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Teaching Athletes

I have been practicing yoga for more than 10 years, always within a very "yoga studio" environment. I have recently moved to a new area where I work out and take yoga classes at a wonderful gym. I have been asked to teach Power Yoga or flow classes there. I have also befriended many members who are triathletes, runners, bikers, and surfers, and several have said they would come take a class if I taught. But they ask for "no chanting"—they want to learn from an athletic point of view.

I'm torn, because I know that chanting was strange at first for me, but I stuck with it and now don't think twice about it. But with this group, I think more would attend class if I talked to them as athletes—yet I know this is frowned upon from a yoga teacher's perspective.
Any advice would help.
— Claudia

Read Ana Forrest's response:

Dear Claudia,

This is a common problem for teachers. Be flexible. If chanting is strange to them, put it aside for now. Teach them how different aspects of yoga will serve them in their passions. Use language they're willing to hear: for example, coach them to use strong focus and deep breathing to access "the zone" in their yoga. This will make yoga enticing to them without holding any weirdness.

These people will benefit tremendously from the yoga, and that's what you need to keep emphasizing: how they will benefit from each pose. You don't have to teach them everything all at once, or even in the first year. It's your job as a teacher to be flexible and skillful in how you present your information. If they cannot hear your teaching, then you are wasting their time and yours. Be willing to structure your teaching depending on what they can absorb at a given stage.

Teach cues that will help them with what they are interested in, then slip in the some of the deeper teaching you are passionate about. For example, you can say what the poses are in English instead of Sanskrit, and leave out the chanting for now. Consider doing a workshop to bring in the other aspects of yoga later, after your students have begun to build a bridge of trust with you. Give them time to see that you have something to offer without threatening their paradigms.

You appear to know how to teach them the benefits of yoga, but you're running up against what you believe you are supposed to do as a yoga teacher. Put aside the beliefs that aren't working with these students and teach what does work—teach yoga.

Ana Forrest is recognized worldwide as a pioneer in yoga and emotional healing. Born crippled, her own life trauma and experiences compelled her to create Forrest Yoga®. Her focus in Forrest Yoga is to guide the student in the sacred exploration of truth, healing and "the Great Mystery." She is a well-known contributing expert to Yoga Journal and other national wellness publications. She travels internationally teaching at yoga conferences, workshops, and teacher trainings.
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Reader Comments

Shad Cruz

Thank you for reminding us that Yoga exists for the benefit of all humanity (and beyond) and that the Yoga Vidya has the scope to encompass the entire human experience. As a teacher, I focus on letting the student see who I am and come to trust my intention (bridge of trust), so whatever modality seems appropriate, from mediation to a yoga mala, we can explore it together.


I teach yoga for athletes along with regular yoga at my local Health Club. Mostly we do flow or power yoga, but sometimes I "teach" just the poses and we work on getting alignment and breath to go along with the poses. They all know the meaning of "Chatarunga" (based on the groans!) and I try to use both English and Sanskrit names... for me this teaches them that we are doing a very ancient practice and that it has stood the test of time. At the end of Savasana, I read from either Jack Kornfield or Rumi and I am always surprised at how many people will come up and ask for a copy of the poem, or about the writer. My athletes have occasionally told me that something i said in class has helped them get through a race or the last mile, or even an entire event. While rewarding, I feel like this is something that the Universe directs, not something that I can take any credit for.

Jackie Dioxn

What great advice! You won't help students who don't want that type of teaching. Develop a relationship and trust and then you can branch out a bit more from their 'comfort zone' Athlete's especially will appreciate the purely physical affects of yoga and gradually introduce more focus and body awareness. Try offering different breathing techniques 'breath of fire' and 'alternate nostril' and bramari breath . Get them into the rythm of strong ujjayi breathing and let the breath work go from there...

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