One of the more anxiety-inducing things I struggled with when I started to teach yoga was remembering my sequence of poses. The fear of doing a disservice to students—and embarrassing myself—by forgetting something caused me to spend hours and hours researching, memorizing, and practicing before each class. I would even write the sequence and cues down in little notebooks that I kept in my glovebox so I could review them outside the studio. As I hurriedly took myself through the sequence, students would walk by my parked car and cast curious glances at my flailing arms.
Funny how I always seemed to nail it when I was alone in my car. But standing in that studio in front of a room full of faces staring at me expectantly, that didn’t always happen. The first time I spaced on teaching the second side of a pose, my stomach dropped, the blood drained from my face, and I’m pretty sure I felt physical pain. I circled back to do the pose even though it was a standing pose and by the time I realized what had happened we were already seated on the mat during the cool down. I was so embarrassed, I think I actually apologized to students as they left.
After fifteen years of teaching yoga, forgetting a pose might actually be the least embarrassing thing that has happened to me during class. Not only do miscues and mishaps happen, they occur with some frequency. And not just for me. “Forgetting flows and fumbling words are weekly occurrences,” says Sarah White, who teaches classes in Dubai and leads online creative sequencing trainings. She’s not wrong.
But there are goofs and there are gaffes. Whether fashion malfunctions, farts, or flashings, some lapses in memory or judgment simply seem to stand out more than others. Whenever we witness our teachers make a blunder, we are reminded that they, too, are human. And when they laugh and carry on, we are reminded to be self-accepting, which is something that’s way more valuable than any physical pose.
Following are some of the most embarrassing—and human—things that can happen to a yoga teacher as they lead you through your practice.
The Most Embarrassing Things That Can Happen to Yoga Teachers
1. Missed Mic Check
Early in 2020, many yoga teachers had to quickly pivot to teaching online. That demanded a crash course in cameras, lights, and audio equipment. San Francisco-based teacher Jack Workman was psyched to try out a new mic and had it set up and ready to go before class…and then he decided to take a quick trip to the loo. When he returned to his computer, he noticed several students sniggering. He quickly realized he had left his mic on the entire time he was, well, you know.
What You Can Do If It Happens To You: Don’t trust yourself to remember to hit mute? Get into the habit of taking the mic off your body before stepping away for a bathroom break. If students do hear a little too much of your business, you can always joke, “Be glad the camera wasn’t on.” Also, consider removing the mic anytime you’re not actively teaching. Those intensely personal comments or expletives you drop to someone off-camera could otherwise be broadcast to your class.
2. Innocence to Innuendo
We all misstate things. Sometimes verbal slippages are slight, such as cueing “knees over hips” instead of vice-versa. Sometimes they’re a little more complex.
Milan Sundaresan, a yoga teacher as well as immigration and human rights attorney in San Francisco, typically closes her vinyasa classes with the words, “May you live with passion, may you live with joy, and may you live in peace.” One particularly sleep-deprived week, she paused before the end while her brain struggled to find the correct words, then managed to say “…REST in peace.” Her students still laugh about it.
Chicago-based Claire Mark has been teaching yoga for more than 20 years, which translates to literally thousands of classes—and ample opportunities to flub a cue. The one that continues to haunt her is when she meant to say “reach your fingertips to the ceiling” but instead said “finger tits.”
And Jenny Clise, a yoga therapist in San Francisco, still recalls the time she meant to say “set yourself up for success” and actually told her students to “set yourself up for sex.”
What You Can Do If It Happens To You: When words that are intended as innocent come out as innuendo, chances are everyone will simply want to chuckle. That should include you.
3. Wardrobe Malfunctions
Many teachers unintentionally court disaster by wearing not-so-snug bras or loose, billowy tops that fall forward during inversions. Mark once had her chest pop out while workshopping a pose because her shirt was cut a little lower than she had thought. Oops.
Leta LaVigne, founder of yogaRocks in Finland, has experienced a similar situation. The culprit? “Definitely that one too-loose sports bra that I still wear anyway when laundry needs to be done,” she says.
