Image Credit: Susanica Tam
Recently, while deepening my own practice as a yoga student and expanding my knowledge as a yoga teacher, I began thinking about what qualities are often found in our favorite yoga teachers, and what makes a good teacher “great?” Over the past few weeks, I had the chance to visit many different studios, spanning into multiple provinces and one state in Canada and the US. I didn’t just take the classes at these studios, I experienced them. How did the teachers make me feel, how did they cue, what words and phrases did they use, did they integrate touch and adjustments in their class? Every class was different, and every teacher taught me something new about my own teaching and how I differentiated between sub-par guiding and great yoga experiences.
In my journey, here is what I have found that to me, really makes a great yoga teacher:
1. Energy & Presence
When a teacher with great energy walks into the room you know it-because you can feel it. They make you feel welcome, they make you feel uplifted if you weren’t feeling so great, and if you’re lucky, their energy may rub off onto you as well.
What did they say? Some teachers talk with such a soft voice you’re constantly straining to hear what they said, or you’re spending the whole class looking around at the others to see what pose you’re supposed to be in. Having a voice that is calm and clear is very important when leading classes and makes a big difference for the students that are attending.
Have you ever experienced a class that moved so quickly you practically got tangled up in your limbs? Or so slowly you barely had the energy and enthusiasm to get into the poses? A teacher that leads their class with a natural, smooth and flowing pace makes a big difference in how you experience the class and how you feel afterwards.
Since we all know that bad habits and painful consequences can be a result of poor alignment and form, having a knowledgeable teacher to adjust and guide you can be a huge benefit for your practice. When a teacher works the room, it should not be an anxiety-inducing moment for students thinking they’re going to get “corrected,” it is the teachers showing that they care and want to help us in every way.
When teachers make themselves available before, and especially after class, it says a lot about their teaching. They truly want to help you and are willing to make themselves available for your questions, concerns or simply just a friendly discussion. When teachers offer their time to you after they’ve taught the class, it’s showing their compassionate nature for each of their students.
Making eye contact, and especially smiling when you’ve made eye contact, creates great connection between students and teachers. I love when I happen to catch a teacher’s eye and they fill me with energy from their beaming smile and kind gestures.
Having a prepared class is pretty critical in a great experience for yoga students. As a teacher, making sure you’ve prepared the structure of your class ahead of time, and remembering it is very important in whether students decide to return to your class or not. No one wants their flow disrupted by a teacher that forgets what comes next.
Have you ever been in a class and the teacher exactly the right songs at just the right time? I feel so grateful when a teacher takes the time to create playlists for their classes so that in each sequence the right type of song will be playing. Sometimes this can be hard to do, as we all know that things don’t go as planned and sometimes a cue needs to be extended or something needs to be explained, but for the most part, a great playlist designed for the certain style of class is a wonderful treat from the teacher to the students.
The type of language used in a class can make a big difference in one’s practice. Sometimes a teacher uses phrases and cues that seem too soft, and therefore no one in the class is inspired to actually do the pose, and sometimes a teacher uses too abrupt of cueing, making you feel like you’re in gym class again and are just waiting for the time to be over. When a teacher uses languages that involves the perfect mix of suggestive and inspiring cueing, therefore motivating you to go deeper into the pose, and offering modifications in a way that won’t make participants feel as though they aren’t practicing “right” or are strong enough, the class experience can change ten-fold for students and can make you want to keep enjoying that teacher’s classes again and again.
Who doesn’t want to have fun? When a teacher leads a class that isn’t so serious, participants are able to relax and therefore start to have some fun. Whether it’s telling some jokes or funny anecdotes at the beginning or end of class, playing upbeat music that makes you feel like moving, or simply throwing a few smiles or laughs in here and there, you start to have some fun. Isn’t that what it’s all about?
There are some yoga teachers who are gifted enough to have many of these attributes, and most of us are capable of bringing at least one or more of these qualities into our yoga classes. Perhaps as a yoga teacher you already have these qualities, but if there are a few that you think you could deepen or improve upon, why not try? You may create an even better experience for your students and you may see your classes filling up soon enough. Now that I’ve shared what I personally find to be the distinguishing qualities between what makes a good yoga teacher a great yoga teacher, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Please share in the comments below.