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YD Giveaway: ‘Teaching People, Not Poses’ by Jay Fields

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Jay Fields

Hey! So did you catch the excerpt of ‘Teaching People, Not Poses’ by Jay Fields? Or were you too busy practicing? Ah hahaha. Trick question. If you’d read the post you’d think that was funny! Maybe. Or maybe we don’t know what you’d find funny, we’re not in your brain. We can’t just fling jokes into the air haphazardly and expect every single person to find them hilarious, can we? (Only to all of the voices in our heads!) Sort of like how some yoga teachers try to cookie cutter their way into being Mala Shakti Miracle, goddess of prana-fication performing a Def Jam’d rendition of Rumi quotes when all they really needed to do was be themselves! Phew. Seems like a lot of work. Need some help?

‘Teaching People, Not Poses’ offers 12 principles for teaching yoga with integrity that may sound simple, but actually take a bit of time and effort that, in the long run, will afford you your own true nuggets of wisdom that will last longer than any of your snazzmatazz yoga pants.

  • Be yourself.
  • Practice.
  • Show your vulnerability and your expertise.
  • Teach from your own experience.
  • If you don’t know, say you don’t know.
  • Stay in your body.
  • Don’t take it all so seriously.
  • Remember that your students are people.
  • Learn anatomy.
  • Plan enough so that you can be spontaneous.
  • Remember who and what supports you.
  • Don’t try to please everyone.

WIN: We’re giving away three copies of  Teaching People, Not Poses: 12 Principles for Teaching Yoga With Integrity by Jay Fields. Winners get to choose whether they prefer ebooks (pdf version) or hard copy (they’re actually paperbacks, but you know what we mean.)

TO ENTER: Pick any of the 12 points above and expound on it – ie. have you shared personal experiences teaching yoga? have you been in class with a teacher who was taking her/himself wayyyy too seriously? Alternatively, do you have a #13 to add? Go for it! Share it all in the comments. Let’s make it a discussion-y pow wow. You will not be graded on this.

Giveaway open until 11:59pm Tuesday May 28. Three winners will be chosen at random and announced soon after. Good luck!

Bonus: Jay is leading a corresponding teleseries starting June 11. She is extending the early bird pricing for y-dorks until Friday May 31. That’s 10% or $25 off the cost. If this sounds interesting to you check out her website for more info. www.graceandgrityoga.com

ps. We’re in the midst of a pre-summer reading YD book giveaway series running through May and into June. Stay tuned for another great book each week!

UPDATE: Congrats to Nikki, Sara and Kelly! Thanks to all for entering and sharing in the conversation.



56 comments… add one
  • Aimee

    I love the point to “teach from your own experience.” Everyone teaching yoga has had a significant journey in their own yoga to get to that point – sharing from that perspective is a boundless source of inspiration. Yoga worked in your life – tell people how!

    • Vision_Quest2

      “. Remember that your students are people.”

      That. But even one better: each of your students is an organism. An entire biological ecosystem full of complex tissues and homeostatic processes invisible to the naked eye … it is not always mind over matter; and a student could spontaneously have a fight-or-flight response to a stealthily-approached, uninvited aggressive, unasked for and harmful assist/adjustment. While otherwise brilliant–with patter worthy of a hell-fire-and-damnation preacher, such teachers would be better suited for the Rolfing table or Ayurvedic practice than to lead a class …

  • Plan Enough So That You Can Be Spontaneous…. Oh, how true! The first Basic Yoga class I taught, I had planned with exacting care. I practiced it and I thought, “Oh, I must be rushing it – it took me 45 minutes, but these are new students; it’ll take a while to adjust them, for them to transition, etc.” (Can you see “RATIONALIZATION” just spilling from that thought??)

    So of course, half-way through a 75-minute class, I ran out. And for a nano-second I froze, then I was able to regroup and just repeat several poses, talking about how “when you repeat Janu Sirsasana, do you notice that this time, since you’ve already done it, there’s more ease in the pose?”