Note: The perilousness of such wardrobe selections also applies to students, not just teachers. Take caution!
What You Can Do If It Happens To You: Unless everyone happens to be watching you demo a pose, chances are they didn’t witness your blooper. Tuck yourself back in and continue your practice.
4. Lewd Lyrics
In the months after graduating from yoga teacher training, Renee Marie Schettler often included Amy Winehouse performing “Back to Black” in her playlists. “I prefer lesser-known acoustic tracks and there was a quiet tension in that particular version that I loved,” says Schettler, who later became a senior editor at Yoga Journal. “It was uncensored. I knew better. Yet I would take my chances and turn the volume down and talk loudly over the part where she refers to, um, the male anatomy.”
Then came an eleventh-hour request to sub one Saturday. “I was anxious and I let myself get distracted by trying to recall the sequence and my cues and be humorous and pay attention to the students. And I completely forgot to talk over the lyric. In fact, I stopped talking just before the lyric. The word just hung there in the silence.”
It would have been inappropriate but forgettable had there not been a 12-year-old in class, says Schettler. “Her mom did not look pleased. Understandably. It was not the type of quiet tension I had intended.”
What You Can Do If It Happens To You: Off-color lyrics don’t sound half as bad in the car as they do in the quiet sanctity of a yoga class. If the lyrics need to be censored, they probably have no place in your playlist.
5. Incendiary Incense
Yogi Bryan, who teaches yoga and meditation online and around the country, considers himself an incense enthusiast. He was psyched to try out a new incense holder during an online class and was enjoying the aroma…until he realized he might be catching a whiff of something more. When he turned to look, he realized the holder was leaking oil and had caught fire. He calmly blew on it. That didn’t help. Attempting to remain at ease and not disrupt the low-key vibe for students, he poured a little water from his bottle on it. That didn’t go as planned.
“The water made the fire explode three feet in the air until it completely went out,” says Yogi Bryan, who was unharmed during the incident. (You can watch the entire thing.)
Sometimes where there is smoke, there is no fire. Tamara Jeffries, also a senior editor at Yoga Journal, was teaching online when her room—and her on-screen Zoom box—filled with smoke from a smudge stick that kept smoldering. The huge black hole in her beige carpet is a reminder not to make that mistake again.
What You Can Do If It Happens To You: “We can’t take our yoga practice too seriously but we need to take incense burners seriously,” says Yogi Bryan, only half-jokingly. Some yoga studios ban incense and candles. If you use them, you probably want to ensure they’re not on the floor, where they could be knocked over, and that they’re not within several feet of fabric. Never leave a room unattended if there are lit candles or incense.
6. Falling Out of a Pose
Ashlee McDougall, a yoga teacher and chronic-illness advocate who owns Yoga Loft in Tucson, wasn’t feeling particularly tired or unwell the day she decided to demo Pincha Mayurasana (Forearm Balance) for her class. Quite the contrary. “I went into it with fulllllll confidence,” wrote McDougall in a message.
Except she promptly fell out of the pose, crashing on her head. She was fine, although she wasn’t so certain about her students’ consequent relationship to the pose. “No one else attempted Pincha that day,” she says. McDougall doesn’t include that pose in her classes anymore. “I don’t teach it because it’s not accessible,” she says. “I dropped the idea that people could just balance, upside-down, on their forearms.”
Kristin McGee fell out of a pose, too. But when she toppled backward out of Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose), she was teaching class in front of literally hundreds of students via the streaming platform Peloton. McGee quietly picked herself up and came back into the pose. She feels that demonstrating resilience was a more essential lesson for students than if she had held the posture perfectly. “It’s not about preventing the fall,” she says. “It’s actually about embracing it and learning how to bounce back.”
What You Can Do If It Happens To You: Although falling out of a pose might seem to detract from your teaching, it can actually enhance it. Helping students see the humanness and the humor in the situation can help cushion the fall. “When I used to teach yoga to kids in schools, I’d fall out of poses on purpose so they wouldn’t get too type A about it,” says Sarah Herrington, who leads yoga classes and mindful writing workshops in New York City.
