The imperfect yoga teacher

It's no secret that I stalk yoga groups on social media. I LOVE hearing about people's yoga journeys. I read this post over the weekend: 


"How do you know when you're ready to do teacher training? I practice yoga almost every day since one year. I am still struggling to do some transitions and poses (ex. From crawl jumping to chaturanga, lotus, bird of paradise, arm balances) but I feel quite confident when doing any guided intermediate/advanced flow. Am I good enough to do teacher training yet?"


It made me feel a bit sad - here's why.

If being ready for yoga teacher training meant perfecting your asana routine, nobody would ever be ready. Besides, the world doesn't need any more flexible Instagram ready yogis. What we really need is more imperfect yoga teachers.


When I first started training yoga teachers - nearly 20 years ago - the yoga scene was a LOT different. There were no boutique studios (and certainly no Zoom classes!) Students had to track down teachers in community centres, church halls and private homes. 


Today, yoga is available in every gym, street corner and office building.  New yoga styles have emerged that place greater emphasis on physical conditioning, appealing widely to the clientele of gyms and health clubs where many people get their first introduction to yoga.


After more than a decade of the popularization of athletic yoga styles and the portrayal of yoga in the media as something practiced by young, thin, bendy people, students signing up for yoga teacher training often reflect the prevailing bias towards fitness-related vinyasa styles.


And that worries me. Not because young, bendy people can’t be good yoga teachers. Of course they can. I’m concerned that people who would make wonderful yoga teachers aren’t signing up for the training because they don’t feel they fit the mould.


My good friend Vikki is a social worker and, as a dedicated yoga student, often talks about how yoga would benefit many of her clients. When I suggested she train as a yoga teacher, she laughed and said “Look at me! I’m 52 and weigh 85kgs. How could I be a yoga teacher?” I was stunned. Vikki has practiced yoga for over 10 years and knows very well that yoga is for all ages and body types.


But the thought of training to be a yoga teacher seemed unattainable to her because she felt she didn’t fit the young, thin and bendy stereotype. And the yoga world is a poorer place because people like Vikki, who have so much to give as experienced yogis with valuable life experience, are not teaching others.


I often write about body image and encourage the yoga industry to include more diversity in the imagery used to represent yoga. When most images of yoga practitioners in the public domain depict young, glowing and physically idealised people, it sends a clear message to those of us who don’t identify with that image – yoga isn’t for you.


If we want to make yoga accessible to people of all ages and sizes, potential students need to see themselves reflected in the teachers who lead and inspire them. And if we want to encourage diversity in the yoga teaching community, we need to explicitly welcome students of all body types when we recruit teacher trainees.


From personal experience, I know that some of the best yoga teachers around are neither young nor thin. Many of them have injuries or physical issues that prevent them from executing the perfect pose. The teachers who lift my heart and inspire me are the ones with rich life experience, who understand and express compassion for the human failings of their students. These are the teachers who reach out to students of all backgrounds and show them how yoga is relevant and transformational for everybody.


It’s time to introduce more diversity to the yoga industry and encourage people of all ages, body types and backgrounds to become teachers. Only then will students see their own experience mirrored in their teachers. There is no such thing as the perfect yoga teacher. Let's celebrate our imperfections and encourage our students to do the same.