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How Yoga People Are Perceived By Non Yogis

I was recently chatting with a local who regally drops by a nearby coffee shop. He told me how — in the summer — the yoga studio opens and there is a throng of students careening into the parking lot at the last minute to catch class. In addition to parking up all the spots, the students would often do lots of other things without (seemingly) any regard for anyone else.

It got me thinking about some of the ironies of how “yoga people” are perceived by non practitioners.

Here are some of the ways that I suspect yoga people come across:

Self obsessed (Egotistical)
Self Important
In a rush

Of course these qualities are THE EXACT OPPOSITE of the way a yogi really would like to be.  

Certainly we all have rough days. But, in general, I would say there is a lot of truth to these perceptions. (They are mine, after all!)

How do you think non yoga students perceive practitioners and how do you try to change the negative parts of this perception?

Teacher Posture 

Does your body hurt during or after teaching class?

I’ve heard of new teachers locking their knees for 90 minutes while standing on the podium.  I remember after teaching some of my first classes how the muscles of my neck and jaw were exhausted from talking for an hour-and-a-half straight. Recently, I’ve noticed teachers extend one foot in front of the other and kind of rock from hip to hip.

Just like a student, a teacher must maintain proper posture and cultivate good form in order to maintain health and well being.  

Teaching is exhausting and to replenish your teaching energy, here are some helpful practices.

  1. Stand on a yoga mat. Just as the students do, standing on a yoga mat can provide some cushion from the hard floor. Bend your knees a bit from time to time can also help.
  2. Walk. As long as you do so in a way that is not distracting for the students, it can be very helpful to keep you from locking up and creating tension.
  3. Sit down. Some studios prohibit sitting. Certainly sitting can cause the energy level to drop.  So, perhaps just at sevasana or maybe longer if necessary as long as you can keep your energy and connection with the students and their struggle. Bonus: sitting in a hip opening stretches like cow face or lotus can be very helpful to open the hips.
  4. Keep you chest up and shoulders back and down. This instruction comes regularly throughout the class for the students and should be practiced by the teacher as well. A lifted chest can create space for you to… 
  5. Breathe! Teachers stress how important it is for students to breathe. For a teacher, this goes double!  Both to help you and to model to students. As a new teacher, if you are struggling, try breathing in deeply whenever you say “inhale.” Especially if you feel pain, try to breathe and relax into that space.
  6. ???

As a teacher, it’s important to move your body in class and to maintain good posture and practices. Of course the class is about — and for — the students.  So be sure to move in a way that does not distract students or make it about you.

What do you do in class that helps you?

Teachers and Teacher Trainings

Anybody can plunk down 3 grand in Fiji, eat quinoa twice a day and drink fresh coconuts for three weeks and be declared: presto chang-o A YOGA TEACHER!

Before you react and take this personally, I’ll be the first to say I did this too. For many people — most — transitioning from a ‘traditional’ lifestyle or continuing on a ‘non traditional' trajectory, Immersive Teacher Training is a great first step to becoming a teacher. (As a side note, In 2020 everyone will graduate Liberal Arts college as a 200 hr certified yoga teacher and yoga will be so pervasive that it will be the subject of feature length movies and several long running television shows. It’s already dominating fashion.)

Being a yoga teacher is the hardest job I’ve ever had. It requires all of my skills and aptitudes applied in real time. I have to be present for 90 minutes in the room plus 30 minutes before and after. My old job where I sat at a desk and raked in the pay check and benefits? I think I was present there for less than 6 minutes a day. In fact I was checked out altogether, which was really the only way to make peace with the soulless drone that is most corporate jobs.

Recently I learned from a friend that the teacher training he is attending is less than adequate. This is a huge disappointment and personal embarrassment since I recommended the training! I don’t even recommend a book unless I’ve read it. In the case of this training, I did not attend and therefore I cannot vouch for it with my personal experience but I had heard good things and read many of the teachers writings, which led me to believe it would be of quality.

Right now in the “Bikram” world there are a lot of alternative trainings popping up. In the absence of Bikram, who has traditionally led the trainings, a vacuum needs to be filled as there is a labor shortage of new teachers to teach and an excess of people who want to be trained. Naturally this has led to a market, which some teachers/studios are capitalizing on.

But how do you know the training you're attending is a “real” training? After all, for the thousands of people who attended Bikram’s “training” there may be a variety of perspectives but very few of those perspectives would avow that the training was accredited (it wasn’t) or highly informational (Bikram’s lectures were the rambles of a XXXXX (fill in the blank). Certainly accreditation (200 hour, 500 hour) seems to be a good standard.

In my opinion, it doesn’t really matter who led your 200 or 500 hour training. Certainly not all trainings are of the same quality just like all teachers (and prospective teachers for that matter) are not of the same quality or integrity. Ultimately, only time will tell whose trainings are of value and whose are not. As for the aspiring teachers, after 6 years on the job, here are a few observations that may be of help in the quest to determine how to be a teacher and what makes a real teacher.

