A Good Yoga Teacher Takes Care of Herself First

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This is our first guest post, and I’m thrilled to have it. Sprout Yoga is an organization dedicated to inspiring, supporting and training yoga teachers that want to work with people overcoming eating disorders and/or trauma. We can help match people in recovery with teachers, as well, but we are focused on getting those teachers trained. Here’s an anonymous post on a key issue for teachers and ahimsa, the body, and the relationship between the two.

please enjoy! ————————————————————————————————————-

One of the first things yoga teachers in training learn is that it is important to offer modifications to your students.  Allowing students to do Vasisthasana with the lower leg down on the mat is reminding them to find a practice that fits their bodies. Use of straps can allow less flexible students to reach places that otherwise would be inaccessible. Yoga teachers should encourage students to take a break in Balasana when they are tired because they need to take care of themselves. In addition, yoga teachers need to follow these same practices on their own mat to show their students that such modifications are acceptable and good. Ahimsa, the principle of non-violence extends to ourselves and as yogis we need to remember to put our bodies over our minds on the mat. Our teachers should be the first people to show new and old students how to apply this principle in their practices, because they are yoga role models for those in the class.

I was reminded of these things the other night when I went to a workshop at a locally well known yoga studio by a “famous” yoga teacher. This studio often holds workshops in eating disorder management and incorporates healthy eating in their teacher trainings. I assumed that the environment there would thus be evocative of wellness and a supportive lifestyle. To say this was the opposite is an understatement. Both the teachers and many of the students appeared to be extremely thin, almost dangerously so. The conversation during the talk was largely focused on appearances and addictions. True, the visiting yogi speaking was emphasizing not to feed these obsessions, but the audience clearly had not heard this before, or at least had not listened.

What struck me about the attitude at this studio was that the teachers in particular did not appear healthy. Yet, as yoga students/teachers we participate in a lifestyle that encourages the opposite.  Yoga for all its spiritual history and basis still remains an activity with a strong physical aspect. Yoga teachers have an obligation to remind their students not only to modify their practices on the mat, but off as well. Students should be encouraged to eat well, to sleep and to not participate in behavior that causes violence to them. Ahimsa in the form of self-care and not self-violence should be paramount in a yoga class. Any teacher who presents things otherwise should be avoided because their words are decidedly un-yogic.

My home studio (which has also been around for nine years) could be called “Ahimsa yoga” because the teachers there constantly are reminding students to make the practice on and off the mat safe.  We are reminded to take it easy on ourselves even in vigorous power classes. Props are readily available and teachers often use them when they practice as well.  But the most amazingly wonderful aspect of this studio is that all the teachers look like regular people. They look healthy, and happy and well. They practice in life what they teach in class and so their words are meaningful to their students. The studio mentioned above would be wise to look at my studio to learn about how best to teach their students about a healthy lifestyle.  Having teachers that appear to be suffering from an eating or other disorder does not encourage the students to eat well. Let’s face it, many students look up to their yoga teachers as models of what we aspire to be whether that is with strong arms in Vrschikasana or balance in Garudasana or even as merely a body type worth attaining. It is imperative for them to be healthy to spread such a message to their classes.

Ahimsa is a principle that should be present in everyone’s practice in life and on the mat. For a teacher to preach of its benefits, they too must subscribe to its practice. Yoga teachers as leaders in a healthy lifestyle industry have an obligation to their students to tackle their own issues before stepping onto a mat in the front of a room. To do otherwise is to jeopardize the health and well-being of their students, and to make the practice of yoga harmful.