What’s right for you isn’t necessarily right for me. When it comes to yoga we all have different likes and dislikes, physical issues etc. Where some people love a slow, detailed class such as Iyengar Yoga, others want more of a sweaty workout. There’s no wrong or right, but finding a really solid teacher is vital. A good teacher is responsible all the students for his/her class, and makes sure that no one will get injured on his/her watch.
Having taught yoga for 15 years, I will tell you what I look for in a good teacher:
Credentials and/or certification: You need to ask them if they are certified through the Yoga Alliance, or where they trained. You also have a right to find out how long they have been teaching for.
Attitude: If a teacher comes across as a know-it-all, or in anyway arrogant, I would avoid them like the plague. There are a few teachers floating around who clearly think they are everything-and-a-bag-of-chips (and these types always have a few devotees in tow), but in my experience, they are never the best. Also note that teachers who encourage a devotees/followers often have issues. I’ve seen many a teacher over the years fall from grace and disappoint his/her followers. They key is that your teacher comes across as human, vulnerable and as flawed as the rest of us!
Facing You: Does your teacher face the class when teaching? A huge red flag for me is when a teacher basically does the class with the class, facing the front of the room. Some inexperienced teachers do this to begin with because they think it’s easier for the students to follow along if they are just copying what the teacher is doing, however, if a teacher’s back is facing you, they cannot really teach you – he/she cannot possibly see what you are doing (and trust me there will be students who need serious help and adjustment).
Clarity of Instruction: A good teacher should be able to use their word to clearly convey what they would have you do. Great teachers have a way with word, using loads of great metaphors to describe the nuances of a pose. For example, “Firm your thigh muscles – draw them toward your thigh bones as if they are wrapped tightly with Saran wrap” – not the best metaphor but great teachers come up with really good ones to convey what they want you to feel.
Physical Adjustment: A good yoga teacher will adjust you physically, but will always ask your permission before touching you if he/she doesn’t know you. If you ever feel any kind of weird energy from the way a teacher touches you, never go back to their class!
Thoughtful and Generous Referrals: A great teacher will treat you like an individual and may refer you or another student to another teacher or style of teacher more suited to your physical issues. For example, if I had a student with serious scoliosis, I wouldn’t gently suggest a teacher who I know specializes with this kind of condition. Or, if I had elderly man or woman who was clearly struggling with my style/level of class, I might recommend a Viniyoga Teacher.
Inquiry: A good teacher will ask if anyone has any physical conditions or injuries that he/she needs to know about, at the beginning of the class. I cannot understand a teacher who doesn’t do this because how on Earth are they going to know what they are dealing with.
Compassion: A great teacher will be firm but compassionate. This means that he/she will not push a student to go beyond what they can easily do, and will have compassion for every single student’s limitations.
Slow & Thorough: A great teacher will not be able to rush students through asanas at a lick. I have seen so many teachers teach fast-paced “flow” classes to A-type students who want a sweaty workout, but their teaching goes out of the window in their desire to please their students. Rushing students through poses, especially where hot yoga is involved, almost always leads to someone injuring themselves.
The Right Fit: Don’t be afraid to move on if your teacher doesn’t tick all your boxes. There are so many yoga teachers and studios out there – you need to find the fit for you. And if you happen to be stuck in a rural area where you cannot get to a good studio, sign up for MyYogaWorks, where my lovely readers get 6 weeks of free online classes!