What makes a great yoga teacher?
What are the ingredients you need to be a successful yoga teacher? By Bea Teuten
Reading time: 3 minutes
Be it in yoga or in any other discipline, people speak of great teachers as those who have made a significant difference to their lives, often changing something profoundly for them. Moving them to a new place, a better place. So, what makes these people so special?
As the Yoga Sūtras tell us, positive change is based on relationship and never more so than in yoga. Yoga itself is about transformation: being able to do more or act better than we could before, physically, energetically, mentally or emotionally. A true teacher inspires because as the student we trust them… and we trust them because this particular relationship has real care at its heart. The teacher has as their central purpose the wellbeing of their student having set aside their own desires and projections.
For this to happen, the teacher needs to ‘walk the talk’. A teacher who wants to inspire and support students in the journey that is yoga must have experience themselves of the power behind the practice they teach. They need to be on that road themselves, working through self-awareness towards greater insight, both of themselves and of their students.
Thus, the true teacher needs clarity; to see the student with love and compassion and be able to hold them and inspire them to believe in themselves. The tools of yoga are broad and range from the well-known postures (āsana) and breathing (prāṇāyāma) featured in most yoga classes to sound work (mantra), visualisation (bhāvana) and meditation (dhyāna).
There are many stories about how truly special teachers such as TKV Desikachar or Professor Krishnamacharya were able to see the individual student in front of them with such clarity that in just a few minutes they could offer a practice which addressed that person’s issues. Famously, Desikachar walked through a crowded waiting room at the Krishnamacharya Mandiram in Chennai and asked to see the gentleman with the stomach issue… without having seen any notes. Whilst teaching one to one is the traditional model, today most people will learn yoga, at least initially, in a group class. A great teacher is able to support each individual in that class, adapting and modifying the practice, to ensure that each person reaps the benefit in a way that is most appropriate for them. The great teacher does not simply tell or show you what to do but also how to do it. They do not show you the bicycle and tell you to pedal; they hold the seat until you can pedal yourself.
Of course, knowledge, experience and passion are important, but at the end of the day true teaching rests on the bedrock of the teacher’s care and clarity.
Bea Teuten has learned yoga since she was a child. She teaches in the tradition of Professor Krishnamacharya and his son, TKV Desikachar and is a yoga teacher and teacher trainer, yoga therapist and Vedic chant teacher. Her focus is on the individual, recognising that each and everyone is wonderful and unique. She was Chair of TSYP from 2019 - 2022. Visit: tsyp.yoga