This is a learn on the job kind of job. Regardless of who led your training, you have access to become the teacher you want to be by … TEACHING.

There is a very high attrition rate of yoga teachers. Among many reasons why teachers drop out, perhaps one of the most obvious is because yoga teaching is one of the only jobs that costs more than it pays! Haha!

Once you choose to become a teacher, it will change your practice and the way you experience “going to yoga.” For many, it becomes a job and they drop out before they ever establish themselves as a teacher and – furthermore – they lose the love of the practice, which is a huge loss. Be patient! You can become a teacher whenever you like. Do not rush!

Don’t make your yoga teaching your primary source of income. As a teacher who did this, it was a big mistake. The most successful teachers (with the exception of like Rodney Yee) have successful careers and their yoga teaching is a second job.

Teachers take on new ideas and practices in order to remain connected to what it feels like to be a beginner : the bravery it takes to try something new will keep you connected to how it feels for a new students to walk into the yoga studio and try yoga. A teacher of mine recently started learning the ukulele!

The best teachers are the best students. No matter what, keep learning. And learn EVERYWHERE and from EVERYONE.

If you want to be a “real” teacher, take yoga teaching on as a job that will last the rest of your life. Teach in the way you are in the world.

Lastly, a final word on the intensive teacher training. The immersion is a great first step. Good Luck!

What advice do you have for prospective teachers?

Should Visiting Teachers Pay For Class?

As a prospective teacher, one of the perks of going to training — and a way that it made financial sense to me looked like this: I spent over $1,000 on yoga each year. Training was $10K — so if I practiced for 10 years, training would pay for itself, since practicing wherever I go would be free!

Now as a studio owner (and as a teacher in the hot room all the time) I look at things differently.

We regularly have visiting teachers come to the studio, particularly in the summer since the Cape is such a destination location. Currently we provide class for free to these visiting teacher as a kind of professional courtesy.

But should class for visiting teachers be free?

A teacher should teach through her/his practice and, by embodying these ideas (and others), a teacher “earns” his/her free class and provides value for the students and studio.

  1. Discipline. One of the main tenants of the yoga is self control. ABOVE ALL, a teacher should show students HOW TO PRACTICE.
  2. Inspire. I’ve had students come up to me after class and say how they were tired or struggling and that I lifted them up through my practice. As a visiting teacher, you can encourage struggling students either by sitting down and showing a struggling student it is OK to sit down or by being strong for a student when she/he needs some encouragement.
  3. Depth. Some teachers (not all) have the depth of the postures that many students can only conceive of as some kind of magic. Really, what this is for most teachers is the product of years of hard work. These teachers can show students what is possible through the practice. Furthermore, by sharing with the students how they got to where they are in the practice, it can provide a road map for a student to do the same in her/his practice.
  4. Karma yoga. A visiting teacher should offer to help. There’s always towels to fold, floors or mirrors to wipe. As a visitor who enjoyed a free class, look around and — if you see an opening — just start helping or offer to help.

It’s been 20 years since Bikram started training teachers. Say what you will about the quality of the teachers (in a separate post)!  It does’t really matter WHEN you trained — much more important is HOW you trained and how you carry yourself at the studio  (it seems a new monkey wrench in this subject will be WHERE you trained since Bikram training is going away and many new teachers are coming up through other training)

Ultimately what it comes down to for me is whether a teacher GIVES back to the studio and the students or TAKES and does nothing for the studio or the students.

What do you think: should visiting teachers get free/complimentary classes when they visit studios?


There is this idea in Bikram Yoga that there is ONE and only ONE RIGHT WAY to do the posture. This outlook can be myopic and potentially misleading. Additionally, with different teachers and their differing understanding and advice, the matter of how to do it right can be further complicated.

Consider this broader interpretation: instead of just one ‘right way' each practitioner can be on a continuum of ‘right' ways to express a posture as the student’s body changes.

As a practitioner, you may find the way you express the postures is getting deeper. On the other hand, you may have an injury — or just plain ol’ aging — and find the way you express a posture (while still correct) is getting less deep. As long as you stay along the spectrum of ‘the right way' for your flexibility and strength on any given day, you WILL get the benefits. 

Be forewarned, along the continuum of ‘right ways'; a lot of students get stuck.  At this point, they stop being reachable and teachable.  And, once you disconnect or get stuck, that is when you may no longer receive the benefits — could potentially hurt yourself — and are likely no longer practicing yoga.

So how do you know you’re doing it THE RIGHT WAY?

Here's how:

Try the best you can on each day you practice to be present to your body’s physical state and try to stay mentally present. Remain open to change in the expression of the postures (regardless of the direction that change may be deeper/shallower).

What do you think it means to try the right way?