Asking ‘What makes a great yoga teacher’ is bit like asking what’s the best flavour of ice cream - you’ll get a different answer depending on who you ask!
So when I pondered this question myself and then asked a few friends, yoga students and teachers, I collected many different flavours of answers too.
But on closer inspection, 8 clear qualities emerged.
Whether you want to be the best possible yoga teacher, or find one to practice with, I believe you’ll discover the following insights intriguing.
Ready to find out what makes a good yoga teacher?
1. Great teachers are class-ready
Imagine showing up to a dinner party, only to find your host has forgotten you were coming. Although welcoming, she scrambles to pull a meal together and keeps apologising for the mess.
How would you feel? Awkward and embarrassed for your host? In the same vein, yoga students want to feel their teacher (as well as the space) is relaxed, well-prepared and ready to go.
Taking time to create a class plan before fronting a room full of students pays dividends. As a teacher, you’ll feel more comfortable and confident, translating to a positive student experience.
New teachers in particular benefit by using a predetermined class plan. As teaching confidence and experience grows, simply having a theme in mind to guide the class may be an adequate framework, and is always better than winging it!
Class readiness also means creating a welcoming yoga space before students arrive. Honour them (and the art of yoga) by ensuring a clean, comfortable atmosphere.
Be great - prepare your sequence, arrive before class start time to set the tone.
2. Great teachers show and tell
While some participants need to see it to believe it, others understand asana via verbal cues.Some may even require physical adjustments to fully incorporate a pose.
A great teacher caters to each of these learning styles. She also grasps the pose or concept thoroughly enough herself to have several different ways to deliver it.
Robyn, a beginner yogi, says; ‘I need to see what to do.’
Shawna, an experienced student, responds best to physical adjustments; ‘You can tell me to release my lower back or close my rib cage in downward dog but my greatest ‘ah ha’ moments happen with a subtle, gentle touch showing me exactly where to initiate the movement. The teacher’s touch makes it easier for me to connect the dots - translating their verbal instruction to my body.’
Be great - know your yoga inside-out to give you multiple ways to express the teachings.
3. She knows communication is a 2-way-street
Speak clearly, at an appropriate volume and use simple language. While it’s tempting to showcase your mastery of sanskrit and anatomical terms, bear in mind new students in particular may be left in the dark. Switch flowery, complicated language for simple words and use relatable examples.
A great teacher makes certain students ‘get’ her instructions. Check-in throughout the class - ask questions, observe body language and facial expressions to help determine the clarity of your instruction.
Geraldine, who has trained over 40 yoga teachers at Yogic Wisdom, concurs; ‘A good teacher has a keen eye for detail for what is happening in the student: is the student following instructions or are they distracted? Does the left shoulder hang lower than the right and is there a corresponding twist in the pelvis? Is a usually outgoing student flat and quiet? A good yoga teacher is an astute observer of human behaviour as well as anatomy.’
Be great – let your awareness speak to you and your students
4. He allows space for absorption
Students appreciate time and space to assimilate their experiences of yoga. Periods of quiet peppered throughout a class allow the student to hear their own voice of wisdom.
Be great - grant silence as a tool for self-enquiry.
5. A great teacher leaves her ego at the door.
Geraldine says ‘teaching needs to come from a concern beyond the teacher’s own needs (me, mine, ego, money, fame, name) and rather from a place of empowering their students towards self-realisation and wholeness, so that the teacher is ultimately rendered obsolete!’
Nikola from Adore Yoga agrees, ‘My definition of yoga is that it’s the process of getting over yourself. That includes the teacher!’
Be great - make the experience all about them, not you.
6. She’s friendly, caring and approachable
Courtesy, understanding and friendliness are an essential criteria for teachers to build rapport with students. Simple gestures such as a smile and being open to questions and feedback go a long way to creating an exceptional yoga experience.
Geraldine recalls a time when a teacher did not even know (or bother to find out) her name! She goes on to say: ‘A teacher needs to cultivate a relationship of trust and friendship with their students, to know them and their bodies, lives, ages, occupations, family situation, medical history, their stresses and responsibilities so that even in a group setting the teacher can meaningfully help students attain balance in relation to their circumstances.’
Freddie, a yoga student of 5 years adds; ‘I know my teacher cares - she shows us every pose and while we practice she walks around the room to make sure we are OK.’
Be great - flavour your student relationships with humility, respect and lots of smiles.
7. He’s a student too
A great teacher knows no matter how many hours he spends on the mat, or how many experts he studies with, there is always more to learn about yoga!
A commitment to ongoing learning is essential for growth as both a student and teacher of yoga. Attend workshops and trainings to stretch yourself and fuel your passion for yoga. Most of all, maintain your own personal practice.
This is important to Nikola too, When adding to her studio staff, she looks for ‘a depth of understanding that comes from many years of consistent (and ongoing) learning in coherent tradition (ie. not cherry-picking short courses in the latest yoga trend).
Geraldine agrees; ’It is important that the teacher be a student and in a proactive relationship themselves with a reliable source of learning in yoga. This quality of humility and growth mindset is more important than years of experience.
Be great - keep learning, keep growing, keep expanding.
A great teacher lets her personality shine
Be you! Show up as your authentic self when you teach. You will enjoy your teaching so much more than trying to be someone else, or hide your personality away.
If you love to laugh, sprinkle a few jokes here and there. If you love to geek out over anatomy, share your knowledge generously.
Best of all, being you is a sure-fire way to attract the students that resonate with you.
Wow, that’s quite a list, huh?
And you know what? I bet you’re a pretty good yoga teacher already. But if you’re ready for greatness, why not start small?
Growth from good to great will take time, dedication and practice.
Pick one of the traits you’d like to build upon and take action on becoming great. (Or, if you’re feeling really game, ask your students to pick one for you!)
Here’s to your impending GREATNESS!