What makes a GOOD yoga teacher?
This morning I am sitting in the yoga studio while the students, who have been studying with me over the past year, sit their yoga teacher training written exam. Yesterday they took their physical exam, teaching a half hour flow class to their peers.
They don’t know it yet, as I am acting like a hard arse, but I am so so proud of them.
Of course, they are still new teachers and as such have begun that journey of finding their voice, confidence and style but man…they taught clearly, concisely and with excellent attention to the bodies in front of them. They used Sanskrit with confidence and excellent pronunciation, they showed they had planned and prepared and I saw glimpses of what would become their own flare and style.
I have just started marking papers as they hand them in and again I am reading with pride…they are demonstrating a real understanding of the philosophy of yoga, not just a regurgitation of their study notes and as such I know it will infuse their teachings.
Rock on school of 2015/16!
Over this past year with them I have, on several occasions, contemplated what ‘a good yoga teacher’ looks like to me. I know this could be controversial and that’s ok as there is nothing wrong with a healthy discussion but here is my personal feelings on what makes a yoga teacher a GOOD yoga teacher.
1. A solid understand of safe sequencing and alignment.
I don’t care what style of yoga someone teaches, vinyasa, anusara, iyengar or itsybitsy yoga (because I genuinely love it all – aside from Bikram which makes me angry) but I do care that you understand what you’re teaching and how it impacts on the body in front of you.
It has occurred to be that not all teacher training schools teach sequencing (I know one of my early trainings didn’t touch on it) and so the new teacher is left to make it up as they go along. This is dangerous. New teachers out there, if this applies to you, find a teacher you love and ask them to mentor you, there is no shame in admitting you don’t know what you don’t know. I’m certainly still learning!
But it’s not ok to ask students to come into double pigeon as a first pose, or hanumanasana in the warm up or wild thing to wheel in the first sun salutation. And yes, these are all classes I’ve been in and on that last point, the teacher came up and asked me why I wasn’t doing wild thing to wheel as she knew I could and I replied simply ‘my body isn’t ready’, to which she rolled her eyes and asked us to come into full pigeon (ten mins in to class at this stage).
Solid sequencing, an understanding of safe counter posing and clear concise alignment cues make a teacher a good teacher in my mind.
2. Don’t be a Guru and get off your mat.
My teacher Emily Stone once said ‘I’m not ahead of you on this path Keren, I’m right beside you sharing what I know while you share what you know’.
I try my hardest to teach what I know in my classes, to be real, not to put on a fake teacher persona once I step on the mat and to show myself to my students flaws and all so they see that I’m right beside them on this path. And to, above all else, really be with them in the class and by that I mean, right there in the midst of them, not on my own mat talking through my own practice while not giving them a second glance.
I lose respect for teachers who act like they are better than their students, remember that little ole teaching from the Gita about seeing everyone and everything as divine?
And please get off your mat, I don’t want to watch you do your home practice; I want you to watch me, guide me and inspire me.
3. Show me more than your asana
This is one thing that I really think is an ‘each to their own’ kinda thing but for me I want a yoga class to be more than an exercise class. In my classes there is a lot of myth, mantra, mudra, philosophy and bhakti because that’s what I love. I know not everyone does love this stuff, and it would be obvious if someone were teaching it without really resonating with it themselves. But we all teach yoga because we know that those shapes we make on our mat eventually turn into something more than that, so however you can share that magic, please do.
Even if it’s just an OM, a moment of reflection or meditation or a piece of your own yogic wisdom. It makes the class for me.
4. My nitty gritty picky things
This is personal stuff but the other things that give me a yoga glow from a good teacher…if you are going to play music, let me hear it. If you are going to use Sanskrit, use it correctly. If you are going to be on your mat, please mirror us. If you are going to touch me, please do it with attention and intention. If you are going to teach, please sound like you are enjoying it.
And so what makes a great teacher? A great teacher for me is one who does all the above, with a smile on their face and love in their hearts. I want to shout out to those teachers who have offered all this and way way more to me.
Deep pranams to you Emily Stone, Jasmine Tarkeshi, Kelly Kamm, Sienna Sherman and Keith Borden.