I've been taught by young yoga teachers and much older ones; I've had gay and straight women and guys teach yoga classes I've taken, and teachers of various nationalities and experience levels. And I've gone to classes with "world famous" yogis who have video series, and those who have taught for 30 years without much acclaim. And I'm here to tell you that what you like in a yoga teacher is almost as individual and unique to you as those you choose as your friends.
So this column isn't about what kind of yoga teacher I think is the best, but about how to find the right teacher for you. The beauty of yoga is that is allows — and even fosters — yoga teachers to be themselves in between the prescribed asanas or combinations. Here's what to ask yourself in class or afterwards, to figure out what your yoga teacher style is:
Do I like lots of instruction? This is the first and most important question to ask and what I see as the biggest difference between teachers. Some talk constantly, almost never stopping from the time class instruction begins until it's time for savasana. I love tons of instruction, and lots of detail about exactly what my muscles and bones should be aiming for in the pose, as well as precisely where to put or keep my feet, hands, head and heart. But plenty of people like to practice and use their own bodies and guides, and find too much instruction intrusive to their own experience of their practice.
Do I want music when I practice? Most teachers either enjoy and incorporate music into their classes or don't bother with anything, or leave something very simple on in the background. Some people (myself included) really like to have a rhythm and music to focus on, especially during the harder poses, while others find it distracting. I feel closer to a yoga teacher who likes music similar to the kinds that I like, and I really enjoy great music worked into the class, whereas other people can have a whole class ruined by a song that reminds them of someone they used to love or a difficult time in their lives. Whether you like music or not is a personal thing.
Do I like an intense, focused class or a lighthearted one? I tend to be a fairly focused, serious person, so I love a teacher who tells jokes, laughs, and generally keeps a fun, open, light tone to his or her class. It helps me to relax, which is one of the reasons I take yoga classes, and I don't feel like I laugh enough, so it makes me happy and more focused when I can get a giggle in. But some people need the serious focus of a quieter, less jokey class, or use yoga as a way to get in touch with deep or difficult emotions, and for those folks, a teacher who matches that tone is ideal.
Over the years I've learned that I like my yoga teachers to instruct in an expressive, fun, light and specifically instructive way. I like music, fresh air and lots of light. That's not to say that I haven't liked classes that weren't like this, just that overall, I lean toward (and will be more likely to regularly attend) a class that fits my preferences.
So next time someone tells you about a yoga teacher that you just 'have' to try, ask them about some of the topics above — and then make up your own mind about what works for you.
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