Remember that yoga class you took years ago that just blew your mind? The one where you left feeling that you had finally found what you were searching for; that elusive sense of inner connection, a release into the ‘aha’ moment of total peace and balance, or maybe just a really fulfilling workout. Whatever it was that resonated so deeply with you, the teacher undoubtedly played an important role in the experience. So, what is it about certain yoga teachers that really helps us shine? And what are the personality traits that make a great teacher? This answer will be different for everyone, but here are the five traits I deem most important in a teacher.
Kindness and Compassion
A teacher who exhibits genuine warmth and compassion can immediately light up a room and foster a sense of relaxation and ease. They too experience the light and dark of life; they understand that the practice is an ever evolving process; and they meet you where you are, with genuine kindness and an open heart.
A teacher who is knowledgeable of the asanas, anatomy, and yogic philosophy, and who can effortlessly weave those aspects into a class, has a great gift to share. We all come to yoga for different reasons. For me one of the big ones is to learn, both about myself and my own inner experience of a pose, as well as more external asana-based knowledge. Natasha, a 200-hour certified yoga teacher, feels similarly. “I come to class for two reasons: a sense of community and to learn from my teacher. Whether it’s better alignment, a new sequence, or an anatomical lesson, I always want to learn something new,” Natasha said.
Similar to knowledge, dedication to the practice is quickly evident in a good teacher. They know what it is to be in this pose or that, and perhaps even more importantly, they understand the swirls of thought that sometimes pull us far away from the present moment. If my teacher has a dedicated personal practice, I feel I can more fully trust them as a guide. They understand that it takes great courage to show up on the mat and meet ourselves, day after day.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the seriousness of life, and oh so wonderful when a teacher brings a sense of playfulness and joy into the class. So many of us are strivers, wanting to achieve and succeed, but what happens when we can let that go and just meet ourselves where we are? We realize that it’s okay to fall on our faces sometimes. In fact, doing so can loosen us up and make us more open and forgiving to ourselves and others. Alicia, a longtime yoga student, is drawn to classes that incorporate these exact elements. “My favorite teachers are the ones who foster space for sacred play: a space where we humbly and lovingly approach our bodies, where we can laugh together and be gentle with ourselves,” Alicia said.
To be a great teacher requires humility. One must maintain a sense of reverence and gratitude for the practice. A teacher who has mastered humility, and who approaches life without the lens of ego, understands that yoga is something much bigger than the experience within the classroom. It is something that resides deep within all of us, a spark of the divine, to be nurtured and honored. Their role as teacher is to assist and guide others in that journey.
Perhaps as a student you have experienced one or more of these traits in your teacher, and maybe as a teacher you have embodied them. What other personality traits resonate with you? What do you look for in a teacher?