The Pressure to Teach Hard Poses  



There’s so much pressure on local teachers to fill their rooms, be authentic, and sell studio memberships, that it’s a wonder anyone can remember why they wanted to teach in the first place.

The best advice we receive is you be you, and people will follow. As if. I am a somewhat cranky, older woman who speaks bluntly, and believe me, that hasn’t always been a popular path in yoga.

However, I will tell you what is popular, and that is the “advanced” poses.

In these days of abundant classes and a bit of a circus atmosphere on Instagram, a workshop that promises a handstand will fill the room. The same goes for having an “advanced” practice. If you post it, they will come.

I was recently offered to do a series called “Advanced Yoga” at a local studio. I turned it down. In my experience, the fastest way to get a room full of beginners is to call it “advanced.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with beginners! I LOVE beginners. I specialize in beginners. I just want a student to know that they are not too good to focus on certain poses.

My new thing is the “Plateau Buster.” And surprise, I take students back to the basics to learn where they are stuck. If you can’t achieve a Level Three pose, I guarantee you the problem will be present in the Level One poses.

I enjoy teaching (the shit) out of a posture. When I create my weekly class, I rarely announce in advance what we are doing. In my experience, saying that we will explore touching our toes is a buzz killer. Hey everyone, today I’m going to teach you how to bend over! On the other hand, I cannot tell you how many students suffer hamstring tears and really, truly, need to learn how to bend over.

The saying goes that those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach. But that’s not entirely true. Doing is a different skill from teaching. I take pride when my students achieve their goals or practice without pain. I think of them as ducklings who learn to fly.

The gold in them ‘thar hills is not hiding in the Series Three, Four or Five poses. The gold is hiding in the veins of the beginner poses. It’s not just “practice and all is coming.” It is practice touching your toes, or practice being impeccable, practice with skill and integrity and all is coming. Mine your beginnings, and you will find what you are looking for.

Truly, there is no “easy” pose.  Yoga is not easy, especially with skillful breath. The person who cannot put his foot behind his head probably cannot do Half Pigeon. The person who has trouble balancing in Handstand may need to build strength in the wrists and forearms. Boring!

Believe me, what you can do will fade over time. But what you know can grow. Helping students progress on their path brings me pleasure, and I am too old and set in my ways to do anything that does not bring joy. See, I am cranky and blunt.

There’s a lot of pressure in yoga these days. Selling teacher trainings and posting on Instagram can drive a yogi mad. But let’s ease the pressure to do advanced poses. Let’s post more photos of the beautiful “simple” poses and direct our students inward. Having the patience to explore our beginnings is another beautiful — but not altogether glorious — path to “more.”

Michelle Marchildon is The Yogi Muse. She’s an award-winning journalist and the author of Finding More on the Mat: How I Grew Better, Wiser and Stronger through Yoga and Theme Weaver: Connect the Power of Inspiration to Teaching Yoga. You can find her writing on Elephant Journal, Mantra Yoga and Health Magazine, and Sports Illustrated.


  1. Marcia Tullous on August 3, 2015 at 9:15 am

    Excellent and spot on! Thank you for this post!


  2. Jane Robinson on August 3, 2015 at 9:20 pm

    Hey Michelle, you got your blog written before me. I have been wanting to write this so much lately. I used to just teach what I teach, but these days I feel a pressure to teach advanced poses and a I get afraid I’ll lose students if I don’t. But then I remember that I lose students anyway, after the month cheap pass expires or the next big thing arrives, so I get on with what I do.
    These days I meet a lot of students who have learnt yoga somewhere before. They can’t kick up to a handstand or push to a backbend but they want to do the showy stuff. And I mesmerise them with shoulder alignment or hips or something boring, and then they come and tell me all the things they experienced and go off chatting happily with their new friends. Super flexible students don’t stick around much because I ask them to use their muscles and they aren’t used to it. I wish I could teach them without them hitting the muscle wall so hard.

    We have to stick by what our great teachers have taught and what we have learnt in our practice. Thanks for your blog 🙂

    • Michelle Marchildon on August 4, 2015 at 7:50 am

      I’ve lost students, and I’ve gained students, but mostly I have the students who want to learn now, and that’s what matters.

  3. Barbara Hendrick on August 4, 2015 at 5:31 am

    Michelle, this is your best article to date, in my opinion. This is the truth, and your truth, as well as the seat from which you’ve always taught and it’s what I’ve always appreciated about your classes. You are one special lady. And thank YOU. Love & Light, Barbara Hendrick

  4. Denver yogi on August 4, 2015 at 8:49 am

    Really interesting/provocative article. Thanks for writing it.

    But I think there’s a little yoga-teacher-exceptionalism here. I mean, it’s awesome and essential to focus on the integrity of the “simplest” postures because, as you say, they’re not really so simple, and they hold the keys to more complicated moves. But your website abounds with photos of you in more difficult moves — full vasisthasana, splits, huge backbends, etc. I love these pictures, and they’re wonderful postures and terrific fun to do. But why do you get to showcase them and revel in them while telling your students/readers, Basics basics basics?

    My experience with Denver yoga has been the opposite of what you’ve identified here. I get to a certain place in my yoga practice beyond which it’s almost impossible to find teachers who want to go deeper and farther. For example, there are a million “Level 1” or “Level 2” classes. And that’s terrific. But how many yoga teachers in Denver teach drop backs or tick tocks? Or are actively teaching press handstands, or deep deep hip openers like yogi dandasana or durvasana? (I’m not being rhetorical! Please tell me if you know of any! I’m dying here…)

    I don’t know. I think you’re right, that the simplest poses are some of the most wonderful, and that it’s easy to lose sight of that. But I think there is Absolutely. Nothing. Wrong. with wanting to push boundaries and be challenged physically, whether it’s in an ultramarathon or a yoga practice.

  5. […] source of inspiration was a great blog by Michelle Marchildon (aka The Yogi Muse) entitled “The Pressure to Teach Hard Poses.” Don’t get me wrong; I love a good arm balance or crazy backbend as much as the next […]

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