Anyone Can Teach

Do you need to be super flexible to teach yoga? No, writes Neal Pollack. All you need is an open mind, an open heart, and a willingness to dedicate a goodly percent of your life to the practice.

I recently got a Facebook message from an old high-school buddy. The message said he’s interested in teaching yoga, but is afraid to try because “I can’t get my heels to the floor in downward-facing dog.”

Well, this made my spine tingle.

First of all, there’s no standard guidebook that says what you need to physically be able to do in order to teach yoga. It’s helpful to get your heels to the floor in Down Dog, even preferable. You should, at the very least, know how to do that, because you’re going to have students who can. But it’s not a requirement. As far as I can tell, there are no prerequisites to becoming a yoga teacher, other than an open mind, an open heart, and a willingness to dedicate a goodly percent of your life to the practice. That’s no small thing, of course, but it’s a thing for everyone, not just for flexible yoga babes.

As my teacher Richard Freeman likes to say, “blessed are the stiff.” Why? Because they represent the majority of the population. Many people are overweight, out of shape, and permanently stressed. Does that mean that they don’t enjoy the wonderful benefits that yoga can bring? Of course not. In fact, I’d argue that it means they deserve it more. All beings everywhere just want to be happy, and yoga gives them at least a fighting chance.

Who better to teach regular folks yoga than a guy who can’t get his feet to the floor in Downward-Facing Dog? Such a person won’t intimidate, but can still lead a flow, talk about the principles of the breath and quieting the mind, and provide an example of a normal guy who practices yoga in a normal way. My favorite teachers are rarely physical marvels, but rather weird and dorky regular people who just happen to have spent years learning the principles of pranayama and meditation and studying anatomy textbooks and reading ancient Indian philosophy. I trust a middle-aged person who’s been through the ringer a lot more than a 25-year-old, straight out of yoga school, who spends 15 minutes before every class telling me about their personal spiritual quest.

Warning, though: Just because anyone can teach yoga doesn’t mean anyone should teach yoga. I went through a tough teacher training a few years ago and have done supplemental trainings since. But, because I travel a lot for work, I don’t teach regularly. If I had a regularly scheduled class, it wouldn’t be fair to my students if I was jetting off every couple of weeks, saddling them with a substitute. The best teachers I’ve had are ones who can always be counted on to be there, week in and out, with only the occasional scheduled vacations announced far in advance. If you’re going to dedicate yourself, then you have to dedicate yourself all the way. Yoga is a sacred art, and passing on its principles is an important duty. Whether at a gym or in a private setting, you owe that dedication to your students.

But to my old pal, who I know and remember well as a brilliant, kind, and hard-working person, I can only say: Ron, if you want to teach yoga, then teach yoga. You will make the world a better place. And let me know when you’re done with your training. I’ll come up to Chicago and we’ll hover our heels above the floor together.