You’re ready to take your yoga practice into the studio, or maybe even upgrade for private sessions.
But how do you choose the right yoga teacher for your style and needs?
1. Pick the Right Class
Before you worry about the best yoga teacher (yes, we’ll get there), the first issue is to get to the right class. If you’re a newbie, only having done yoga in a gym once or twice and you show up to the Power Flow or Level 2-3 class, no matter how good the teacher, you may be suffering. Likewise, if you’re really needing something relaxed, meditative, and calming, you’re going to be pretty shocked if you end up in an Ashtanga Class.
=> Look up the class name. If you’re still unsure what it is, read the description, or ask!
=> For smaller classes, or private lessons, have a conversation with the teacher about what you’re looking for. Today I had a class of only 4 students and 2 of them told me they wanted hip-openers. Well, that’s 50% of the class, so guess what we did? Hip-openers. The teacher should be able to adjust to the needs of the students and accommodate most reasonable requests.
2. Take Caution with these Yoga Teacher types
A. Overtly sexual. While surprising, its not unheard of that a student may sense sexual energy or get the come-on vibe from a teacher during the class. One story I heard is that a teacher, somewhat unknowingly (where his subconscious was acting out) was lightly grazing many of the students butts while walking throughout the room. If you get that feeling from the teacher, that’s typically not the ideal energy for developing in your yoga practice, so try a different teacher.
B. No training. If you’ve practiced yoga much, you can usually spot these people right away. They may have had 2 hours max training as part of a fitness instructor course and now they think they’re qualified to teach an Asana or flow practice. A fellow teacher was telling me she had this experience on her recent trip. The ‘instructor’ couldn’t name, do, or explain the poses correctly. Now, don’t get me wrong here, not every yoga teacher (not even most!) have the ability to bust out Scorpion or even full Lotus in every class. But if your teacher can’t even demonstrate or explain correctly the alignment for Downdog, find a different teacher.
C. Those that make you uncomfortable. This is pretty vague, but if its really an issue, you’ll get the feeling and move on. Here are a couple of stories to help this make more sense.
My Korean friend was in a yoga class taught by an Indian guy who wore short, loose fitting shorts. And while she didn’t get a sexual vibe from him, every time he did Tree pose or Warrior 2, his junk was hanging out the side of his shorts. Certainly you can avert your eyes, but if its making you uncomfortable, move on.
My experience isn’t as clear-cut. I practiced at a yoga studio here in Arizona for awhile, but decided it wasn’t right for me. The teacher was a good practitioner, she made appropriate and beneficial adjustments, she explained poses well, and she taught a physically well-balanced class. But during every s.i.n.g.l.e class she cursed and mentioned the negative stuff in her life, thoughts, and interactions. I DON’T want someone injecting their negative energy and bad language into my practice–after every class I felt blue or down, not a feeling I strive for. For me yoga is a time and space for uplifting and embracing our best possible selves; cussing and complaining about your life isn’t part of that. That being said, she has a huge following. Wherever she opens a studio, her students follow her and they think her language and her issues make her real and authentic. My other issue with her was she hugged me (and everyone) and even sometimes kissed people on the cheek. Again, fine, if you’re close to her, but I’m not into hugging people I just met especially when either or both of us are sweaty. Ugh! This is just one of those things you take on your feeling: try it out and move on if you don’t like it.
3. When it feels right…
A. The teaching style (energy, voice, music) matches the description and expectation of the class. Typically an upbeat teaching style goes best with a flow class. And likewise, slow movements, soothing voice, and comforting language cultivate a Relax or Restorative Yin class. According to the class name and description, the teacher should accommodate those expectations and adjust their style to the class (or only teach what they’re good at). When you find that, you’ve usually got a winner. (But don’t judge too quick in case the teacher is just having an off-day or is very new to that style.)
B. The teaching style and philosophy works for you. This can be a whole range of questions, including: personality; lots of meditation time or very little; sanksrit or not; lots of explanations on poses and alignment cues; hands-on adjustments or not; primarily physical emphasis; storytelling, music or quiet; challenges you and your limits; and more. Try out a few different teachers on a couple of different days. What works for your friend, may not be ideal for you.
C. Key elements are included. This can vary based on the type of class (Flow v. Restorative) but most classes should work a large range of motion in a couple key areas of the body, allow for both Sthira and Sukkha = steadiness and ease, include pranayama = breath control, and some meditation.
D. You can understand them. If you’re constantly needing visual ques to follow the practice, it makes it a lot more challenging to ease into and out of poses. And that can be distracting and disruptive. Whether its a vocalization issues, language or accent barrier, or something else, make sure you can hear, understand, and interpret the teacher’s verbal instructions with relative ease. This one may not be a deal killer though: I had a funny, profound, totally unique , rockin’ teacher in Bali but I could only understand a third of what he said.
Clearly there’s a lot to consider when finding the best yoga teacher for you. But ultimately, it comes down to feeling or instinct. Ask friends, try a few teachers, a few studios, and then reflect. Who do you resonate with and which teachers inspire you? Go with your gut. And no one said you can only have just one teacher!
Reader Question: What would you add to this? What did I leave out? What’s important to you when you choose a yoga teacher?