Were you ever in a downward-facing dog during yoga class, just wondering (while panting), “wow, this yoga teacher is making me jump through hoops!” Well, is it possible for you to have met a bad yoga teacher? Is that even a thing, or are you simply not Zen enough? Is not being Zen enough even a thing?
Here are 10 signs of a bad yoga teacher:
- Late to class
- Having their practice during yours
- No assists (with exception)
- Minimal to no breathing cues
- Teaches a pose they’re not able to practice
- Same class every day
- No warm-ups leading to a purpose or an apex of the class
- There are No Modifications
- Forces you into a pose
- Doesn’t ask or check for injuries.
No need to worry, with yoga growing at such a high rate in Western culture, there are unquestionably bad yoga teachers popping up everywhere with a misconception of yoga (which can be very dangerous)! When you spot them, try to find a class elsewhere. We’ll also teach you how to make any class a chance to make your practice yours regardless of a bad yoga instructor or a poor pants choice prior to class.
Signs of a Bad Yoga Teacher
Teaching vs. Instructing
Before we move forward, let’s just poke at some thoughts, what are some differences in teaching vs. instructing for you? “To instruct” means to direct or command someone to do something while “To teach” is to show or explain to someone how to do something (according to a good, old-fashioned Google search).
So, what is your yoga teacher really doing – teaching or instructing? A good yoga instructor or teacher should really be a good mixture of the two.
- He or she should be teaching you about the culture and background of yoga. This allows your practice to be enhanced as you move forward and become more profound. As a teacher, their knowledge may be extensive and therefore shared with the students to prepare them for bliss, Samadhi.
- As they teach, throughout your practice, they should be an instructor. He or she should guide you through the poses to help your body prepare for meditation. The intention and the energy you will gain, or release will be all guided through their instruction. This is how a yoga class is designed.
For some of the few signs, I will specifically use “instructor” because the things that we notice most easily in class is how the yoga instructor instructs the class. A bad yoga instructor will also mean a bad yoga teacher, after all.
10 Signs of a Bad Yoga Instructor
1. A Late Yoga Instructor
If your yoga instructor is late, perhaps while strolling in with a cell phone in one hand and a Starbucks frap in the other, modeling name-brand yoga gear to their loyal Instagram followers, get out. I’m kidding. He or she may not be a bad instructor, but the impression and intention are.
If a yoga instructor cannot respect the space (time and physical space), they are not providing a sacred and healing space for you. The intention should be to provide the yogis with a place to be at peace and to prepare them into a deep meditation. You should be priority.
Lastly, there is nothing wrong with a sugary frap, but a body is as sacred as the physical space we practice yoga in. If they are not respecting their body, especially at this moment before class, it may reflect their attitude towards the outer “physical” space.
All to say, people are people, and life gets in the way! If the yoga instructor is apologetic and had a stressful day that really called for a spike of sugar, then bow with their apologies and accept another light that needs energy during practice today.
This comes to our next point.
2. Having Their Practice During Yours
As yoga instructors, we sometimes forget to take time aside for our own practices. Mainly because a lot of our times are reserved for designing classes or providing classes. Sometimes our energy is depleted, and our physical bodies can’t keep up.
That does not mean a yoga instructor should be using your class time for their practice! A yoga class should be for the individuals in the class. It is unique to the students, and their energy level they are experiencing a teacher should be attentive to this and guide the class accordingly.
With that being said, the yoga instructor may be on the mat to show a pose, or to do a child’s pose with you, but most of the time, they will be among the students, or at least in a position to be able to see all of the students. Most importantly, the instructor’s eyes and attention should be on the students.
3. No Assists (with exception)
To repeat, as it is important, an instructor’s eyes and attention should be on the student. They may go and switch the music or change the temperature once in a while, but your safety should be their number one concern.
As for assists, the same concept applies. There are three ways instructors will prioritize assists, and number one is watching for injury. Next are those assists for “feel goods.” These are always secondary, and only when the instructor has and can provide good energy to give.
That being said, a teacher might not be able to give good energy and may not provide assists during class, which is the exception. Yet, even in that case, a teacher should be walking around (physically or with eyes) to provide any assists that are needed for preventing injury.
4. Minimal to No Breathing Cues
Breathing cues are one of the tools yoga instructors use to control the energy of the class. Along with the breath, the intention of the class and the intended energy make the difference in all classes.
With the same set of poses, a whole different class can emerge depending on the yoga instructor’s intention and experience.
If the yoga instructor does not give any breathing cues, then not only does it confuse students or leave them out of breath, but at worst, it could aggravate unpleasant energetics for some individuals in the class.
5. Teaches a Pose They’re Not Able to Practice
Not every yoga instructor can do all the poses in the list of asanas. This is a fact. It could be as simple as a physiological difference or their advancement in certain types of asanas.
That being said, it is highly advised that yoga instructors do not instruct nor teach any poses that they cannot practice. This could be dangerous and would not be the optimal way a student can gain benefits from the practice.
Disclaimer: This does not mean that an instructor that cannot do all the poses is a bad teacher. Asanas require different types of muscle groups, and yoga as a whole is a practice that consists of training the body and the mind, which could require an individual to experience their practice in a different path.
This also means that you do not have to be able to do every single pose. Do not feel discouraged, and always ask for modifications and help.
6. Same Class Every Day
A class can generally be the same for the most part. If you are going to an evening class and the purpose of the class is to calm you down, you will most likely expect a lot of grounding poses or a slow yin or a restful, restorative class each time you attend.
