I take what I do seriously. I consider myself a professional. Teaching yoga is my career.
For the past couple of years, I’ve become increasingly concerned for yoga, the students who practice it, and the teachers who teach it. I think yoga in this country is spiraling out of control, because of the lack of supervision and accountability we hold as teachers.
No one’s really keeping an eye on us. Where’s the structure? The guidelines? The standards? The ethics?
We can’t depend on Yoga Alliance or another umbrella association to provide us with the support and structure we need. Instead, we must build it ourselves.
So I ask, where is the union? We need one, desperately.
Every other recognized and established industry has one. Why don’t we?
Can you imagine if there was an undivided organization of teachers, who pledge to adhere to a guideline of universal principles and ethics, for the purpose of ensuring our students always feel safe, nurtured, effectively guided and protected at all times, and so do we?
I hope this continues and adds momentum to a conversation that was started by many before me, to fuel the creation of a unified front amongst teachers in this country and abroad.
My 10 commandments are an outline I hope will be expanded upon…
1. Thou shalt not preach.
Leave your sermon at the door. When a person walks into a yoga class, they expect to do yoga. Be careful with your words. Your beliefs are your opinions. Your opinions are your judgments. Judgments do not belong in the yoga room.
When a person decides to step onto their yoga mat, they become the most vulnerable, exposed, impressionable and easily coerced version of themselves. It is an abuse of power to take advantage of their state, and if you are preaching, that’s what you are doing.
(It took me a while to realize this. I used to say too much. It wasn’t for my students’ benefit, it was for my own. Once I recognized this, I found an outlet for my thoughts and opinions — writing. I’ve learned the less I say, the more my students focus on themselves, as they should.)
Your job is to help your students learn how to connect with their breath (which is tedious and difficult work). They do not need the extra task of making sense of your diatribe, while breathing and balancing simultaneously.
The less you say to your students, the more you observe them. The more you observe them, the more you learn about them. The more you learn about them, the more you can help them. That’s why you’re a teacher, to help.
2. Thou shalt teach breath before chaturanga, and chaturanga before handstand.
No one runs a marathon before they’ve run a lap. The same principle applies to the progression of the asana (posture) practice. Without breath, the body will fight movement, causing tension, pain and injury. Breath is the airbag of the body, it protects the body from injury and promotes flexibility and strength — the purpose of the physical practice.
Once the body is secured by the breath, it can move safely. However, if a practitioner can not lower his or her body with integrity and control during chaturanga (the transition from plank pose to the bottom of a push up), he or she is in no position to handstand; just as running one mile does not qualify you to run 26 of them.
A stable foundation is mandatory for a solid, balanced structure to be sound and sustainable. It is a process to be savored, not rushed.
Which leads right into #3.
3. Thou shalt give your students what they need, not what they want.
I relate being a teacher to being a parent. I see it the same way. My children don’t belong to me, and I do not live vicariously through them or their abilities and talents. My job is to listen to them, guide them and honor their needs.
A parent/teacher’s responsibility is to create structure.
My children want structure. They want to know what comes next, while feeling secure in the moment.
If I allowed them to eat candy all day long and stay up as late as they wanted, I would be guilty of neglect. It would be my fault if they became sick or hurt. The same principle applies for the practice. There must be structure to safeguard your students’ physical and emotional well being.
If I allow my students to do whatever they want (e.g., jumping into handstand with every vinyasa, or permitting them to talk with one another during class), I would be neglecting their needs. They may want to chit chat and flail their limbs in space, but they walked into my classroom (whether aware or not) wanting to learn from me.
It is my duty to harness the energy of the room, command their attention and give them what they need.
How do I control the class, ensuring everyone is practicing postures appropriate for their body’s structure and level?
Class is structured. Inversions are allowed when cued, and modifications are given for each level of practitioner.
I teach so no one is ever left out. When students come to my class, they know they will always feel included.
4. Thou shalt cue to the beginner before the expert.
I cue first and foremost to one person in the room, and that is the one who is courageous enough to try yoga for the first time or maybe the fifth time. The student who has been practicing for five years knows their limits and their body’s ability.
The veteran practitioners will take their practice to the edge regardless of my cues. For example, I never cue to jump forward or back, or bind, unless I am guiding the entire class into a particular posture or transition, because the students who don’t know better will follow my directions and end up compromising their bodies, risking injury. For this reason, I cue to the beginner first.
