Sage and a variety of students sit comfortably, smiling before class

New Rules for Yoga Teachers

In my experience over many years of teaching, virtually everything I once believed to be a clear-cut truth about yoga has proved to be more nuanced. Through years of study of yoga, anatomy, and exercise physiology while working to keep an open mind, here are my currently held beliefs.

1. Be clear on why you’re doing what you’re doing. Constantly ask why. To have an efficient and specific practice, you should be able to justify any movement, exercise, or technique you are doing. “For fun!” is a fine reason.

2. No movement is inherently bad or wrong. Doing any movement too much will lead to injury. Find the appropriate dose of any stress you choose. Too little and there won’t be change; too much and you will break down.

3. Students are responsible for caring for their needs. Everything I mention as a teacher is a suggestion; students must make their own choices about whether to take any shape or movement, and students must choose the right amount for their own bodies.

And that’s it. Three rules!

Workbook Exercise: Your Rules

What do you consider the actual rules or cardinal rules of yoga, and in particular, of asana practice? List them.

Now to each item on the list, add a reason why you believe these. It’s OK to write, “I think your raised-arm palm should face forward in Triangle Pose. Why? Because my teacher said so.” Only by questioning the origin of your long-held beliefs can you make informed choices about whether they are true now.

Finally, do some research on whether they hold up. Are there peer-reviewed studies that support your beliefs? Do different styles take alternative approaches that contradict your rules? What would it be like to try these approaches? Be open.

This material comes straight out of The Professional Yoga Teacher’s Handbook. If you like it, please buy the book—available from your favorite bookseller in paperback, ebook, and audiobook formats—and check out the workbook file keyed to it at this resources page. And if you’ve already bought and loved the book, a review on your favorite bookstore’s site would be so appreciated, both by me and by future readers whom it would help! Start here.