There is more to being a personal trainer than having a six-pack just like there is more to being a teacher than colouring and playing. But for some reason, the words "flexible person" and "yoga instructor" are used interchangeably, an oversimplification that disregards the holistic mind-body health practices that yoga instructors encourage and teach.
Great yoga teachers identify the needs of their students, whether those needs are modifications in a physical practice or meditation for their busy minds. Their role extends beyond encouraging flexibility, integrating the philosophy of yoga with anatomy and functional movement.
So why can't just any bendy person teach yoga? Besides being among one of the most popular leisure activities amongst Canadians, yoga is also a tool that allows us to make the changes we desire in our lives: physically, mentally, emotionally and even spiritually. The idea that yoga is solely about Cirque Du Soleil-esque postures (or asanas) perpetuates the idea that instructors only have to be flexible to do and teach yoga; and ultimately must encourage the same level of flexibility in their students. But, yoga is about more than flexibility.
There are many lineages and schools of yoga, but whether your instructor was trained Ashtanga, Iyengar, Bikram or Moksha etc., they have been trained for a minimum of 200 hours. What could they have possibly been learning in those 200+ hours if not more flexibility? Yoga teacher-training, covers many areas from the history and philosophy of yoga to meditation, anatomy, physical practice and postures, sequencing, and of course, teaching skills.
Any good teacher should be well informed in their field of study, and we should expect nothing less from a yoga teacher. By understanding the philosophy and roots of yoga, instructors are better equipped to mold yoga practices to the needs of their students - needs which go beyond physical movement.
Through identifying these needs instructors can optimize their students experiences by creating a yoga practice to better suit them, for example, providing a more meditative practice. Yoga teachers understand yoga's aim, and combined with an understanding of body mechanics and philosophy, are able to use the full practice of yoga to help each student reach it.
Each yoga posture has its own purpose and benefits. By understanding the body's basic anatomy and optimal alignment, well-trained yoga instructors maximize the benefits of the postures, help preserve their students' joints, increase strength and flexibility, all while reducing the potential for pain, discomfort and or injury.
Every body is unique and this can be reflected in each individual's yoga practice. When students are given modifications they are prompted to do what better suits their anatomy. This allows them the opportunity to focus on the purpose and benefit of each posture rather than its appearance.
From body alignment to philosophy there is so much more to being a yoga instructor, beyond one's flexibility. So the next time someone tells you they're a yoga instructor, consider asking them about meditation, mind-body awareness or anatomy before asking them how flexible they are.