The veterans will always bind and jump. I’m okay with that under one condition — they know I expect them to move in unison with the rest of the class (no deviating from sequencing unless instructed).
I use my power in class not as the tyrant, but as the mother. For the hour and a half we are in the room together, I maintain a cohesive practice for my students, where they always feel cared for, never excluded or judged.
5. Thou shalt set boundaries.
You are not a therapist, a nutritionist, a doctor, a chiropractor or an all knowing enlightened one (unless you actually are).
You are a yoga teacher.
I have to remind myself of this daily. My students trust me and often turn to me as a confidant. However, this is not my job. I have begun to set solid boundaries which can be uncomfortable to do, but I can’t burden myself with everyone else’s issues when I’ve got my own to worry about.
When students approach me with physical ailments, emotional trauma and nutrition questions, I refer them to professionals who can help them.
I am not a surgeon. It is not my responsibility to fix my students. It is my responsibility to help them discover the tools they need to fix themselves, through the method of yoga.
6. Thou shalt keep your penis or vagina in your pants.
Again, a teacher is a parent. Would you have sex with your children? Enough said.
7. Thou shalt remind your student they always have the right to say no.
Empower your students. Tell them they have the right to refuse your touch and your adjustments.
My teacher, Dave Oliver, has a discrete way of communicating this with his students. He asks everyone who does not want to be touched, to fold under the back corner of their mat.
Not only should you teach your students to say no to you, but teach them to say no to their ego.
I do this verbally, “In this room, the only right or wrong is what feels right or feels wrong for your body. If your body is saying stop, stop. Don’t force it. You’re the one who lives in your body, you are your own expert.”
I tell my students to find their way to child’s pose whenever they need a break. I think child’s pose is the pose of the advanced mind, the mind who listens to the body and respects when it says,”I need to rest.”
8. Thou shalt adjust to guide, not to fix.
One size does not fit all when it comes to adjustments. Every body is different. The same adjustment does not work for everyone. Learn the body, know the body, observe your students, know their injuries, and watch how they move. An adjustment is the same as a prescription, diagnose then treat.
Ask them to assertively say, “Stop!” if your adjustment is hurting them. The purpose of an adjustment is to align, not to push a person further than they naturally and comfortably have the ability to stretch.
The wise one knows, “not to make more struggle of struggle.”
Be a support for your student, a warm hand, a gentle touch guiding them in the direction of the twist, the fold, or the bend. This will allow them to breath easier and stretch further, on their own.
9. Thou shalt teach only what you know and continue to learn what you don’t know.
I only teach what I know. I practice and master what I know, so I can translate my knowledge to my students in an efficient, articulate and easily digestible way.
Remember, a student is an echo of your voice. Make sure your echo is true. Teach what you know to be correct. Research, check your sources, question the accuracy of what you learn until you believe it to be true. Otherwise, you will be misinforming the world.
In order to remain informed, always be a student.
200 hours is not the end of your training, it is the beginning. Keep going. Keep learning. You never know it all and you can never know enough.
My teacher, Cheryl Oliver, continuously studies with her teacher. Her humility is palpable; she sees herself as a student first. Her dedication to refining her expertise inspires and excites me to learn from her.
10. Thou shalt keep it simple and be yourself.
Simple always makes sense. Simple is teachable. Simple is learnable. Simple is peaceful. Peace is what we all crave.
My favorite yoga teacher is consistently simple, easy to understand and fun to be around. He loves being in the room with his students. He loves teaching yoga. He is comfortable in his skin. He has an authentic voice. He teaches what he knows, and doesn’t teach or preach what he doesn’t understand. For these reasons, he remains my favorite yoga teacher.
We can all learn from him. Be simple. Be you.
There is room for all of us when we are being ourselves. Teaching is not a competition, it is not a performance, and it is not a popularity contest — it is a mission of service.
To educate is to serve.
Whether we teach Ashtanga or Iyengar, Power or Restorative, we all share the same mission — to help others learn how to live well in their bodies, so they can live well in their lives.
Those of us who have chosen this path of service need the support of one another. We need to hold each other accountable for our actions, encourage professionalism and embrace an ethical standard throughout our industry for our well being and for the well being of our students.
What do you say? Let’s unite. Who’s with me?