25 Things You Should Know About Your Yoga Teacher

Sep 14, 2016 | Yoga

The perception portrayed of the life of a Yoga Teacher is naturally very distorted in this online world. In reality, most are teachers of asana (postures) rather than of the true multi-faceted system of Yoga. This is not surprising, because it is through the body that most access yoga initially. However, with the surging rate of people becoming certified teachers in this field, the standards are all over the place, and the representation of the reality of being a Yoga Teacher is very much a grey area.

Like all professions and paths, being a ‘Yoga’ Teacher has it’s ups and downs, pros and cons (which I address in a previous post here). But there are some specific things you should know about your teacher.

And, there are some things that your Yoga Teacher may also wish you knew.

Let it be said upfront that the information below is expressed through my own experiences (both direct or otherwise what I’ve witnessed with friends and colleagues in the field). I would love to read your insights (as a student or teacher) that you get from this information. Leave a comment way down below and join the conversation!

#1 – Majority of teachers are only qualified at a base level (200 hours).

And according to the Yoga Australia registration structure this is not of a high enough standard for them to provide a Yoga Teacher level membership (a teacher must have 350 hours training or greater). A 200 hour Yoga teacher can join YA, but not specifically registered as a qualified teacher, and instead they’re simply a ‘member’.

#2 – Your teacher should have up-to-date First Aid and CPR training, plus both professional indemnity and liability insurance.

Yet many do not – or have allowed it to expire.

#3 – If your Yoga Teacher has an ‘advanced’ physical practice this does not constitute a good teacher.

To perform more challenging postures does not automatically give one the skills to then teach the same pose to another person (or a room of 60 other people with entirely different life experience, body awareness, or physical capacity).

#4 – Nor does lots of teaching experience exclusively constitute a great teacher of yoga.

Of course, someone who has taught for 5, 10, 15+ years naturally will have greater skills to effectively communicate, assist, sequence, and respond within a yoga class. However, someone smashing out 20-30 classes a week does not necessarily embody the same skill set (and often that teacher will be experiencing immense burn out).

#5 – Your ‘favourite’ Yoga Teacher will themselves naturally evolve and grow in what they offer.

And you will either grow and evolve with them and their teachings, or you will grow apart and move on. And this is perfectly ok.

#6 – Behind closed doors your teacher may be suffering abuse (verbal and/or physical) from their employer.

Yes, within a yoga studio.

Discrimination, abuse, and the like, can happen in any industry. Including Yoga.

#7 – Although your teacher may present themselves well (“inspirational”, “guru-like”, “life-changing”), they may harbour long-standing, unresolved behavioural problems, like drug and alcohol addiction.

I’ve seen (and continue to see) this pop up time and time again.

#8 – Your Yoga Teacher may have been teaching for only a few months. 

With the sky-rocketing number of teacher trainings popping up, and many students walking away from dissatisfaction in their day job, this has resulted in many entry-level teachers filling up studio timetables.

In reality, we do not need more teachers. We need exceptional teachers.

#9 – Your teacher may not in fact have any formal qualification or accreditation. 

And may also be self-taught. Or, may have done their ‘Teacher Training’ completely over the internet (!).

I’m not suggesting this constitutes a ‘bad’ teacher. Back in ‘the day’ there were no qualifications in yoga – but teachers-in-training worked very closely, face-to-face, with a senior teacher in an apprenticeship format.

Point is that some kind of training is essential – for your own safety and benefit.

#10 – A Yoga Teacher may have a lot less experience than what they convey/portray to the community.

For example, a teacher more senior in age (40’s, 50’s, 60’s), may use their maturity to emit an impression of experience, knowledge, and wisdom. But really they could have been teaching for 1, 2, 3 years (or… less). A younger teacher may have taught for many more hours and/or years.

(However, let me not at all diminish the value of the small number of truly senior teachers who are 40+ years of age who have been offering their teaching for years, decades – they’re the gems that are so hard to find. You won’t find them on Instagram, that’s for sure.)

#11 – If you really love your Yoga Teacher’s classes, and you want to see them more often on your studio timetable, the best way you can make this happen is to tell the studio owner.

Feedback is golden. It is human nature that when we’re unhappy we will quickly voice our complaints (verbally or in writing). But when we’re really happy and satisfied we rarely share that with those whom need to know. Telling your teacher how much you enjoy what they offer is very helpful and reaffirming. Yet in the long run you can support your teacher by going straight to the studio owner/manager/most senior teacher and sharing your compliments. This re-enforces what you find to be the most valuable in your studio experience, and will help to see that your teacher is offered more security (and often more abundance) in their class schedule.

#12 – Another great way to support your teacher is to share your feelings publicly.

For example, openly tell your family and friends about your teacher. You could share their class schedule or website on your social media pages. Better yet, do up a written testimonial – which you could leave on their Facebook page or send through in an email. They would be grateful to use your words of recommendation (as long as you don’t mind) on their website and the like!

#13 – Your Yoga Teacher may be struggling to survive financially.

Although teaching yoga breaks the typical 9-5 work routine, it is extremely hard to make a living solely out of this lifestyle. Rarely do teachers get paid superannuation (and never holiday pay, sick leave, or bonuses). They often get slammed with a massive tax bill. They’re spending a lot of unpaid time doing their ‘job’ – planning classes, driving to/from studios, updating their website/blog, marketing, cleaning studio floors, working on reception checking you in for class, attending staff meetings, investing in further study… And, so much more. Yoga Teachers get paid to teach yoga. But also do so much more. For no monetary compensation.

