Yoga teachers come in all shapes and sizes. Some are approachable newbies. Some are veterans with huge followings. One thing they all have in common? You just never know what they're actually thinking as they lead class-goers through poses.
There's a small amount of time in class for yoga teachers to say what they're really thinking; all the while they're coaching alignment, doing hands-on adjustments, being mindful of the room's temperature and keeping track of the time.
From worrying about their sequencing to trying to figure out how to deal with those inevitable icky smells, we found some teachers to candidly share what's really goes through their head while leading a yoga class. Here are seven things they want you to know that can bring you closer and strengthen your practice.
1. I Still Get Nervous
While every teacher is different, many have some anxiety at the start of every class — no matter how many times they've been in front of a room of yogis.
"Despite the fact that I've taught hundreds of hours of yoga, I still experience a brief moment of nervousness at the beginning of every class when I step onto the teachers mat," says private yoga teacher Alex C. Wilson. "In that moment, my thoughts are usually, 'Please don't let me say anything stupid.'"
But after those first moments of greeting students and welcoming them to class, she always settles in. "As I step into the role of teacher, I step out of my worries, my negative thought patterns and my concern about whether or not I'm doing things right — I just teach," she says.
2. I'm Here to Connect
For Abby Vernon, a YogaSix master trainer, fostering meaningful connections with students so that they can get the most out of class matters more than anything else. "Setting the tone for connection is pivotal in setting students up for success," she says.
To create a supportive environment, Vernon makes sure to be in the studio room 15 minutes beforehand to introduce herself and check in with students, asking if they have injuries or anything they'd like to work on. "If they know I care and want to help support them in having a good experience, they will likely be more connected to me and the sequence I'm teaching. Then, they'll be more connected to their own bodies and unique practice," she says.
3. Please Respect the Practice
Sometimes teachers come across a rogue yogi (otherwise nicknamed a "roguie") in their classes, Wilson says. This is a student who does their own thing without following the instructor's cues. For example, a roguie will be doing handstands while everyone else is in forward fold.
"I'll admit, sometimes I can't help but shoot daggers at them through my eyes, but in these situations I do my best to just hold space for the experience my roguies need to have," Wilson says. "After all, I don't know what they have going on in their lives or what their reasons are for coming to class."
When a teacher gives specific directions and someone disregards them, there can be some frustration. "If I say 'please no headstands' — which I do every single class — please don't do a headstand," says yoga instructor and holistic health practitioner Nina Endrst. "This is not about me controlling your practice. It is about respect. I am not comfortable with people standing on their heads in my class yet there are always a few who pop right up. That is when I take my deepest breaths."
4. I See You Struggling — and I Want to Help
When a student is struggling, a teacher always notices — and wants to help as best as they can. "I search my mind for cues I can offer, modifications they can implement," Wilson says. "I do get a little stressed if I feel like even just one student is struggling through the practice. Especially if I can't seem to help them."
Vernon says that just as students are encouraged to stay present in class, teachers need to be aware of what's going on in the room and shift as needed. "I take note of students' body language, how they move through postures and transitions and if they understand the direction I'm offering," she says. "We can adjust in accordance with what our students need in the moment, while staying in alignment with ourselves and the type of class we're teaching."
5. Modify, Modify, Modify
When instructor Morgan Balavage sees someone in her class muscling through a deep hip opener with a grimace and gnashing teeth, she thinks, "Ouch, dude! If you can't do the shape without making that face, don't do the pose!" Instead of suffering through, teachers wish more students would modify or back off as needed.
"Modifications are good!" says Sage Rountree, yoga instructor and author of the book Teaching Yoga Beyond the Poses. "There isn't one 'right' way to do things; everything must be adapted for the individual student. I want my students to feel like they can personalize the poses to their needs, so that they leave feeling successful rather than disheartened."
This is exactly why yoga studios offer props like bolsters, blocks and straps to help students find flexibility in poses when their bodies can't quite get there on their own. Rather than being tools solely for beginners, these props are helpful for yogis of every level. Students should take advantage of them, says Balavage.
Natasha Nunez, who primarily teaches yin yoga, tries to encourage modification and props by demonstrating alternative ways to do a pose instead of holding the so-called "full" expression. "For example, I will demonstrate with blocks or a bolster when I don't need to because many of my students can benefit from using props," she says. "I believe that using them myself encourages students to use them, too."
6. No One Likes a Show-Off
Yes, your teacher wants you to succeed. But if you think you're impressing them by twisting into a super challenging pose (or by only wearing head-to-toe designer yoga outfits), think again.
"People trying to show off, whether it's with expensive gear or by forcing themselves into a variation of a pose they perceive as being more 'advanced' really irk me," Nunez says. "It dishonors the practice, puts the student at risk for injury and frequently is a sign of insecurities.
7. Stay for Savasana
Longtime yoga practitioners know that the reward of working so hard during class is the sweet, sweet rest during savasana at the end. When teachers see people roll up their mats and peace out before this important final pose, they usually have an opinion about it. Basically, please don't leave.
"Those minutes of rest at the end of an hour practice may potentially be the only time that many students give themselves space to simply breathe and be during the day, so I want to ensure they have that time for their nervous systems to settle and come back into regulation," Vernon says.
If she sees someone do something distracting during savasana — like core work or handstands — she'll have a conversation with them after class. "It's often simply a lack of awareness around the effect they are having and understanding of the importance of savasana," she says. "Understandably, if a student needs to leave early, that is 100 percent OK, I just ask that they leave a few minutes before we enter in to savasana."