Does teaching yoga count as my yoga practice?

It happens all the time. Yoga students say to me, ‘It must be nice to get to practice yoga all day, every day.’
Initially this comment catches me off guard because I always feel like I really have to work to get my yoga practice in. And, ever since I started teaching yoga, it gets harder and harder to find the time. Sometimes I feel like my teaching time is stealing my practice time but after teaching four classes in a row often the last thing I feel like doing is unrolling my mat yet again. What students don’t understand is that teaching yoga does not count as doing yoga. In fact, the belief that you can sneak in your own practice when teaching a group class can be downright dangerous.
When you’re teaching a yoga class, your attention is with your students. You’re explaining to them how to do the postures, you’re watching them, and you’re correcting and supporting them within the postures. You’re also setting the tone for your class through your energy, theme, and character. Friends – you simply do not have the time to squeeze your own practice into the mix! Yoga teachers sometimes falsely believe that they can get their practice in by demonstrating the postures. Don’t get me wrong, demonstrations are super helpful for the students! Nevertheless, even when you’re demonstrating a posture, your attention is still with your students. This puts you at greater risk of injury. I remember hearing a story about a yoga instructor who was demonstrating what NOT to do in a forward fold and actually ended up pulling her hamstring and getting carried out of her own class on a stretcher.
As embarrassing as this is, I can speak to this personally as I, too, have had moments of poor judgement while demonstrating. When I first started teaching, I remember actually thinking how sometimes I could do the advanced postures surprisingly well when I was demonstrating but not when I was in my own practice. I’ve learned that when I’m demonstrating, I’m not paying as much attention to my body’s needs so it’s easier for me to ignore the pre-injury warning signs like stiffness and tension. It’s often after the class or the next morning that I feel the side effects of my too-fancy demonstration (as I hobble out of bed). This speaks to the reason it’s so important to warm-up our own bodies before we teach and also alludes to a completely separate topic: Not allowing our egos to drive the classes we teach (let me just show you this super advanced asana that I’m really good at…). But, I digress.
Back to the topic at hand – teaching yoga does not count as your practice, no matter what they tell you. One of the purposes of this sacred practice of yoga is to be in your body fully; to experience true mindful presence through the breath, postures and meditation. This is impossible to achieve when you’re teaching because your job as a teacher is to be with your students and present to their needs, not yours. But, when we don’t practice, we lose our connection to the yoga we are teaching. So, make a point of doing your own practice, even if it’s just ten minutes a day and remind yourself why you fell in love with yoga  – and why you teach it.

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