The practice and study of yoga is so vast that the more we all continue to study and teach, the more this question seems to loom taller and taller: what exactly is the job of a yoga instructor? To process this out loud with me, I invited my friend Jules Mitchell for a chat.
Jules has been teaching yoga for a decade, but her knowledge base doesn’t end there. Jules holds a Masters in Biomechanics, is a certified massage therapist, and is currently writing a book about it all. Through carefully chosen language, a deep understand of body mechanics, and a patience and wisdom that only comes from experience, Jules shows us how a roadmap for how we might continue to evolve as teachers.
Today, Jules and I will tackle the tough questions, ask plenty of our own, and talk a little shop. If you are feeling stuck in your teaching, or ready for some fresh inspiration, this episode is for you.
More in this episode:
- Jules talks about her initial training, and what brought her to study biomechanics and other disciplines.
- What her movement practice looks like when she’s on the road.
- We talk all about Jules’ book, Yoga Biomechanics: Redefining Stretching.
- Jules gives us a definition of biomechanics and we talk about how it should impact our yoga teaching.
- Jules and I dig into the importance of the specificity of language and offering open-ended questions.
- We breakdown the distinctions between yoga therapists and yoga teachers.
Connect with Jules on her website by clicking here.
Hi Francesca, really like your mentor session. So useful to reflect on the way I teach.
To me yoga is very much about teaching our students to come to know their own body, to stay with their feelings of comfort or discomfort, not label themselves or their feelings, that is to simply teach a w a r e n e sss ! And that to me means what we do with our mind during a yoga session is almost more important than what we initially do with our body during that session.
I believe that is the difference between an exercise class and a yoga session.
Have a great Christmas time. OM Tat Sat . Kriyashakti from Australia
Hi…and yes! I am so happy to hear this resonates. I really feel like our main job is to facilitate a students experience of themselves. I love to hear that is what you offer in your classes as well. Sending love back to you. <3
I actually do see yoga “therapy” as treating, otherwise why are people coming to us? The difference is we don’t diagnose, we work with an already established diagnosis and our help is being enlisted because other treatments have been only minimally effective, if at all.
And oftentimes, other issues will pop up in addition to the actual diagnosis, but these have not been officially diagnosed. We would then experiment with different yoga techniques to see if it elicits change, but if it aggravates, then we encourage medical intervention.
This is way different from a student coming for a private because he/she wants to perfect their handstand in the middle of the room, and needs for specific instruction not available in a class setting. And it’s different from the student wanting privates because they have generalized imbalance, maybe due to a short leg say, but there is no specific diagnosis. So the session comes down to strengthening the weaker parts and loosening the tighter parts to bring more balance. A student won’t get this kind of focused practice in a general class, but it’s technically not “treatment”.
It’s a whole can of worms being opened here, and hopefully intelligent and constructive conversations can be had to iron out the differences and similarities while respecting both sides of the spectrum.
Thank you for sharing Colleen. I appreciate hearing your perspective!
I also wanted to add (had been sitting for too long prior to my last comment) that as yoga “therapists” we look at the person as a whole, not just a collection of diagnoses. We want to understand the underlying causes of the illness/injury so we can begin at the root and work upwards. In the yoga therapy training I took, which I think is one of the best and most comprehensive, we took a deep dive into ayurveda to help us understand the client’s general nature. We want to know what is this client’s dosha, what is his/her mental and emotional state, if employed what kind of work, what is the family life like, how does he/she approach life and problems? All of this contributes to that person’s general physical being, as well as their emotional and mental being. And so the whole “treatment” plan is based around the client’s physical, mental, emotional, and perhaps spiritual makeup.
Yoga therapy should always include pranayama, meditation, and working with yoga philosophy as it relates to self-care. Otherwise we are just physical therapist wanna-be’s.
This can all be done very subtly, using language that is not “yogic” or woo-woo, but based in everyday psycho/social construct.
I hope this additional information helps to clarify a little bit more about the differences between yoga teacher and yoga therapist. There is a lot of crossover, and certainly elements of yoga therapy can be brought into a general yoga class or private session that is not billed as “therapy”.
Yes, that makes perfect sense to me. Your therapy training does sound wonderful. Which one did you do?
Francesca: I really appreciated hearing your interview with Jules Mitchell. I found her very open and honest in the discussion. What resonated for me were her points about not saying too much, asking open-ended questions of her students to learn from them , not having all of the answers to physical ailments, and understanding the limits of what our role is as yoga teachers. Also, I appreciated her transparency regarding her focus on body biomechanics versus spiritual fluency. Personally, I have felt like a fake when I have tried to come across as a spiritual guide when clearly I don’t know enough about the mythology of Hinduism and the subtle body, ie, chakras and paths of energy ( ida and pingala), and I am not interested in coming across as if I have this knowledge if I am only repeating what sounds good when it isn’t genuine or deeply understood.
Hey Robin! I am happy to hear this is landing so well! I really appreciated Jules’ honesty in this interview as well. We all have so much to learn from her. And it’s funny…I *just* recorded an episode about bringing spiritual teachings into asana class. I can’t wait to hear what you think about it. xo
Thank you for providing these podcasts! I find them thought-provoking. You are an excellent interviewer and I look forward to the next one.
Thanks so much for that feedback Robin! I am realizing what a specialized skill interviewing is, and am working to get better at it, so I really appreciate hearing that is coming through. 🙂