In Search of a Yoga Teacher

When I first set out to find a yoga teacher, I knew only that I liked the brief yoga experience I had at a place far from home. I didn’t know what I was looking for in a yoga teacher, and there was no internet to provide me with more information than I could possibly absorb. So, adopting a researcher’s stance toward yoga, I sampled quite a few yoga classes and teachers and, after a couple of months, chose the one who served as my very first teacher. She was perfect!

Even now, knowing much more than I did those many years ago, when students who practice with me in the summer in Maine ask me how to find a teacher when they return home, my very first piece of advice is to shop around.

Yoga is not only a physical practice. It is deeply personal, and invites you into yourself—your body, your emotions, your spiritual self. So the choice of a teacher is about much more than learning how to do poses. The process of choosing helps you to become aware of what matters to you as you begin or return to a practice. Here is my list of suggestions for engaging in the search.

1. Make sure the teacher is certified and experienced. These days, most teachers, studios and health clubs provide details about certification, training and experience online. If the information isn’t readily available, ask. How long has the teacher practiced yoga? How long has the teacher taught yoga? If you know you are interested in a particular kind of yoga, check to see whether a teacher was trained in that style.

2. If you already know that you have some specific preferences or needs for the yoga classes you take (e.g., a class for beginners, an emphasis on alignment, a strong spiritual focus, a class that’s very physically challenging), look for a teacher whose training and classes can address these needs and interests.

3. Ask friends who study yoga for recommendations and opinions. Ask them not only which teacher(s) they recommend, but why. What is it they particularly value?

4. Shop around. This may take some time, particularly if you live in an area with an abundance of yoga teachers and classes. But it is well worth it. Most studios, health clubs and teachers have special prices and/or arrangements for newcomers. Take advantage of these, and check out a sampling of teachers who look good to you or who have been recommended. If you find a teacher you like, try several of his/her classes before making a more long-term commitment.

5. In each class, make sure a teacher actually teaches. This sounds obvious, but in some yoga classes teachers simply call out the poses and do them in front of the class. Teachers should provide clear instructions about how to get into the poses, and should walk around and help students get into poses safely.

6. In each class, make sure that there is an internal focus, an invitation to delve inside, to move from the inside out.

7. In each class, notice how you feel.  Do you feel welcome? Comfortable? Safe?  This is very important. As a new yoga student, you can expect to find some poses uncomfortable and some of the language strange. But finding a deeper sense of comfort and safety with the teacher—paying attention to how it feels to be in this teacher’s class—is essential.

8. Once you have found a teacher who feels ‘right’ for you, make a commitment to a consistent practice with that person. The more you delve into your practice, the more aware you will become of yourself as a yoga student, of what you need, of how you want to develop. Over time, you will find many teachers whose teaching you value and whose classes you enjoy. Your perspective and understanding will change.

Throughout the process, remember that, though there is much you can learn through the guidance of your yoga teacher, the real teacher—the guru—is you.

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