Today I would like to write a few lines that got inspired by a recent visitor at the Ashram who had come for an advanced yoga retreat. In her daily two-hour sessions with Yashendu, a topic came up that is always interesting for yoga teachers and students alike: should a yoga teacher correct the student’s posture?
Quite obviously, different teachers have different answers to this question. I will let you know my point of view and that can be pretty well summarized with the answer: as little as possible – as much as is necessary.
When I was teaching yoga, I always stuck to this principle and Yashendu as well as Ramona follow the same. In a regular workshop, you will rarely hear us correcting an individual person, telling him or her that the pose they are in is wrong.
Why? Of course, any yoga teacher who is used to correcting and any yoga student who is used to being corrected will ask this question. How will you know whether you are doing it right or wrong?
First of all, yoga is not about being the best, it is no competition and while you may strive for improving your posture, it is mostly about your well-being and a good feeling. This being said, there are naturally certain movements that you should better not do when in posture. Usually, however, these will not appear if you demonstrate the way how to get into the posture and out of it. Accompany that with a spoken description and your students will follow your example. From the very beginning you mention that everybody goes as far as his own body allows and we should never cross our limits.
Once this framework is set, I believe it mostly has a negative effect on a yoga practitioner if there are constant corrections in class. People have told me that they were discouraged by their teachers who told them what they were doing wrong. There are chances that you make your students focus on their outside and on negativity instead of the good feeling they get from their movement, their stretch and their exercise.
Additionally, you don’t know the limits of the other person’s body. Especially in yoga workshops of just a few hours or when you only get the chance to work with a student for a few days, you cannot understand, even with their medical history in mind, why he doesn’t lift his foot as far as you do or bend his back as far as his neighbour does! Now you go and tell him to push the knee down – but he physically cannot! How frustrating of an experience!
If you really feel that the other one did not fully understand where to place his limbs or what they should put emphasis on, you can do it differently as well! Instead of saying: ‘Sandra you are crooked in the pose, straighten up’ or ‘Tim, push your hips further down’, you could say in general ‘The focus of this pose is to straight the spine’ or ‘With every exhalation we lower our hips a bit further down.’ They will look at themselves and improve their posture, if they can.
Of course, if you teach someone over a long period of time, if the other one requests you to correct or if you teach a yoga teacher to go further in practice, it can make sense to actually correct the other one directly – but that is not the case in your normal lesson!
Furthermore, one thing you will never see in any of our classes: pushing a person physically into the right position or further into the stretch! If you do that, you believe you know another person’s body better than he himself does. The problem is: you can create physical harm to the other one, cause serious injury! Even if you have studied anatomy, even if you keep in mind the other person’s medical history, you can hurt the other person by pushing too fast, too far, too hard!
Finally, you don’t know how comfortable your students are with your physical closeness! They may not like having you stand so close, looking down on them and then touching them as well! You may ask but when there are ten others in the class, your student may be too shy to say no – and just not come to class next time.
I just believe you don’t need to touch anybody in class and would recommend reducing verbal corrections as well. Let me know how you do it in the comments!