Yoga Los Angeles / Yoga Musings

Substitute Yoga Teachers

Last week, the teacher who normally teaches my favorite Sunday afternoon 2/3 Vinyasa Flow class was out of town, so the studio brought in a substitute teacher. The sub was well-trained and perfectly qualified to be there, but about fifteen minutes into the class, she said something which kind of riled me. She announced: “If you’re here expecting to get the kind of class that [regularly scheduled teacher] teaches, you’re not going to get it, so get over it.” At first, I was a little annoyed by this, but then I just dealt with it; after all, there was not much I could do at the moment, and, besides, there’s always something to be learned from different teachers. But this got me thinking: What, if any, responsibility does a substitute yoga teacher have in terms of teaching/mimicking the class style of the regular teacher?

In my experience, students develop a unique bond with their yoga teacher(s). I know when my favorite yoga teacher is out of town, I’m disappointed and can’t wait til he comes back. But I do try other teachers, and, in fact, my regular practice now consists of four different teachers, because I learn different things from each one. In other words, I appreciate a variety of teaching styles and approaches to yoga.

When there is a sub for one of my teachers, though, I do expect that the sub will make some effort to teach a class that is similar to the regular teacher’s class. In the end, a yoga studio is a business, and the students are the “paying customers”. I believe that customers ought to get what they pay for, and they ought to be informed about what it is that they are going to get when they agree to pay for a service or product. If I pay $20 for a 2/3 Vinyasa Flow class, and I have become accustomed to a certain sort of “product”–i.e. a sweaty, physically intense yoga class with a nice mix of vigorous flow, arm balances, inversions, and backbends–I expect that a temporary sub will provide a comparable product.

Some teachers, however, seem to think that a sub gig is an opportunity to promote themselves, and they do whatever it is that they want to do, with little or no regard for what the students want or expect out of a yoga class. I think this is a selfish way to teach, not to mention unprofessional. Of course, every teacher is unique, and you can’t reasonably expect a sub to be exactly the same as your regular teacher. But I do feel that a substitute yoga teacher ought to be aware of and sensitive to the students’ expectations, and the yoga studio ought to hire substitute teachers who are appropriate for the classes they sub. Unfortunately, this does not seem to (usually) be the case at the studio where I practice.

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10 thoughts on “Substitute Yoga Teachers

  1. Didi – it kind of depends where you live. If you’re in a City with yoga studios, they pretty much all offer “Beginner’s” or “Level 1” classes. Go to a few of these and see if you like it. It’s probably possible to start by watching DVDs or something, but if I had the choice there’s no way I would pick that over learning from a teacher. When I started I tried a bunch of different teachers at the beginning and found a couple I really liked. If money’s an issue try the YMCA, etc.

  2. Sounds to me like the teacher was talking to herself. That said, I think variety should be embraced. Truthfully I do not think a sub yoga teacher should have to teach the same class as the regular teacher. How could they? They are a different person, different ideas about yoga, and a sub is an opportunity to be with and learn from someone new.

  3. I can relate, a bit, to the sub. I’ve actually stopped subbing because the reception can be so cold, even hostile. But all teachers have to sub, at some point. The sub was probably picking up on the vibe of the room. Remember it’s 20 people looking up at her, and not just you. I do disagree with, however, her approach. A more positive spin could have been used. Something like, ” I know this is going to be a little different than what you’re used to. But please keep an open mind, we may just learn something new together.” Or what have you. I used to emphasize that we were both experiencing this for the first time, and that I was learning from them too. Of course it does help to try out the teacher you’re subbing for, but in some ways this makes it more difficult if it’s just too far from your own teaching methodology. Sometimes it’s just good to remember that you’re there to teach, and that if you weren’t the students would be going without any class at all.

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