A Free and Thriving Yoga Practice

The teacher gives cues and information, and the student absorbs and learns. This is the idea behind improvement and growth. A yoga teacher is essential and vital in shaping students’ growth. This is, of course, true. However, the role of the teacher is not to insist on one specific path for every student inflexibly. Yoga is far from one-size-fits-all.

Instead, the teacher must be open to offering cues and guidance that accommodate different bodies and minds with empathy and understanding. The teacher needs to lead in a way that empowers, supports and invites the students to be free to explore their capabilities free from rigid dogma.

This can look like doing away with valuing form over function and revising the language used during class. For example, ‘opening hips’, ‘opening the heart’, ‘tucking your tailbone’ and ‘squaring your hips’. These narrow, invented expressions force the student to be limited and restricted in their body and movements. They have no place within a contemporary yoga practice that welcomes all people with various bodies and abilities.

I have been guilty of using this language and encouraging these forms, and I have recognised that it is wrong. It came at the detriment of my students’ sacroiliac joints, pelvises, knees and lower backs and, most importantly, at the expense of their freedom to practise yoga in a genuinely liberatory way.

The only way to grow in life is to be in a comfortable and happy place, which applies to moving, breathing, and meditating. Although the teacher is still responsible for watching the students and keeping them safe, freedom of movement is crucial, whatever the body’s abilities.

Space and freedom are offered to explore and discover, not to restrict and impede – only then can growth prevail.

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