Redefining the Role of a Yoga Teacher

Looking back in time, I realized that I’ve been a yoga teacher for part of my twenties, my entire thirties, and now into my forties. Most of my teaching career developed in New York City and Miami. From learning yoga in a studio that didn’t have yoga mats or blocks, to taking my first group classes in a gym that looked like a dance studio from the 80’s, to teaching yoga classes during the early 2000’s carrying my hundreds of CDs all over town.  It has been a journey.

But I always come back to that day when after finishing a yoga class in the old Crunch Fitness in South Beach, while crossing Washington Avenue, I realized I was experiencing a heightened sense of awareness, colors were brighter, breaths were deeper. At a somatic level, I began to understand a deeper layer of the work that yoga does on bodies and minds. Recently my job as a full time yoga teacher has shifted, as I’ve become more interested in aspects of yoga that are less explored.

How many more articles about the proper Chaturanga or the right stance in Warrior 1 or 2 can one read in a lifetime? How many more tutorials about how to do a handstand do I want to watch? To what extent is spending so much of my time trying to learn the latest alignment tip actually taking me away from making a real difference in my life and in my community? How many more scrolls through Facebook or Instagram do I have to take to understand that there’s work that needs to be done now?

My own life experiences took me to different roads when the yoga offered in the studios, books, and social media was not enough to help me reconnect to myself during life’s difficult times. I experienced unbearable loss, grief, and depression of the greatest kind — and during those stages the yoga I had known wasn’t enough. My mat was buried in my closet. And I simply didn’t have the strength to get up and practice. I shifted my focus and began to learn about what I was experiencing. I learned about mental health, depression, trauma, PTSD, anxiety. And naturally I began to teach in a way that is more inclusive, accessible, and sustainable.

I understood from the inside out what I was experiencing and by learning more about my own struggles I was able to put a practice together that supported the stage of my life that I was living. And gradually I got back on my feet. The beautiful thing about hitting rock bottom is that you come up stronger, but also you know that you are not the only one suffering. There’s a solace in knowing that you’re not alone, that everyone goes through difficult times. And it brings a sense of responsibility, and urgency towards making yoga available for those who aren’t as privileged.

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I learned about the challenges that my community was facing, and I made my yoga available to those who were marginalized. I became curious about why there are only certain segments of the population in my classes. I began to ask why yoga is not reaching everyone, although we see it everywhere online. I began to learn about trauma, the trauma that we all go through in our lives, and the trauma of entire communities. I began to understand that I am in a very privileged place as a yoga teacher who can afford to take yoga classes , but there are many who can’t and in their minds they associate yoga with the privilege of an elite few.

I realized that all the wonderful yoga philosophy I learned over the years didn’t mean anything unless the practice makes a real difference in myself and my community. I began to leave behind, one at a time, many postures that no longer served me in the path of using yoga as a bridge to unite the community. I began to move away from an extremely physical approach to the practice, or promoting the practice through postures, and instead using my experience, and the experiences of those who practice with me, as the message of the practice.

A message of conscious movement, a message of community, and understanding that there is power in the practice, especially when we practice together, and the yoga that we do, can always and must always help others. I began to understand my place in the future of yoga.

Why it is important to have a voice on Instagram and Facebook to educate people about a different way of approaching the practice. Why it is important to share our experiences, and advocate for those who have no voice. Why it is important to be a disruptor when all the yoga you see looks very vanilla.
I currently teach yoga at schools, hospitals and I work full time at Lotus House, the largest shelter in Florida for homeless women and their children. I empower my students — whether they are members at a luxury fitness center or homeless people — with the tools of yoga, meditation, relaxation, and knowledge about science and research.

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All my classes have shifted to an all-inclusive way of teaching. Teaching postures for their own sake is no longer exciting for me. But empowering people to reconnect to their bodies and create a positive connection — that is what is important. Offering tools to my students to be able to manage their level of stress, to learn when they are not feeling great and how to use the practice in a therapeutic way. This is what excites me these days. As I continue to explore yoga I can only think, what a wonderful thing it is, that yoga keeps growing and sharing its gifts.

But this doesn’t happen alone, it doesn’t happen through posts, likes or followers or fancy inversions or arm balances. It happens when each of us yoga teachers and students learn about the practice, embody it, distill the teachings, peel away the outer layers, and use this core of wisdom as fuel to help those who need it the most.

By Adrian Molina

Adrian Molina has been teaching yoga continuously since 2004. He is a well-known and respected instructor in Miami and New York, with an extensive worldwide following through his platform and school of yoga, Warrior Flow. Adrian teaches online for Omstars and works for the non-profit Lotus House. Adrian is also a writer, massage therapist, Reiki healer, meditation teacher, sound therapist, and a Kriya yoga practitioner in the lineage of Paramahansa Yogananda. Adrian is recognized for the community-building work he does in Miami and beyond.