Delving into the many yoga teaching topics is a joy. But the dilemma we all face is an overabundance of information.
If you are researching ways to continuously improve as a teacher, we offer the most organized resources you’ll find. But still, even on our site, there’s likely more than you could get through in this lifetime.
We recognize that the challenge and opportunity of our lives is to mindfully choose how to spend our precious time and energy. We’re dedicated to helping maximize your time.
If you’re wondering where to start or which direction would be best for you, here we offer brief guides to help you choose where to focus to most efficiently meet your particular needs. Whether you “know what you don’t know” or “don’t know what you don’t know,” we can help you efficiently grow your knowledge and skills.
In most cases, the links are for content provided to members only, but we include the guides here in Free Resources to give any interested teachers a sense for the topic and how you might think about it.
Please don’t hesitate to write us if there’s more we can do to help.
We offer a library of what might be called Warm-Up Practices. It includes stretches, asana variations and flows (or mini-vinyasas).
In this 4-minute audio guide, you’ll get a quick overview of the type of tools available and how to efficiently find what you’re looking for.
The practices are organized by target anatomy:
In this 6-minute audio guide, you’ll get a quick overview of the type of content and tools available and get advice on where to start. And, then, based on your interests and needs, learn how to choose an optimum path of study and focus.
See below for more information on what each includes.
Explain what is included in the musculoskeletal system and what it does. Define and explain the function of bones, joints and muscles. Name and describe the different types of joints and muscles.
Define flexibility and factors that may limit flexibility. Explain what happens to a person’s muscles when anesthetized and the significance of this. Describe what happens when personal ROM limits are reached. Define three possible muscles states. Explain what is meant by “a tensile load” and provide the benefits of stretching. Define and give an example of the following types of stretching: passive / passive static, active / active static, dynamic, resistance and PNF.
Explain the significance of the fact that reflexes relevant to stretching are spinal reflexes. Name the three spinal reflexes related to stretching and give other names for the Stretch Reflex. Describe the purpose and muscular effect of the Stretch Reflex, and how this knowledge can be applied to practice. Provide another name for the Golgi Tendon Reflex and explain what the Golgi tendon organs. Describe the muscular effect of the Golgi Tendon Reflex and a way to stimulate the Golgi tendon organs. Describe Reciprocal Inhibition and how knowledge of the process of Reciprocal Inhibition can be used to deepen a stretch.
Describe how very flexible students might redirect their focus during stretching to guard against pursuing “flexibility for its own sake.” Name six signs that could indicate overstretching. Explain stretching practices that do not improve flexibility. Explain how muscles are not elastic, and why this is important. Name two safe and effective ways to improve flexibility and explain how mindfulness and visualization contribute to effective stretching. Explain why even though a vinyasa or short static hold of a pose can warm you up and make it easier to stretch, this isn’t enough to improve flexibility. Explain why long holds are necessary for addressing postural tension and making flexibility gains. Describe progressive deepening techniques and provide other expert recommendations that will contribute to effective stretching. Provide examples of myofascial release techniques and explain when myofascial release is recommended relative to a regular practice.
Some teachers may not ask students about their individual situations because they don’t know what to do with the information they receive. It can feel safer to not know if you aren’t confident in your knowledge of how to respond. If that is true for you, consider these recommendations:
We recommend that you follow an intentional path of study. First, study foundational anatomy and physiology that is necessary to fully understand teachings around injuries and conditions:
- Studying & Teaching Anatomy & Physiology Become familiar with priorities and guidelines for studying and utilizing knowledge of anatomy and physiology in teaching.
- Musculoskeletal System Intro Gain an understanding of the foundational anatomy of the musculoskeletal system.
- Movement Terminology Learn terminology that describes anatomical movements and location.
- Muscle Movement & Contraction Gain an understanding of how muscles move and learn the related terminology.
- Joint Movements & Mobility Become familiar with foundational terminology related to joint movements, learn factors that affect joint mobility, and review the normal ranges of motion for various joints.
- Key Muscle Pairs in Movement Acquire knowledge of key agonist/antagonist muscle pairs in major joint movements, and name poses that utilize them.
- The Spine & The Back: Form & Function Become proficient in the anatomical descriptions and names for the regions of the spinal column.
- Spinal Functions Learn the functions of the spine and the attributes of a healthy spine.
- Spinal Movements Become proficient in using accurate terminology related to spinal movements.
- The Spine Potential Issues Become knowledgeable about spinal issues such as thoracic mobility issues, hyperlordosis and kyphosis, and the vast variety of potential causal factors.
- The Spine Teaching Considerations Apply knowledge of a healthy spine and compensatory movement patterns to support effective teaching of asana.
- Core Form & Function Gain an understanding of the foundational anatomy of the core, including the function of the individual muscles and the core as a whole.
- Core Fundamental Teachings Become proficient in choosing practices and verbalizing teachings to promote a balanced, healthy core.
- Nervous System Overview Gain an understanding of the foundational anatomy and physiology of the nervous system.
