Don’t hit the mat without this instructor checklist.
As we all know, a school is only as good as its teachers. It’s a principle that applies especially to modern-day yoga, where there is such a wide range of skills and experience among instructors. Finding the right teacher can mean the difference between dropping out after one class and sustaining a long-term practice capable of changing your life.
Once you’ve narrowed down your options for the type of yoga you want to practice (see find the right yoga studio), it’s time to start shopping for teachers. Check out their professional bios; get some word-of-mouth references from students or colleagues. Then go sample a class and, if possible, chat with them afterwards.
Here are the questions to ask:
Training and Experience
What type of courses have they completed and how long have they been teaching? Bear in mind that a basic 200-hour certificate, achievable in just 10 days through some teacher-training programs, is very different from an Iyengar certificate, which takes a minimum of five years for introductory teachers. Find out what lineage they follow, who are their mentors and teachers, and how long they’ve studied with each.
Do they have a grasp of basic anatomy and biomechanics? You want to tackle appropriate challenges and avoid unnecessary risks; inexperienced teachers have been known to encourage poses that caused injuries, giving themselves—and yoga in general—a bad name. Have they mastered the spiritual side of yoga? For many people, this is optional; in my view, it’s an important part of any practice.
Observation and Communication
How well does a teacher gauge the energy and ability levels of students? A well-trained yogi knows when to push and when to back off, ensuring access to the deepest work grounded in safety.
Most good teachers will poll students regarding any potential issues or injuries at the beginning of a class in order to provide alternative poses or prop support as needed. They can easily articulate and direct each class syllabus, and lead the class in a clear, captivating manner.
Teaching and mentoring skills are not only learned through schooling, they are earned through experience, and they’re grounded in compassion. Great teachers possess an innate ability to connect with their students, to address their individual needs and to meld the collective into a caring, mindful and spirited community. True gurujis may differ in personal style—from soft-spoken, gentle leadership by example to barked orders and abrupt adjustments—but they all inspire and motivate each of their students to a greater practice for physical and spiritual well-being.