How to be a Great Yoga Teacher

Yoga teacher training class

Clearly this post is simply my opinion as to what I believe makes a great yoga teacher.  Based on what? you ask.  I not only try different yoga studios wherever i travel and locally, but I go and observe what works for me and what doesn’t.  This post outlines briefly what I think great yoga teachers do.

1.  Great yoga teachers recognize that yoga classes and yoga sessions are an experience – not just a classroom

Make it a memorable experience – nice lighting, music, satsang, tea – mix it up.  Create a nice environment.  However, most importantly, be passionate about giving a great yoga experience.  My main teacher is extraordinarily passionate about yoga and it shows.  Going to her class is a real treat – better than any session I could do on my own at home.  Hence I go every week.  Visit other studios for ideas to improve the experience you give.

2.  Great yoga teachers are flexible in attitude

Skill level, ability, and desire differ in every student.  Appreciate every student and if someone needs to leave or go into child’s pose, let them and don’t make anything of it.  Don’t say anything attracting attention.  This will deter others from doing it.  It’s important students feel some autonomy and the freedom to take a breather if needed.  Yoga is about freedom and experience – not toeing the line military style.

3.  Great yoga teachers aren’t dogmatic

Nothing kills the enjoyment of anything as quickly as dogma.  Dogma is doing something for no reason – other than because that is what someone else said.  Recognize that there’s more than one way to do things.  For example, why always start with the right side?  I’ve asked this question and never been provided a decent answer.   Another pet peeve of mine is the insistence of proper sitting for meditation.  I do most of my meditating reclining on a couch.  I have wonderful meditation experiences and it works for me.  I don’t mean disrespect to tradition, but dogma – doing something because that’s what you’ve been told – is not good.

4.  Great yoga teachers continuously vary the routine and keep it interesting, instead of doing the same old poses every class

That said, some styles of yoga are formulaic and have the same routine; then variety isn’t part of the program.  If you teach a formulaic style of yoga, then be creative in different ways – consider starting and ending differently, emphasize different parts, talk about different aspects of yoga – do something that creates a unique experience.

5.  Great yoga teachers are more concerned with teaching than being great yogis

I expect my teacher to be proficient and knowledgeable about yoga, but I don’t expect excellence (in asana ability) or perfection.  In fact, I’m pretty strong and can often do more strength poses than my present teacher.  My present teacher is fine with that, and in fact praises it.  She’s not egotistical about it at all.  That’s a good attitude.

Don’t think you have to be able to do every pose perfectly.  Once you achieve a decent proficiency (no doubt most bad teachers are more ‘capable’ than many yoga practitioners), then work on offering great yoga experiences.  Improved proficiency will come with time; however, right now your students want a great experience, not a teacher who can do way more than them.

Maybe you’re reading this and thinking “how can you say this when you talk about building teacher credibility and yoga instructor celebrity“?  The point of my teacher credibility post was not to give ideas about how to be a great yoga teacher, but instead how to become further credentialed to communicate that you are a great yoga teacher.  In marketing, perception is important.

However, at the end of the day, perceptions are easily shattered, and if you are a bad yoga teacher, your credentials won’t matter.

6.  This one should be obvious, but it’s not.  Offer the necessary gear – mats, props (if used), blankets, etc.

Also, do not expect your students to clean and put away the gear.  I know many hands make light work, but for the student experience, having to rise from Savasana to then clean up makes for a distasteful ending to what may have been a great class.

These are just some of my observations over the years.  No doubt the list can go on an on.  Also, this list assumes a great teacher has the prerequisite training and experience.

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