When is it appropriate to correct someone’s asana practice?
It can be quite painful to watch a fellow yogi doing a posture incorrectly. It can be even more challenging to watch someone doing yoga in a way that is causing them harm. (e.g. Doing upward dog with your toes tucked under, putting pressure on the lower back).
When is it appropriate to say something?
Over the years I have made comments to strangers about how to improve their asana practice or avoid injury. In return, I have received many different reactions from people. Most people are excited for the attention and for an opportunity to learn. Others, are embarrassed and feel judged for doing it incorrectly.
My advice is to know the audience you will be speaking to.
As a young woman, I have found that I am most likely to receive a negative response from an older man. It has become my policy to only speak to men between the age of 35-55 about their practice if I am first spoken to or directly receive a question.
I receive the best responses from women over the age of 40. So long as I am careful to smile, introduce myself as a personal trainer and yoga teacher, and ask if the individual is interested in some free coaching, I have never received a bad reaction. This demographic is usually eager to learn something and excited to be getting free information (at least from a fellow woman).
I almost always avoid speaking with people who appear to be in a bad mood. This is just common sense. Think about your own experiences. The times when I am least responsive to learning and guidance is when I am already in a funk. Why would I expect anything different of other people.
However, if it appears someone is in a bad mood because they are confused about how to do a pose, I am quick to offer suggestions. In this circumstance, prefacing advice with a joke is a nice way of breaking the ice. For example, if someone is struggling with headstand, I will throw in a story of accidentally somersaulting across a yoga room. People can relate to you if you tell a story that coincides with their fear.
Just to clarify, it is rarely, if ever, appropriate to correct someone’s asana practice during a class. My suggestions are intended for moments outside of a yoga classroom, for example in a stretching room of a gym. The only time that conversation is appropriate in a yoga class is when a teacher breaks a class in to groups for a workshop moment.
For many the idea of correcting someone’s asana practice feels like an intrusion of their privacy. I recommend respecting your own comfort zone. However, I truly believe we are all on this planet together and are here to help each other get through this thing called life in one piece. If you feel called to help someone, and it appears that they would be receptive to such assistance…go for it. Just be ready, you might not get the response you are expecting. You may even find yourself confronted with a new lesson, such as not taking the response of others personally. Alas, often the times when we believe we are the teacher in a situation, we become the student.
Lesson Learned: If you have good intentions and a clear instinct, respond to the call and help those in need. You might just make a new friend.