I consider myself lucky to have practiced with some very charismatic and experienced yoga teachers from all over the world. Each teacher is unique in their own way and each was there to guide me along this yoga journey.
Some teachers may be very warm and welcoming, while others may be very charismatic when they explain things. Others may offer wonderful adjustments and others may simply have a calming presence.
Yoga teachers are there to inspire us and guide us. They can help us relax and also help us push through our mental and physical barriers.
Ever since I started teaching I found myself channeling certain qualities from my favorite yoga teachers. With time I found my own voice and was able to incorporate all the qualities I felt I wanted to add to my classes.
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Below is a list of the top 15 qualities of a great yoga teacher. These may not all be found in one person, however, a mix of them is what makes for an inspiring yoga teacher.
1. Warm and friendly
I still remember the very first yoga class I ever went to. I was rather nervous as I had never practiced yoga before. It was a quiet lunchtime Hatha yoga class and perhaps another 3-4 students.
The teacher then came into the room and she was so calm and welcoming. This came as a sharp contrast to what I had experienced in other work and gym settings.
And so this was my first ever experience of one of the key qualities of a good yoga teacher. As a beginner, I was very nervous and so her very warm and friendly nature put any stress I have at ease.
Of course, not all teachers are like this as this may not be part of their personality. And indeed I have practiced with some incredible teachers who are more distant. I will just say that as a beginner, having a warm and friendly teacher may make all the difference.
2. Clear instructions
During my yoga teacher training were asked to guide a fellow student into some yoga poses, with as clear instructions as possible. Our fellow student was then asked to do extactly what they heard.
I though this would be a simple process. Oh how wrong I was!
And this was a quick wake up call. I realized that what we think, then say, may not always be interpreted as we had expected. And this helped me understand the importance of clear and precise instructions, to guide all levels of students into poses.
And when in doubt, use your body to demonstrate the pose you are using your words to explain.
3. Knowledgeable about poses
Most yoga classes are asana focused. And so given the fact that a yoga teacher is there to guide us in and out of yoga poses in a safe manner, a great teacher is also knowledgeable about poses.
This means that they know how to make poses safe for all students and is there to offer any alternatives to those with injuries. Additionally, a great teacher has experienced the sensations to be felt in yoga poses and is then able to instruct their students and guide them to feel and lengthen and strengthen.
Yoga teachers may sometimes be the only calm presense in our lives. And so from my experince as a yoga tecaher, I have found that this encourages people to open us and ask for advice.
This may be about yoga poses and this may also be about how to deal with stress or about a potential career change, given that most yoga teachers have also been through one!
And so a great yoga teacher is approachable and helps students feel safe to ask questions. I try to not offer any advice of a psychological nature and instead ask students to seek professional advice. However, I am always open to questions about yoga poses, the practices, and career changes!
5. Intelligent physical adjustments
Ashtanga yoga in particular focuses a lot on physical adjustments. I have been practicing Ashtanga for over 10 years and I consider myslef lucky to have practiced with a wide variety of yoga teachers.
In those classes, I got to receive a wide variety of yoga adjustments. If you would like to find out more about yoga adjustments, you may like this article by David Keil: Adjusting Yoga Postures… Why Bother?.
I was lucky enough to attend a week-long Mysore workshop with David Keil in Glasgow several years ago. And I will say that receiving an adjustment from an experienced yoga teacher with a rich understanding of anatomy really does make a big difference.
A good yoga adjustment may help you feel safe in the pose, grounded, and may help you explore tho pose in a way that difficult to be done on your own. And so it does take a great deal of personal practice and understanding of anatomy to be able to offer good and safe yoga adjustments.
And I should know, I received a bad adjustment years ago and this resulted in a torn hamstring and many months of pain. And so for anyone looking for guidance or a course on yoga adjustments, I would highly recommend David Keil’s course on Yoga Adjustments. This was my source of inspiration when I first started teaching Ashtanga.
6. Knowledgeable about sequencing
Hatha and Vinyasa classes are generally designed along a sequence of poses. And so a great yoga teacher has a good understanding of the art of sequencing. This means that they know how to interweave yoga poses, to result in a yoga class that is designed to help open and strengthen particluar body parts.
There is a book called Yoga Sequencing: Designing Transformative Yoga Classes and it teaches the principles and methods for planning and sequencing yoga classes.
More specifically: “The nuanced interrelationships among asanas within and between the seven asana families are explored and the anatomy of opening and stabilizing each pose is explained for sequences designed around specific needs and intentions.”
And so a great yoga teacher is familiar with how to group yoga poses and the meaning around these groupings and in this way is able to teach with intention.
