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A Common Mistake When Teaching Yoga

Projection is defined as the mental process by which people attribute to others what is in their own minds. When it comes to teaching yoga, if not thoughtfully considered, what can happen is that yoga teachers can begin to project their perceived experience of the practice of yoga onto the students. This projection could include the preferences and interpretations that subconsciously reflect a biased experience upon the collection of individuals who have stepped into the practice space in search of what the practice can uniquely provide for them. This projection could be impeding your ability to make a profound impact as a yoga teacher.

We spend a good amount of our time and resources developing the technical aspect of our teaching craft, or skillset. If the relational aspect is left unattended or without much emphasis placed on the development of this vital piece of teaching then we could be missing out on a bigger opportunity to make an impact as a yoga teacher." - Sandy Raper

Let's explore what might subtly be lurking in the subconscious of your teaching methodology and could actually be more of a common mistake that you’re making when it comes to your approach to teaching. This common mistake is projection. Could you, as a yoga teacher, be subtly projecting your perceived experience of yoga onto the students you teach? I’m going to share about how that might show up and then how you can implement a few key simple actions to redirect this mishap when it comes to teaching yoga.

Psychology Behind Projection

As with most aspects of life, we can view concepts and perspectives through a variety of lenses. Rather than focusing on understanding projection through the lens of what could be the negative projection of an experience, I want to share what is more of a positive projected experience of your relationship with yoga, and the aspects that you love or think others should love as much as you do - there’s where the projecting aspect shows up.

Sandy Raper Yoga

If our personal practice experience is a big preparation aspect for teaching others, how then do we teach in a way that invites students to craft and create their own unique, autonomous experience without it being influenced by our perceived experience - including our likes and dislikes?

The complexity of the human experience and all that one brings with them when they step onto their yoga mat requires that the relational aspect is explored so that we are ready and capable to meet the needs of the various individuals that will step through the doors into the setting of what we call a yoga class. As a yoga teacher, the relational development of your teaching skillset will serve you greatly as you seek to understand and meet students with the practice of yoga shared in a way that is non-biased and offers the power of choice given to each student to decide, choose and ultimately create the experience they wish to have.

The development of the relational, right-side functioning of our brains includes strong identifying markers of our emotional state of being and the resilient aspect of returning to joy when conflicting emotions arise. So, then the yoga class setting and the teacher serving in the capacity of facilitating this experience requires an understanding of the learned projections and emotions that are brought into the practice space.

Within the deeper understanding of projection, psychological projection was first introduced and seen by Freud as a defense mechanism designed to help us feel safe from feeling judged. Perhaps, for the yoga teacher, the insecurity and vulnerability felt and the confidence that could be lacking in one’s ability to teach, shows up within the approach to teaching being led with directives that suggest what the student should or shouldn’t feel, the rigidity of alignment and the expressed language that suggests a specific way that students express a yoga pose. This projection in some way provides comfort and security.

Purposeful preparation requires a level of commitment and endurance. Teaching yoga is not a cookie-cutter experience. It isn't a rote experience with a set of memorized cues, or postures repeated over and over. It just doesn't work that way because of how dynamic humans are and the intricacy of the abilities we all uniquely possess. Because of this, no yoga teacher training could ever fully prepare you for this encounter. There is an element of faith and trust. In your preparation as a teacher, you must ask yourself if you fully believe in the practice of yoga. Do you believe in the catalyst that the teachings of yoga can offer in making the necessary changes in your life? Do you believe in the student's capacity for yoga to provide the same for them? If you believe, then the students you lead will believe. It begins with purposeful preparation.


Shadow Work

Projection can also be understood within Carl Jung’s shadow work and often we hear of this work when we dig deeper into the aspect of yin yoga and the exploration made to evaluate the deeper aspect of our being within the edge of stillness. Further study would also suggest to us that when we look to positive projection, if we project our ability or experience onto another then it might be that we are unconsciously trying to create an attachment. This would be cultivated as a byproduct of a teacher projecting what they perceive the ideal practice, or yoga pose to be. In hopes of connecting more deeply, the student begins to attach themselves to the choices of the teacher, rather than the autonomous encounter that would set them up for greater success in the practice.

Projection becomes a transfer of ownership. When put into the context of teaching yoga, the evaluation to consider speaks to the agenda and the learning objectives that you seek to share with students. Are these objectives based on what you like, or dislike in the practice? Does your class sequence reflect that which supports the student in the development of a solid foundation and practice experience that sets them up for success after class and in the developed discipline of consistent practice? Does your sequence plan include that which you like, or the style of practice that you lean more heavily into? Could it be that what you practice personally isn’t necessarily the style of practice that will best serve the community of students you will be leading?

Just because you practice certain poses doesn’t mean that they are necessarily appropriate, or relevant, to be added to the classes you lead. Keep asking yourself what your learning objectives are. Notice when the projected ego aspect of yourself wants to creep in and be nurtured rather than the class being taught in a way that empowers others to find their unique path of purpose in the practice.

“Be careful that your class sequences are reflective of an experience that isn’t projected or based upon your preferences. Just because you love a certain yoga pose doesn’t mean that your classroom of students will have the same experience.." - Sandy Raper

Developing the relational aspect of teaching.

How do we develop the relational aspect of teaching that supports more of a collective therapeutic interaction that isn’t subjected to the projective identification of a defense system? We focus on the aspect of using identifiers that involves loving, joyful effects, where a group, the yoga classroom of students, can experience a collective rush of good feeling and increased capacity for joy. This aspect then activates more of the right-side functioning of our brains becoming more than the logical or analytical left-brain function.

An example of this is reflected in people in love who begin to read one another’s minds in ways that cannot be accounted for logically. Within this heightened fast-track relational encounter in the yoga practice where students are equipped and guided with the language of discovery and choice, the therapeutic relationship inevitably emerges where the student and teacher comprise the mutually determined emotional atmosphere of the class setting. Your language is a powerful guiding force towards tapping into this aspect of a full-brained experience on the yoga mat. Allow your presence to guide and nurture the environment while providing a class practice that isn’t a projection of a perceived practice but more of one that the student participates in and chooses.

Looking to understand further how to develop the relational aspect of teaching yoga? Check out the Beyond Yoga Teacher Training Podcast with Host Sandy Raper. There you will find a library full of episodes that will support you in expanding and maturing in both the technical and relational aspects of your teaching skill set.

About the author:

Sandy Raper is an E-RYT 500, RYS, YACEP, Yoga Medicine® Therapeutic Specialist, author, and host of the globally recognized Beyond Yoga Teacher Training Podcast. She has been a respected yoga teacher and mentor for over twenty years, as well as, a wife and mother. Out of a strong passion for inspiring, encouraging, and supporting yoga teachers, Sandy seeks to equip yoga teachers with the resources they need to be successful and highly effective in teaching yoga. Sandy offers mentorship through her Beyond Yoga Teacher Training Mentorship Program, as well as, continuing education online courses. Find all of this and more at:


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