Saturday, 26 November 2011

How to Choose Your Yoga Teacher

  Rebecca Parker and I. Rebecca (right) is a very good Vinyasa teacher based in London.

The most important decision for a novice yoga practicer is not which yoga style to choose but which teacher to select. Most yoga styles are similar to each other and share a common purpose: they strengthen and stretch the body, teach pranayama exercises, meditation and yoga philosophy. Thus it is not important which style is studied but by whom and how yoga is taught. Yoga teachers vary widely and, in my experience, most should not be teaching at all. Yoga is a gate through which higher consciousness is accessed; putting yourself into the hands of some nincompoop is not a wise decision. But recognising a good teacher is not necessarily easy. I have two pieces of advice that worked for me.

No diploma is needed
First, do not buy into the bullshit of accepting diplomas, certificates, qualifications, media hype and hearsay as evidence of quality teaching. Qualifications can be acquired worldwide with money and without any meaningful exams. Memorisation of asanas in Sanskrit, a vague knowledge of muscle groups and a regular attendance at some publicity-hungry yoga school does not give anyone access to yoga. Yoga is best understood instinctively; everything else is simple memory work. By selecting a teacher who comprehends the purpose of, say Warrior II, and explains this purpose to the student, rather than takes pride in remembering a hundred asanas in Sanskrit is worth its weight in gold. The true essence, the very core of yoga is important, not the trivial details surrounding it. Some of my own greatest teachers have no formal qualifications at all. Knowledge is simply passed down from a wise teacher to a willing and capable student until he or she is ready to carry their own weight. When selecting a teacher, and remember it is always the student who makes that choice, not the teacher, dismiss any information about their qualifications and don't let teacher's diplomas and certificates influence your judgement about their ability to teach and understand yoga.

A kind teacher is the greatest teacher
Second, yoga means to unite. A yoga teacher should adopt the philosophy of unification in her or his class by creating a loving and caring atmosphere. I have met teachers who shout at students less able; teachers who push, pull or yank violently if someone in an asana is not quite in line; teachers who launch into splits within a few minutes after starting the class without an adequate warm-up; teachers who tell students practising the ujjayi breathing to keep down the "noise"; teachers who love showing off their own physical capabilities so much they teach handstand splits in a beginners' class; teachers who bully and are hostile to students more capable than themselves; teachers who, on purpose, have students on such a short lead that any independent spiritual development is impossible; teachers who knowingly feed on students' energy leaving them exhausted by the end of the class. Although plenty of those around, imposing autocratic egotistical personalities have no place in yoga. I recommend listening to the gut feeling when selecting a teacher. A loving and caring person with kind eyes, a warm and open heart and a joyous laugh will be a guiding light to anyone during their journey through yoga and life. These persons are not easily found, but do not compromise and make sure you choose wisely.


Nikos said...

Good advice, but I rather had the impression that Yoga Teachers chose their disciples, like cats choose owners?

Ulrika said...

If the student is not ready, there is no point to teach her or him. It only works when the time is right, and only the student knows when that is. But saying that, teaching-learning is voluntary and is meant to be pleasant for both parties. The teacher can always refuse to teach someone if it does not feel right. I have seen plenty of unhealthy attachments, initiated by students, in which case it is wise to say no to those individuals.