    And the NEXT Basic Yoga class I had, I was able to prepare so that I had a good half-hour of “extra” built into the practice. Yes, we still repeated things. You can’t just do ONE Surya Namaskar A — but I felt infinitely more prepared in the second class. Observing my teacher while she teaches that class has been over-the-top helpful, and so has, in all honesty, making my own mistakes in teaching this class. I’ll mis-cue. I’ll screw up by not having enough material. But I’m human, not a yoga-machine.

    And I think in the end, my students are able to laugh with me and appreciate the fact that their teacher wobbles in Vrksasana, and sometimes wobbles in front of the class!

  • Ivy

    #13 Keep learning – so you can pass on the knowledge you gather to your students.

  • #13: teach from love and not from fear. A big principle I learned from my 500 hour with LiveLoveTeach. I see so often teachers teach from this place of fear — fear of not being good enough, fear of not being liked, fear of not being spiritual enough, etc etc. If you’re a teacher, remind yourself why you love the practice and why you wanted to teach and share your practice in the first place.

  • My favorite point is to “plan enough so that you can be spontaneous.” Unless you have a dedicated following of core students who follow you around everywhere you tech, you can never really know who may show up for class on any given day. As a result, we, as teachers, have to be ready for just about anything. I can’t tell you the number of times I had planned to do something in class only to get to class and discover that the series I had visualized were not appropriate for the students who showed up. This, I feel, makes me be more creative as a teacher.

    I see teaching sort of like creating improvisational music. You can’t start to explore or improvise until you have mastered the basics and have a solid base to take off from.

  • Madeline

    My #13, Pay attention to what you can learn from your students 🙂

  • Jenna

    “Show your vulnerability and your expertise” has recently been a major reminder in my teaching. I have been hurt before, and I have learned to modify my own practice to accommodation my body. This was the first time I needed to take that to my teaching. I hurt my shoulder and have been mostly doing standing poses with hands at prayer in my own practice. It has been much more difficult to modify my teaching, as I like being able to show my students as I talk students step by step into poses. I needed to rely on my expertise as a teacher and talk my students through the class. That was just the way it was for eight weeks, I could not demonstrate arm balances or inversions or plank… I could use my injury as a reminder to my students that you need to care for your body and respect what you can do on each day.

  • #13. Teach without attachment to results. Show up every day because you love to teach.
    #14. Your students are also your teachers.
    This book look awesome.

  • Teach from your own experience. – Yoga was never easy for me – I was stiff, stressed out, stuck in my thoughts, & competitive as hell – and I got hurt just trying to do what I saw people in class who had been practicing for years doing…Now, when I teach, I emphasize that ego will get you nowhere, take it slow, honor your body & your practice…be constantly aware of your form & don’t space out….and just remember IT’S A PRACTICE…yoga isn’t about getting it PERFECT…its about getting into YOU & learning who you are….

  • “Be Yourself” stands out the most for me because it is the one that helps me remember all of the others. When I continually remind myself to come back to my center, my core values, and my authentic self it is so much easier to naturally step into the others

  • Teach from your own experience. There are many times when I come on the mat and begin teaching and I give the students what my quiet time has given me. I give them words that have inspired me and I give them the love of breathe that I have found. Many times I get an ah-ha moment on my mat that is given back to me.


  • Barbara Fuller Fleming

    #13. Be humble. Remember, they are not YOUR students, but students of the practice.

  • “Remember who and what supports you.”

    You don’t exist in a vacuum, you are not an island. When you disregard other people, or disregard the environment/culture you’re part of, you cannot accomplish anything meaningful.

  • Liz Horton

    #13. Realize that teaching Yoga is a form of practicing yoga. In teaching we create space (sukha) and boundaries (sthira) for our students in which they can explore and observe themselves. As teachers we are holding space and creating a container for an experience.

  • Stacey

    I would add to teach from the heart, what you know and love and your teaching will shine.

