Yoga and Unsolicited Advice
By Kristine Kaoverii Weber | September 16, 2022
Yoga teachers are often sought out for advice. Students ask us about poses, pranayamas, meditation, and philosophy of course, but also about yoga props, clothes, essential oils, back pain, astrology, diet, and therapy (I’ve been asked to be someone’s psychotherapist – twice).
When folks ask for my advice, I’m happy to give it – in my area of expertise, which is yoga, yoga therapy, and healthy living (dinacaryā). I try hard to resist the urge to give advice when it’s out of my scope and instead refer folks to qualified experts, or respond with, “I don’t know” (remarkably liberating).
There’s a dark side to always being asked for advice. We can get so used to giving advice that we think everyone wants it… about everything…all the time – which is patently untrue.
Often people come to yoga to feel better. They just want to relax, let go of some of the heaviness they’re carrying around, get in touch with themselves, be present. Sometimes, before or after class, they may approach you to tell you about something that’s going on – they’ve been depressed, their mother is dying, they’re in the middle of a divorce, their child is struggling with addiction, they’ve got financial problems.
They tell you because you teach them yoga, you help them feel better, and so you seem like a safe person. In our increasingly isolating cultures, there are lots of people out there who have no one to talk to – so they confide in you.
But confiding is not the same thing as asking for advice. Maybe they just want someone to listen?
This is fine and normal, as long as it respects the boundaries you’ve erected around your time and your scope of practice (and BTW, it’s good to decide ahead of time how much of a sounding board you are okay with being in your yoga teacher role – how often, and for how long).
As yoga professionals we have to be able to distinguish between someone who’s asking for advice and someone who just wants to share their struggles. Sometimes that’s easy. And when you’re not sure you can always clarify by asking – “Are you just wanting to share this with me, or do you want my advice?
Emotional pain is an unavoidable part of human existence and learning to hold that pain (in ourselves and in others) without needing to fix it is a deep (and often agonizing) spiritual lesson. The compulsion to give unsolicited advice typically arises from an unconscious need to fix things – because if the problem is fixed then the pain will subside.
At its heart, yoga practice (meaning ethics, asanas, pranayama, meditation) can help us learn to tolerate whatever is present in the moment. It can teach us to become more grounded and more compassionate in order to navigate the inevitably painful times in our lives and in the lives of those around us.
When we sit in meditation with our own pain and practice dipping our toes into being okay with it, we can begin to tap into a wellspring of love, comfort, and healing – a sense of interconnectedness or higher love, a higher self, a spiritual source, or a deity that we connect with perhaps.
This process is not about fixing, distracting, numbing, or eliminating pain – it’s about learning to better tolerate it by leveraging our spiritual resources. That skill can translate into a capacity for being okay with others’ pain. It can help us learn to be present and listen before jumping in with advice.
If we can hold our own pain, we can create space for others to hold theirs as well. We can develop a deeper capacity for empathy and compassion because, weirdly, pain is something that connects all human beings. It’s a universal part of our experience.
No one wants to be in pain. But there may be ways to navigate it. We can learn to ask for support and find comfort in others as well as our practice, and a relationship with something greater. We can also offer this realization to our students, not necessarily by giving them advice, just by teaching them yoga.
People who insist on giving unsolicited advice have most likely avoided processing their own pain and trauma. When you sit back and think about it, chronic advice givers are often experiencing a lot of pain and deserving of compassion too (which BTW, does not mean you need to spend a nanosecond listening to their unsolicited advice).
Throughout the Vedic literature there are references to the pairs of opposites – good and bad, aversion and attraction, pleasure and pain. These perennial teachings suggest that we use yogic practices to understand them as emanating from the singularity – which is love.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna teaches:
in pure existence, beyond
acquisitions and security,
in possession of one’s self.” (Bhagavad Gita 2.45. trans. Graham Schweig)
The Śvetashvatara Upanishad explains:
“The Self is hidden in the hearts of all,
As butter lies hidden in cream. Realize
The Self in the depths of meditation –
The Lord of Love, supreme Reality,
Who is the goal of all knowledge.
This is the highest mystical teaching;
This is the highest mystical teaching.”
Getting to a place where you begin to understand pleasure and pain both as emanating from love – that’s some serious inner work. By the way, what I’ve written here are only thoughts, not advice.
Please check out my free guide about the benefits of slow, mindful yoga “The 5 Secrets All Yoga Teachers Need to Know”