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Why It's OK to Not Listen to Your Yoga Teacher

Simon McDermott-Johnson

As a yoga teacher, people put a lot of faith in you. They ask you questions every day: “How do I meditate?", “How far can I push myself?", “How do I overcome my fear of inversions?", “I have a sprained ankle, what should I do?”  (The answer to the last question: Go see a doctor!) For everything else, though, yoga instructors are wonderful resources. After all, yogic philosophies are designed to help you live a more peaceful life—so yoga teachers can give an array of tips on more than yoga poses. (Hopefully your instructor was also trained about alignment and basic body safety, like keeping your front knee in-line with your ankle in Warrior Two.)

But while all yoga teachers are resources—vessels sharing knowledge and hopefully inspiration—there is only one person who truly knows the answers to the questions you ask: you. 

Only you know how your knee feels in a double pigeon. If it hurts, modify or don’t do it. A yoga teacher can’t feel what you're feeling. Every body is unique, and you're the boss of you—no one else. That means it's up to you to take charge of learning and interpreting what each pose means for your individual body. The physical practice of yoga is about feeling, right? It's not about replicating a picture.

Even more: You don’t have to agree with anything a yoga teacher says. Instructors who have been through Yoga Alliance's certified 200-hour training tend to speak about the "Yamas" and the "Niyamas"—10 ethical guidelines which amount to being a good, kind, honest person; and living a good, kind, and honest life. But if you don’t believe “ahimsa”—the first of the Yamas, which means non-violence—extends to not eating animals, that's 100 percent your call. You're not a “bad yogi” because of it. Hopefully, whatever beliefs your yoga instructor shares spark your own thought—and can aid in formulating your own views. Our goal is to help you incorporate things that make you feel good on the mat into your life off the mat.

That's why you should think twice before blindly following a yoga “guru” just because he or she is famous on YouTube, invented a style of yoga, or was on the cover of Yoga Journal. Rather, think of yoga teachers as a part of your personal team—contributors who help you on the path you want to live. Take ideas from them, if you like, but if you're quiet enough (perhaps through a meditation technique one of your teachers taught you!), you'll hear all of the answers you need to know loud and clear. Go to your bathroom and look in the mirror—that is your guru. 

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