  • jay

    I’m LOVING everyone’s reflections and suggested principles! This was my hope with writing the book…to start a dialogue about the core principles or foundations of teaching for each individual out there teaching. What a delight to read through them….so much wisdom!

  • Sara

    Remember who and what supports you- when I made the decision to do my teachers training I wallowed in self doubt and fear thinking ‘I am not good/strong/flexible/wise enough to think I could lead a class. It wasn’t until my reiki healer reminded me that we are all manifestations of the divine and its greater plan lead me to make this decision. in trusting in that divine essence I can quieten my ego and those thoughts that scream ‘fraud!’ A call to teach is a call to share the divine, to serve, which I remind myself whenever my ego runs riot.

  • Joanne Van Ee

    I like to not take it all so seriously. In the classes I teach we have a lot of fun along with the attention of body and breath. Sometimes I’ll throw in some laughter yoga, or we sing rounds of row, row, row your boat while doing upward boat. Always makes them laugh, which has many benefits of its own. I try to keep it light without losing the essence of the practice.

  • Sarah

    Don’t take it all too seriously- or yourself for that matter!

    Much like with anything in life if I think I’m the queen supreme at crow and let my ego lead, that’s the day I’m falling on my face.

    I also try to remind my students that the yogi police aren’t goin to come get us if we don’t do a text-book tree today. It’s about the journey, not the destination 🙂

  • Shanna

    13) Respect differences in people’s bodies.

  • This is an interesting list, and a number of them seem to ring true for me. As a newly minted teacher, “Be yourself” is quite reassuring. That is, I shouldn’t worry about not being the image of wonderful teachers I have had in the past, but instead think about how to become my own version of wonderful. I also love the “practice” commandment (c’mon, it’s a commandment!). I’d love to read the book!

  • Be yourself: This is my big challenge and theme of the year. I’m learning to accept myself for who I am; an over-the-top introvert. My higherups for the last 10+ years have been trying to twist me into an effective (extroverted) manager. It’s driving me crazy, ruining my health and giving me PTSD! To heck with all of that. I’m going to be myself even if I get fired for it. This sounds like a great book. Paradoxically, this introvert loves to teach, particularly in a small group environment or one-on-one. Maybe I’ll ditch the corporate world and teach yoga for a change.

  • Moi

    #13 Listen to your student. I took a class where the teacher didn’t listen to what I was saying. I said I was comfortable, she adjusted with props anyway… to discomfort. I said my leg is crooked, she paralleled my feet anyway… to discomfort. Ironically, all the while instructing the class to do less to avoid pain, for comfort. I explained why I quit the series, her response showed she still didn’t hear me.

  • Chelsea

    Show your vulnerability and your expertise is an important point to me, because I believe it helps yoga teachers stay accessible and approachable. We’re not perfect, we’re not super heroes, we don’t need to be on a pedestal. We’re just guides and we can learn as much from our students as we can teach them.

  • Shannon

    ■Plan enough so that you can be spontaneous.

    I was once in gentle yoga class that was described as “restorative.” The class was being led by a substitute. Her energy level was off the charts — not especially restorative but would have been wonderful for an energizing class. The most unfortunate part was that she had nothing prepared for the class so the last 20 minutes was spent with her reading a yoga nidra meditation.

  • Angela Rhodes

    I agree with the “don’t try to please everybody”. Everyone has their own niche. I love power vinyasa or ashtanga yoga . . . others prefer something slower. It doesn’t mean anything is “wrong” with that style!

  • Danielle

    #2 – Practice
    This is the one I have the most problem with. I teach because I need a reason to practice! I am horrible at self-motivation when it comes to any exercise, yoga included. I love being on my mat, but I have a hard time being on my mat alone. This hurts my practice (in that I am stagnant in many poses), but I do have a friend who has been joining me on a regular basis, and I have stopped being “the teacher” (we practice at my home now instead of a studio). This is much more relaxed and fun.

