What qualities do you most value in a yoga teacher?

Last week we highlighted a piece — I’m assuming online only — at Yoga Journal about guidelines for yoga teachers.

It got me thinking about a related — it may even be flip side — idea: what qualities, as a practitioner, do I most value in my yoga teachers?

Some are obvious: deep knowledge of yoga — from the Sutras to the asanas. I’ve written about the importance of a sense of humor before. (As far as I can tell, it’s still drastically lacking.) There are more subtle, but at the same time more concrete, factors like parampara. I suppose. That doesn’t do anything to guarantee someone is a good teacher. Or a good person.

For me, though, if I had to put one at the top of the heap, I’d say “understanding.” And I’d put it at the top because I have found it so rarely. The vast amount of yoga teachers I’ve encountered really don’t seem to understand — or empathize with — students that don’t have their strength or flexibility or even their eating habits. (Admittedly, I’ve only read about people having encounters with yoga teachers who complained they smelled like meat when they sweat, but those stories ring true.)

As a result, their instruction — their teaching — is incredibly limited, even if it is limited to enough students to fill their classes.

Hmmm… that really reads harsher than I intend it, although I do think there is a great divide between what most yoga teachers are capable of teaching and what most potential students are capable of practicing. (But, again, for most teachers they are able to get enough capable students in their classes.) And I don’t mean to muddy my question (although muddy it I probably have): What qualities do you most value in a yoga teacher?

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

3 thoughts on “What qualities do you most value in a yoga teacher?”

  1. Insight – which encourages us to take our practice off the mat.
    Generosity – the willingness to be there for us, the students.
    Skill – adept at hands on assists, and in verbal articulation.
    Flexibility – to know when to push us and when to let us rest.

  2. Kindness and patience.
    Skill honed by years of teaching, and the wisdom to apply it sensibly to each unique student.

    Finally, this:

    “You must be deeply grounded in a tradition before you can innovate with integrity.” – Nadia Bolz Weber.

    In other words, have a daily practice for some years, and then teach only what your teacher taught you for many, many years before you begin to consider creating your own brand of “yoga.” You risk being like that guy in Napoleon Dynamite otherwise: “My name is Rex, and if you study with my eight-week program, you will learn a system of self-defense that I developed over two seasons of fighting in the Octagon. It’s called Rex Kwon Do!” 😉

  3. I value a teacher who first and foremost has spent a lot of time on his/her own mat and maintains a steady and consistent personal practice.

    I want to be assured that that teacher is dedicated to his/her continuing education—seeks council, is teachable, and maintains a connection to a lineage (I’m not speaking of strictly traditional parampara…. I mean has a teacher or teacher in their lives who can give them feedback and support).

    I like a teacher who doesn’t mind being questioned, and is capable of letting go of cherished beliefs and views to embrace a greater truth.

    I love a teacher who can just be her/himself. Who doesn’t put up a front, a fake voice, or hide behind entertaining playlists, nifty sequences or asana tricks. Who speaks with their own voice and doesn’t pepper their teaching language with Sanskrity things that they don’t understand, or make things up about deities or anatomy or chakras, etc. just to sound legit. By the same token, I so appreciate a yoga teacher that has some actual understanding of the spiritual and cultural heritage of yoga and is respectful of it.

    And finally, my favorite teacher is one who doesn’t selfishly perpetuate a cycle of dependency, but instead empowers their students to take responsibility for their own practice over time, by ACTUALLY TEACHING YOGA, rather than just leading people through a workout. As Chuck Miller says, “The goal of any good yoga teacher is to make themselves obsolete. I want to be like the Cheshire Cat, who, when the time is right, fades slowly into the background until all that’s left is a smile.”

    I feel really blessed to have such a teacher in my life, and to have known quite a few over the years.

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