Choosing the Right Yoga Teacher

It’s that time of year again – what I consider to be the New Year of yoga. As the summer draws to a close, the majority of people return home from vacation, begin to spend more time indoors, and fall back into some sort of routine. With this annual immigration of yogis, most yoga studios experience a stark increase in attendance.
For those who are looking to start yoga, choosing the right yoga class that best suits our needs can become a difficult process, especially with so many teachers around. Most often times, we have an idea of who we would like to take classes with, whether we were influenced by word of mouth, a studio’s convenient location, or because of some other form of advertising.
Whatever the case may be, I found an interesting article put together by Yoga Alliance. With the increasing popularity of yoga, and the unfortunate “McDonald-isation” of it, yoga studios are pumping out teachers at a rate faster than responsibly possible. Given this, Yoga Alliance’s mission, a non-profit organization, is to lead the yoga community, set standards, foster integrity, provide resources, and uphold the teachings of yoga. According to them, the following are a set of guidelines that we can use when choosing a teacher:

1. Choose a style of yoga that suits you

If you’re unsure where to start your research, an article by Yoga Journal, describing the many different styles of yoga, makes it easy. All this to say do not sign up for an Ashtanga class if you are sixty five, slightly overweight, and only want to relax, or go to a Viniyoga teacher if you are taking up yoga as an alternative to jogging or weight lifting to keep fit. If in doubt, ask to watch or participate in a class before enrolling. This gives you a chance to see for yourself if their style of teaching, and the style of yoga they teach, suits you.

St. Viateur yoga

2. Choose your teacher carefully.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Here are a few points you should clarify with any teacher before enrolling in his or her class:

  • Do they practice themselves? How often? 
Someone who doesn’t practice yoga regularly (i.e., at least three times a week, preferably 5 or 6 times a week) may not be suitable as a teacher, since they may be lacking the physiological experience and may only be teaching from memory of books, videos or magazines. According to a lot of yogis, not practicing goes against the essence of yoga. As late Guru Sri Pattabhi Jois said, “Yoga is 99% practice, 1% theory.”
  • How long have they been practicing yoga?
Someone who hasn’t been practicing regularly for at least three years may not have enough experience to teach yoga.
  • With whom did they train, and for how long?

Training as a yoga teacher takes a lot of time and effort. Ask your prospective new teacher about his or her training – how the teacher obtained the training, if the teacher went to a yoga teacher training school or program, and what certification(s) he or she holds.

  • Are they still studying yoga?
Some yoga teachers, once certified, stop studying. This goes against the philosophy of yoga. There’s a saying that to be a teacher, you need a teacher, a practice, a love and knowledge of the subject you teach, and students.

3. Choose a teacher you respect.
The yoga student-teacher relationship should be more than a commercial or a superficial one. Make sure you study yoga with someone you can trust and respect.

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