While working with the yoga teacher trainers at our studio I posed the question, “Should you teach a pose you cannot do yourself?” The response was mixed, some said yes, others said no, and some were on the fence. None of them were wrong.
In my humble opinion, I think you certainly can. I think you certainly should.
Why should my students be limited by my physical limitations, not their own? There are plenty of poses which elude me or are extremely challenging. My knees don’t seem to create the space needed to make virasana (hero’s pose) or supta virasana (reclined hero’s pose) accessible, but I have plenty of students who can plop into both with a little warm-up or none at all. It’s even a pose that they enjoy. Why should I deny them the opportunity to practice and explore it, just because I can’t?
There are plenty of poses which I have difficulty or challenge with, but I understand them. Take Birds of Paradise, where you bind your arms around one leg, stand up and then extend the bound leg. As a proud member of the tight shoulder tribe, creating that much space in the bind is difficult. To make matters worse, with a swimming/rotator injury I’m not even sure I should be binding on the right side. That said, I have a very good understanding of the mulabandha lift, openness of the hips, the reach of the heart and the extension of the leg that is needed to fully embody the pose. If I can talk you to your fullest expression, isn’t that teaching it?
With a strong understanding of the kramas, the energetics of a pose and thoughtful queuing you can build a student toward a peak experience and many times get them farther than you can get yourself in the pose. That said, if you are not confident or wavering in any of these areas, I think it’s okay and probably best if you don’t teach a pose (or a concept for that matter). This is especially true if you can’t keep your students safe. I would rather a teacher skip headstand or shoulderstand completely if they can’t queue a class for safe entry and exit.
I would also contend that you might be able to teach more thoroughly a pose you cannot do. Sometimes, teachers forget about their natural openness or longtime cultivation of availability and can minimize the journey of students. When teachers personally have limitations in a pose, they are generally more mindful and preparatory when they approach a pose.
In most classes there are a wide variety of students from inflexible to hyper-flexible, healthy to injured, young to old, and new to experienced. I will continue to challenge and keep them safe when teaching poses, whether I can do them or not.
There’s a lot of fulfillment when you help someone else along in their journey. When you are teaching for your students and not just for yourself you are truly teaching. One mark of a good teacher is their desire for the student to surpass them.
Enjoy the journey, yours or the journey of your students!