The Connected Yoga Teacher Podcast

 Ep 146: How to Empower Your Yoga Students with Yonnie Fung


As yoga teachers, we want our classrooms to be safe spaces that empower our students and maximise their choice, but this may not always be the case. People may come to our classes wanting us to tell them what to do and trust that it’s our job to know better, and also, some practices in yoga may erode empowerment, take away student agency, and undermine safety.

Yonnie Fung recently wrote an article on this topic, and what it means to teach inclusive, safe and ethical yoga. She is the founder of Yoga with Yonnie, an award winning yoga and movement space in Beijing that focuses on small classes, non-commercialism, integrity and cultivating real human connections. Yonnie values a collaborative learning environment over an authoritative styles, and seeks to help students and clients in discovering what they need to feel well and whole. 

Some common practices in modern yoga fall short of what we want to achieve. Yonnie and Shannon dive into why replicating inherited behaviours and practices from past generations may not necessarily be appropriate, and how yoga teachers can move away from dis-empowering their students.

This episode is in no way about shame and blame. We often look back at the things we could have done differently as newer yoga teachers, and that work is sometimes uncomfortable. Listen in if you would like to learn more about how we can move forward as yoga teachers to empower our students and increase their agency in our classrooms.

Key Takeaways:

[4:59] Shannon introduces her guest for this episode – Yonnie Fung.

[6:15] Where did Yonnie’s journey with yoga begin?

[9:44] What made Yonnie decide to become a yoga teacher?

[12:05] What is the work that Yonnie does now?

[18:53] What prompted Yonnie to write her list of how we might be unintentionally harming our yoga students?

[23:16] Did Yonnie expect her article to go viral? She shares her experience with publishing her article.

[25:36] How did Yonnie develop her list?

[26:21] Shannon highlights some of the things that stood out to her from Yonnie’s list.

[26:43] One of the items on Yonnie’s list is participating in power structures. Shannon and Yonnie discuss the power dynamic that exists in a yoga class.

[34:06] Yonnie shares a powerful experience she had during her yoga teacher training that has influenced her way of teaching yoga.

[37:37] It is a common thread in many settings where the teacher is expected to know the student better than the student knows themselves!

[38:26] This week’s hot top from Schedulicity!

[39:15] Yonnie highlights how teachers making adjustments to students’ postures is not empowering.

[41:28] What are some of the ways that yoga teachers can move away from dis-empowering their students? Yonnie highlights how the language that we use can be the simplest place to start changing.

[48:37] What is Yonnie’s response to yoga teachers who want to say as few words as possible in their classes?

[50:10] It can be challenging for students to learn how to listen to their body. Yonnie explains more about interoception and how this ties in with trauma and yoga.

[53:45] Yonnie and Shannon talk through an example of how this might play out in a class.

[57:19] It takes a lot of pressure off the teacher if we understand and accept that the students are the experts of their own bodies.

[1:02:01] Yonnie has subsequent follow-up articles that she has written on this topic.

[1:05:26] Get in touch with Yonnie via her website or on Facebook.

[1:06:18] What are some techniques you have learned to empower your yoga students? Share them with Shannon!


Gratitude to our Sponsors Schedulicity and Pelvic Health Professionals.

Quotes from this episode:

“There wasn’t one single incident. You could say that there were lots of little incidents and it happened very steadily over a period of time that suddenly hit critical mass.” 

“It was encouraging to know that I wasn’t alone, and that other people had these frustrations and concerns.”

“Yoga at its best is an empowering path.”

“We’re practicing disembodiment from a really young age.”

“I think it’s very important to distinguish the promise of yoga and the potential, from the actual delivery as it plays out.”

“It doesn’t matter how good your intentions are as a teacher.”

“You can have all the best intentions in the world, but if you are not empowering them to make choices for themselves, you will have impeded their recovery.”

“We are actually experts of ourselves.”

“Having the question is so much more valuable than having the answers all the time. Answers are just easy ways to shorten the lifespan of the inquiry.”