14 Top Yoga Teachers on Personal Challenges and Biggest Misconceptions

Who says yoga isn't for everyone?

There are many misconceptions about yoga and those who practice it. Many assume that you must be religious, practice veganism, or be able to put your foot behind your head in order to participate.

But the fact that this 5,000-year-old tradition has gone from ancient practice to a household name in fitness tells us that it can't be so exclusive.

In fact, one principle of yoga is meeting the needs of the individual, which means there are as many different ways to practice as there are people willing to try it. 

We spoke to 14 instructors who prove this to be true. From acro-yogis to metal-heads to yogi-comedians, each of these instructors shows that yoga is many things, but above all, it is being yourself. 

Let's learn from them. Namaste!

Pilin Anice: Yogi, Dancer, Model and Wellness Expert

Pilin Anice

Photo: SmartScott 

Pilin Anice is an instructor in yoga, dance, and meditation, but during her first yoga class she admits that she “was honestly not feeling it!” Over time, she says, “I began to unravel the stories within, while also discovering the joy in just being.”

"A common misconception about yoga is that you have to be flexible or have a certain body type."

Pilin Anice

As for finding the style of yoga that works best for you, Pilin says it’s about finding a class and an instructor that you like. Until then, "Don't be intimidated," she encourages.

What’s Pilin's favorite lesson learned on her mat?

“One of my favorite lessons is to just simply go with the flow. It’s a lesson that I am constantly reminded of, especially as a parent. No matter what comes up… this too shall pass.”

Kathryn Budig: Yoga Teacher, Author, Founder of Aim True Yoga

Kathryn Budig

Photo courtesy of Kathryn Budig 

Kathryn Budig is an internationally celebrated yoga teacher, but she will tell you that her motivation for her practice was quite simple to start.

“All I knew was that I felt like a better person after doing yoga,” she says.

Budig curates her practice to fit her body. As for poses she avoids, “I’m not a big fan of shoulder stand—I find it dangerous for the cervical spine,” she says, “but I adore a good hip opener—it helps to regulate old baggage.” Budig is on board for encouraging anyone who wants to try the practice.

“You’ll only be a beginner once, so enjoy the bumps and hiccups and keep the wonder of a beginner.”

Kathryn Budig

What is Kathryn’s personal mantra?

My longtime mantra is and will always be 'Aim true,’ although I’ve been supplementing it with, ‘Stay open and curious’”

Josephine Jacob: Yogi and Traveler

Josephine Jacob

Photo: @yoga_mami

Josephine Jacob is based in Vancouver and is a self-described “Yoga Mami” as her Instagram will tell you. You can see her practicing plenty of awesome group poses with her two young sons, both of whom Josephine says have “benefitted tons” from practicing.

After two herniated discs from a horseback riding accident and intense back pain from her pregnancy, Josephine started yoga to build core strength. As time went on, Josephine began letting go of expectations both on and off the mat.

“After about a year of the physical practice, I delved into the spiritual practice."

Josephine Jacob

What’s Josephine's most difficult pose?

“I have always struggled with handstands because I’m still afraid to fall and break my nose," she says with a laugh.

 

Sara Clark: Vinyasa and Mindfulness Instructor

Sara Clark

Photo: Alex Bershaw

For over 20 years, Sara Clark has been practicing yoga and teaching at events around the globe.

“I began practicing yoga at the age of 17 and it was love at first down dog,” she says. But it wasn’t until she decided to ditch her day job in television post-production to further pursue her yogic studies.

“The biggest misconception is that yoga isn't for all bodies and
colors and orientations when in actuality, it is,” Clark tells us. “The real
practice of yoga does not discriminate.” Sara believes we can all benefit.

"Even when our external world is intense, we can tend to our internal world. Every breath is an opportunity to start over."

Sara Clark

What is Sara’s most difficult pose?

“There are many poses that are difficult for me if I were to be honest. Attempting hanumanasana (otherwise known as a split) has always been a challenge."

 

Rina Jakubowicz: Bilingual Yoga Teacher, Reiki Practitioner, Speaker, and Author

Rina Jakubowicz

Photo courtesy of Rina Jakubowicz

At her first yoga class, Rina Jakubowicz wasn't even a bit nervous.

