I hear conversations that revolve around this issue all of the time. Students tend to be very strict about who they like and who they don’t like. What most students don’t understand is ‘why’ they like or don’t like a particular teacher. You see, when you’re a student, it’s pretty much black and white, yes or no, like or don’t like. If you’re already a teacher or studying to become one, you might understand what it is that you like about your favorite teacher or teachers. After you’ve been teaching for a while, you begin to deconstruct the personalities, the years of experience, the styles of yoga, the philosophies that people follow, personal motivations, and the charisma that certain people have. And don’t forget word of mouth.
So, How Do You Find A Good Yoga Teacher?
There are so many factors that go into it…but here’s a start…
Personality. Seems simple enough, right? Not really. What does this teacher look like? How do they dress, smell, groom themselves, and speak? Yes, this is actually important. As human beings, we tend to gravitate towards people that are like us in some way. Look for qualities that you have in common or aspire to have. Don’t choose an instructor that gets on your nerves or you won’t stick with it for very long.
Years of experience. By this, I mean years of practicing yoga. The best teachers are those that have been walking the walk for many years. Long enough to feel like they can honestly contribute something educational based on their own personal experience. If someone has been practicing for only a year, they have barely scratched the surface of what yoga truly means as a discipline and there is no possible way they have experienced the deeper benefits of yoga. Yoga is very slow medicine. If you are going to teach it, one would hope that you have practiced it long enough to actually experience it for yourself. That being said, there is a student for every teacher, and I firmly believe that. For teachers that are green in the practice, there will likely be students that are ready for just that much information and nothing more.
Styles of yoga. Last time I checked, there were over 100 different names/styles of yoga out there. Granted, some of them are similar, but so many names and confusing none the less. There are probably about 8 major styles of yoga. Each of these major types of yoga most certainly lends itself to different personality types. If you go to a yoga class and the class if filled with people that you would never in a million years socialize with, try another style. It’s like shopping in the wrong clothing store. Just try another one.
Personal Motivation. What got your favorite teacher into yoga in the first place? Did they decide that yoga is a multi million dollar industry and they want to cash in on it? (let’s hope not) Or did they survive some sort of life altering event and were ‘saved’ by yoga? I say that this is the stuff that makes motivational yoga teachers. People that survived something horrible and scary, and found their way back to health through yoga. These are the gems of yoga. The true healers. They healed themselves, and now they want to teach you how to heal yourself. Go find them, you won’t be disappointed. They may not outwardly post it on their website, but it’s a great conversation starter.
Philosophy. Believe it or not, yogis don’t alway agree with each other what what is ‘the yogic way’ and what isn’t. Some are strict vegans, while others choose humanely raised meat, while others didn’t know they were supposed to care about those sorts of things. Some get up at 4am for their practice, others sleep in and practice when they have time, while others use their teaching time as their practice. Some will seem more pushy on their moral values and insist that yogic spirituality is the best, only to be elitist and exclusionary. Some believe that we are ‘all one’ and that whatever you do one person is actually inflicting the same harm or harmony on all of us as a collective consciousness. And still others will just parrot what the latest article told them, not actually what they’ve experienced themselves. Yes, that’s a thing. People do this. They don’t want their potential students to know that they have not yet achieved the highest level of liberation. Not sure why, because most of us never will in this lifetime. Not as long as we have an iPhone with 20 or more apps in our pocket and minimal self-discipline.
Charisma. I’ve seen teachers get by on this alone. It amazes me every time I see it. An average yoga teacher with a big fat dose of charisma and a pretty face will go far in the yoga industry. It’s true. We can’t change our social and cultural programming very easily. Some of the hidden gems of yoga that know their stuff inside and out aren’t as popular as some of those with more magnetic personality. It’s a tough business out there.
How do you assess your teacher or potential teacher? Read their biography on their website and do your research to find out if you’ve got the real McCoy or a fake. You’ll be happier that you did. In this world of digital information, it’s easy to get swept up in Facebook Ads, pretty Instagram pictures and cool double speed videos. I’ve discovered that social media doesn’t actually equal a one for one credit in terms of quality of teacher and number of likes. Maybe those viral posts are because the teacher has a lot of time to crack the social media code…while the good ones are busy teaching students with their heart and soul.
The good ones are busy teaching students with their heart and soul and may or may not have a strong social media presence.
Final thoughts. 1) Find someone who has been practicing for a considerable amount of time. Their teaching will be authentic and based on their own experience, not something they were told. 2) Make sure they are trained properly and teach a style of yoga that you like. 3) Find someone who is authentic. That is, someone who has had time to absorb what they’ve learned and have been practicing long enough to share it with you. If you take a class and the teacher doesn’t seem like ‘your type’, go find another teacher. There are a million of them.
Whatever motivates you to attend a yoga class is good thing, no matter what. If you decide after one class that you don’t like yoga or you didn’t particularly enjoy the experience …then maybe you would like a different instructor or a different style. Look through the bios and find someone that resonates with you. A little bit of research will go a long way. Keep searching until you find something you like. You might be surprised at how different the classes and teachers can be.
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