7. Gong Show
It can be hard to resist the temptation to share something new—a pose, transition, cue, even sound instrument—right away. “I was all excited to test my first Tibetan singing bowl,” says LaVigne. “The class was deeply relaxed in Savasana and the room was so quiet. I wanted to use it to gently signal the end of Savasana but I hadn’t actually tested how to hit it. I took the wooden thing and gave it a really good whack. It was SOOOO loud! A total shock. One gentleman told me afterward that he saw stars.”
Perhaps enthusiasm and anxiety are just different sides of the same coin. “When I first started teaching, I was trying to lead a class through alternate nostril breathing but I was nervous,” says Herrington. “I said something about starting on the right side and what to do with that nostril, the first nostril. Then I mentioned the second nostril. And then I said something about the third nostril.” Herrington caught her mistake and promptly made a joke about that instruction being “for the aliens in the room.’”
What You Can Do If It Happens To You: Practice, practice, practice. “As a newer teacher, I learned to practice how to explain things more at home first before I got in front of a large group,” says Herrington.
8. Graceful On the Mat, Clumsy AF Off It
“When I first started teaching, someone had their water in a Mason jar instead of a bottle and I accidentally knocked it over and spilled it everywhere,” says Clise, noting that’s probably her “most tasteful embarrassing moment.” Fortunately, yoga blankets are relatively absorbent.
Not all accidents are so easily fixed. Schettler was teaching a candlelit class, slowly walking in between mats, when she felt—and heard—a crunch. In the dim lighting, she hadn’t seen a pair of glasses set off to the side of a mat.
What You Can Do If It Happens To You: Schettler whispered an apology to the student during class and asked to pay for the repair after class. The student reassured her the lenses were fine and the frame was just slightly bent.
When things like this happens, both teachers and students learn a lesson: Keeping a careful watch on more than students’ bodies and keeping personal possessions near the perimeter of your mat.
9. Playlist Panic
Desi Bartlett, a pre- and post-natal teacher, had just settled students in Savasana during a private class for high-powered attorneys when her soothing playlist of devotional music ended a little sooner than expected…and Salt-N-Pepa‘s “Push It” started blasting from her birthing playlist. A mother of two, Bartlett is accustomed to having quick reflexes. She immediately reached for her phone to switch playlists while her students collapsed into laughter.
What You Can Do If It Happens To You: Almost every teacher has had a moment of calm interrupted by a playlist that was accidentally on shuffle or autoplay. It happens. That moment of levity might actually be as beneficial as the yoga.
10. Fashion Fail
Early morning yoga classes can be tricky. “You’re getting ready while half asleep and pretty much in the dark,” says White. “I’ve taught an entire class with my pants inside out. I didn’t even realize until I’d gotten to my next client and they told me.”
The same thing happened to Rachel Land, New Zealand-based yoga teacher and co-host of the Yoga Medicine podcast. “I was in Malasana (Squat) facing the students, and looked down to see my tights inside-out, with a big white triangle of lining cloth clearly visible. I immediately pointed it out to the students, had a good laugh, and turned sideways for the rest of the class.”
Several teachers shared stories of leggings with ripped seams at the crotch, including Christina Muruato, who didn’t realize anything was amiss. But one of her students certainly did. “She noticed mid-class and was trying to signal me, but I thought she was asking for modifications on the poses so I just kept on with my verbal cues,” says the Phoenix-based yoga teacher and founder of Delasol Yoga. “Luckily, I had underwear on, but they were a nude color so it definitely looked like I was showing more than I was. So embarrassing!”
You don’t need to be wearing your clothes for them to malfunction. “I teach hot yoga, so I try to change if I’m teaching three hot classes back-to-back,” says London-based Bianca Butler. “I was walking toward the bathroom with my knapsack and reached into it to grab something. I didn’t notice until the other teacher said, ‘I think you dropped these,’ that my spare undies were on the floor in front of the studio owner and students.”