  • Julvis

    I resonate with many, but I have to go with “Be Yourself”. When I first started teaching, many times I was a sub and I would try to teach that class the way their “regular” instuctor would. I was spending HOURS prepping classes and music and myself….. and I had no joy. Also, I became a teacher in my mid forties, so I felt like I had to “keep up” with the youngsters and was self consious of my mature body shape.
    Then, one day, I lead – in my opinion – an awful class of Moon Salutations. The students were happy, but it made me step back and say “What the heck are you doing???”. Once I let go and just brought dorky ol’ me up to the front of the class, I found my joy in teaching again, I found my “style”, I gained steady classes and regular students….all by just being myself!

    • Vision_Quest2

      “When I first started teaching, many times I was a sub and I would try to teach that class the way their “regular” instuctor would.”

      Now that doesn’t make too much sense. If the regular instructor teaches a boot camp or woo-woo style (and a new student does not like it or has not yet learned to like it) … a relationship gets off on the wrong foot, now with the power of two …

  • Don’t take yourself too seriously really resonates with me. I’m still a new teacher with a little under 2 years under the ole’ teaching belt. It took me time to find my voice, and through that process, made some mistakes and lived to tell the tale! I am eternally grateful for the classes that I’ve taught that have laughed along with me when I say right foot when I mean right hand, and at all of my lame yoga jokes when I was nervous.

  • Katie Leiva

    Teach from your experience: When I first started teaching, I was the only teacher at my studio who wasn’t trained in a vinyasa style of practice. I took the other teachers’ classes to see what the students were used to, but my attempts to make my classes like others just made me feel afraid and inauthentic. I’m sure my insecurity was palpable. Similarly, when other teachers would sub for me, they were uncomfortable trying to offer a class like mine since it was not in their training or practice. We were all far more at ease when we taught what we knew best. Now I teach at a gym where there is such a different set of expectations – from the owner and the students – and such a variety of teachers. I no longer worry if my class is the same or different from anyone else’s and I feel much more confident. It is definitely something the students pick up on and value.

  • Teri

    Plan enough that you can be spontaneous… and trust your intuition / inner knowing / small still voice inside to tell you: who needs your attention, what teaching point needs more explanation, and/or when to scrap the plan entirely and follow what you feel. Namaste

  • Emily F

    Don’t take it all so seriously…one of the reasons why I love one of my teachers so much is because she makes us laugh. sometimes when we’re in a silly looking pose she reminds us that we all look funny and to have a good time with movements that may seem awkward at first. she encourages us to fall in and out of balance as well and it makes the whole experience much more relaxing and enjoyable

  • Annvan

    Don’t plan to please everyone.

    Remember that the benefits of a yoga class may come long after the class is over. Grumblings after a class may give way later to a deep understanding of something important….which we may never hear about.
    Even the people who compliment a class may find a completely different interpretation in time.

    • Vision_Quest2

      Maybe the reason you don’t hear about it is that some of your students have blogs and messaging site and they talk about you, and choose not to clue you in … 😉

      And maybe some of it is far from pretty.

      You must strive to use the law of large numbers to your advantage … try to please a plurality of your class … if you want to survive/thrive …

  • Don’t take it all so seriously.

    This is something we all need to remember, although it’s hard to do. You want to take yoga seriously because you feel such amazing benefits, but at the same time you have to be able to let it all go. If you can’t get a pose right away, it’s okay. If you feel frustrated some days, it’s ok. It’s not the end of the world if you walk out of a class, and there’s no prize for the person who has the best class, the best posture, the best yoga mat. Just don’t take it all so seriously. Show up, work to improve, and maybe your effort will pay off. It probably will, just don’t be heartbroken if it isn’t immediately apparent.

  • Christine Harrison

    The point which sticks out for me the most is: Don’t take it all so seriously. I love yoga because it is welcoming to a wide variety of ages, body types, and experiences levels. I appreciate when teachers are aware of this and are knowledgeable in possible variations of postures and movements. This way, everyone is able to participate to the extent which they are comfortable. A good yoga instructor is relaxed enough to know students may fall out of positions, may giggle and laugh if it is their first time, and that certain movements often create wind (which once again may induce giggling). Yoga is enjoyable when I do not feel rushed to master a position and I am given the freedom to explore what works for my body, which may be different than what works for the instructor.

