Five Crutches That Hold Back Yoga Teachers. ~ Karen Conley

Via elephant journal
on Jul 28, 2012
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Jennifer Harte – Yoga Teacher (Vegan) at Cleveland Yoga

Crutch definition: anything that serves as a temporary and often inappropriate support, supplement, or substitute; prop.

1. Practicing with the class

New teachers are sometimes fearful to step off of their own mats and interact fully with their class. By sticking on our mats in the front of room our role has been diminished to a demonstrator or a model.  As a teacher, we are obligated to see what we are teaching and how effective it is landing for the classroom.

When a teacher is practicing with the class, they cannot see what is happening with their students bodies.  They also lose their presence in the room and the ability to truly connect with the students in the class. It sets up a physical disconnect as the teacher is up there and the student is back there.

Commit to moving around the room fully, even if it feels uncomfortable and scary to step off of your own mat.  Let go of the crutch of having to do all the poses with the class in order to teach them. (The exception is if you are teaching brand new students and you need to demonstrate a handful of the poses.)

2. Being overly creative in your sequencing

When we teach with the hope of wowing the class with tricks, it takes away the practice of learning to teach a solid effective sequence. We know that the basic yoga poses work. We can do warrior 2 for decades and still feel the power and challenge. Practice teaching basic poses and adding different alignment cues to get students deeper into their bodies. It will give more depth to your teaching and the students will benefit as well.

3. Talking too much

When we talk too much, we take away space from the students to experience the practice fully. It becomes more about us and less about them. Often new teachers feel uneasy with not talking and nervous if they run out of something to say and instead compensate by filling the space with language that is filler. Stick to essential language and allow the practice to work its timeless wisdom. The yoga space is truly a sanctuary for connection and it is ok to have space to listen to the sound of our own breath and the sensations arising in our bodies.

4. Using Music

As new yoga teachers, the most important and challenging skill to be honed is speaking with an authentic and real voice.  Yoga teachers share how this practice has uniquely worked for them and communicate this throughout the practice as effectively as possible.

It is best to become a very effective communicator before bringing in music.

As with any art form or new skill, finding our voice takes practice and time.  If you are using music in your yoga classes you are either competing with the music to be heard or you are not speaking as much to allow the music to dictate the rhythm of the class.

When we play music, we can hide behind the music to generate the energy of the class instead of having to build it ourselves. Using music as a crutch before you are well skilled in teaching a basic sequence denies you the practice of working with your authentic and real voice. Students want to hear what you have to say and be engaged with you.

By not using music, you can practice building your skills in rhythm and pacing dictated by the students’ abilities in the room and not a pre-made playlist.

5. Making the class teacher focused instead of student focused.

To truly connect with our students a teacher must emphasize that this is a practice of sharing our passion and not a performance to be mastered.

Knowledge is less important than having a large understanding heart that is able to identify with the things going on inside another human being. When we switch the focus from trying to impress our students with our knowledge to honest and thoughtful sharing from the heart, we truly become powerful teachers who are vehicles for change and transformation.


Karen created Amazing Yoga to share the life changing powers of yoga that she has discovered. Karen and her husband, Sean are Co-Authors of the book “Amazing Yoga: A Practical Guide to Strength, Wellness and Spirit.”  Karen lives in Pittsburgh with Sean and her 4 kids and their extended family are their 3 vibrant yoga studios.  Karen leads teacher trainings around the world at beautiful destinations in Mexico and Costa Rica. For more information on Karen, please visit



Editor: Hayley Samuelson.









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18 Responses to “Five Crutches That Hold Back Yoga Teachers. ~ Karen Conley”

  1. Vision_Quest2 says:

    I just KNEW it. They are guilty of ALL FIVE!! Those types of yoga teachers were born 20 or so years too late. Rip away the incense, and the spiritual trappings, the dimly-lit, heated room; their sometimes New Age patter, and (sometimes even a lot of) scripture knowledge–and they are aerobics teachers.

    I see the frustrated aerobics teacher that I had briefly once been, in them. But that's as far as the sympathy goes.

  2. kim amlong says:

    Thank you. Those are great tips for new teachers. I would also add:
    1. It is important to have a plan for what you want to teach, but to be ready to modify your plan for the group you are working with to best meet their individual needs.
    2. Don't be nervous about whether you can demonstrate a pose perfectly. The important thing is to effectively communicate how to do the pose and to explain to your students what is limiting you from being able to perform the ideal posture.
    3. Relax. And try to create an environment where your students feel safe and relaxed.

  3. Robert says:

    "When we switch the focus from trying to impress our students with our knowledge to honest and thoughtful sharing from the heart, we truly become powerful teachers who are vehicles for change and transformation." So true, because one who has truly been transformed by Yoga, will not need to impress anyone with demonstrations of prowess, or excessive verbal extrapolation the subject of Yoga itself, their very BEING will do that without effort.

  4. yogasamurai says:

    It's hard to be a really good "teacher" in anything other than body technique when you don't actually have any more life wisdom than your "students" – and in many, and probably most cases, largely due to your age, you have far less. And what technique training you do have came from a short-course that you paid out the ass for just to help keep a local yoga studio alive.

