By Azahar Aguilar
“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” – Henry Adams
A yoga student will ideally have many yoga teachers in his or her lifetime. One teacher cannot act as an expert in all styles, modalities and afflictions, especially with the diversity of the human population, the human body and the number of options in yoga styles today.
As an instructor, you must remember each time you step into the studio, the ego must be removed when you direct a group of students. Teach to the best of your ability, and recognize when a practitioner has the opportunity to learn from another teacher. Each student is on a specific and unique yoga path; try not to be the one to disrupt or confuse that process, know when to refer your students.
The Three Major Types of Referral Opportunities
New practitioners, prenatal or postnatal students and those with physical or mental afflictions need the most love, attention and care typically. Bless these students with the opportunity to learn from other teachers that specialize in these areas if you feel uncomfortable with them.
New students may have many questions about specific postures. While you are able to answer most questions from beginning practitioners, often times there are teachers that connect with new students and have a unique way of introducing them to the practice. Allow these teachers to share their gifts in this area, and take the time to refer new students to them.
Most pregnant women usually inform you how far along they are (if it is their first studio experience with you), and that they might do a modification of their own in class. They seem to be very informed with prior research on posture adaptations and major positions to avoid. So, even if they do not ask, it is appreciated when you offer specialized courses or teachers for them. With every bit of advice or encouragement, always end the conversation with “check this out with your doctor too.”
Students with physical and mental injuries or afflictions require a lot of love and attention. Some practitioners speak up about questions and alert you to aches, pains or mood disturbances. Others you only may notice as you walk around the room during class.
Take the time to learn a few modifications for the most common physical (shoulder pain, lower back injuries, knee problems, and ankle issues) and mental (anxiety, non-clinical depression, stress), but have a comfortable line ready to refer them if their question or behavior in class seems to surpass your level of comfort. Think of a gentle way to offer a recommendation to another teacher with a similar injury, specialty in anatomy or focus in mental afflictions. Reiterate to ask their doctor as well, but especially if you do not know specialist within your yoga community.
Focus on Your Strongest Niches
Understand where you feel most calm, at peace and energized in styles of yoga that you teach. These are your home bases. Take the time to learn everything you can about these niches, talk to your students after class, and others may begin to refer to you when they have questions or practitioners that require more knowledge in these areas.
When aches, pains or life experience occur on your own journey (bodily injuries or pregnancy), take them as an opportunity to become well versed in the area. Students respect and trust someone that has coped with a similar bodily injury or life experience, and will want to learn from your process.
Wrap Your Referral with the Gift of Other Offerings
Love yourself and your students enough to continue your own education. If a student walks into class and asks for modifications or to target mental care, offer your guidance, but don’t be afraid to recommend another teacher or medical professional with more experience. Supplement your referral with recommendations in other resources such as books, videos and specialty classes, and take the time later to look up important modifications to have on hand for the future if you feel a bit rusty. There is nothing wrong with admitting that while you are a trained instructor, your specialty lies elsewhere, and you don’t have the experience with a specific topic to feel comfortable as an authority on the subject.
Teachers may feel a need to be authoritative in all subjects of yoga, but students will understand you can’t be an expert in every practice or situation. It takes more love to refer your students to another practitioner or medical professional with experience in the area. At the same time let them know the areas you are well versed in, in case they have future questions in that yoga subject.
Never stop looking for opportunities to expand your knowledge. If you feel uncomfortable with certain modifications, but it comes up consistently as a question, have a few modifications on hand. Just take the time to offer a referral after class to supplement your adjustment.
To Refer a Student Comes from a Place of Love and Truth
Continually learn and explore. Take new classes, hang out with other yoga teachers, find a yoga mentor, and read yoga articles and books. Fascinate yourself with the diversity of this practice and the number of afflictions that it unlocks. Practice your referral conversation so it feels natural and filled with love.
As a teacher you affect the lives of your students and those around them. Your students will thank you for the love behind your referral.
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