What makes a great yoga teacher?
Key considerations for being the best teacher you can be. By Charlotta Martinus
Many of us end up training to become a yoga teacher after many years of practicing and loving yoga. Being a good student, however, does not always equate to being a good teacher. Even being a good general teacher does not equate to being a good yoga teacher. So, what are the qualities required of a great yoga teacher and how are we able to acquire these skills?
Great yoga teachers are few and far between and own many enviable characteristics that we may develop over time. These include a deep and broad understanding of yoga postures, breathing and relaxation techniques, which form the essential basic toolkit. The teachers that really make a difference in people’s lives, however, are those who also possess a deep understanding of yoga philosophy and an insight and humility to know when it is appropriate to share with students and when to hold back. However, for many, Arjuna’s words on the battlefield or Patanjali’s cryptic and often mistranslated sutras can seem far from relevant to your average Joe, sauntering into yoga as an alternative to their normal bums and tums class!
Watching over 1,500 teachers graduate over the past 20 years, I see many different ways to be a great teacher. I see those who aim to teach yoga to their family, or to their colleagues or simply to their best friend. I see those who plan to open yoga studios and run businesses based on their training and I see those who add the yoga training onto their therapeutic profession.
Being a great teacher is a moveable feast and relies on each teacher finding their particular dharma, their niche, where they can be of service. These niches are often extremely specific and narrow.
I remember a graduate who was a great teacher for her sister-in-law who had suffered cancer and sciatica; through Zoom, the graduate offered hope and solace to her sister-in-law, who otherwise would not have accessed yoga. I have another graduate who has been suffering from chronic fatigue for much of her adult life and reaches out when she can to those with similar conditions and makes a world of difference from her place of compassion, empathy and humility.
There is a teacher in India who is considered a guru by thousands of yoga teachers worldwide for his tremendously insightful application of yoga philosophy to daily life and his full-hearted devotion to each of his students…yet he is a far cry from the Instagram yogis we see on our screens!
These teachers have a few specific qualities in common: a whole-hearted and humble dedication to the wellbeing of those who present themselves to them and a dedication to the continuous study of yoga. Knowing what each individual student needs (as opposed to wants) is a skill to develop and a skill which pays dividends in full classes and a long-term career as a yoga teacher. To this end, our own practice will always be the source of inspiration and serenity as our body and situation changes through life; we can thus bring our own experiences into the classroom and support many and various individuals. To be a great teacher you need to be a great student of yourself, yoga and the world around.
Charlotta Martinus runs the Teen Yoga Foundation which trains yoga teachers to work with teens and also Universal Yoga, a 200hr YTT run as a blended course from Somerset. Visit: teenyoga.com