December 10, 2014

I am a Yoga Teacher, Not a Doctor.

Courtesy of Author (Kelly Stine)

Two things that really shocked me when I first started teaching were: 1) how much personal stuff your students want to tell you, and 2) the topics on which students want advice.

I have heard all kinds of questions from students—ranging from what they should eat to how they should deal with an unhappy marriage.

Effective spiritual leaders have a way of connecting with the world that appears all-knowing, but we are not all-knowing.

In fact, most of us are working through many of the same issues as our students.

So, I say this for students and teachers alike, there are a lot of things yoga teachers don’t know.

Here are a few things that yoga teachers are not.

1. Doctors

A yoga teacher is not a doctor.

You have chronic stomach pain? You’ve had numbness in your left hand for the last week?

Call your doctors and tell them.

I hear students ask their yoga teachers medical questions all the time. What’s scarier is some yoga teachers answer them.


My husband is a physician and even he won’t weigh-in on medical questions unless he’s in the office.

There are so many reasons why someone may present certain symptoms that even a professional needs to examine and run tests before making a proper diagnosis.

A yoga teacher is not-even-close-to-qualified to answer your medical questions. Students shouldn’t ask and teachers should politely direct them to their physician.

If your doctor has given advice you don’t like, seek another professional opinion (one other than your yoga teacher’s).

2. Nutritionists

As people, we all wear many hats.

Many yoga teachers have some education in nutrition. However, when in a yoga classroom, yoga teachers are not nutritionists even if they have some knowledge.

People have many factors that affect their nutrient requirements (age, activity level, life style, weight, genetics, medical history, pregnant/nursing).

A yoga teacher should not have access to this information about you, so, even if they have training in nutrition, they cannot (should not) coach your eating habits.

Think you want to cut out gluten? Want to try a cleanse? Interested in juicing? Cool!

You need to investigate the pros and cons of making that dietary shift by reading well-researched articles or speaking with a dietitian

If your yoga teacher is a professional dietitian great!

Make an appointment and see them outside the yoga studio.

3. Pharmacists

I’m actually guilty of this one. I’ve directed people to take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (i.e. ibuprofen) for pain or inflammation both as a yoga teacher and a personal trainer.

Thankfully, my advice has never come back to bite me in the ass (yet).

Yoga teachers are not pharmacists.

Participating in a detox or taking supplements, vitamins or any over-the-counter medications is risky unless you have been advised by a doctor or pharmacist.

Most herbal detoxes, vitamins and supplements are not regulated by the FDA and can be exposed to other potentially harmful materials not included on the ingredients label.

It is important that you speak with a professional who can direct you towards reputable brands.

4. Friends

This is the hardest one to hear, but for a healthy student/teacher relationship it is important to honor the relationship as a mentorship.

Your yoga teacher is not your friend.

Yoga teachers try to be all these things because there is a deep desire to educate and help people.

That’s why we all become yoga teachers in the first place. We see people in need and want to be a part of the solution.

But, giving advice that we are not qualified to give can not only cause harm to the individual, it can also spread misinformation that negatively affects others.

What can yoga teachers do?

Well, we can teach asana and we can help our students integrate yoga philosophy into their lives.

Experiencing knee pain in warrior two? We can adjust your alignment.

Can’t reach the floor in triangle? We can offer modifications.

Want to attempt a drop back to where? We can assist you.

Experiencing a lot of resistance in your yoga practice?  We can speak to finding ease.

The point is that our role is to teach yoga—to create a safe, supportive space for you to embark upon your own journey of self-discovery.

If that journey reveals other aspects of your life that need to be addressed, that’s a great awareness; but, they need to be handled by those who have the expertise and knowledge to address them properly.


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Author: Kelly Stine

Apprentice Editor: Brandie Smith/Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Courtesy of the Author


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