5 keys to being a Great Yoga Teacher

“What are the crucial skills that one should possess in order to lead others on the path of yoga?”   I’ve been asked this question over and over, on my journey as an educator of yoga teachers. There is no one magic formula in transforming from a student of yoga, to becoming a teacher of yoga. In India, the general rule is to practice for ten years under the guidance of a credible teacher, then if are inclined to teach, share what has been revealed to you in your personal daily practice. While I trust this way as the best, there are specific skills we need to hone, in the modern western yoga marketplace.  Keep an eye on the following tips, if you are planning to teach yoga. 

Pay attention to your personal practice

A great yoga teacher is made in the laboratory of their own practice. At my own training, a long time ago, my teacher David Life gave me a key tip. He said, “always practice twice as much as you teach.” So that means if you are teaching 6 classes per week, you should be practicing at least 12 hours on your own.  I’ve never veered from this formula. It keeps the well inside of us full. This formula makes us stronger in many ways than our students, who are looking up to us as teachers for inspiration. If we are burned out, over-worked and lacking energy, from running around we will be too exhausted to practice. A great teacher gets their practice done consistently.  This way their giving comes from a place of personal experience, not theory.  The practice unfolds in the heart of a diligent practitioner experientially, and fills the body with energy.  This palpable energy is well received by the student of yoga, because the practicing teacher is a source of great inspiration. I recommend doing your own practice first thing in the morning, so that you are established in the state of yoga, as the day begins. Your mind will be more centered to face life’s ups and downs.  

A well trained voice

Our voice is the our most important tool for teaching yoga. If communication is not one’s natural strength, I always recommend taking n.l.p. (communication) classes, or basic acting classes. This training helps teachers to explore the full range of their voice, and how it can be modulated to fit a teaching experience. For example, the voice must be projected in a large room when we are teaching with music. Then it has to be slow, deep and precise when leading yoga nidra and meditation.  One monotonous tone of voice for the duration of a class will most likely rub students the wrong way. So practice adjusting the tone and range of your voice to match the situation that is before you. Awareness of what is required in the moment is key! Some scenarios require a harder energy and others call for a soft energy.  

Knowledge of the human body

All yoga teachers must have a basic knowledge of human anatomy and physiology.  Awareness of the human skeleton, muscles, different systems (respiratory, circulatory, and nervous) and their capacity to adapt to specific types of training transforms an ordinary teacher into a “yoga scientist”.  Leaning towards science builds trust between the student and teacher.  The student will be more attentive and work harder for a well educated teacher.  If you missed anatomy and physiology in college, brush up with some weekend or night classes. There are also some great digital tools and online classes that can help you dive deep into the workings of the human body. Never be shy to build on previously established levels of knowledge. The more you align with the basic sciences, the better! 

Develop a Strong sense of Boundaries

A great teacher has personal standards and lives up to those standards.  The yoga classroom is a place where some students will be doing deep work.  We must know for ourselves, if we want to be a teacher who give hugs, what types of guidance we want to offer once class is over, and how to discipline the sexual energy so it does not leak all over the place.  When we have personal standards around sensitive matters like these, we are conveying a high level of professionalism to the local and global communities.  Students respond positively to teachers with great self discipline and self control.  I recommend a high level of professionalism when it comes to helping students who could potentially be going through strong personal issues such as divorce, the death of of a loved one, a career transition or extreme isolation.  

A passion for helping others

You will be working with sweaty bodies, often underpaid and at times over-worked, guiding students through life meltdowns such as illnesses. You will be constantly educating yourself, and trying to stay centered through your own life story’s ups and downs. If you don’t have a passion for doing good work, don’t even get started as a yoga teacher.  My passion for finding the light in the hearts of others was the key for cultivating the persistence and patience required for teaching yoga, long term.  The passion to help others will get you past the less glamourous parts of the job.  Do you love people? If you are someone who wants to make a difference in the lives of others, you’re on the right track.

Life Experience

Being 22 years old, strong, flexible and good looking will motivate others a little bit, but not go very far in creating lasting depth in your relationships.  Be a person who takes chances. Travel, fall in love, take risks with your career, tackle your biggest addictions one at a time, pursue your personal interests, and experience the full gamut of life’s offerings.  This way you will grow into a person who knows the range of human experiences and the complexities of life.  You will be a relatable guide, having lived fully. The obstacles to spiritual practice becomes clear to one who has gone through a full range of human experiences. I always choose yoga teachers who have at least 10 or 20 years of life experience more than me. This way I am comfortable asking them questions, about the practice, when I am exploring my own sticking points.  

The path of teaching yoga is extremely rewarding.  All of the hard work to become an experienced and trusty guide is well worth it.  We are only mirrors to our students, reflecting back to them what it is they need to see in themselves.  Keep these personal tips in mind, as you study, train, and meditate daily. 

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