How Yoga Professionals can inadvertently be Yoga’s worst enemy

I met a healthcare worker the other day, who, when hearing I’m a Yoga teacher, asked, ‘that’s good for flexibility, isn’t it?’.

‘Yes’, I replied, ‘but it’s got a lot more going for it than that – it’s good for your strength, good for your mental outlook, good for emotional balance… a lot of things…’. I stopped short, realising that in the two minutes I was going to speak with this person, I couldn’t begin to explain the depth and breadth of this amazing discipline*… which made me get to thinking…

After my chat with said individual, I began to think about the jargon and ‘esoteric-ness’ that many Yoga Professionals feel they must continue to impart when discussing Yoga. It’s a bit of

‘I know this and you don’t, so I’m special’

To be frank, it’s this attitude that is preventing Yoga from gaining the ground it might otherwise – both with the general public and in the healthcare community. (And no, this attitude isn’t unique to Yoga – when I was working in the wine industry in a past life, this attitude was rife. But one could argue the wine industry also struggles with blatant snobbery).

When teachers are the problem

A few months back I was in a blogging workshop where one of the other participants – also a Yoga teacher – announced with amazement that she was ‘astounded when one of her students asked her just the other day what ‘vinyasa’ was’. She followed with an incredulous, ‘I thought everyone knew that?!’.

I inwardly shook my head – thinking to myself, there is an enormous gap between high and low involvement consumers, and intentional or not, teachers are exacerbating the problem. (BTW, High and low involvement’ is a way of categorizing individuals, often used in marketing research studies. This categorization helps researchers better understand and predict what people are willing to pay, what they buy, where they buy, how they act, etc).

So, just as there are ‘highly involvement’ and ‘low involvement’ wine consumer’s, so too are their high and low involvement Yogis. The low involved still buy, enjoy and value Yoga without the need to dissect it or understand every nuance. Some even spend an enormous amount of money on Yoga – recognising it’s place in society, or acknowledging how much better it makes their life, without consciously needing to learn more or become heavily invested.

So how can the industry better meet the needs of all of these students?
Those who live and breathe it as well as those who simply don’t have the inclination to delve into it’s depths.

Most of the teachers I know, myself included, became a teacher because we see the value in Yoga and (indeed) feel it’s our duty to share our knowledge with others. But the crux lies here, when we share our passion and knowledge, we must be mindful to meet our students where they are on their own personal journey. This means listening to them, engaging with them at their interest and understanding… not rushing them to perform asanas beyond their capability… or going too deep into yogic philosophy when students are interested (yet) in that side. We must remember its our duty to let them enjoy the journey and go at their own pace.

There’s a famous ‘Yogalebrity’ who has made a name for herself by not using Yoga speak. And while Tara Stiles has become a champion for legions of students, she seems to equally draw the wrath of teachers the world over for ‘dumbing it down’ or stripping away the ancient philosophy . In my opinion, she’s inspirational. She has clearly recognized the need to bring Yoga to students in a different, accessible way. Her style doesn’t suit everyone, but the legions of fans and huge business she’s created clearly shows she meets many yogis where they need to be met. She is spreading the message of yoga and it’s tangible benefit and brings new people to Yoga with each passing day. Isn’t that a good thing?

So when you next step on the mat – think about how you’re meeting your student.

Drop the jargon, speak in ways that they understand.

Encourage home practice – a daily practice is where the *real* benefit is

Share your knowledge without overwhelming

And be safe. Know your students and their personal situations.

For the better part of the past 15 months, I’ve been developing YogaMate  for Yoga Professionals to help them better meet the needs of their students.  My ultimate driver for creating YogaMate is to help see yogic tools enter into national school curriculum’s. There is no question that being introduced to the breath and meditation at a young age will make the world a better and more peaceful place – from the micro level to the macro level. In order to realise this goal, we teachers must stop being our own worst enemy.

Agree this is a common goal you can believe in? If so, please ‘like’ YogaMate on Facebook to follow the journey and provide your own thoughts and comments as I work to create this platform.  For the millions of students out there who are interested, but overwhelmed by the complexity – my ultimate objective is to help students find an easier entry point into this beautiful, life-changing discipline I love.

YogaMate is a digital platform being developing (launch planned for end of year 2015), aiming to better connect Yoga professionals with their students, clients and the health community. YogaMate’s aim is to expand the understanding around the depth and breadth of Yoga and it’s health benefits – and is intent on helping to break down the confusing barriers the industry has (un?)intentionally created. YogaMate aims to help Yoga professionals meet their students wherever they are on their journey, ultimately, making Yoga more accessible the world over.

*Discipline? Philosophy, way of life, exercise? How can one begin to encapsulate the complexity of Yoga in one simple word? Here’s a short video we created of people sharing what Yoga means to them. I’m going to use the word ‘discipline’ for lack of better adjective. Please comment if you’ve got a better recommendation! 


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4 thoughts on “How Yoga Professionals can inadvertently be Yoga’s worst enemy

  1. I really reasonate with this. Meet the student where they are. Yoga is evolving and it’s the nature of it. Let’s be inclusive and not exclusive. My aim as a teacher is to help my students to help and heal themselves on their own journey. Yoga mate sounds good and I will check it out.

    • Thanks for the note, Karen. yes, meet the student where they are. Keep up the good work… We need more teachers like you.

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