    My #13: Remember that everyone has a different lifestyle. I was recently in a class where I felt uncomfortable and judged by the teacher. He was undeniably knowledgeable in what he was teaching and even took time to lead an open discussion about the current class. However, he spend a good part of class speaking of the sports which he disliked and even stated that he “hated runners and cyclists.” I found that very off-putting. Statements like that make me feel unwelcome. I believe all lifestyles should be embraced whether it is concerning physical activity or even diets. The teacher should not expect that all of his or her students enjoy the same things or live the same lifestyle.

    Thank you for giving me this opportunity for discussion 🙂

  • Kia

    Do not try to please everyone – when you teach in a way not genuine to you such as to appease others your teaching style will suffer. In the end you will most likely fail those you are trying to please anyway so it will be all kinds if failure.

  • I love #2. Seems so obvious but from all the teachers I know, it’s often forgotten or falls to the wayside when teaching gets busy. This hasn’t happened to me (yet) because I just finished my training and am not teaching very often but I have found that teaching is when I learn about the practice more and practicing is when I learn to teach better.

    Like a great instructor of mine once said, teaching yoga is just like holding up a mirror so your students can see how beautiful they are. When you practice, you clean the mirror.

  • wow. I feel like I could write so much. The best thing I can write is that I have to be myself in class. If I tried to force something that wasn’t natural, then I would not be an effective teacher.

    I feel like I can only speak from my own experiences. I have not been down anybody else’s road. Sometimes I worry that I share too much, but my students also give their perspectives and share, creating collaborations and community- which I adore.

    I take safety in my class very seriously. I recently had somebody sub a class of mine (I did not know the sub or anything about them). One of my students injured herself and told me she had never felt self conscious about her weight until that class. These kinds of things I do take seriously. I never want somebody to leave their practice with me thinking that they wasted their time- or worse- being injured. But, as for myself- oh my gracious- life is WAY too short to take ourselves seriously. I once did a side plank and fell right over. I have been the one who has farted. And I laugh. What else is one to do??

    We love to have fun, laugh and interact during our practices. There are times for seriousness and silence (even though I have had people bust out in hysterics during savasana…), and there are classes where nobody speaks except for me- and that’s cool- but man, life is short. Enjoy the ride.

    • Vision_Quest2

      As a primarily home practitioner, I’d decided to leave the kick-butt class/studio with the food-phobic teachers, but retained the intense home practice they’d enabled me to innovate (in order to cross-train without killing myself in once every few weeks’ class). They could keep on trying to push me too hard and use shaming tactics … and they are, at least with me, failing to create a dependent student but succeeding in creating their own monster. This yoga monster.

  • Carlye

    I graduated from my 200hour YTT program and taught my first ever yoga class yesterday! What stood out for me- Be yourself. When I started my training program I had envisioned myself transforming into my favourite yoga teacher by graduation. I wanted to be JUST like her. I learned quickly that I am my own teacher and I have a lot to offer- more than being a clone.

  • “Teach from your own experience.”

    When I’m practicing I pay attention to what feels good/bad, and where, for later use when I’m in front of the class.

    Especially in the odd places (where the pose may not be focusing). Like in janu sirsasana, if you press the *bent* leg’s knee toward the ground, you actually get a stretch in *that* hip joint.

    I try to share these things when I’m teaching the poses. Good stuff.

  • Meg

    #13. Your teaching *is* your yoga practice. In addition to the other 12 principles listed above, approach it as you did your first down dog. With a beginnner’s mind and patient effort. It will come, it will do a body good. (Yours and others.)

  • Our #1 aim as teachers is to inspire and encourage. We ever strive for that little miracle–people see world differently afterwards. Yes, we are teaching people first, and yoga second and must be competent at both.

