Everyone who has practiced yoga knows that there are many different types of yoga teachers out there. This is great because we all connect with different types of people. Students who need strong discipline might be drawn to a warrior-like teacher, whereas others might work better with a more nurturing teacher. Whatever the teaching approach may be, there are certain qualities that all good yoga teachers possess. Here are some of my thoughts spiced up with reflections from our Post Graduate Yoga Teacher Trainees (in italics).
A good yoga teacher shows authenticity in their personality; they have energy and a true passion for their teachings, wanting to educate and inspire others. They are empowering with a positive attitude. To teach from a place of authenticity, intellectual knowledge must be supported by ongoing personal practice and exploration of yoga, whether this be the 8-limbed path or another tradition.
Self Practice & Self Study
All yoga teachers should practise yoga and only teach it based on their own solid experiential understanding. They should also continue to seek out and attend training and education opportunities to stay up-to-date. When a teacher tries to teach something she has just read in a book without having spent hours on the mat applying it into practice, the teaching doesn’t translate to students. Yoga teaching that comes only from intellectual level isn’t as clear as teaching based on teacher’s personal experiences. Instead, great yoga teachers are deeply involved in their own personal development as well as that of their students. Energetically speaking when any teaching comes from the heart and the higher self rather than the mind and the ego, the message is more genuine. By always staying curious and to be constantly learning and improving – this is what makes a teacher an inspiring presence at the front of the room.
A good teacher wants to share everything they have learnt through their own practice, so that others too could experience the same wonderful benefits they have gained. The more the teacher shares with their students, the more the teachings are reinforced. This results in a snowball effect where they learn even more in the process with the students. They don’t want to keep that knowledge to themselves in order to make students dependent on them. A good teacher teaches from trust in abundance rather than from fear of scarcity; the more you give, the more you get.
A good teacher will take time preparing their class plans so as to reach the goal of the class which might be as simple as getting spine to move in all directions. In a general class they will also teach in layers from simple to more complex, gentle to stronger so as to cater for a variety of student levels. Well thought out classes show a respect to the students and a commitment toward teaching. The teacher will also be available for questions / discussion after class.
A good teacher educates and empowers the students. Rather than just teaching them certain poses, they help students understand the learning processes involved; working from the principle ‘teach them how to fish, rather than give them a fish’. They should recognize a student’s potential and be invested in that for the improvement of the individual. This is a good way to transfer the authority to the students and help them understand the principles of practice, so that they learn to understand and listen to their own bodies. Then the students can take control of their own health and personal growth. A new student should also be able to come to class and feel that the experience was a positive one and leave with more knowledge of yoga.
A good teacher constantly challenges and encourages the students. Each yoga practitioner is unique and therefore each yoga practice needs to evolve differently. A good yoga teacher sees the individuality of each student and teaches them accordingly. Like a chameleon, yoga teacher needs to adapt to different situations. They cater to all levels, offering alternatives, knowing how to alter the class depending on the students that attend on any given day. First and foremost this requires observation skills; an exceptional teacher takes into account the physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual state of their students by observing and listening. Rather than giving the same instructions to everyone, a good yoga teacher is able to give individual guidance to each student according to their age, ability and health condition. They are willing to work ‘with’ students bodies, rather than offering a ‘one size fits all’ class.
Even though we don’t have industry guidelines for teacher-student relationship, there should be an absolute confidentiality between the teacher and the students. All good teachers work as ethically as doctors with their patients or lawyers with their clients. We are often amongst the first people to find out about pregnancies as well as miscarriages. This type of personal information should be valued and kept confidential. Students should be able to trust that their teacher has their best interests at heart.
A good teacher doesn’t seek learning results to feel validated, but simply teaches patiently at the highest level of the student’s current understanding at any given time. They share their knowledge and wisdom without putting themselves on a pedestal, or making any student feel inadequate physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually. They also consider how they live in the students’ minds and make sure they never underestimate the impact of their words and actions as these can often have immense impact. In their humility, great teachers never claim to have all the answers. It is the open recognition and acceptance of mistakes and truthful, humble reflection and self- representation that is the key to gaining respect and trust from students and peers alike. They acknowledge the scope of their teaching, and when needed refer the students to a more experienced or knowledgeable authority. For example, they know they are not medical professionals so would never make promises or diagnosis, nor would they question a medical opinion.
Technical skills and anatomy knowledge can be learnt, however, qualities such as sensitivity, people skills, social intelligence and empathy are character traits that are not so easily learned. It is attention to these and a continual desire to learn and be curious that makes the difference between a good teacher and an exceptional teacher.
Ihana Yoga YTT Head Teacher
Find more about our yoga teacher trainings here:
200hr Ihana Yoga Teacher Training commencing next time in January 2018
Post Graduate Yoga Teacher Training commencing in February 2018