Boy, do I love yoga. The stretching, the breathing and the way it makes me feel. I love feeling relaxed and strong at the same time. I also love the different ways the same poses can be presented, depending on who is teaching the class. Emphasizing different actions of the pose, speaking to the benefits, talking about the anatomical positioning behind it or providing more of a spiritual focus, there are many different ways to present the same thing.
It’s clear that a large part of the yoga experience involves the style of the teacher. Some differences from class to class depend on the style of yoga itself, but even within the same style of yoga, I find there can be variations depending on who is teaching. We don’t want the yoga to be about who is teaching but in some ways, that does color our experience.
Here are some traits I really love in a yoga teacher:
- Knowledgeable and offering just the right amount so I have time to listen, understand and integrate: I love a teacher I can learn from, especially when it comes to alignment and anatomy. I also love when I hear just the right amount of key information so I have time to digest it and apply it to my body.
- Pacing and tempo that gives me just the right amount of cardio to blend with the stretch: Yoga classes can really vary and of course, the style of class you’re in (restorative versus vinyasa flow) can often dictate what you’ll get in terms of pace. But even within the same vinyasa flow classes, teachers often vary the speed of the class, especially the Sun Salutation series A and B. I love a class where it’s a gradual build up and then the requisite cool-down. It’s like a good song building to a crescendo and then winding down to close.
- Watching more than practicing: I love a class where I might get a little demo from the teacher now and then but primarily, he or she is watching us and walking around the room, speaking to what’s happening in class. It makes it feel like he or she is really connecting to us and committed to ensuring we’re supported.
- Humor: I love a teacher that makes me smile. It may have nothing to do with cracking jokes, although I love that too, now and then. Often, it’s more about just sharing a funny story or laughing at something he or she just said because it sounded strange. It could be bringing up something from his or her life that brought a smile to their face; it could just be encouraging us to do the same.
- Stories: I love a good story too. Maybe it’s something that has a theme around personal growth, loving yourself or accepting yourself. Maybe it’s something from the teacher’s life but without it being too personal, it’s been boiled down to the universal theme. Maybe it’s something from yoga theory or a classic yoga text. Stories add richness to yoga classes and for me, create a beautiful package.
- Assisting: I love teachers that integrate assisting in with teaching. I love to get a little assist in a pose now and then, especially the hip postures. If there is no dedicated assistant in class, I love when the teacher assists me even in just one pose. It’s a great way to communicate care and presence and make me feel like we’re working together.
- Music: I never used music for many of the early years that I taught and was trained to not use music. I must admit it helped me focus on the essentials of teaching because once, after many years, I decided to add in some music, it did give me another piece of the experience to manage. But I can say that when I have taken classes where music has been used, there have been many where it has really added to my enjoyment of the class. It’s always a challenge because you can’t possibly know the tastes of your students. But just as adding music to a run or a gym work out can add to your experience, I find the same thing with yoga classes.
- Greeting the class and closing the class with some words: I love classes where the teacher greets us with more than a “Come into Downward Dog.” That feels a bit abrupt to me and I really enjoy when a teacher comes into class, says hello, add his or her name and then might say a few words. Maybe it’s a check to see if anyone has any injuries or questions before we begin. Maybe it’s a short story about yoga or something about a theme he or she will bring into class. It helps me feel like we’re going off on a journey together and that he or she is part of it too. At the end of class, I always enjoy a teacher who says a few words in closing and stays around to answer any questions we might have.
Even though we do yoga on our own mats, when we practice in class, we share the space with others. We practice because it speaks to us but the teacher is the person who literally speaks to us and communicates how we’ll move through that particular experience. Sure we’ll have favorite teachers but ultimately, it’s the yoga we love!