    On a practical note, I think making eye-contact and connecting with each person in the room should be on a list some where. :). As well as the obvious stuff like: smile, start on time, end on time, take a shower, smell friendly, etc.

    Look forward to reading this Jay!

    Warmly, ~Jt Brown

  • Tyra

    “Don’t take it all so seriously” resonates with me since I teach a hiking yoga class. Being out in the ‘elements’ brings a big set of challenges from ticks to motorbikes and the changing weather. Although these ‘distractions’ can be challenging for everyone, they offer a certain lightness to the practice. On a recent hike, we were early into meditation and this man came barrelling down the trail and stopped. He was upset and anxious and the energy was palpable. He had lost his dog and wanted to give us the details. I quickly took down his information including the correct spelling of the dog’s name (lol) and assured him that we would be on the ‘look-out’. Unfortunately, we never did come across “Meeko”, but it was a lesson in compassion and understanding before even the first downward ‘dog’ (excuse the pun).

  • kerrie

    “Stay in Your Body” – Sometimes it takes me until a 1/3 of the way into class to remember this. As an academic, who practices and now teaches yoga, I find myself getting away from being embodied and this came up in a workshop I did with Hala Khouri. It was such a helpful thing to have pointed out, but it is still quite challenging for me!

  • Becky Hieter

    Teach from the heart and be humble. I am humbled by the hearts and trust of my students and all that they teach me.

  • Dominique

    13# Remember that you are teaching for your students, not yourself (its not your class).

    Be mindful of how your students are feeling, be intuitive to their needs and adjust your class where needed. You may have full intention of holding a strong & powerful class but have students arrive with low energy or injury – this is where you need to be caring, mindful & intuitive enough to adjust the class accordingly and include more restorative or heart opening poses.

    As the book title states, we need to remember we are “teaching people, not poses”.

  • Jody

    Be yourself. As a teacher trainee, I often feel like my teaching feels stiff and stilted because I am thinking so hard about my plan and my cues, etc. Then I say something spontaneous and everything feels relaxed and my personality shows through. Working on this, maybe new teacher syndrome? Also, when admitting that you don’t know something you are being yourself!

  • Jacqui Shive

    Show your vulnerability and your expertise.
    I feel that I do both when teaching a class but am always mindful to find the balance between the two. I don’t want the vulnerability to turn into me “bashing” myself and I don’t want to let my knowledge and expertise turn into me sounding like a know it all. I recognize that, as with life, it is a balance and to keep practicing presence and speaking in a truthful and non harming manner. It is an ongoing practice!

  • alex

    Don’t try to please everyone. As yoga teachers we teach from a place of service, while we must listen to the students needs and ask how can we serve them better, if we try to please to everyone we may end up not pleasing anyone. Authenticity is key, if we maintain it, we are better equipped to help students to the best of our ability.

  • Donna

    Remember that your students are people really means something to me. I facilitate yoga Nidra and when people are in that deep state of relaxation, they are so vulnerable. I look at them all with such honor and respect. There is a great deal of trust that takes place for them to relax and let me guide them to that place. I feel so privileged to be a part of that. After the session people are so open and relaxed. They give off such an innocent peaceful energy when they come back to a waking state. It is such a gift to be an observer of that.

  • Kate

    “Teach from Your Own Experience.”
    I find this to be incredibly helpful. I have heard many teachers say that often feel they have to pretend to be “better” at yoga than they are. They talk around poses like headstand, handstand, and advanced arm balances, rather than admit the can’t or can’t yet do them. But I went to a class recently where when it was time for inversions, the teacher explained she had a shoulder injury (and had had it for years), and could only do one kind of inversion. She said she could talk us through others, but if we wanted her utmost expertise, we should try the one she could actually do. A few students and I tried it (it was new to me) and it was a great experience. We would have missed out on that if she’d done the standard headstand instead.

    And I also loved how humble and honest she was about the whole thing.

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