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Teaching Yoga

What Should You Do When a Student Asks You a Question You Don’t Know?

The answer is simple.

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Have you ever been stopped by a student after you taught a yoga class and struggled to know what to say when they asked a question that you couldn’t answer?

Yoga teachers often place enormous pressure on themselves to have an answer to every question students could possibly ask. When you don’t know the answer, it can feel like you’re a deer in the headlights.

Rather than talking right away, take a moment to pause. Consider if you actually know the answer. If not, say so! It might feel a little uncomfortable at first, but acknowledging what you don’t know—aka, being humble—can actually be an empowering feeling. It not only relieves you of the pressure of needing to be all-knowing, but also demonstrates to your student that you, like everyone else, are human.

Also, if you are not a medical or psychological professional, it’s important to remind your student that anything related to physical injury, pain, or psychological drama is outside your area of expertise.

See also: It’s Time to Take Your Yoga Teacher Off a Pedestal

How to say “I don’t know”

Someone recently asked me a question about the pelvic floor. While I know a little about how the pelvic floor works, I’m by no means an expert. Here’s how the conversation went:

Student: “How does this pose affect the pelvic floor?”

Me: “You know, that’s not my area of expertise. I’m not exactly sure, but let me do some research and get back to you.”

Simple!

How NOT to say “I don’t know”

However, if I had really wanted to answer the question without admitting my knowledge on the topic, the conversation might have sounded something like:

Student: “How does this pose affect the pelvic floor?”

Me: “Well it’s actually moving the pelvic floor to the…well, it’s your root chakra that’s really opening here, so you could think of this less anatomically and more energetically…”

In this scenario, I wouldn’t have answered her question and instead rambled on, confidently mixing a word salad, moving the conversation to something I felt comfortable talking about. Likely, the student would walk away, unsatisfied with the answer, and probably even stop asking me questions in the future. This is not a responsible or ethical solution to the situation, nor is it how teachers of any sort should respond to questions from students.

Bulldozing questions like this does a couple of things. First, it can make students think you’re full of it. Using flowery, intellectual language with no substance may make you feel like you came off looking like you’re well-studied, but in actuality, it was probably pretty obvious that you didn’t really know the answer and therefore weren’t helpful to the student. This erodes trust in you.

Second, it sets up a culture in which students don’t bother asking you questions, which is ultimately a detriment to both of you. The student might continue to do a posture incorrectly or suffer silently and cause injury. And you lose an opportunity not only to showcase your humanness, but also to be challenged to learn about a topic that could benefit the student in front of you, as well as yourself and your future students.

I find approaching students’ questions with humility invites true learning. Yoga teachers, too, are imperfectly perfect! (That includes our inability to remember to do the research we promised before we see the student again, so make yourself a note so that you are certain to have the answer if you promised you would.)

See also: Yoga Teacher Training, Expert Advice & Sequencing Tips