Gudmestad adds that teachers need to get to know their students’ backgrounds and abilities. Partly it’s acknowledging the obvious: Beginning students of all body types belong in beginner classes.
But it’s also essential to learn about each student’s strengths and weaknesses. For some heavier students who have lived a sedentary life and who have limited upper body strength, poses such as Sirsasana (Headstand) or Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose) may be particularly challenging, notes Gudmestad. Other students could be quite curvy but might also be very strong and flexible. So, as a teacher, you should present options, and then watch to see whether or not there are poses that might be unsafe for your students.
Ultimately, it comes back to one of the basic lessons of yoga for both student and teacher, what Weill calls “feeling the fullness of who you are”—in other words, being present with what is, which hopefully leads to increased honesty about your own health and abilities.
As Sell puts it, “In our appearance-based culture, we’re doing an apparently physical practice. So I’m always reminding students that it only looks like postures. In reality, it’s a practice of awareness and self-respect. You can’t say that too many times.”
Writer and yoga teacher Rachel Brahinsky lives in San Francisco.