Sometimes the fashion misstatement is forced on you. Tamika Caston-Miller once forgot to pack her teaching clothes before class. Unfortunately, the studio where she was teaching failed to carry an array of clothing for all body types. This left Caston-Miller, who currently owns the inclusive Ashé Yoga studio, with only one leggings option. It was bad enough that they were a poor fit and not in her preferred color palette. But after class she learned that the pants were entirely see-through, revealing her flowery undergarments each time she bent over.
What You Can Do If It Happens To You: Caston-Miller test drives new leggings before she buys them, bending and stretching in front of a mirror. If you teach regularly, you might want to keep a bag with a backup outfit in your vehicle…just be attentive as you reach in and pull something out!
11. Bathroom Break
You know when you think you should use the restroom before class but then you think, “I’ll be fine,” but then 30 minutes later you’re not? That happened to Stephanie Acosta, a yoga teacher for Y7 in New York City, the first year she was teaching. Even then, she thought, I can make it…only to realize a few minutes later she couldn’t. “Luckily, I had another teacher in the class, so I went over to her and whispered, ‘I really have to pee. Can you just teach the other side?’ And she was like, “Yeah, I got you.” And I literally ran to the back of the studio to the restroom. When I got out, everyone was laughing, and I laughed along with them and said, “When you gotta go, you gotta go!”
What You Can Do If It Happens To You: Take those two minutes before class to hit the loo. Just be certain to mute that mic.)
12. Snoozing During Savasana
It’s not uncommon for students to fall asleep during Savasana. It’s not unheard of for teachers to doze off, too. Yogi Aaron, the author of Stop Stretching! A New Yogic Approach To Master Your Body and Live Pain-Free, had arrived back home after a long flight from India earlier in the day and was teaching an evening class. As he cued students into Savasana, he settled onto his mat as well. A student jostled him awake 30 minutes later asking if class was over.
What You Can Do If It Happens To You: The entire class agreed it was the best Savasana they’d ever had—albeit, in the words of one student, “a little long.” If it’s financially feasible for you, find coverage for any classes that coincide with your travel days. Same applies for when you’re sick or exhausted. Or you may choose not to lie down for Savasana.
13. Venting Voice Mails
Most teachers stream their playlists by syncing their phone with the studio’s audio system. There are technical glitches that can occur, but it usually works fairly well…unless you happen to be listening to a voice mail from a girlfriend before class as you sync your phone and her venting and f-bombs about the guy she’s dating are broadcast to your entire class. That’s exactly what happened to Acosta, who immediately yanked her phone away from the system and started apologizing to students.
“I was a trying to lighten the mood,” said Acosta, “and I apologized for my friend and started to explain ‘I’ve been telling her that she’s gotta get rid of him.” But she was interrupted by several students who rallied around her friend, wanting to hear more of the story and dropping a few f-bombs of their own.
“An older woman in the front row said, ‘Whatever she said he did, he did it,’ and then another woman said, ‘I hope your girl gets rid of him.’” Yoga is nothing if not a community.
What You Can Do If It Happens To You: Acosta was concerned about the lasting impression of the incident, but she needn’t have been. One of the students who was new to her class that day has been attending her class ever since, and at one point told Acosta, “The way you handled that, I knew that you were the teacher for me.” The truth and humor works.
14. Trust Fall
Sometimes teachers place hands on students to help them find a more intense stretch or to indicate safer alignment in a pose. This can sometimes backfire, as White experienced with a client during a private class. “She was in a reclining figure 4 stretch with her foot on my thigh, I was leaning toward her, and for some reason, I told her to release without taking my weight from her,” recalls White. “I ended up nearly crashing on her!”
The student, with whom she had a longstanding relationship, was unharmed and, thankfully, amused. “We laughed,” says White, “She was like, ‘I thought it was strange but I just trusted you so I did it!”
What You Can Do If It Happens To You: Your students’ well-being is always your first concern. Check to see whether they’re injured and, if so, handle it as you would any injury in class. And don’t offer a litany of excuses when you apologize or expect your student to make you feel better.