"The more I learned about the philosophy [of yoga], the more I realized that I belonged anywhere as long as I was comfortable in my own skin," she says. Being comfortable also means knowing which poses she likes and which she doesn't.

"My most physically challenging pose is placing my legs behind my head. But I have learned that it doesn’t make me any better of a yogi if I can do it."

Rina Jakubowicz

Rina told us about her experience being a Latin woman in the yoga world. "I’m a brown skin-colored woman but I never saw myself as two minorities—even though I am in this society. I am much more than just my brown skin and my female organs."

What advice does Rina have for someone looking to start yoga?

"I’d advise people that yoga is there for you however you need it. You can go at your own pace. You can take breaks."

Heidi Kristoffer: Yoga Instructor and Creator of CrossFlowX Yoga

Heidi Kristoffer

 Photo: @heidikristoffer 

Heidi Kristoffer got into yoga by accident, stumbling upon a studio while searching for gyms in her local neighborhood.

“While my Google search was for something physical, what hooked me was the mental and physical aspect of yoga,” Heidi says. She has used yoga as a healing and strengthening tool after sustaining severe spinal injuries after a car accident.

“I practice finding ease in every posture so that I can find ease no matter how uncomfortable life gets."

Heidi Kristoffer

Where does Heidi hope to see the future of yoga?

“I think some of the newer brands have stripped the spiritual aspect out of yoga completely, and it is sad because it has the power to change peoples' lives. I would honestly hope that some spirituality comes back into mainstream yoga in the U.S."

Matthew Thomas Lombardo: Yoga and Meditation Teacher

Matthew Lombardo

Photo: @dtufino_photo 

Twenty years ago, Matt Lombardo began his yoga practice with Bikram yoga, which he describes as a “butt-kicking experience physically.” But above all, Matt knows it’s all about having fun. He is a teacher at multiple studios in NYC, including Yoga Agora based in Astoria, Queens, and he instructs online classes, too.

“Just breathe it out. And have fun. It sounds odd, but it is easy to lose having fun on a yoga mat or life in general.”

Matthew Thomas Lombardo

His students agree. One student review says it all: "Matt keeps it real... and his humor and outlook on life are so refreshing."

What does Matt think is the biggest misconception about yoga?

“One misconception that comes to mind is that people who do yoga or teach it have to be of a particular political, religious, spiritual, or philosophical mindset.”

Ebony Smith: Trauma Informed Yoga Instructor, Founder of Yoga N Da Hood

Ebony Smith

Photo: @yogandahood

If you're looking for a true game-changer, look no further than Ebony Smith, also known as The Ghetto Guru. She first started yoga to prepare her body for natural childbirth, but she found the practice was transformative for her body and mind. She realized there weren’t any accessible studios in her own community, so she founded Yoga N Da Hood, a nonprofit organization based in Dallas, Texas.

According to the site, by providing free classes their mission is to “teach people in under-served communities the art of self-healing, self-talk, and self-love through the practice of yoga and mindfulness.”

“Life is a balancing act. Balance poses remind me to stay balanced in life. It also reminds me that sometimes you will fall out of balance and to be mindful of how quickly I can balance my life.”

Ebony Smith

How does Ebony believe is the biggest misconception about yoga?

"That wellness is somehow a luxury and not a human right."

Kristopher Pace: Yoga Instructor and Air Force Veteran

Kris Pace

Photo: @kristopherpace

Kris Pace's yoga journey started with a challenging injury: Kris was facing cervical deterioration from his time serving in the United States Air Force. From there, his doctors recommended building flexibility and core strength.

“I googled those things and yoga is at the top of the list!" he says. "The spiritual benefits became known to me later, after the development of a daily practice.”

As for those who might be thinking about starting yoga but aren’t sure where to begin? Kris has some advice.

"There is no prerequisite to begin a practice. Every person is perfectly ready to begin today!”

Kristopher Pace

Where does Kris see the future of yoga going?

