What Makes a Great Yoga Teacher?

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The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.”
–Mark Van Doren

In the last 24 years, I’ve taken literally thousands of group classes and taught several thousand private sessions. I’ve spent so much time as a teacher and as a student of yoga that I’ve come up with 5 qualities that all great yoga teachers embody.

1- Grounded Presence

If you’re making your living teaching yoga, you’re probably short on time. Perhaps rushing from studio to studio, or stuck in traffic on the way to a client’s home.

Are you taking a few moments before you greet your students/clients, to get centered? To connect to something greater than yourself to help you be your best?

My favorite teachers are those who bring a sense of immediate calm to the room. They have a presence and an authenticity that words can’t describe. They are happy to be leading their students, and are immersed in the moment instead of being distracted or reciting their cues by rote.

Remember: You can improve a student’s experience of yoga simply by walking in the room.

2- Watchful Eye

Students need to be seen, even the shy ones hiding out in the back of the room. Make a point to survey the entire room, and connect with each student. When I taught group classes, I liked to have everyone tell me their name and we would give a round of applause each time a new student arrived. It created a nice community vibe that often filled the classes to capacity.

Remember: Really seeing people makes them feel validated and that their presence in your class means something to you.

3- Kind Heart

People are coming to you to feel good, even better, than they do when they stepped on their mat. Honor the earnestness of that choice. If you give alignment suggestions or call attention to the fact that you don’t know them yet, make sure it’s from a loving place that makes the student feel INCLUDED, as opposed to excluded.

I’ve heard from too many students that certain classes made them feel inadequate, or like the unpopular kid, and that kind of division has no business in a yoga studio.

Remember: Your students’ presence is a gift to you – be kind.

4- Lightness of Spirit

This is a big one. I think when I first started teaching I was so focused on remembering my sequences that I forgot to have fun. Yoga practice can be reverent and still be fun. If you think of yourself as a light worker, bringing joyfulness, clarity and open space into a yoga room, your students will feel this lightness of being, especially amidst challenging poses.

Remember: Never underestimate the effect your current state of mind has on the energy in the room.

5- Intellectual Authority

Do you know what you’re talking about? Do you feel confident of the content of what you’re teaching? Can it be explained in simple terms, with as few words as possible? These are signs you are well-versed in the material. Students need to respect your position as an authoritative guide as they move through postures. That said, there is always a balance between demanding a student follow direction, and creating a space safe enough for a student to ask for a modification, or simply just take one. Yoga classes where there is a strong insistence that everyone do the same exact thing are ones in which this balance is missing.

Remember: You probably know more than you think you do. Be confident, shine your light brightly, and have love in your heart.

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Yoga - Catherine TingeyEditor’s Note: This is a guest post by Catherine Tingey. Catherine teaches private and corporate yoga and meditation throughout Los Angeles. Visit her website at http://catherinetingey.com

6 comments

  1. All great suggestions and wonderful insight! I think #2, a watchful eye, is especially important not only for community vibe but also to help prevent injury and allow for student modifications.

  2. Hello Catherine,
    The qualities of a yoga teacher you’ve described is really very informative. However I believe myself the number 3rd is the most essential for a great yoga teacher. A teacher should be student-friendly so that the trainees can express the challenges with their teacher. Thanks for sharing the article….!

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