People who struggle with their body image can be ultrasensitive to even well-intentioned comments, and yoga teachers may inadvertently contribute to a stressful atmosphere. “I have seen yoga teachers putting thin students onstage to demonstrate asanas, recommending that students lose weight to achieve a pose, and colluding with students’ exercise addiction by allowing noticeably underweight students to take multiple weekly classes,” says Santa Monica, California, psychologist Janeen Locker. Instead, teachers need to be mindful of creating an atmosphere that’s comfortable and noncompetitive. Here are some suggestions from Locker.
Watch for addiction
If you notice a student, especially one who is excessively thin, taking many classes a day, she could be dealing with an exercise addiction, or at least be obsessed with her body and weight. Gently remind her that she should rest before the next class, and that her practice requires not just water but food too.
Ask about injury
Some students push themselves to achieve a pose beyond their bodies’ limits. If a student has an injury or limitation, help her adjust the poses to adapt to it.
Encourage an inward focus
Yoga classes aren’t immune from competition, but reminding students to focus on their own bodies’ subtleties can quiet anxiety. Direct students to honor their limits instead of pushing; point out that their practice will change from day to day.
If you have students demonstrate various asanas, choose from a variety of different body types, ages, cultures, and ethnicities.
Never comment on a student’s body
It’s easy enough for students to think, “If I were only thinner or taller or stronger, I’d be better at this pose” without getting reinforcement from the teacher.