In search of the perfect yoga teacher

A yoga teacher shares five key traits that you should look for in a yoga teacher before you hire them or sign up for their class

Yoga teacher with student

These days, yoga is not hard to find. You can find it in ashrams, dedicated yoga studios, gyms, on YouTube, online sites, and you can bring yoga into the comfort of your own home with a DVD. You can travel to exotic locations for yoga retreats with teachers and students from different backgrounds. No matter who you are or what ails you, there’s a yoga class out there for you.

Finding a good yoga teacher, however, is significantly more difficult.

According to a study by the North American Studio Alliance, it was estimated that in 2005, in the US alone, there were 70,000 yoga teachers. The nature of the profession makes it hard to keep track though, as there are no official licensing requirements for yoga instructors. It’s safe to say that number continues to grow at a rapid pace as the popularity of yoga around the world increases. So how can you find a good yoga teacher?

Here are five traits that you should look for in your yoga teachers.

1. Good yoga teachers have good training

Make sure you read your yoga teacher’s bio or ask for it on your first meeting. A good yoga teacher will have trained at a reputable school and will have trained or been influenced by a long list of other teachers. Good yoga teachers are the ones who have studied for a few years at least. Oftentimes, their studies will cross-pollinate with other interests, which allows the teacher to draw on many different experiences to create a solid class plan. A teacher who shares information from his or her own life experiences is one who is more relatable to you as the student and you’ll be able to gain more insight and wisdom from this type of teacher’s classes.

Good yoga teachers are the ones who have studied for a few years at least

2. Good yoga teachers understand how the body and mind work

Anatomy training in many yoga teacher training programmes is suspect at best. The anatomy lectures are not always delivered by someone with a professional background in anatomy and it’s often glossed over so that everyone can get on to the ‘good stuff’ in training. But understanding anatomy is so important for a yoga teacher to help his or her students truly find liberation in their bodies. At the same time, understanding how the mind and body connect through the central nervous system and how emotions play such a large role in our experience as human beings is essential to delivering a well-rounded yoga class that is profoundly healing on multiple levels. It’s not just about the body or the mind or the soul. Yoga is the union of all three after all.

You’ll be able to tell quickly once you’re in an instructor’s class if they understand anatomy by how they cue you into a pose.

3. Good yoga teachers are eager to create a connection

Good yoga teachers genuinely care. They want you to feel better and experience the many benefits of yoga. If your yoga teacher doesn’t want to talk to you before or after class or if they are not forthcoming in answering your questions about yoga, then find a new one who will.

4. Good yoga teachers are students first and foremost

Good yoga teachers maintain their personal practice. Do you see your yoga teacher practising in the studio where he or she teaches? Teachers, just like any other professional, need to be continuously inspired to stay on top of their game. For most, inspiration comes from taking classes, reading about yoga, and experiencing the practice first hand. If you never see your yoga teacher except for when you’re in the confines of the classroom, then she may struggle to find inspiration and motivation to continuously deliver awesome classes.

Anatomy training in many yoga teacher training programmes is suspect at best

5. Good yoga teachers are motivated

In some places in the world, yoga has a bad reputation as being a practice for hippies who just want to spread the message of love and peace. A good yoga teacher who is passionate about what he or she does has to also be super motivated to achieve in today’s modern economy.

The truth of the matter is it’s hard to make a living as a yoga teacher and live comfortably in the 21st century. Truly good teachers need to figure out how to capitalise on their talents so that they can share more yoga with the world. If they can’t figure this out, they’ll most likely find a new career and the world will lose out on what they have to share.

This isn’t to say that only full-time yoga teachers are good; however, good part-time teachers are also probably very successful in their other careers because they’re motivated to be the best in everything they do. Good yoga teachers are often seeking mastery after all, just like the rest of us.

If you notice your teacher is always trying to improve, offering new classes, retreats, and programmes and passionate about sharing the practice with you in many ways, then you know you’ve found someone motivated to share their talents. Just remember to be on the lookout for the other merits of a good yoga teacher mentioned above. There are plenty of highly motivated people out there just looking to make a buck in a successful industry.

Bonus tip: Trust Your Gut

You’ll get more from your practice if you genuinely like your yoga teacher. Just like anyone else you meet, you either get along with them or you don’t. Not everyone’s teaching style will resonate with you and that’s fine. Find the teacher you like and you’ll enjoy your practice.

This was first published in the July 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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