Beginner’s Mind: Why Less Experienced Yoga Students Make Better Yoga Teachers

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Aaron was a student in a past 200-hour yoga teacher certification program who attended with no intention of ever teaching yoga (he’s OK with me using his real name). He joined the program to support his wife in her endeavor, even though he’d hardly taken a class in his life (I know. So sweet, right?). He told us toward the end of the month that he had a lot of fears coming in … things like, will there be chanting? and will I hold people back? 

He might be surprised to know how common these fears are. I get so many emails from yoga students asking if they can attend our yoga teacher training even though they can’t do a headstand, or wondering if they can be a yoga teacher if they can’t do all the yoga poses. Everyone fears they are not ready. I get it. From the cover of yoga magazines, to popular Instagram accounts, you’d think accomplishing challenging yoga poses is the bulk of the practice. (Don’t get me started).

I can’t stress enough how little it matters whether you can do a headstand or any other pose you’ve put on a yoga pedestal. More important to teaching yoga is whether you understand a headstand. Take an example from professional athletics. The coaches don’t need to be the most proficient guys on the field, their job is to deeply comprehend the subtleties of the game on multiple levels. Teaching yoga isn’t so different. Deciphering the subtleties of yoga is what a good yoga teacher certification program is designed to teach you.

pavones yoga center yoga alliance beginner's mind yoga teacher certification suzuki quote zenThe insecurities you bring into your study and teaching of yoga may just be the best gift you later offer to your students as a yoga teacher. I’ve been steeped in the yoga tradition for so long that it sometimes takes people like Aaron to remind me of how bizarre the practice can seem from the outside. In the yoga program Aaron joined, his truly open-ended curiosity, his beginner’s mind, was a gift to every person in the room. Ironic. He feared he would hold us back as a group by being a beginner. Instead, because he came in with no preconceptions about what yoga is, his honest questions and generous offering of insights about what he was learning about yoga brought deeper levels of understanding and made all of us better yoga teachers than we would have been without him. It was delightful. This is the way yoga teaching (and group dynamics) works. It’s what keeps me so passionately fired up about the “job” of teaching yoga.

Being a yoga teacher is another form of being a yoga student. Cultivate beginner’s mind in the next class where, in place of your favorite yoga teacher you find a last-minute sub. Practice beginner’s mind standing in a too-long line at the grocery store by paying attention to your feet on the ground, your breath in your body, the cashier’s hands on the lettuce. And maybe one day, you’ll find yourself in a yoga teacher training class at Pavones Yoga Center where you’re afraid to ask the question that sounds dumb, but then turns out, it’s the best question asked all month. I promise. It wouldn’t be the first time it’s ever happened…

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This is a page from the Pavones Yoga Center 200-hour yoga teacher certification program manual, reminding teachers of the stress beginning yoga students might feel when they walk into their first yoga class.

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