7. Lifelong learning
Yoga teacher training courses are just the tip of the iceberg. This was something I very quickly realised when I fistrt started tecahing.
There are so many paths and avenues to explore in the yoga world and this is part of the lifelong learning process of yoga teachers. With time you come to realize the aspects of the practice you are more interested in, and so you may start to follow courses on those particular topics.
For example, I found that I was very interested in yoga philosophy and also in making the practice accessible to everyone. This then led me to find the teachers that were then able to guide me along these paths.
If you are looking for inspiration, then you may find my article interesting: 30 Books Every Yoga Teacher Needs
8. Teaching beyond the poses
Yoga is considered to be a 5000 year old practice that was developed and practiced by Indian philosophical and spiritual geniuses. Naturally, the practice has evolved and changed a lot over the years.
One key change is the asana focus of modern day yoga. And yet, the rich history and philosophy of yoga is still an integral prat of the practice.
I once read interview with David Swenson where he explained that one method of moving simply beyond asana is focsing on the breath:
“It’s my basic belief, and the premise to my teaching is that all yoga really comes back to the breath, otherwise it’s simply just a type of gymnastic exercise. If that were the case, the greatest yogis would be circus performers and gymnasts. So you keep coming back to the sound and the quality of our breath during the practice. This helps us to keep the mind focused, to develop and maintain the meditative qualities of the practice.”
And so a great yoga teacher will have a practice and teaching philosophy that helps people explore and experience yoga beyond the poses.
9. Ability to connect
Helping all students in a class feel like they are acknowledged is a very special trait of a yoga teacher. In our crazy and sometimes isolated modern lives, it is easy to miss human connection.
And this is where a yoga teacher may be able to help. Whether it is through guiding a beautiful class or offering a physical adjustment, this alone may be able to help students feel a connection not only with the teacher but with the lineage of teachers and with the practice as a whole.
And so a great teacher is able to feel everyone on the class welcome and acknowledged, even those who like to hide at the back of the class.
10. Ego is left at the door
Everyone has their own personality and their own ego to deal with. The same of course applies for yoga teachers.
I have been to classes and workshops with some of the most experienced and talented Ashtanga yoga teachers. And what did they all have in common? A beautiful calm presence. They are all able to do amazing things with their bodies and they all have a vast amount of knowledge to share.
And yet, they leave their ego at the door and instead focus on the students present and their egos.
11. Catering to all levels
Some yoga classes may be tailored to absilute beginners while other may only be open to experiences practitioners. ANd then of course there are the classes that are open to all levels.
And yet, regardless of the level, in any given class there will be injuries, tiredness, open hamstrings, tight hamstrings, open hips, tight hips, open shoulders, tight shoulders, egos that need a little attention, and egos that need the volume turned down.
And so a great yoga teacher is able to scan the room and know how to work with all these pieces of a jigsaw and know how to piece them together so as to safely guide their students along yet another yoga class.
If you have ever practiced witha great yoga tecaher, it is easy to think of who sinspires you. I persoanlly have several yoga teachers on my list.
Years of dedicated practiced shine through and act as a beacon for their students. It may be their effortless asana practice and it may be their wealth of knowledge. It may be their calm presence and it may be how they make us feel.
It is a beautiful thing to be inspired by someone, and I was able to find that in the yoga world after a few years of searching.
13. Attention to detail
Great yoga teachers are able to notice things you may not have even considered. This could be asana based. For example one of my Ashtanga teachers noticed something I was doing in a particular asana, that would never have even crossed my mind.
And he was right. After bringing my attention to it and slowly correcting it, I saw a great improvement.
Great yoga teachers are able to see through us and notice what we may need to work on, not only on a physical level but also on a psychological and perhaps even spiritual level. And it is by observing the details that make us who we are that they are able to pinpoint the areas we may need to work on.
14. Love for yoga
It is the love for yoga that helps us come back to our mat, day in, day out. regardless of life’s ups and downs, our yoga practice is what helps bring us into contact with our true essence, and once experienced, it is hard to let go.
And so yoga is a special profession, as it is not like you just happened to study to become a yoga teacher or that you followed your parent’s footsteps to take over the family business.
Falling in love with yoga is what made us all yoga teachers. And a daily practice is what helps all yoga teachers tap into that love and then share it with their students.
And so a fundamental aspect of a great yoga teacher is loving yoga, and loving teaching it.
15. Love for teaching yoga
And so last but not least, a great yoga teacher loves teaching yoga. They love sharing the light and the practice and they love guiding their students and helping them to bloom.
Not all yogis are good teachers. But any yoga teacher who has at least some of the qualities mentioned in this article, in my opinion, is a teacher worth studying with.