In yoga teacher trainings I’ll sometimes ask students what makes a good yoga teacher. Generally, the answers look like this: patient, kind, compassionate, knowledgeable… and “good at yoga.” Although they’re not wrong to think someone has to be good at yoga poses for teaching, there’s something else to consider–that a yoga teacher who’s bendy, flexible, and strong might not actually have an advantage. In fact, it might even hinder a teacher’s development. If that statement made you gasp, frustrated, or raise an eyebrow, then you’re in the right place. Even if you are that ultra flexible person I’ll let you in on some great secrets that’ll help you refine your skills.

“Sucking at yoga” will make you more aware of injuries and concerns in asana (a.k.a. poses) along with their transitions

If you experience pain or limitations that make you feel like you “suck at yoga” it will actually help you relate to your students. It doesn’t matter that a student has been practicing for a long time or if it’s their first day on the mat, everyone can understand that there are some poses they’re not “good” at. In some cases, they might never be able to do it due to their unique bone structure. This can help you brainstorm new ways to approach different shapes making them accessible for everyone. A new variation or introducing a prop could make all the difference in the world. “Sucking at yoga” might also make you more aware of how you need to “prep” for certain poses. Prep meaning how to warm-up the body in preparation to practice a deeper pose successfully while avoiding injury.

Some teachers can do more advanced variations and poses with little to no warm-up. If a class of students tried the same thing without warming-up someone is likely to get injured. Becoming aware of a student’s needs based on your experience can be extremely helpful to refine your teaching. “Feeling out” the sensations of those poses for their intensity, depth or whereabouts in the body is so valuable. It can allow for the discovery of where a pose would fit in a class; whether that’s at the beginning, middle, or end of a yoga sequence.

One of the ways I like to classify poses is based on stretching intensity, which affects how the poses are sequenced. For example, while analyzing a standing forward fold (uttanasana) vs. a seated forward fold (paschimottanasana) the seated forward fold will probably feel more intense since you don’t have the weight of gravity encouraging a gentler stretch. A student will tend to relax and release in a forward fold while standing rather than a seated forward fold which may feel more “forced” and intense.

Even if you are a flexible, gumby-like person you can still notice what feelings “might” be a concern. Once you’ve found that area, try playing with different ways to practice the pose. This could be as simple as bending your knees in a forward fold or using a block while seated to witness what happens to the sensations in your body. Taking the time to ask yourself “does this increase, or decrease the intensity or comfort in my experience?” When you’ve discovered some appropriate variations, observe how your students respond to the same poses. That way, you’ll be ready to offer worthwhile suggestions that support their practice.

To those who believe they “suck at yoga” there’s another unlikely benefit as a yoga teacher…

You’ll be empathetic

Empathy is a strong and powerful emotion, which is different from sympathy even though they might seem linked. I think the video from Brene Brown really illustrates it well. Empathy encourages connection, compassion, and understanding which are key elements as a yoga teacher. The theory is that if you’ve had similar struggles as a student then you’ll be more prepared to act from a place of love and understanding. That’s not to say that you can’t develop empathy if you haven’t gone through the same challenges. Some of the biggest revelations I’ve had as a teacher have been observing a student through a compassionate lens, even when I couldn’t directly relate.

The key takeaway to grasp is the transition from sympathy to empathy involves the reaction of the teacher shifting from “why can’t you do this” or “too bad you can’t do this” to how can I help this student feel accomplished in this pose without attaching any outcome like wanting them to touch their toes. Modelling acceptance as a teacher can make students feel welcomed, safe, and appreciated. For a student to see a teacher as a human being with their own flaws is so refreshing. It gives them permission to be themselves and sends the message that they ARE good enough no matter where they’re at that day.

For the strong and flexible teachers be mindful of how your students react to different poses, whether it’s their facial expression or their breathing. Observation is essential if you can’t identify with how they feel. Checking-in with the student one-to-one can also help you figure out how to approach any given situation. For those who think they “suck at yoga,” don’t feel like it holds back your teaching. Think of it as a blessing that you can use your weaknesses to refine your teaching while holding space for students to accept themselves as they are.

 

PS to anyone who thinks they suck at yoga, I promise you, you’re already good enough 🙂

 

Thinking of doing a yoga teacher training? Join me for unforgettable experiences in beautiful locations around the world! Check out my current teaching schedule.

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