Qualities of Great Yoga Teachers
Photo by Tony Felgueiras at 2015 Hanuman Festival
A friend of mine once told me that a yoga teacher’s job is not to teach students their practice but to guide them through their own. As a seasoned yogi and certified teacher, this got me thinking about my guiding role.
After contemplating and asking others about what makes a great teacher, I’ve narrowed down my findings to four E’s that make excellent teachers stand apart from the rest.
As a guide through their students’ practice, a great teacher acknowledges and values their role in building relationships with students and with the yoga community. Great teachers not only connect with students during class; they also connect students to each other and to something deep within themselves.
A great teacher possesses the ability to read and relate to students’ emotions, teaching in a way that is personal and personable. A great teacher understands, accepts, and teaches from where students are in their practice.
For a great teacher, this means going above and beyond before, during, and after the scheduled class. Being engaging often entails interacting with students before class to see how they’re feeling and learn their discomforts or injuries. Throughout the class, it might look like asking students if they’re comfortable with hands-on assistance or observing body language during certain poses. And a great teacher certainly follows up with students after class to answer any questions they might have.
Great teachers encourage their students to express themselves. They know that their yoga class is not a game of Simon Says and want students to find what works for them.
Preparing students with the foundations and safe alignment of a pose, a great teacher then encourages students to explore that pose in a way that feels best for them. They will provide multiple variations of an asana and use phrases like, “Find what resonates with you,” “Do what feels right in your body” or even “Forget what it looks like and focus on what it feels like.”
While I’ve thoroughly enjoyed many classes taught by newly certified teachers, most great yoga teachers have years of experience in both their personal practice and guiding others. Experience, after all, is the best teacher there is.
A good yoga teacher has a holistic knowledge of physiology and yogic history. A teacher’s greatness, however, develops through the application of their knowledge. Mysore Ashtanga Guru, Sri Pattabhi Jois, reminds us, “Yoga is 99 percent practice and one percent theory.”
Great teachers constantly deepen and apply their knowledge and understanding. Their experience allows them to teach specific kinds of classes with comfort and confidence. This also provides them the versatility and adaptability to incorporate new things into their classes or change plans on the fly in order to better teach to the needs and abilities of their students.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, great teachers not only leave you feeling inspired after your class, but they also empower students to live their practice off the mat.
To live your practice off the mat, a great teacher views yoga as a powerful tool for changing lives. “Yoga is the unifying art of transforming dharma into action, be it through inspired thought, properly nurturing our children, a painting, a kindness or an act of peace that forever moves humanity forward,” Micheline Berry, Los Angeles yoga teacher said.
Eoin Finn, founder of Blissology, uses his practice as a tool for “mining for the source of love inside of all of us,” which he describes as “the ultimate renewable resource.”
By using yoga as a tool for something greater than ourselves, Micheline, Eoin, and other great teachers empower students to change lives–both their own and others’.
Through engagement, expression, experience, and empowerment, great yoga teachers encourage their students to positively change lives. And that’s what greatness is all about.