I just read a great article by Chris Courtney, a yoga teacher in Albuquerque. It’s about the approach of yoga teachers and being inclusive. As I read it, I could relate as an infrequent yoga student who doesn’t know the poses and doesn’t wear LuLu Lemon.
More importantly I found each of his points relevant and important to my role as a coach. A very valuable refresher for myself.
My approach and thoughts on his main points follow. Ultimately, I am here to serve my athletes. It is not about me, it is about them. Namaste is translated as “I bow to you”
Jump straight to the article here, or read it in full below.
Let me know I’m welcome regardless of what I’m wearing, how big my butt is, or anything that makes me different from you or most of the other people attending your class.
As a coach it is easy to get wrapped up in your stronger athletes, in the quest for glory. However, I often find it is the slower, less advanced athlete who is dedicated, attends every session and works harder. I try to be treat all athletes fairly, and distribute my time across the team.
Be on time and ready to guide me.
Goes without saying. I am generally not the most punctual, but if I have rules about timeliness then I must also abide by them. My athletes go to the effort of being on time, so must I. And on top, as a coach it is my job to energize the athletes prior to the start of the session.
Greet me and ask me (quietly).
A simple greeting & eye contact makes people feel involved and included and makes them feel it is important they are here. Some people are shy and quiet and don’t like being singled out, so tailor your approach to them – give feedback quietly and subtly. For example, in the pool, I stop them when others are swimming.
Get off your mat and teach me.
Drills & technique are often alien concepts that do not translate to the spoken word easily. It is often more effective to demo the drills. I never ask my athletes to do something I cannot do myself. Get involved!
Adjust me (please) but make it meaningful, safe, and supportive of my intentions.
First and foremost everything should be done with safety in mind. Give constructive feedback & praise their efforts. If the athlete just wants to work out and doesn’t care about technique, then I guide them gently and help them enjoy it.
Understand the difference between challenging me and demoralizing me.
Athletes can be the toughest people I know, but many of them are sensitive and/or do not take guidance well. It is important to tailor your approach to each athlete. Push those that are competitive and have lofty aims. Encourage and cajole those who have lower self-belief and aim to boost their confidence.
When in doubt, let the practice teach itself.
Sometimes there are days when nothing goes to plan. The athletes are jumpy, tired, your communication is off and they don’t get you. They might be moody and stubborn. I might be moody and stubborn. While it would be great, every practice does not have to be perfect. Let it go. Trust your athletes and let them do what they do every day. They need to learn to be independent on race day, so give them a practice with minimal guidance.
When you go to another teacher’s class, I need to know you can be a student too.
Be humble and accept coaching from others. The more you learn, the more your athletes will benefit. If you know it already, you can still learn from other coaches’ approach, voice, body language, etc. It will help you relate to your athletes and how they view you.
I don’t expect you to be perfect, just authentic.
I don’t try to fool my athletes into thinking I am a supreme athlete. My goals are to help them become better and to have fun in the process. I will try to motivate, give feedback, support, engage them and make the process enjoyable. To achieve that I have to be myself. I want to enjoy it too. Besides. your athletes will quickly see through any bullshit.
At the end of the day, we’re all here to have fun and improve. Let’s make it so for everyone.
Over to Chris:
Dear Yoga Teacher,
Maybe you don’t remember me. I come to your class sometimes and often lay out my mat in the back left corner of the room where I sometimes struggle to follow along.
I’ve been thinking about just giving up yoga altogether but first, I thought I’d share these thoughts with you in the hopes that you’d listen and consider things from my perspective.
So, here it goes:
Let me know I’m welcome regardless of what I’m wearing, how big my butt is, or anything that makes me different from you or most of the other people attending your class. Too often entering a yoga studio feels like a scene from Mean Girls or The Heathers. I see the way you and some of your “best” students look at me and it doesn’t feel great. So, you can imagine how hard it is for me to hear you talk about peace, love and acceptance and see it as anything resembling authentic. Seriously, if you don’t love people (and I mean all people), why are you teaching yoga in the first place?
Be on time and ready to guide me. I left work a bit early, dealt with a lot of traffic, and dressed so fast I’m probably wearing something inside out…all just to be on time for your class. So, when you walk in five minutes late, futz around for a bit, and then look like you’re just winging it through the class, I feel disrespected (and that I need to find a new teacher or studio).
Greet me and ask me (quietly). How I’m feeling, if I have any injuries, or if I’m pregnant (or just had a baby). I may feel weird offering up this info in front of everyone and probably don’t know how to modify the practice to keep me safe. I’m assuming that you, my teacher have been trained in this (or at least have done a lot of self study on it).
Get off your mat and teach me. If you’re just on your mat practicing with me and calling out what pose to do next, I may as well stay at home and practice with a DVD (and save my money). I need to know you are watching me, keeping me safe, and taking in nonverbal feedback from the class.
Photo: Chris Courtney Yoga
Adjust me (please) but make it meaningful, safe, and supportive of my intentions. If you decide to “fix” me or “sculpt” me, its not really my practice anymore and there is a good chance you’ll hurt me. If you are not trained in hands-on adjustments, please learn them. Until then, please refrain from calling out names from the front of the room with lots of minor verbal adjustments…all that does its confuse me and put me back into my head—something I came to class to get away from.
Understand the difference between challenging me and demoralizing me. Just because you can do lots of advanced asanas does not mean you can teach them. Show me how to break something down and work toward it, celebrating wherever I am rather than showing it off quickly then moving on to something else. I need to know that you subscribe to David Swenson’s thought that “just because you can do advanced asanas does not mean you are an advanced human being.”
When in doubt, let the practice teach itself. If every time we move into a pose you feel it necessary to say everything you know about it, you’ll quickly put me on overload and get me right back into my head…again.
The same goes for how much of the spiritual aspect of yoga you decide to share. Sometimes it feels like I’ve stumbled into a fundamentalist church rather than a yoga studio. Let me know about the mental. spiritual, and emotional aspects of yoga and when I’m ready, I’ll delve deeper into them. But if you lay it on too thick in the beginning, I’ll feel alienated or that everything my family told me about yoga being a hippie cult must be true.
Leonardo di Vinci said that “half of art is knowing when to stop” and that definitely applies here as well.
When you go to another teacher’s class, I need to know you can be a student too. Every now and then, I see a yoga teacher in someone else’s class just doing their own thing and showing off, not following along with what is being taught. Not only does this disrupt the energy of another teacher’s class, it makes me lose respect for you as a teacher. It’s no surprise that some of the best teachers are also the most humble.
Hand Up Foundation
I don’t expect you to be perfect, just authentic. I’m not looking for a guru, just someone who can guide me along the way an give me a hand up every now and then. Sharing your own imperfections during this journey while giving me the freedom to explore on my own, let’s me know I’m supported and most of all, that I’m not alone.
Your Yoga Student
Chris Courtney, is an Albuquerque based yoga teacher and sometime film consultant when he is not trying to write songs on his guitar. He started the Off The Couch And Onto The Mat movement to promote healthy alternatives to a sedentary lifestyle. Chris is a former expat journalist, warrior and diplomat who is forever finding new experiences to explore. Find him online on Twitter @CK_Courtney or check out his website at:chriscourtneyyoga.com