- The Vagus Nerve Become familiar with the significance of vagal tone in the experience of stress and the effectiveness of yoga techniques.
- Stress & Relaxation Response Understand the functioning of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, and the workings of the Stress Response, Fight or Flight Response and Relaxation Response.
- Why Yoga Works Become proficient in communicating how yoga practices impact the nervous system and why this is a critical factor in the positive results from yoga practice.
- Respiratory Anatomy Gain an understanding of the foundational physiology of the respiratory system.
- Respiratory Anatomy Part 2 Become familiar with the nasal cycle and lungs, plus the differentiation between primary and accessory respiratory muscles and the muscles used for inspiration and for expiration.
- How Yoga Supports Health Become competent in specifying the ways that yoga supports health from various perspectives.
- Trauma & PTSD Introduction Understand the specific and profound effects of trauma.
- Trauma Aware Teaching Become familiar with foundational considerations related to trauma-sensitive teaching, and review specific tactics for promoting emotional and psychological safety in the classroom.
- About Injuries & Conditions in Yoga Become knowledgeable in injury prevention and ways to accommodate students who have injuries and conditions.
- About Contraindications & Alternatives Learn the importance of knowing and utilizing contraindications and cautions, and understand how to wisely choose alternatives.
- Contraindications Index Become familiar with the Yoga Teacher Central Contraindications Index and understand the necessity of having contraindications on hand when teaching.
- When to Refer Out Know when it’s advisable to refer students out for diagnosis or individual assessment and how to be prepared to do so.
- Mindful Asana Transitions Become proficient in teaching mindful asana
- Flexibility & Stretching Introduction Understand what limits flexibility (including connective tissue and the nervous system) and gain a deeper understanding of stretching.
- About Sensation & Pain Explore the complexity of pain and understand how to use this knowledge when teaching asana.
The goal is to offer you a clear path of study for increasing your proficiency — not to be overwhelming. And yet, the anatomy recommendation list is fairly long. Here’s why:
Understanding those key topics should make learning about injuries and conditions come more naturally. In addition to factual knowledge, you’ll have an informed perspective overall. That perspective that will lead to you to be more capable of making informed teaching decisions as various situations come up.
Next, develop your knowledge and practice in order to be prepared to respond to the conditions for which it would be reasonably expected that a yoga teacher is prepared to support. We propose this list:
There is always more to learn but we think that if you work hard to be educated on these topics, you will greatly increase your confidence and skill in optimally supporting all students, and you will meet the expectations of most students.
Teachers with more interest can go on to learn about many more topics.
An unspoken assumption of many drop-in asana classes is that the class and teaching is meant for relatively healthy people and that students know how and when to adapt their practice.
In our resources covering specific conditions, we offer all information and support we think you’ll find of value, but our primary concern is clarity around how to respond as a teacher.
We suggest you prioritize learning such facts as:
By providing such information in efficient ways, we’re striving to empower you to more effectively and efficiently grow your teaching skill.
Here we bring together — in one place — the similarities, differences and occasional conflicts in advice among experts. We hope you’ll feel more prepared by being able to consider such information and how it fits with your own education, training, and experience.
It’s such a pleasure having expert sources at our fingertips! You’ll find direct links to expert articles and specific page references in critical texts — all organized by teaching topics and particular conditions.
In our coverage on each particular condition, we offer specific cautions and considerations. In addition, please note these general cautions:
Avoid making your personal experience overly influential in your attitude and approach about the power of yoga to address student issues.
We are not proposing that yoga isn’t truly powerful or that inspirational stories should be avoided, but that the influence of a teacher can be greater than you realize. As such, care should be taken to help each student treat themselves as the individual they are. One person may get the desired results from a drop-in class with asana and pranayama practice. Another may need a specialized therapeutic yoga approach. Either of them may also benefit from physical therapy, psychotherapy, Western medicine support, chiropractic, acupuncture, etc.
Yoga is Not Health Insurance
Obviously, we wouldn’t have started this blog if we didn’t all believe that yoga was a powerful tool for fostering healthy aging. And we continue to believe that is true. But we don’t for a second believe that yoga is our health insurance, or that it should be yours. – Nina Zolotow, Yoga for Times of Change, Yoga is My Health Insurance—Not! link
Avoid putting yourself or your student at risk: whenever in doubt, resist prescribing or generalizing beyond your areas of expertise or experience.
Please, please do not take this information as “gospel” or put yourself or your students at risk by making advisements outside your areas of expertise. When faced with injuries & conditions among students in a drop-in class, teachers should consider their own training and experience as well as the cautions and potential dangers of the particular conditions. We are merely endeavoring to compile common expert advice to support you because we know it’s common to face such conditions. Please know that we wish to support you, not provide training. Unless trained in yoga therapy, teachers are usually advised against “prescribing” particular asanas to address specific conditions. Instead, sequences that are well-rounded and intentional are generally considered “therapeutic” in nature. And yet it’s also true that teachers are devising sequences, adapting poses and making recommendations to address what they are faced with. We hope you find this compilation helpful.