Does Age Matter? Teaching Yoga at 13 Years Old

Young yoga teacher Jaysea DeVoe
Photo by La Vie Boheme Yoga

Would you judge a yoga instructor’s teaching ability solely on their age or other aspects of their physical appearance? A few yoga celebrities have decided that it’s okay to do this if the teacher in question is a teen.

Jaysea DeVoe has gotten a lot of press in the last year as the youngest person to complete a 200-hour teacher training and register with Yoga Alliance at just 12 years old. Now 13, she is teaching a weekly family class for all ages in her hometown. In a recent interview, she seems grounded and wise, practices asana and meditation daily, volunteers, makes jewelry—and attends middle school. Her slightly unconventional parents have encouraged all of their children pursue their passions to their fullest extent, and it shows. She is the world’s youngest standup paddle boarding instructor.

Another recent article about her throws a bit more shade her way, questioning her ability to safely teach adults, not because of how long she has been practicing (five years), the quality or thoroughness of her training, or after experiencing her class, but because of her age.  Are the concerns they raise about her ability to truly understand older bodies legitimate? Eh, maybe. But maybe not.

There are bad instructors at all levels of experience and of all ages, just as there are classes that don’t match our personal preferences or comfort zone. It would be preposterous to say that you had to be the same age, gender or body type to safely and effectively teach or learn yoga from another person. Yet, this is what one of the detractors is really saying by suggesting that Jaysea may be “desensitized” to older students bodies from only having lived in a young body. While training and experience are both important, empathy is what makes a teacher sensitive to the spoken and unspoken needs of their students. Unfortunately, this can’t be taught, and we can’t know someone’s capacity for it by their appearance. In order to know whether someone is sensitive to their students—you’d actually have to take a class with them.

Another concern raised was that Jaysea may lack “an in-depth understanding to tell if her students actually can move a joint safely or not.” Again, the age of the instructor is not the most pivotal piece of this equation. A new teacher is a new teacher, and most of us wouldn’t expect the class of a newer instructor to be the same as that of a teacher who has thousands of hours of training, teaching and practicing under their belt. Shruti Pandy started teaching at an ashram in northern India at four years old, and has many students pleased to vouch for the effectiveness of her instruction, including her own 67 year old instructor.

As adults, it is our job to encourage and nurture young people. As yogis, we should be wise enough to look deeper than first impressions. As both, we should be good role models and realize that it is poor form to judge anyone’s teaching ability without ever having set foot in their class.

What do you think? Is it possible for a 12 year old to be a safe and effective yoga instructor?

Comments 2

  1. Sure. It’s possible for a 12 year old to teach a yoga class that is safe. And yes, there are plenty of bad yoga teachers who are more advanced in years and age alone should not be a requisite. However, this post overlooks something more important. Your question also asks whether or not a 12 year old can teach an “effective.” yoga class. To me, that means that the teacher is able to impart some insight, understanding, or wisdom about yoga. Not just teach a class that doesn’t injure you.

    The problem with a 12 year old teacher is not their age or safety but that they do not have enough life lived to effectively impart yoga to those beyond their years. I think that they would be well within their scope to teach other teens. But effective yoga teaching comes from observed life experience. To cite a teacher from India who started when she was 4 and is now in her sixties is not taking into account the cultural differences. 50-60 years ago there were no group yoga classes as we know them now. So that 4 year old was not teaching in the same context as the 12 year old in question here.

    Don’t get me wrong, certainly people can teach to folks beyond their years. I started teaching when I was in my twenties and now I am in my forties. As long as a teacher does not try and teach beyond their own experience and knowledge then they can still offer something useful and worthwhile. But there is a point where the life situations are too far apart and it doesn’t make sense. Twenty-somethings trying to speak wisdom about life difficulties to people twenty years older doesn’t always pan out well.

    It seems like this piece is talking about teaching asana more than yoga. And there is a difference. I think its fine for a 12 year old to teach asana. But to effectively teach yoga is another matter entirely.

    1. I think the 4-year-old’s teacher was in her sixties.

      I feel that without actually taking her class, the teaching skills of any teacher can be judged only hypothetically. Some children go through remarkable experiences that age them beyond their years, while some adults are strikingly naive and inexperienced in their fifties. “Maturity” and “age” have a loose correlation, but the latter does not always lead to the former.

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