell out of yoga over the years, but if a teacher can offer you a safe space in which to explore your own body and consciousness, then I think they’re pretty much on the right track. The goal of our practice is to quiet the fluctuations of the mind until they cease and we become exactly who we really are. Learning how to say all of that in Sanskrit is just cherry on the rice pudding.
5) …so is reading the Mahabharata and other sacred texts
We don’t know the Bhagavad Gita by heart, although it would be wicked awesome if we did. Sacred texts such as these are opportunities for further teaching and especially expansion of self-knowledge and Vedic philosophy. It’s not a necessary requirement for a teacher, but it’s a truly enriching experience for one who decides to embark on this reading load. If you’re elbow deep in the Gita and expect that your teacher is, as well, you may be in for a bit of a disappointment, but I invite you to toss your expectations to the wind. Embarking on any sacred text is a personal journey.
6) The usual sequence motto is “wing it”
With exception to certain classes and workshops where sequences are prepared ahead of time, most teachers will wing a class. Why? Because we teach to who shows up, and if that means that our regularly-scheduled Vinyasa is now going to slow down to cater to the majority of the group, then so be it. This doesn’t imply that all teachers walk into a class unprepared. Winging it means that you’re flying with no set plan, because as any teacher knows, those plans are going to change depending on the students. Some may have injuries, some may be new, and if the majority wins, the class sequence accommodates that majority. I like to think of it this way: if you’re paying $20/class, you damn better get a class you actually enjoy. This is why I ask the students how they feel before we begin. If the answer is “tired,” we slow it down a notch and work to ground and open. There is no cookie-cutter class, and if there is, you should go somewhere else.
7) We’re a little scared if you tell us that you have an injury
In retrospect, it is wonderfully helpful if the student shares their injury with the teacher. This way, we’re not staring at you as you opt out of that backbend or decide to sit a pose out. However, very honestly, we do internally freak out a little if the student approaches us. Sensing that you’re about to tell us that you have a herniated disk is actually one of our teacher skills, and sadly, it’s not one we like. Modifications are something that every teacher will offer, but with certain injuries, modifications can and should be pointedly dealt with, which is why a tiny, little hurricane spins inside of our minds as we try to modify certain poses for you on the spot. Don’t abandon your present moment bliss while we zero in on you every once in a while during practice. We’re just making sure that you’re safe, steady, and sticking to the modifications to help support your injury.
8) We’re used to the moans, loud breathing, and farts
It’s OK. Your body makes noise, we get it. If you so happen to fart during class, take it as a bodily sign that you really needed that release. We would much rather you accept your loving, flatulent self than to shy away from the full pose because you’re scared of what can sound out in a quiet class. We’re also not new to moans and loud breathing. Some students are not aware that their breath carries to the back of the room or that their exhales sound a little too intimate in a public setting. We’re certainly not going to speak to that, although we may internally giggle a little. We’d invite you to giggle, as well. It’s healthy.
9) We can only teach what we know
When I first started teaching, I prayed every class that no one would ask me an anatomical question. Over the years, my own knowledge on the topic has progressed, but I realized that I was putting too much pressure on myself as a teacher to know information that I may or may not need. Yes, it’s always helpful to be able to explain to a student why he or she can’t place their heels down in a squat or why his or her hips don’t quite center in Warrior I. However, pretending that I know more than that just to assert my stature as a teacher is not only a downright lie, but it’s not fair to the student who may have additional questions after class. I teach what I know. In that knowledge, I share my experience. If you can relate and find yourself in that moment, then I have done a part of my job well.
10) We see you
In that Chaturanga, trying too hard; in Savasana, fidgeting; in meditation, slumping your shoulders and probably mentally noting some choice words — we see you. And it’s OK. We don’t judge, we don’t criticize, we don’t harbor hate. But we do invite you to try. Everyone battles some internal fight on their mat every time they begin a practice, and we know this because we have the same fight on our mats. When we teach, we speak to what and who we see. We can often get tangled in the mentality that the students just aren’t trying hard enough, but what may seem to us as a lack of effort may be a mountain to climb to the student. We’re reminded of that each and every time we teach. So, we invite you to be authentic in your self-assessment just as much as we are in reading you from across the room. Being yourself on your mat is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself and your teacher. It’s what makes our job come alive.
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