3 things Yoga Teachers need to stop doing now

Hi Ya’ll,

I’ve been teaching yoga for about 10 years and have also been an Executive Director of a non-profit bringing yoga to marginalized youth.  I’ve taught in a variety of settings ranging from public classes in yoga studios to youth affected by the traumas of homelessness, PTSD, addiction and abuse.   It has been my work with yoga students affected by trauma has really changed my teaching style and challenged many of the assumptions I was making when teaching.

I also play the part of Tom Shakti, the yoga eye-gazing guru, in the comedy web series New Age Girls.  Tom’s a self-absorbed over the top boundary pusher in denial of his own shadow, a VERY fun character to write for and play” and I contrast to my other work a yoga teacher.  During a recent episode the script called for my character to teach a class and do hands on adjustments .  It makes for good comedy but not for appropriate teaching.  I felt compelled to write this article after shooting that episode.

Below is a list of basic trauma-informed practices to consider in your teaching.  Consider these three areas so that you’ll be creating a physically and emotionally safer container in which your students can make powerful choices as they find their way further in their practice.

1.  Stop touching without permission:   Always check before you touch a student.  Always.  Don’t assume your students want to be touched and adjusted.  Early on in my classes I have students on their backs  or bellies and ask them to raise a hand if they don’t want any adjustments.  This gives them some privacy when answering.  Touch can be amazingly healing, just check first.  If you forget to check in at the beginning you can always ask “Can I help or are you good?” as you approach a student.

2.  Stop choosing for students.  How often do we say “Now close your eyes and feel the pose” or “let’s close our eyes and sit together for a moment”.  You want to give as much choice as possible especially if you don’t know your students well.   Saying “you can close your eyes or have eyes open” or “explore with eyes open or closed” gives agency to your students.  Trauma is often defined as the experience of not having choice.  And the truth is that we have all been affected by some kind of trauma.  You want to help all students cultivate their ability to choose.  Also please watch out for this statement that I hear many teachers say: “You can close your eyes if you feel comfortable”.  This is shaming language toward someone who’d rather keep their eyes open.

3.  Stop defining how a pose should feel. I hear over and over from teachers how students should feel in poses such as “Rest in downdog”, “Relax in childspose”, or “doesn’t that feel good?”.  You have no idea what poses feel like for your students.  You only know for yourself.  Don’t define the subjective experience for others.  Downdog is often only relaxing after a few years of practice.  Child pose can feel very vulnerable to a student who’s experienced sexual violence.  It’s your job to offer suggestions to help people ground, relax, and get stable, it’s not your job to tell them how it should feel doing it.

I hope these tips help as they have for me.  Remember that your hold the container of safety in the yoga room, that’s your first job.  Within that container is the invitation for students to heal, to grow and to make bolder and bolder choices.

And now for some levity.  Here’s my alter-ego maniac Tom Shakti teaching a new yoga modality:

Best,

Daniel

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