The Responsibility Of Being A Yoga Teacher In A Yoga Class

Modifying yoga postures during a group class is an important aspect for many, especially those suffering from injuries. 

I have my own list of poses to avoid due to a few tears in various ligaments and muscles. 

When those postures are called for, I do a version that targets the same region of my body but is acceptable to what I can accomplish. 

This is basic knowledge for a yoga instructor—forcing your body into positions unsuitable for your anatomical reality never ends well.

Yet, over the years, I’ve noticed an odd strain of practitioner who occasionally appears in class.

Sometimes they are even fellow teachers, which strikes me as even more startling: those who spend their hour or ninety minutes doing whatever they’d like that day. 

This is obviously the exception and never the rule, though it's important to recognize for a few reasons.

As I used to convey in my teacher trainings, once you become an instructor, you have a certain responsibility when entering group classes, even when they’re not your own. 

It’s not a written law; I just hope teachers of any profession act professional when in a group environment centered around their discipline. 

This is why I find it odd that yoga teachers sometimes practice in the back of the studio, forcing less experienced yogis to to be in front. All of us started somewhere, and you were probably a bit lost your first dozen classes. Having someone knowledgeable in front of you is a tremendous help.

(This is different in beginner’s classes, where the teacher demos many poses, and newer yogis should be in front. Teachers who use their class time to self-practice during an open level group class is an entirely other level of irresponsible.)

But if that person in front has decided they are going to fly off on their own program, a greater danger ensues, one which I witnessed last week: the newer yogis to the side and behind were copying what he was doing, which had absolutely nothing to do with what I was teaching. I witnessed this on occasion when I lived in New York City, and it amazed me that experienced yogis would have such a practice.

Again, this has nothing to do with modifying or needing a break; those are entirely different circumstances. I’m talking about having the class in half split pose and you’re rocking a forearm stand. This is not even close to a variation of the pose, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This is just being so far in your own head that you entirely forget your surroundings.

And that’s why we return to one of the fundamental tenets behind the idea of karma: you never realize what unintended consequences your actions have. To be a student or teacher of anything, you must live up to that discipline in everything you do. 

This isn’t always easy, and all of us will stumble along the way—that’s just part of being human, and recognizing there is no perfection in any of this. 

But going to a group class to take a group class is a simple one that shouldn’t require too much thought. 

If you need to work out that nervous energy in your own way, roll out your mat on your living room floor and go to town.

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About the Author

Derek Beres has devoted his life to exposing people to international music, yoga and mythology as a means of creating better individuals and a more understanding global culture. A multi-faceted author, DJ and yoga instructor, he is the creator of Flow Play, exclusively at Equinox Fitness. He writes a weekly column for Big Think, 21st Century Spirituality, and is one half of global music producers EarthRise SoundSystem. Based in Los Angeles, he is on the teacher training faculty at Yogis Anonymous in Santa Monica and Strala Yoga in New York City. Derek’s yoga classes and music have been featured by the NY Times, LA Times, People, Self, Fitness, Yoga Journal, Boston Globe, Newsday, NBC Weekend Today, ABC Eyewitness News, Fox Business, BBC, NY1, MTV, NPR, and PRI.