On Being a Good Yoga Teacher

Being a Good Yoga TeacherBeing a good yoga teacher requires a harnessing of a variety of important skills. First, one must be knowledgeable about the history and philosophy of yoga, as well as anatomy and the asanas themselves. The teacher must also have a sharp understanding of sequencing. Next, the teacher must have a firm grasp on communication and languaging. The teacher must also set a welcoming atmosphere and be gracious and socially attentive while setting important boundaries with students. A keen intuition is also important as well as a desire for safety. Lastly, a teacher should never stop learning, deepening their self-practice everyday.

A good teacher has taken the time to study yoga from as many angles as possible and should incorporate their wisdom into each class.  Having a deep respect for the history and philosophy of yoga will allow a teacher to provide context to their teachings. We are not practicing as merely a physical exercise, but are respectfully carrying on an ancient tradition that effects people’s lives on and off the mat. Having at least a basic knowledge of the physical and energetic bodies allows the teacher to come up with intelligent sequencing, transitions, and safety that will be more deeply satisfying to a student than most traditional exercises. This also allows the teacher to intelligently cue each pose, helping the students reach optimal alignment. In teaching, as in life, knowledge is power and it is our duty to pass this on to our students.

Understanding how to sequence a class is extremely important, especially in forms of yoga that require creativity, such as Vinyasa Flow. The teacher should first assess the level of the class before sequencing or be able to adjust the level according to the students. A teacher can either sequence a class in a general way, exercising all parts of the body, or in a thematic way, working towards a peak pose or flow. Both require attentiveness to a bell-curve: starting slowly/gently, becoming more vigorous toward the middle, and then lowering the heart-rate as you finish. In general, the class should start with centering/breathing exercises, followed by a warm-up that moves and rotates all major joints. This is followed by a series of flows that start low and become more vigorous as the practice proceeds, perhaps leading to a peak pose. This is followed by inversions and back-bends, counter-posing after the entire sequence is finished. This is then followed by a cool-down and eventually savasana and Om/Namaste. During the class, the teacher should offer modifications and variations to suit the various levels of students and also offer intelligent adjustments and assists, carefully giving attention to all students.

A good teacher has a firm grasp on communication and languaging. A clear, projected voice that is slow and clear with simple wording will help students keep pace with the class. Varying the language by not repeating phrases such as “coming into downward facing dog” or “breathe in, breathe out”, will help students stay interested in the class and will allow time for more intelligent cues. A good teacher should speak in commands, but never make it about themselves or referring to “we” or “I”. A good teacher should avoid the following words and phrases: slang, such as “gonna” or “wanna”, filler words, such as “now”, “just”, “so”, “really”, and “then” , “push”, “drop”, “don’t”, “you’re”, “please”, “thank you”, and “sorry”. A yoga teacher should also avoid sounding like an aerobics instructor, taking a more formal and elegant approach since it is a spiritual practice. A good teacher should also use both demonstration and language to cue the breath through each pose and flow. Lastly, the teacher’s tone of voice should set the mood for the class and should also follow the sequencing bell-curve, motivating the students to come along energetically in their practice.

A good teacher also presents themselves professionally and sets a welcoming mood while being gracious and socially attentive. Dressing professionally in such a way that covers the body, but covers it snugly is important. Excessive jewelry and hair in the face does not send the right message. The teacher should be totally present and with the class the entire time as well. The teacher should be warm, learning their students’ names and finding out each of their student’s specific needs, greeting and saying good-bye to each if possible. A teacher should present an open, positive mood and demonstrate equanimity to all students. The teacher should be welcoming and attentive to all newcomers, making sure they feel comfortable and positioned correctly in the room. The yoga space should be pleasant, clean, and calming with nice lighting, smells, and temperature. This should be a sacred space to both teacher and student.

A good teacher should stress safety. They must communicate effective alignment and transition cues to the students and make sure not to push anyone past their edge. If offering assists, the teacher should never go quickly and should stay totally focused on the student the entire time. The teacher should also make sure the student has the props they need and should make adjustments when spotting dangerous alignment. The teacher should also verbally cue specific safety instruction such as “Never move the head in Plow.”

Lastly, a good teacher must be devoted to their self-yoga and meditation practice, continue their personal studies, and stay current on the latest developments in safety and longevity in practice. The thirst to go deeper into yoga and to always learn will always be reflected to your students. It is an honor and privilege to pass this science to others and we must fully be present and engaged to do so. Harnessing this multitude of skills while continuing to grow, is the path to hopefully becoming a great teacher.

Written by: Lauren Leduc