But, if your instructor does not come with any intention to adjust according to the class and just rolls out a piece of paper to call out the same class every day with the same cues, then it might be a sign that you aren’t receiving the best energetic replenishments from your class.
7. No warm-ups leading to a purpose or an apex of the class
Most, if not all, classes should have a purpose, which is usually resembled by the apex pose of the class. An apex pose is the pose you hold for the longest. It is usually challenging, and the other asanas build up to support the apex pose. These poses help to warm up the joints and muscles so your body can achieve this main pose while avoiding injury.
For example, a shoulder stand will be comprised of many poses to warm up the arm, core, and shoulder muscles to activate and awaken those muscles for a long and nourishing shoulder stand.
If an instructor goes straight into challenging poses, that are obviously the apex of the class, you might want to make a modification and take a step back to save yourself from an injury.
8. Forces You into a Pose
If you are ever forced into a pose, and if an instructor ever pushes you into an injury, definitely stop and tell them that you do not feel comfortable with the pose.
This is very dangerous and should be avoided. You might see some hot yoga classes online where the instructor may stand on someone’s back to go deeper into a pose, but remember, always listen to your body first and be kind.
Extra stretching and forcing a stretch do two bad things.
- You might strain a muscle if the big muscle groups were not ready. Your tendons will take the stretch, which may tear or strain (especially if you are practicing in a very hot yoga class. You are less aware of how flexible you actually are).
- You cannot relax, and your body goes into a panic mode. Your breathing will be off, and your mind will not be clear.
9. There are No Modifications
This one goes along with the previous point. A good teacher should always provide a modification. If not upfront, if you ask them for a modification, they will help with the pose and help you reach the intention of the pose even in a modification.
If you are just sitting in class, staring at the instructor asking for help but do not receive one, consider finding yourself in a more comfortable pose or a child’s pose.
10. Doesn’t ask or check for injuries
If an instructor does not ask nor check for injuries prior to or after a practice, be careful. Not of the instructor, but be careful during your practice, so you do not injure yourself. What your body is saying is always a priority. If you feel pain, stop and take your pose back a notch.
As with modifications and assists, an instructor should keep your previous injuries and body in mind during the practice. Scar tissue in your upper body can affect your leg muscle on the opposite end! So, it’s always important to keep these in mind throughout a class for you and the instructor.
For example, a pregnant yogi will get specific modifications in class compared to someone with a knee injury. An instructor will most likely call out a pose and tell the prenatal student to try something else.
11. No Savasana
This wasn’t on the initial list, but I thought I should include it anyway! If there is ever a class without savasana, that is a bad sign. A savasana is not just a time to lay down after a workout. It is a time to replenish and actually gain the benefits of the pose and prepare the body for meditation. Remember, an intense pose is as important as a very restful savasana.
How to Make It a Good Class Anyway
If you are experiencing a bad yoga instructor, rest assured, you can still make this practice your own! Remember four things:
- Child’s pose
- Following your breath
- Finding your practice
With this in mind, you should be able to find your practice and go deeper into your meditation. Like every asana pose, this judgment and opinion of the instructor should be something that you can quiet in your mind. Take this opportunity to find the practice within yourself and to hear what your body really needs.
1. Child’s pose
When in doubt, go to child’s pose. We are not used to learning that “No Pain, No Gain” is not the motto in yoga. Rest is as important to your practice as any physically challenging asana is. Being able to surrender and to let go of your chattering thoughts is challenging but can be achieved.
If you ever feel that your breath is out of line and that you cannot clear your mind to the practice, come down to earth and rest in child’s pose.
Repeat to yourself that it is not a competition, and it is not about beating Sue in the row behind you. It is about you being able to control your nervous system and to listen to your body. Don’t ever be ashamed. So, when in doubt, child’s pose.
If you’re not given a modification, and you need one, grab your teacher’s attention and ask for one. If you are feeling the pain in the wrong places or simply feel uncomfortable, bring it to the teacher’s attention. A good pose done incorrectly or with pain will not give you the same benefits. A good pose within the pose’s modification will.
Additionally, you may not be the only one switching to the modification. It’s always good to ask for the group.
3. Following your Breath
Your breath is really your guide to the practice. As you inhale and exhale with your poses, keep your attention to the depth of your breath. Always breathe deep with your belly and let your lungs fully replenish with the rush of new air.
Pair your breathing with the intention you wish to gain from the class. If it is strength that you want, think that you are inhaling energy and letting out the depleted carbon dioxide from your body. If it is clarity and happiness, inhale the sunlight and the beautiful blue skies as you exhale the black, toxic air from your body.
Always come to the long breaths of air and do not forget, it is so much more beneficial to keep your practice through your nostril breathing.
4. Finding your practice
With a combination of the few things above, you can set your intention of the class within you. Find the flow that feels right for you and focus on that. Let your breathing move you from pose to pose and let your intention guide you.
Push out other thoughts and judgments from outside of class or even within a class and focus on your breathing. Feel the strength of the warrior I, feel the empowerment of a dancer’s pose, and surrender to the earth to accept you as you settle into savasana.
Remember, yoga does not end at asanas. It is not a workout like many western cultures have made it into. With the intention of bringing the asanas to a full meditation to go deeper within you, you will be able to make it your own practice.
Any practice can be your practice. Just put your mind to it and breathe!