One of the most common questions aspiring yoga teacher trainees ask is if they have to be able to demonstrate every posture to be a yoga instructor. As most modern-day yoga classes heavily emphasize asana, this is a natural concern when becoming a yoga teacher.
There is no requirement for yoga teachers to be able to perform or demonstrate every asana. However, yoga teachers should know how to verbally cue the alignment of every pose, offer modifications and explain its benefits.
So you can rest assured that your YTT examiner will not ask you to perform a headstand or advanced arm balance. Nor will studio owners deny you a job because of it. So, if you’re wondering how you can still be a fantastic teacher without knowing every pose, read on.
What should I do if I can’t do all the yoga poses?
Being a good yoga teacher is not about how many yoga postures you can perform but how you can understand the needs of your students and help them progress in their practice. There are many ways you can teach transformational yoga classes without including a single inversion or arm balance.
Teach only the poses you are comfortable with
Hatha yoga alone has 84 asanas, many of which you are likely comfortable teaching. Therefore, there is no reason why you should include them all in your classes. Instead, make things easy for yourself and teach the ones you feel most comfortable demonstrating, cueing, and adjusting.
Yes, I know when you are fresh out of teacher training, you want to share all the cool new asanas you have just learned. But before you teach anything (and this extends beyond yoga), you should be confident in doing it yourself.
You don’t necessarily have to master a pose before teaching it, but you should have a certain level of confidence in it. So if you finally manage to hold a crow pose for longer than a few seconds, that’s great, but replicate that experience multiple times before sharing it with others.
Also, remember that most of your students will likely find the gentler poses pretty demanding anyway. So don’t assume you have to teach challenging poses or the class will be too easy. Instead, you can increase the intensity in various ways, such as upping the pace of flows, holding postures for longer, or adding core work. So, if this is your reason for wanting to include complex asanas, get your students holding plank or chair pose for 5 extra breaths instead!
Use an advanced practitioner as your model
Yoga instructors come in all shapes and sizes, and despite popular belief, you don’t have to be skinny to be a yoga teacher or super flexible. In addition, past injuries or health conditions can make performing specific asanas very challenging.
As yoga teachers, we tell our students not to push their bodies into shapes and positions that may cause them harm. Therefore, we should practice what we preach.
If you have an advanced regular student in your class who you know can perform a yoga posture better than you, why not ask them to model that pose? Of course, ask them in private before class, rather than put them on the spot, though.
This is an excellent way to teach tricky poses without demonstrating yourself. As the student performs it, you can point out the alignment and make any adjustments needed.
Teach yin or gentler styles
If your body structure or a health condition limits how many yoga postures you can perform, you may prefer to teach a gentler, more accessible style of yoga, like Yin or Restorative.
If you haven’t tried these styles before, I highly recommend them, as getting a taste of each yoga style will help you choose the right YTT for you. In addition, if you’re about to embark on a new yoga teaching career, you will be investing a lot, both in terms of money and time. Therefore, it pays to try out everything first so that you can teach the style of yoga you enjoy the most.
Learn modified versions using props
Lastly, there are modified versions for many yoga postures. For example, if you want to teach headstand but do not feel confident holding it in the middle of the room, perhaps teach it against the wall. Or, if you don’t have the shoulder and spinal flexibility to demonstrate a deep backbend like King Dancer’s or King Pigeon, modify it by using a strap instead.
Similarly, you don’t have to be able to reach the fullest expression of a yoga posture to teach it. Let’s take the seated forward fold (Paschimottanasana), for example. If you have naturally tight hamstrings, you won’t be able to bring your head to your shins.
However, there is no need to come all the way into a posture to help students understand how to do it. Having clear and concise verbal cues is much more important than being able to go deep in the position.
Why not knowing all the yoga postures could be a good thing
Most yoga teachers see not knowing all the poses as a bad thing, but actually, it gives you an advantage. Because of your frustration around specific asanas, you will maintain a “beginner’s mind” and easily relate to how your students feel when they first start practicing yoga. Super flexible teachers that find every posture easy can struggle with this as they have forgotten how difficult learning yoga can be.
As someone still on the journey of learning, you know exactly how your students feel and have the right words of encouragement and support to give them. Your students will pick up on your empathy and feel comfortable learning the practice with you. And as you develop long-term relationships with your students, you can tackle the complex asanas together, which is incredibly humbling.
Fear not if you worry that you may fail yoga teacher training because you can not do all the poses. As long as you gain a proper understanding of the alignment and benefits of each pose and develop your verbal cueing skills, you can teach yoga just as well as anyone else. And if you’ve just finished YTT and are feeling inadequate, try some of the tips above to create beautiful classes that are accessible and beneficial for everyone.