    Rather than trying to fix the teachers – we really need to fix teacher training, from the ground up. Please, let's respect our common sense knowledge – reaffirmed by every sacred spiritual tradition on earth- about how wisdom is actually handed down, and imparted. And let's do it now, before the problem gets even worse.

    Otherwise in a decade or so, we will have to establish an entirely new 12-step group entitled Yoga Bimbos Anonymous.

  5. Melody says:

    thank you for these great reminders — i love your reference of yoga being an art form and finding our voices as teachers — Essential. Namaste.

  6. Christine says:

    These are wonderful and thoughtful, as are some of the additional comments on this thread. The other thing I would add is forgiveness. Teachers are human, and as we teach our students, each day is a different learning experience and journey. Namaste.

  7. Tracy says:

    Nice post Karen. I have a different take with playing music in my class. It's on low and my voice carries. When I teach outside as I often do in the summer, I have no music.

  8. Vision_Quest2 says:

    @Rajni, gotta give them credit, if many of the yoga teachers I was unlucky enough to have had, had to branch out into TODAY'S aerobics, Zumba is tailor-made for almost superhuman levels of flexibility (even trumping rhythm-sense). I had the extremely stable hips needed for step aerobics and am all-around fairly stiff for a woman; such is a liability in many ways for the physical side of yoga (but these teachers could never know how totally out of proportion to my range of motion, that yoga makes me FEEL … I think, feel and KNOW that they envied me all that…being as the formerly most inflexible of them had acrobatic abilities as starters)

    Sick of being envied for my inflexible body making yoga work its noetic magic on me, I moved on to a more old-school place. Later I crossed over to studio mat pilates. I do a home practice of yoga. You live; you learn. On a less personal note, there are many schools of yoga out there … the LEAST empathetic teacher in a school of yoga that resonates to the practitioner has got to be better than the most empathetic teacher in the trendoid power yoga derivate du jour (particularly if it is commercialized yoga)–use of music or overdependence on props, or not.

    Part of this is a little rewriting of history, natch. You caught me in a very good mood.

  9. Michelle Marchildon says:

    Well put. I tell my teacher trainees all the time to keep it simple, and to shut up! Now, if only I could remember it as well.

  10. Bobcat says:

    Great post, thank you. I want to also add that rather than being strict about what you think is right or wrong when it comes to teaching is to stay open minded and curious. The most important thing is to meet students where they are and definitely focus on them while not losing your foundation and breath. Your conscious movement in class whether you are demonstrating or walking around assisting create an atmosphere that can lead to focus and silence or distraction and chaos.

    I talk quite a bit in my classes but not about me or chitchat. I talk about postural alignment, the course of prana in the physical shape and some key teachings that is not just philosophical but rather experiential. I choose my words carefully and speak clearly. I use soft, non-distractive music as it can lead people to connect to the rhythmic flow already happening in the body.

    And if you are doing the five listed here don't beat yourself up. Your practice and teaching continue to grow and evolve. Explore your edge and trust that there are some people you can be of service to even if you have little teaching experience or teaching imperfectly.

  11. Edie says:

    I teach often and a lot. All u said makes sense.

    I have had to learn to talk less but say more. Thanks!

    • Tanya says:

      My teacher Bryan Kest talks all through class…doens't bother me one bit..
      ..I'm guilty of all the things you say, and still consider myself a good each his own cherie…

  12. Myrna M says:

    Hi Karen, Enjoyed your article very much. I wanted to congratulate you on your creation of the Amazing Yoga Studios in Pittsburgh. I grew up in Pittsburgh and took my first yoga class there in 1972. I lived in South Side from 1981 -84 on Bedford Square. I practiced yoga in my apartment. There were no yoga studios in South Side at that time. It sure would have been wonderful to walk down Carson St. with my mat and take classes in your studio! I moved away from Pgh. in 1984. I have been practicing yoga for 40 years now and teaching for 35 years. (I did yoga teacher training with Swami VIsnudevananda in Val Morin, Quebec Canada in 1976).

  13. @AhimsaYogi says:

    Great ideas. Good to share!
    I might also add, "Using 'borrowed' language from other teachers that one has not yet personally integrated".
    Comes across as inauthentic. Weakens the original (possibly quite profound) message.

  14. Kalikala says:

    I use music in my class, unless it's an outdoor class. My students have said they prefer it. I also talk non stop. Lots of cueing and breathing. Again, the majority of my students have said they prefer it. Although i can't wait for the day i can do an entire class not on my mat!! I can get off it for a bit, but they panic if i'm not there for a few poses.

  15. […] vividly experienced how music can hinder teaching Vinyasa yoga (I’m not referring to kirtan and chanting—I mean playing music in a typical asana […]

  16. greateacher says:

    I was with you until the last sentence. I disagree, totally. Being a nice person sharing from the heart mayhave good connection possibilities BUT knowledge about alignment, breath, SAFETY sequencing.. ALL are necessary.

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