ARTICLE: Considering a New Yoga Teacher or Yoga Class

By Margaret (Saraswati) Kruszewska

Try the Class Yourself

Recommendations for a yoga teacher from a friend may be good but you must check the class out for yourself. What works perfectly for a friend may not be a good fit for you. Even if you know what school or style of yoga you prefer, classes vary according to the individual teachers and their own educational and training backgrounds.

Yoga Teachers Aren’t Just the Best Yoga Students

You will be trying many yoga postures that may feel daring and so you will need to feel secure in the yoga instructor’s know-how. Yoga teachers are also always practitioners although they may not necessarily be the most limber or strongest in a hatha yoga class. Just because someone is able to do advanced yoga postures does not make them a good teacher. A different set of skills are needed to teach yoga.

A yoga teacher should possess the wisdom of a scholar, the compassion of a beloved, the intuition of a fierce mother and an attitude of love and devotion for teaching.

How to Choose the Best Yoga Teacher for You

When you take your first yoga class with a new teacher or even just talk to them before class, note their attitude toward you and other yoga students.

Does the teacher try to get to know your physical needs? Does she ask you about any health concerns or restrictions? Does he notice any struggles you may be experiencing?

Experienced yoga teachers become very good at being able to “read” tensions in the physical body. Usually they can suggest a variation more suitable for the student.

Does the teacher really see and hear you? Inexperienced teachers frequently resort to “performing” poses for students or exclude students who are not at their level. A yoga class forms a group energy so that every person’s presence is felt and acknowledged as being important to that day’s session. A highly skilled teacher is capable of keeping an eye out on you even in very large classes. This is how teachers keep their classes fresh and alter their sequences or instructions according to each class.

Does the teacher adjust the level of class according to the size, experience, and mood of the class? Each class should have the feeling that it has been personalized and meaningful. Even if they are teaching the same basic sequence every session, as many schools do, they are able to bring new awareness to the poses each time.

Is the teacher respectful of your physical, emotional and spiritual boundaries? A yoga session is a safe, sacred space. Any “hands-on” adjustments should be done with consent and, more importantly, with loving kindness in their hands and hearts.

You are receiving the energy of the teacher so be aware how you feel under their guidance. Trust is developed over a period of time but frequently you will know after one session that the teacher’s approach will not support your work. This may become apparent through a tone of voice the teacher uses or how they treat others in class or their lack of concentration during class. Of course yoga teachers do have bad days too – so always allow for the human factor!

Is the instructor allowing for your own process to occur? Unfortunately, some yoga instructors view their classes as platforms to voice their opinions on everything. Sometimes this occurs because they are nervous and want to keep the energy of the class going but if you notice after the second or third class that they are still “preaching” chances are they’ll continue this way. Sometimes this is entertaining but it also crowds out your own inner voice and observations.

Yoga Teachers or Yoga Buddies

It is unrealistic for a student to assume that their yoga teacher will become their new best friend. Although it’s not uncommon for friendships to form, keep in mind that the yoga teacher may be working with hundreds of bodies and souls in the course of their work. You’ll be blessed if you’ve found one whom you consider to be your friend but don’t assume that it will be reciprocated and don’t look for a new friend when considering a new yoga teacher.

Yoga Teachers’ Training

Finally, a word on the credentials and accreditation of yoga teachers. No standard review board or licensing organization exists for yoga teachers. Each yoga organization or school does have its own requirements varying from complete immersion in yoga community life to designating a certain number of hours assisting a senior yoga teacher in hatha yoga classes.

The Yoga Alliance has attempted for many years to establish standards for certifying yoga teachers but it remains a controversial subject within the community. A main issue is who (or what school) will determine what forms a proper teachers’ training program. Most of the key teachers in the last century have come from India, where yoga is not necessarily the physical hatha form that has become most popular in North America. Testing a teacher’s knowledge of anatomy and physiology is easier than proving a mastery of yogic techniques and wisdom. Furthermore, the teacher-student arrangement in India, one of the main ways of transmitting knowledge of yoga, can be very different from Western approaches to learning.

How Yoga Continues

The spirit of yoga has survived because it remains highly adaptable and becomes relevant to a specific community. Usually, the longer a teacher has taught and practiced yoga the more developed are her teaching skills.

Notice how devoted the teacher may be to their responsibilities to the students. This is an often a better indicator of their teaching abilities than how many teachers they’ve studied under or where they have studied their techniques of yoga.

Ask questions. Listen to your insights and impressions. Know your intentions. And have fun looking for your yoga teacher!


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