Yoga is a highly personalised practice, even if we follow a style where the asana (physical) practice remains the same each time - for example Ashtanga or Bikram (see my previous article for further details on these styles) - we are all completely individual and come to the mat with different needs, experience, and expectations (although it is highly likely you will be encouraged to let go of these expectations when coming to the mat!). As the Bhagavad Gita points out: “Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self”. It really is all about You; there is only one You, and so your practice is personal to You.
But of course we all need guidance on our yogic journeys, as yoga is also about connection, sharing knowledge and nurturing your relationships with those around you. Therefore finding your yoga teacher(s) plays a vital role in your yogic journey. You need someone who you connect with, who you respect, and hopefully who you like (if you’re going to be taking hours and hours of instructions from them, it’s more likely to be conducive to your learning if you do actually like them!).
This list has been compiled to help you make some important decisions when searching for a teacher that suits your needs.
1. They are qualified to teach yoga
This may sound ridiculously obvious, but do check that your teacher is certified to be teaching yoga. Whether it’s with The British Wheel of Yoga or Yoga Alliance UK, it is always worth doing your homework and double checking that your teacher has been through formal training.
Although yoga teachers should not be expected to be medical experts, it is essential that they have a developed level of understanding as to how the body works to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their students.
2. They are always looking to learn more
Following on from point one... just because they’ve completed their training does not mean that their learning should stop. The best teachers are constantly questioning, reading around the subject, attending workshops, and going to other teachers’ classes.
Even in the first few months of teaching I’ve had students come to me with injuries, pregnancy, and disabilities. These are things that teacher training doesn’t cover fully, and so I’ve had to do my own research and am constantly developing my knowledge. This is such an important part of teaching, as the more you learn the more you can share with your students, and after all this is our main responsibility: to share our knowledge.
3. They practice what they preach
Although most of us are not able to do asana (physical) practice anywhere near as much as we’d like to, a good teacher will practice yoga whenever they are able to. This may simply mean practicing ahimsa (non-violence) on a daily basis (e.g. helping the bumble bee escape out of the window rather than swotting it), or it may mean practicing breath control for a few minutes in the morning, or perhaps aiming to practice Santosha (contentment) in their daily lives.
4. They show a genuine desire to connect with you
Yes, yoga teachers often see hundreds of students a week, but a good teacher will be in the business because they really care about people. Whether it’s a smile at the beginning of the class, a reassuring adjustment, or taking time to talk things through with you after a practice, a good teacher will make time to connect with you and to show you that they care. I always do my best to remember names (sometimes it may take a few weeks!) and of course injuries. Sometimes this doesn’t happen, but a good teacher will try to do these things because they really do care. Yoga is about connection and love, and so a good teacher will express this boundlessly.
5. They understand their role as a “teacher”
The best teachers I have come across are the ones who are truly devoted to simply sharing their knowledge to the best of their ability. They do not see themselves as separate to their students, or as superior, but instead they feel responsible for dutifully sharing what they know. The best teachers are the ones who inspire you to find your own way, and really this is what yoga is all about - YOUR journey.
Remember: “Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self”.
Lucy Victoria Jackson is a Berkshire based 200 hour RYT with Yoga Alliance UK. She specialises in Ashtanga, Vinyasa and Power yoga and also runs a blog called The Beautifully Healthy Project.