“I see yoga becoming far more accepted globally and growing into something that becomes mandatory for all children.”

Dana Arnold: Acro Yogi and Instructor

Dana Arnold

 Photo: @acrosprout

Dana’s interest in yoga began as she worked a front desk job at her local yoga studio and got to take free classes. Since then, she's grown stronger, which is evident by her yoga of choice: Acro-yoga.

“I fell in love with the way it made me feel. I was the fittest and strongest I had ever been.”

Dana Arnold

Dana showcases jaw-dropping and graceful routines, as she transitions between complex poses while suspended in mid-air by her partner. They build harmonious sequences showcasing their muscle, flexibility, and mutual trust. Check them out for some suspenseful entertainment.

What’s Dana’s advice to yoga newcomers?

“You decide for yourself and do your best to stay positive. There are loads of different styles, teachers, and studios... keep trying them on until you find the best fit for you.”

Yulady Saluti: Yoga Instructor and Breast Cancer Survivor

Yulady Saluti

Photo: Shawna Rodgers 

It is rare to find someone whose positivity shines as strongly as Yulady Saluti's. She's battled a serious colon rectal medical condition and was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer at 32 years old.

“My husband and I started our practices at a local studio," she says. "Before long we felt at ease and a sense of community.”

“I have been sick the entire duration of my yoga journey. I was, however, sick before I found yoga as well. I’ll take sick with yoga any day!”

Yulady Saluti

Yulady unifies her practice and her life—she is just as likely to post a beautiful yoga pose on social media as she is to post a video of a painful hospital stay. Sharing her truth makes her a beacon of hope for anyone looking to try yoga.

What is Yulady’s personal mantra?

“The Saluti family mantra is ‘Be kind all the time!’ When you are helping someone else out it’s very hard to think about yourself.”

Saskia Thode: Metal Head and Certified Therapeutic Yoga Instructor

Saskia Thode

Photo: @metalyogabones

One might say that Saskia Thode didn’t choose heavy metal, but that heavy metal chose her. She was born “in the backyard” of an open-air heavy metal music festival in Germany. After a car accident that severely damaged her lumbar spine, Saskia found yoga to be both physically and spiritually healing.

Saskia's classes encourage you to “tap into the dark side… anything you need to do to unleash your inner beast,” according to her website, as she blasts metal music during her classes to create a class unlike any other.

“One reason why I offer metal yoga classes is that I make the physical practice available to people who think that yoga is just for flexible women.”

Saskia Thode

What is the most important thing Saskia gains from her practice?

"I love connecting to my body especially to work on injuries. I like the contentment, the peace, quietness of the mind, and clarity that I find with my practice."

Kristin McGee: Peloton Yoga and Meditation Instructor, Celebrity Trainer, Author

Kristin McGee

Photo courtesy of Kristin McGee  

Kristin McGee began yoga as a physical workout in New York City in the 1990s, but her practice quickly became spiritual. She notes that especially today, it’s so easy to get distracted. That's why it’s so beneficial to have the space that yoga gives you to be present and focused.

“Everything you could possibly ever want, have, or need, is right here inside of you."

Kristin McGee

 How does Kristin relate her practice to her life?

“My struggle on the mat—which is to stay present and be open, loving, kind and gentle—is the same struggle in my life with myself, my kids, my husband, my family and my friends, coworkers, and community.”

Michael James Wong: Yoga and Meditation Teacher, Founder of Just Breathe, Author, and Activist

Michael James Wong

Photo courtesy of Michael James Wong 

Michael Wong says he was reluctant to attend his first yoga class—in fact, he says he was “dragged” there. Once there, he notes how laid-back it was and “how no one really cared about how much or how little I did in class or life.” Michael first explored yoga as a physical activity, keeping an open mind.

“We will be able to do and not do many different poses throughout our lives as yogis.”

Michael James Wong

For Michael, by taking the time to embrace the calmness that yoga brings is an incredible stress reliever, taking the practice far beyond its physical benefits.

Where does Michael see the future of yoga going?

“I’m inspired to see more and more people step into the practice and onto the mat. I believe that if everyone practiced yoga, the world would be a better place.”

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