15. Adjustments Gone Awry
“I was teaching a candlelight yoga class at a studio where we tried to give everyone a Savasana adjustment,” explains Clise. “It was really hard to see the students and one of them was wearing a black t-shirt. When I went to press down on her shoulders, I accidentally placed my hands on her boobs and she whispered to me, ‘At least buy me dinner first.’
We both started crying, we were laughing so hard. I was thankful she knew me and realized that it was an accident.”
What You Can Do If It Happens To You: As Clise learned, err on the side of caution any time you make physical contact with students with your hands or any part of your body. Also, remain mindful and respectful of their personal space as you move among a crowded studio where you could inadvertently bump into someone.
Note from Yoga Journal editors: This anecdote had a fortunate ending, although unwanted physical touch in yoga classes is a very serious matter. Many studios encourage students to let teachers know before class if they prefer not to receive an adjustment. If you feel that you have experienced intentionally inappropriate touch in a yoga class, we encourage you to reach out to the studio manager.
16. The Gift of Gab
Sometimes teachers mean to help by adding more words to clarify…but end up doing the opposite. “I introduced a new prop variation—placing a block between the heel and butt in an initial stage for Natarajasana (Dancer Pose)—and I was attempting to explain how the tendency is to drop the block by straightening the knee when doing hip circles,” says Allison Ray Jeraci, a yoga teacher who likes to offer unexpected options for poses. “I was doing well up to that point. Then I told them it was ‘like a game of Pac-Man where your heel is Pac-Man and the block is the bead and you want to continue to move your Pac-Man into your block.’”
Jeraci says the entire class just stared at her. Then everyone—including her—broke into laughter. “It was one of those times where I didn’t need to continue to explain my metaphor but I just kept going and digging myself deeper.”
What You Can Do If It Happens To You: “Most of the time, less is more, says Jeraci. “But when you go for more, at least hope it makes everyone laugh!”
17. Loving Kindness Cockroach Meditation
“It was the beginning of class at a studio where I used to teach and I was giving my dharma talk,” says Neeti Narula, a yoga and meditation teacher in New York City. “Suddenly a student jumped up excitedly. I thought maybe she was really getting into what I was explaining! Then she said, ‘I’m so sorry, but there’s a huge cockroach!’”
What You Can Do If It Happens To You: “Well, I wasn’t going to squish a cockroach in a yoga class,” says Narula. “But I also wasn’t going to send it loving kindness. I’m terrified of cockroaches and I literally have nightmares about them. So we just left it in the corner and then after class we captured it and then released it outside the studio.”
18. Extemporaneous Farting
Biological functions happen. “I think we’ve all experienced that fart that you were successfully holding in until some move lets it squeak out, right?” says LaVigne. “I mean, let’s be honest, it’s not an abnormal occurrence in a yoga studio!”
Or in a television studio. While auditioning to record a DVD with MTV, McGee was balancing in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose) when she audibly passed a little gas. She still got the gig.
What You Can Do If It Happens To You: “I just ignore it if I hear anyone fart,” says LaVigne. “Even if the 10-year-old me is laughing inside.”
If You’re a Yoga Teacher, Here’s How to Handle Embarrassing Moments
Just because you made a faux pas doesn’t mean you’ve failed as a teacher. It simply makes you human. Especially when there are extenuating circumstances. “Sometimes teaching conditions are perfect—I’m well rested, well fed, and calm,” says London-based teacher and father of a newborn, Adam Husler. “Other times, I’ve run across London to the fifth class of the day, having spent the day before teaching a training in another country! In these circumstances, the likelihood of me forgetting a pose on one side goes up by multiples!”
While no one can control the unexpected, we can control our response. “I’ve learnt various coping strategies,” says Husler. “Sometimes I laugh. Sometimes I tell the students it was to represent the fundamental asymmetry of life! Once I told the students it was a test designed to see their honesty! Haha. All with a cheeky smile!”
To err is human. To laugh at it is divine.