Being a yoga teacher is one of those professions that people who work desk jobs dream about. I have worked as a yoga teacher for several years, and it is the easiest job I have ever had. I never have to answer the phone and I became crazy fit assisting people every day. But yoga teachers make mere ducats and when you have a super easy job, you tend to lose respect from people who actually do shit with their lives.

I have met a lot of different people teaching yoga, and I think I have learned a few things about how people work. Here is some advice for yoga students, new and experienced:

Everybody hurts

So true, Michael Stipe, so true. From the stiffest person, to the most graceful swan – everyone is in pain. Or at least they like to complain about it. ALL THE TIME. I’m not trying to be insensitive because having a sore knee or a broken toe really sucks. But I think part of having a body is being uncomfortable sometimes. Pain is like the weather. It is a conversation starter and a fact of life. If you went out in the snow in your bathing suit, you would probably suffer. Just like if your knee is sore and you crank it into the same position day after day, guess what? You will suffer. Don’t be that crazy person who wears shorts and sandals all winter long. Accept your pain and the weather on any given day and prepare accordingly.

Sometimes physical pain is a manifestation of your internal weather system. Grief, anxiety and anger sit in the body in different ways. I have noticed that anxiety and anger often linger in the shoulder girdle and loss stays in the hips. I am not sure why. Emotional pain and turmoil is a tangled web, and I believe yoga can help the process of untangling. Many people find practicing yoga brings up big feelings, and conversely, many people use yoga to avoid dealing with trauma. It is called spiritual bypassing, and I would strongly recommend checking in with yourself to make sure you aren’t using yoga to get out of doing the really gross, dirty emotional work.

How you deal with perceived competition is a reflection of how you cope in life

Feeling competitive in a yoga class is a thing; everyone feels it at some point. I have met people who have cried and complained over and over again about not being able to put their legs behind their heads. I have met students who have struggled with very simple actions but seem to be okay with the struggle. Those people don’t talk much – they just sit with it, and, for the most part, don’t compare themselves to others. Often those students are insanely successful in their personal and professional lives.

When you can’t put things into perspective, it starts to erode your worldview. Like most poses, or asanas, the ability to do them or not has no real value. When you feel competitive in class, ask yourself: how useful to my life is showing off this pose? And then repeat this mantra: Yoga is internal.

Besides, putting your legs behind your head can be fun to show your partner for about five seconds until you realize it creates about a million fat folds in your belly.

Everyone can benefit from yoga (but maybe not in the way you think)

The whole point of yoga isn’t to benefit your own beautiful self. Yoga is a tool to help you serve others. The only benefit to your yoga practice should be the care and love you give to the people around you. However, getting people to pay money to do something difficult that isn’t supposed to directly benefit them is a hard sell. And I think this might be why us yoga teachers like to talk a big talk about getting stronger or more flexible. If I am being honest, I would say that any physical activity you do a few times a week would probably make you stronger and more flexible. When the people you love start asking you to go to yoga, it means it is probably working.

Distrust is healthy, sometimes

I think it is smart to have a mild distrust of any spiritual teacher, particularly in the beginning of your teacher/student relationship. If you can’t ask your teacher a hard question about the practice or the teaching, then there might be an issue. Engaging in any kind of spiritual discipline doesn’t involve becoming a sheep. Our practice should make us sharp and curious.

In the yoga world, there is a lot of backlash against teachers who make money. One student actually told me that yoga teachers shouldn’t ask for any money at all. Last time I checked, yoga teachers are humans and need to eat. Most of us can’t live on air and we aren’t renunciates who live in caves. The appearance of material wealth should not be an indicator of authenticity, but if you think your teacher is demanding too much money then ask some hard questions.

I hope this helps next time you go to yoga class.