Let me start by clarifying what this post is not about: denigrating the lovely teachers out there working their yogi tails off to give you a great class. Teaching yoga is hard work, and a generally massively underpaid profession at that. I know, because I’ve been there.
But now I’m here—as a full time student taking a much-needed break from guiding others into the sweet flow I’d been missing from teaching too many classes before moving to a new city.
And because I’m on the student side of the mat these days, I’m noticing some pretty glaring differences in how my teachers are—or in some cases aren’t—connecting with me in their classes.
With the growing yoga trend (I saw mats and blocks on a grocery aisle the other day. Near the animal cookies and Oreos) come more classes: 200-hour training ads filling up the pages of every yoga publication, weird hybrid styles (Break dancing and yoga? Really?), and newly minted teachers.
I’m all for spreading the yoga gospel, but taking your place as teacher at the front of the yoga room (and the back of the room, the side wall, down the middle, and up close interacting with each and every student) requires a huge investment of time, sweat, patience, passion, money, and pure love.
Not every teacher is up to that—at least not yet. So as teacher and student, here’s what I’m suggesting you look for in determining whether your yoga teacher is supporting or ignoring you.
1. Is your yoga teacher looking at you or through you?
At one of my advanced teacher trainings, we were asked, over and over again, “What are you hiding from?” It took me three days of “Damned if I know,” before I could get honest with myself, discover the answer (Fear of f*cking up and looking like a fraud), and put it into action in my classes.
And like some crazy yogic miracle elixir, I started really looking at my students. Eye to eye, heart to heart. No phony bullshit or pre-scripted cues to maintain an invisible barrier between my fear of looking like a fraud and getting to know their bodies and their hearts.
I took the risk of moving in a little closer, lingering my gaze into their eyes, and reading what they revealed: strain, frustration, stagnation, excitement.
And from their cues, not mine, the class moved forward in a supportive, authentic way. It took me two years of consistent teaching to figure this out, and it made all the difference for me and my students.
2. Does your yoga teacher touch you or ignore you?
Jam-packed classes make it challenging, but not impossible, for a teacher to touch every student in class at least once. I’m not talking about a full-on 15-breath spin-me-into-the-deepest-most-detoxifying-Crescent-Lunge-Twist-of-my-entire-life kind of teaching assist.
But a gentle palm on my back in a brief Child’s Pose, or an index finger directing my thoracic spine upward in Warrior I will do. Touch is so powerful, especially when we as students bring our most vulnerable selves into the classroom.
And if you’re that student who dreads being touched (It’s ok, I was too years ago), take a deep breath and try to welcome it—it’s coming from a place of love and has the power to change you in a good way.
Assisting a student is an art, and for me, was the most challenging area of growth as a teacher. But the more I did it, the more connected I felt with my students. So much so that if I take a class with a teacher who doesn’t touch me at least once in class, I don’t go back.
It’s just too important an element of yoga class to miss.
3. Are your yoga teacher’s words relevant or rambling?
Every student has an opinion on how much or how little chatter should take place in a class. And as a teacher, I learned quickly that I’d never, ever, get that formula right with every student in the room. And that’s OK.
My sweet husband cringed every time I said “Take a deep breath in,” but others appreciated it, and through active listening, I felt in those moments my students needed to be reminded of it.
My point here is not how many words to listen for, but rather what your teacher is asking of you, sharing with you, and why.In my own teaching, I found that by following the first two steps (looking at my students, touching and assisting), I knew exactly what to say, when to say it, and when to shut up.
So listen for it. If your teacher offers an alignment cue that brings relief to your shoulders in Wheel, for example, or shares a personal story of how he or she got through a difficult time that resonates so much that you can withstand a few more breaths in Frog Pose, you know you’re in class with a supportive teacher.
Supporting Your Teacher
Now, if your teacher is missing it in any of these areas, support them in their growth by sharing your feedback. In a loving, supportive way of course! They’ll be glad you did.