Why There’s No Substitute for a Good Yoga Teacher

This entry was posted on Aug 6, 2013 by Nancy Alder.

How do you inspire your yoga practice? Do you practice with a particular teacher, or at a studio you love? Do you attend Zoom yoga classes? Are there particular videos you love?

Guidance from an experienced teacher can be really inspiring, at the studio or in your home practice. Practicing at home with a video or online teacher can be essential for novice practitioners, who might not yet know how to sequence a class. But it can be helpful for experienced students too. Practicing, at least some of the time, with a video or online teacher, can pull us out of a rut and inspire us to understand practice in a new way.

Videos and online practices provide a wonderful outlet to learn asana, to learn some pranayama techniques and even perhaps to gain some awareness of yogic philosophy. The savvy yogis out there may even be able to bring these aspects together during a recorded practice to have a truly quality time on their mat. However, there’s no substitute for in-person learning.

How to Spot a Good Yoga Teacher

In person, a good yoga teacher reads his/her students’ body architecture and applies principles of anatomy to help them customize their practice. These teachers teach who is in front of them rather than sticking with a script of which asanas they wish to lead. They offer modifications based upon information given by their students’ bodies or words. Competent teachers can change a class plan on a dime to create one that works for all the people in the room.

Teachers who are there for their yoga students provide an environment that can finesse an arm balance and Balasana (Child’s Pose) in the same breath without letting anyone feel like they are “less than” the other yogis in the room. They can speak to those knowledgeable about yoga and beginners equally and together.

Great yoga teachers create a space that is safe for exploration and growth. They know what asanas need modifications for what conditions, and are unafraid to admit their own limitations. They know to offer suggestions of therapists, counselors, massage therapists and the ilk and do not posit that they are these types of healers (unless of course they actually are). Such teachers put the wellness of their students at a premium.

Perhaps what makes an in-person practice stand out most is that yoga teachers are space holders for their students. They know the individuals in front of them and can witness changes in their energies, moods and bodies. They allow for growth, emotion and heart to be present for these students without imposing their own beliefs or stories upon them. They come to the mat clean and leave their own emotions outside the room so that the yogis in front of them have the space to explore their own practices.

But the best part of having a teacher you trust is that they know who you are. These teachers encourage you to enhance your strengths and to accept your body’s limitations. They know what asanas your body needs and which you should avoid. They can suggest books, music and other teachers that could enhance your practice. They are honest. They hold space for you when you want to go deeper in an individual session or laugh with you and your community of yogis. They understand that the point of teaching is to provide a springboard for each individual to find their own yoga.

As we navigate the COVID pandemic, in-person yoga classes may not be an option. But they will be again someday. Until then, take time out to offer a bit of gratitude to the teachers who have guided you in your yoga practice.

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About Nancy Alder
Nancy Alder teaches the Yoga of Ease in Connecticut. She writes for Origin Magazine and has been featured twice in their "Inspire" series. Her daily practice on and off the mat is chronicled at her site Flying Yogini. When not teaching, practicing or writing about yoga she hangs with her elves in the enchanted forest and counts the days until the next snowfall.