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What Makes a Good Yoga Teacher?

What Makes a good yoga teacher

There are over 100,000 yoga teachers registered with Yoga Alliance right now, and this number doesn't even include all of the yoga teachers who decided not to register with Yoga Alliance.  Many of these yoga teachers were recently certified and are wondering what makes a good year teacher.  Good is a subjective word, and by good we mean effective.  Before we can determine what makes a good yoga teacher, we really need to look at the true meaning of yoga so we turn to our ancient texts.

what makes a good yoga teacher

What is Yoga and What Does Yoga Really Mean?

Yoga means union.  The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit root word yuj that means "to yoke" or "to unite."  This includes all types of union - union of the breath and movement, union of the mind and body, union with the earth, union with a higher power, union with self, union with others and union within community.  

Krishna, devoted yogi known for ties to the Bhakti movement, tells us in the Bhagavad Gita that this union is the source for everything.  

He who is rooted in oneness
realizes that I am
in every being, wherever
he goes, he remains in me.

When he sees all beings as equal
in suffering or in joy
because they are like himself,
that man has grown perfect in yoga. (BG 6.29-32)

(Quote from: Bhagavad Gita)

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali tells us "Yogas Citta Vrtti Nirodah" which means that yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the minds (Yoga Sutra 1.2).   This could be an article (or book) all in itself and we don't do the Sutra justice when we summarize it quickly.  However, we are focusing on what makes a good yoga teacher today, so let's just say that this Sutra is telling us once we come into our yoga zone, the mind is still.  In other words, once we find the union that is yoga, we no longer experience internal chatter in the same way.

Authenticity and Connection to Self Make an Effective Yoga Teacher

We know that yoga means union and union is connection.  One of the things that makes a good yoga teacher is connection to self.  If you aren't connected to yourself, how authentic can you be?  You must first know yourself and see yourself to be able to connect to yourself.  Knowing yourself deeply opens the door for self-love and self-care.  

We know from our yoga philosophy that in order to practice Maitri (loving kindness) or Karuna (compassion), you must first study one deeply to be able to recognize their needs.  The same is true for expressing loving kindness and compassion to ourselves.  We must study ourselves to understand what makes us happy and what we need so that we can give ourselves loving kindness, or self-love.  We must self-study and know ourselves well enough to understand our own sufferings so that we can give ourselves compassion, or practice self-care.  

Everyone knows that you can't pour from an empty cup so before you can lead others in this sacred practice of yoga, you must first fill your own cup and find that connection to self.  

Grounding Energy and Connection to Mother Earth Make an Effective Yoga Teacher 

Connection to self is not the only connection needed for effective yoga teachers.  It's also important to be grounded when leading others in yoga and meditation.  Many of my favorite yoga teachers embodied a special type of earth energy that fostered a safe and focused space for practice. Connection with Mother Earth can really help us to feel centered in our own bodies and in our physical space which puts us in a better position to help others to feel rooted in their bodies and ready for practice.  

I can remember when I first began teaching yoga, I was playing myself too tight with my schedule and cutting it really close getting from class to class.  I would run into my yoga class only 5 or 10 minutes before it began, flustered from the commute and the busyness of my own mind.  I brought a lot of air energy into the room and the energy in the room never quite landed into stillness.  It didn't take me long to realize that I wasn't allowing myself the time and space needed to get grounded before teaching and I made these important changes so that I could be a more effective yoga teacher.

Everyone has their own way of connecting with Mother Earth.  This connection gives us that sense of being grounded and helps to keep our root chakra balanced. As a practice, I always spend some time outdoors in the beginning of my day, regardless of the weather conditions.  When it's nice outside, I like to briefly meditate outdoors or do my morning pranayama practice outside.  This helps me to connect to the earth and stay grounded for the day.  

Connection to the Universe or a Higher Power Make Effective Yoga Teachers

Recognizing that there is something out there bigger than me helps me to be an effective yoga teacher.  I believe an important aspect of what makes a good yoga teacher is having this connection to the universe, or a higher power.  When teaching yoga, we like to stay away from religion and recognize everyone's right to choose their own path.  Yet, it's undeniable that there is a higher power out here giving us daily guidance, sending us signs and illuminating our paths.  Some of us find this connection to the Universe, and others might connect to God or other forms of Divination.  

The innate wisdom we gain from this connection helps to steer us in the right direction and guides us closer to an enlightened life experience.  Trusting something that is greater than self makes us feel safe and protected.  It empowers us to step out on faith and open ourselves to new opportunities.  It enables us to release that which no longer serves us to make room for new chances and encounters.  The self-assurance we take away from connection with the Universe or a Higher Power helps to make a good yoga teacher.

Connection to Others and Community Makes an Effective Yoga Teacher

Establishing a connection with other people is central to being a good, effective yoga teacher.  When we are connected to ourselves, to Mother Earth and to the Universe or a Higher Power, it is only natural to connect with other people.  So often at the end of yoga classes we hear yoga teachers say, "the light in me honors the light in you."  While it's become a bit cliche, this is exactly what happens.  Once we've cultivated and connected with our own inner light, we are then able to connect with the inner light in others.  We can see the light in others, recognize it and then unite with it.  

As we connect with others in our yoga classes, a sense of community begins to build.  In yoga we call this Sangha.  Creating community is such an important element to offer our students.  We can create communities in person or online.  In our online yoga teacher trainings, we have a large international community of yoga students and teachers.  What begins with the yoga teacher connecting with each student leads to the building of a yoga community and the yoga students connecting with each other.  

In sum, what makes a good yoga teacher is subjective, and exploring this topic requires us to look at what we know about the practice of yoga, which means union.  From this we can infer that connection with ourselves, connection with Mother Earth, connection with the Universe or a Higher Power and connection with others are the building blocks of an effective yoga teacher.