In yoga the teacher plays an important role. The teacher not only sheds light on the subject of yoga - but the relationship itself is foundational. The specifics of the teaching such as techniques and beliefs are not as important as the love and relationship established between student and teacher. Yoga, to yoke, is about connectedness, and that begins with the connection between two beings. Connection is the driving force in transformation.
Good teachers remain heavy in their experience and not swayed. One of the definitions of Guru is heavy.
I think as students we seek to find teachers because we need someone to help us hold what is too big for us all on our own, and hopefully to provide a vision for us beyond what we can imagine for ourselves.
One of the central components of being a good teacher, is to be clear on what you’re teaching. My job as a teacher is to impart my knowledge of asana, but I’m not an asana teacher, I’m a yoga teacher. My job is also to encourage students to develop as people. To use their asana practice as a platform for improving their quality of life, and the lives of those around them. This is a big task and we all need to reach out for help, and to know that we are not alone on this path.
When studying yoga it is really helpful to find someone who can be your teacher, but this can also be challenging. Because the relationship is so central to growth and development mutual affection is key. A teacher isn’t a master, but they should be someone who has spent time learning about the process of yoga and has progressed to a point where they understand the process well enough to guide you through it.
Ethical conduct is central to yogic teachings. Finding an ethical and authentic teacher is hard in this social media age. Yoga is often misrepresented in our society. People often misrepresent themselves. There is a value placed on beautiful, young, bendy people, and there is often value placed on asana over the other limbs of yoga. It took me years to figure out what it means to be a teacher - I’m still figuring it out. Fortunately, I have had strong teachers influencing my practice and my teaching.
Find a teacher who leads by example and embodies the person you want to be, not the pose you want to do.
The whole point of practice, as I see it, is to bring out the best in us as human beings. Therefore, the way to measure our practice is by the extent to which we are moving closer to the ideals of compassion, humility, kindness, and honesty. This has to be especially true of our teachers who are essentially our leaders.
A yoga teacher is a guide for the community they lead. Teachers inspire us with the devotion that they demonstrate. And they make us feel safe and trusting by the care and concern they show for others. Teachers create an environment that allows us to be vulnerable, to drop our guard, and to be receptive.
Personally, I want a teacher who practices what they preach. Finding a teacher is hard. And not everyone will be so lucky to do so – that’s ok too. I’ll address that at the end.
Here are some things to consider when finding a genuine teacher.
- The teacher should demonstrate a commitment to practice. That’s where all the information is! You are trusting someone with your physical and spiritual well-being - you want to be sure that they have experienced it first-hand. A teacher should have a clear commitment to their own practice and study.
As a teacher I know that I have to put more energy into my own practice than I do my teaching. It took me a few years to figure this out. But if you do not invest more energy into your own practice than you do your teaching then you will eventually end up in a deficit. It might not seem like this now, but I assure you it will happen.
- Look for a teacher who promotes a lineage, not themselves. If a teacher is a showoff or is the focus of their own class, it is probably an indication that something is not quite right. But if a teacher has studied under a lineage of respected teachers, and honors the lineage and teachers who paved the way, then this is a good sign. It surely does not guarantee that anyone will be a good teacher, but upholding value and tradition is a good start.
- A good teacher exhibits trust and compassion. As students, we need to feel that the teacher is on our side. A genuine teacher deeply cares about the student and their progress on the path.
- Teaching should be student driven/focused. The whole point of the student teacher relationship is that it should benefit the student. Teachers are humans too, and you can’t expect them to be perfect - if you do you will surely be disappointed. But it’s important to remember that as a student, you can leave the teacher. This isn’t a personal failing, its good judgment. If it isn’t working for you then look elsewhere.
Good teachers know what they’re teaching, and good students know what they’re learning.
- The relationship between student and teacher can take different forms. We aren’t all so fortunate to have teachers we see regularly. A teacher can be someone who sets an example and offers you instruction. This can also come to you through books or talks and you could regard someone you have never met as a teacher. I would encourage you though, if you have those feelings toward a teacher you have never met, go and meet them! It’s a gift!
It’s also possible to have more than one teacher or source of inspiration. Many students have more than one teacher who plays different roles in their lives. You want to be able to filter the teachings and apply what works for you. This does require the student to really know themselves. If you find it confusing, I suggest only having one teacher.