Why Demonstrating Yoga is Not the Same as Teaching Yoga

By Adrian Molina

In the modern yoga world, there is often a very significant emphasis on the physical aspect and aesthetics of yoga shapes. Social media platforms are filled with images and videos of individuals performing advanced poses, creating a misconception that the ability to put their bodies in those shapes means they are qualified to teach those same movements or any movement at all. There is a profound difference between demonstrating yoga and truly teaching it. Broadly speaking, for most of us, when we show up to a yoga class, more often than not, that person standing in the front of the room will be demonstrating and setting the pace of the class along with music and guidance on the different segments of the class, like a traffic police officer in a busy intersection.

It takes a qualified, seasoned, attentive teacher to move away from mannequin yoga postures and actually teach yoga.

Too many teachers, particularly in the era of Instagram, get away with this—the fact that they are able to exteriorize a yoga shape, in what more often than not is a body limited by beauty and fitness standards, but fall short of the skills necessary to enter the multifaceted process beyond sharing information and demonstrating movements that is teaching.

Here are a few key points to consider:

  • Demonstrating Yoga: When someone demonstrates yoga, they are primarily showing an external form of the pose. This can be visually impressive and inspirational, but it often lacks depth in terms of understanding the internal alignment, mental focus, and bodily awareness required for the posture.
  • Teaching Yoga: A yoga teacher provides insight into the purpose, adaptations, common challenges, and benefits of each pose. They guide students on how to enter, explore, customize, and exit the posture safely, emphasizing breath work, interception, proprioception, and mental awareness. Teaching involves conveying the subtleties that transform a dry template pose from a mere shape into a holistic experience.

Aesthetics vs. Internal Experience:

  • Demonstrating Yoga: The focus is often on achieving the "perfect" look of a pose, which can lead to prioritizing aesthetics over personal experience and safety. This can create unrealistic expectations and potentially discourage and harm students. Additionally, it discourages those who embody bodies with disabilities, different ranges of motion, and different life experiences that have impacted their relationship with their bodies.
  • Teaching Yoga:A true teacher encourages students to explore their own bodies and find versions and adaptations of poses that suit their individual needs, including the option of not exploring at all. The emphasis is on the internal experience, cultivating awareness, mindfulness, and a connection with one's own body and breath.

Skill Development:

  • Demonstrating Yoga: Being able to perform advanced poses does not necessarily mean one possesses the skills to teach them. Demonstrators may lack the ability to effectively communicate and break down the steps needed to achieve a posture. In fact, most demonstrators will tend to teach unnecessarily challenging classes because slowing down and teaching the basic concepts is the most skillful characteristic that a teacher can acquire.
  • Teaching Yoga: Teaching requires a deep understanding of anatomy, physiology, pedagogy, mental health, and more. It involves the ability to observe students, offer adaptations, and provide verbal cues that enhance the students' practice. This skill set is developed through ongoing education and dedicated practice. These skills get better with time and education.

The Role of Continuing Education:

  • Demonstrating Yoga: Without further education, demonstrators may plateau in their understanding and teaching ability, potentially perpetuating misinformation or unsafe practices. They usually teach the same students or the same style of yoga because it is what comes most naturally to their own bodies, and not necessarily to their students.
  • Teaching Yoga: Continued education is crucial for yoga teachers. It allows them to stay updated with the latest knowledge, refine their teaching methods, and deepen their own practice. This ongoing learning ensures that they can provide safe, effective, and inspiring instruction to their students. It is important that this education encompasses not only physical education but understanding that students with different bodies and experiences come with different sets of challenges. A true teacher teaches to everyone, not just those who can keep up with the teacher’s style and pace.

While demonstrating yoga can inspire and motivate, it is not a substitute for teaching. Teaching yoga requires a blend of knowledge, communication skills, and an understanding of the holistic nature of the practice, plus a well-established path of self-reflection and ego-checking in the life and experiences of the yoga teacher.

As the yoga community grows, it is vital to recognize the importance of continuing education and the development of teaching skills to foster a safe and supportive environment for all practitioners. Let's move beyond the surface and embrace our responsibility towards our students.

Author

  • Adrian Molina

    Adrian Molina, a prominent figure in community organization and mental health advocacy, dedicates his life to fostering connections and effecting positive change, particularly among marginalized groups. With a background in social service, including work in homeless shelters and maximum security prisons, Adrian emphasizes the importance of mind-body practices in healthcare and law enforcement. As the founder of Warrior Flow, Adrian offers trauma-informed yoga education worldwide, targeting those in community outreach and the medical field. He's a passionate mental health advocate, volunteering with crisis hotlines, serving as an ambassador for NAMI, and training for various programs focused on suicide prevention and child abuse. Adrian is also working on a memoir exploring themes of mental health, resilience, and growth. Adrian's influence spans globally, inspiring hope and change in countless lives. Click link below to learn more about Adrian’s work.

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