5 Things That Make A Yoga Teacher Great
Are you a good yoga teacher? Do you aspire to be a Great Yoga Teacher? You know the kind of yoga teacher you want to be, because you’ve been in his classes, and you’ve watched her videos. You can feel the difference. Sometimes it seems like a mystery how one yoga teacher can stand out above the rest. Is it years’ of experience? Super-natural self-confidence? Charisma and good looks?
Actually, it’s no mystery. Here are 5 things that can transform a good yoga teacher into a great one.
1. Integrity. A great yoga teacher teaches with integrity. This means that he teaches only from his own personal experience, based on his own practice. A teacher’s personal practice is the foundation of his teaching. It is the source of his inspiration. It is how he is able to transfer his knowledge to his students. His personal practice includes of asana and meditation, as well as living his yoga off the mat, with a lifestyle that is designed to open the heart and quiet the ego.
You can feel the difference when a teacher speaks from his own personal experience. There is a deeper level of commitment, of wisdom, that comes through his words. It is a little known fact that this exchange, the actual transference of wisdom, can ONLY take place if the teacher lives the knowledge of which he speaks. Otherwise his words are not alive; they only come from the brain and not the heart and body. When the information is being lived, the teacher can transfer it to his students with a higher vibrational frequency, which results in a greater integration by his students.
2. Authentic Caring. A great yoga teacher authentically cares for her students. The key word here is authentic. You can feel the difference when a teacher truly cares: she uses her students’ names in class, remembers things they did in past classes, comments on their progress, and is attentive to their personal needs. A great yoga teacher knows that her caring is also expressed by her ability to keep her students safe. Since she doesn’t want them to hurt themselves, her instructions focus on correct alignment combined with feeling, encouraging her students to cultivate their own intuition while doing a pose, integrating their mind and spirit with their body.
A great yoga teacher is not there to perform for her students. She doesn’t seek love and approval from them; instead, she finds validation from within, through her meditation practice, which connects her to a deeper sincere self-love found in the heart chakra. She sees her students as mirrors to herself, and works on her own healing if she finds herself confronted by any students. She knows it is her responsibility to care for her students, since she is the leader of the class.
3. Intuition. Have you ever left yoga class thinking, “How did my teacher know that was exactly what I needed today?” And you know you are the only student thinking that! No part of the mind can consciously think up what to do so that 20 different students get exactly what they need. Instead, by tuning into his intuition, a great yoga teacher simply feels what will serve all students, even if the students don’t know themselves. We call that “an inspired class.” True inspiration comes from intuition.
Master yoga teacher Aadil Palkhivala says, “Give students what they want until the day they want what you have to give.” It is a fine art knowing how to meet students’ needs AND raise their experience. If a teacher only gives students what they want, he won’t help them grow. But if he only teaches what he wants to give, the students won’t feel listened to. By cultivating his intuition, the great yoga teacher is able to find the beautiful balance between meeting his student right where they are, and lifting them to a better place.
4. Learns from a Master. A great yoga teacher is also a great student. She participates in continued education to nurture her personal practice and her teaching skills. Since she asks her students to take her yoga class, she naturally therefore takes other teachers’ classes herself. (See the first point on integrity). And for her, there is one important addition, and it shows up in her teaching. A great yoga teacher studies with a Master Teacher, someone she can look up to, who has years of experience beyond her own.
You can find many of these teachers at the big yoga conferences, but a great yoga teacher has developed a relationship over time with a teacher who inspires them to grow and improve both personally and professionally. Instead of going broad and training a little bit with all the major yoga teachers, a great yoga teacher has found one or two teachers, or even one particular lineage, with which she can go deep, deep into her own personal yoga and meditation practice, and deep into the art of teaching.
5. Purpose. A great yoga teacher teaches with purpose and a clear intention, beyond just sharing the physical benefits of yoga. The deeper purpose of yoga and meditation is to help us live from the heart. But sometimes a yoga practice can be used to aggrandize the ego. It nurtures whatever is in you, and does not discriminate. The difference comes from the intention of the teacher. A great yoga teacher respects the unique position he is in to help his students connect with their true self. He isn’t there to build up his own ego, or the egos of his students. He isn’t there to get energy from their adoration. Instead, he is there to serve his students in feeling more alive, and shining their light into the world.
The purpose of yoga is to bring your true self into greater and greater connection with your conscious self, so you are the master of your body, your emotions, your thoughts, and your spirit. A great yoga teacher brings this purpose to his classes. He offers ways to reign in the ego and guide it to take directions from the heart. He encourages his students to focus on a beautiful feeling while in a pose, using their intention to tell the mind what to think and feel. A great yoga teacher brings clarity to his student’s life purpose, because first and foremost, he is clear about his own.
As a yoga student, you might find these qualities in your teachers. As someone who wants to become a yoga teacher, you can find a school that teaches these qualities. As a yoga teacher who wants to change lives, you can practice these qualities, so you can help more people heal and get pain-free, find more joy and love, feel more alive, and shine. And that is the wonderful gift of yoga.
– Kirsten Elfendahl, of the College of Purna Yoga