This financial struggle leads teachers to take onboard more and more classes to make ends meet. This results in neglect of their own personal yoga practice – often ending in ‘burn out’, i.e. lack of inspiration, motivation, and a disconnect for their big why (why they started teaching in the first place).

#14 – Your teacher may not have their own Self-Practice.

A self-practice is a really essential way to tune into oneself without the distractions of other’s instructions or sequencing. It’s an opportunity to explore ideas for classes, generate inspiration, and focus on yoga for the individual self (as yoga was originally intended to be). Of course, your teacher may show up a ton in group classes which is also awesome.

Yet a self-practice, even once per week, is really conducive to cultivating greater skills and wisdom.

#15 – Your Yoga Teacher may, or may not, have a mentor.

It is certainly not at all essential to have a mentor. But new teachers benefit from this tremendously, as speaking with a more experienced teacher regularly can help them grow and mature much faster. New teachers actively seeking a mentor possess a true sense of dedication and integrity to become truly great at what they’re doing.

#16 – A brand or company endorsement (eg. yoga apparel) does not at all constitute a great Yoga Teacher.

It reflects a ‘popular’ teacher. And their popularity may not be from their exceptional skills in a class, but potentially from their social media following – which generally builds from a feed of strategically photographed advanced asana photos, with little truly valuable commentary to compliment the image. This is how ‘yogis’ get ‘famous’ on social media platforms. And, often they’re actually not even teachers, but students of yoga with a background in some kind of calisthenics (often gymnastics).

#17 – A Yoga Teacher really wants to be able to please everyone.

But in reality, this is never going to be the case (as with anything). If ever a student gets injured in our class we feel exceedingly awful, and may very well lose sleep over it. We pour our heart and soul into teaching, and wish to help as many people as possible. If we find out someone doesn’t like us or our class (workshop/retreat) we’re crushed.

#18 – Most Yoga Teachers have not done any formal training in hands on adjustment and assisting (i.e. touching you in class).

An entry-level teacher training program only brushes over assisting and adjustments. There are very specific (and short) courses available for teachers to train in this field, which is really essential because touch is a very intimate thing. Many students have a traumatic history of physical/sexual abuse or an extensive history of injury. In my opinion, hands on assisting courses should be mandatory.

#19 – A Yoga Teacher who works in a fairly established/commercial yoga studio is most likely being told how they’re expected to teach.

Studios have a specific vision of what style or approach of yoga they identify with. Teachers are obligated to stick within these guidelines (and may, by their contract clauses, be threatened with termination should they sway too far out of the sequencing and style guidelines). This structure is helpful for new teachers looking to find consistency and experience. However, over time I’ve witnessed that this inhibits more experienced teachers, leaving them feeling bored. It also prevents students from experiencing the full extent of knowledge, training, and passion a teacher has within themselves to offer.

 #20 – An experienced Yoga teacher can see right through you.

They can pick up on your behavioural patterns (over-ambition or laziness, for example). They can see your fears, resistance, and excuses. They see your habits (fussing, fidgeting, procrastination, or a busy mind). They can see your discipline and dedication.

#21 – Your Yoga teacher is human.

They’re not a psychologist, counsellor, or doctor. They experience fear, injuries, and pain. Before and after class they spend much free time helping support students (physically and psychologically). Yet, some days your teacher may need the same level of support. Some days they may wish they could’ve stayed in bed. Your teacher may be going through chronic illness, divorce, miscarriage, disputes, losing money, and more… on any one day.

Yet, most often, a yoga teacher will show up for their students with a smile on their face, conjuring up what little is left of their physical and emotional reserves to ensure you’re taken care of.

As a student, your motivation and energy helps your teacher thrive too. It is a reciprocal relationship.

#22 – Your Yoga teacher wishes you would do more private lessons.

Because working one-on-one can be incredibly beneficial and enriching for you as a student. This is the way Yoga was originally taught. One teacher to one student. A private lesson every once in a while will help support you along your journey in many ways. It’s also a great time to have questions answered, work on challenging blocks that are coming up, and learn a little more about yourself. Be sure to seek out a highly experienced and reputable teacher.

#23 – The world of Yoga Teaching, in these modern times, is often very competitive.

Studios are competing for your business. Teachers are competing for classes. Everyone wants to make a living doing what they love. There are so many people on this planet who have not yet discovered or had access to yoga, which gives value to the suggestion that there is room for more teachers. However, again, I really believe we don’t need more teachers, instead we need better teachers (who feel secure and safe in their role so they can focus on doing what they do best). Some yoga studios have tiered levels of pay for new and experienced teachers. This impacts scheduling, studio budgeting/profits, and behind the scenes decision making.

#24 – You may be able to claim your yoga classes under private health insurance.

But this is only if your teacher is able to gain a Health Provider Number, which they can only get with a membership to Yoga Australia. Know that there is really no benefit for your teacher in doing this. It costs a lot of money to get YA membership annually and arrange for a HP number (not to mention the insane load of paperwork). A teacher gets nothing in return for this investment of money and time. It’s a lengthy and tedious process. So, please don’t be disappointed if you struggle to find a teacher whom you can claim under.

#25 – Your teacher has heard all the excuses before.

You’re not flexible enough, you’re not strong enough, co-ordinated enough, skinny-enough… You’ve never done yoga before, you’re not good enough, experienced enough, you don’t know what to do…

We’ve heard it all before. Maybe a hundred times. We’ve seen it all before. Maybe even within ourselves. If you physically show up, then you just need to show up fully in your spirit. Your excuses are not new. In fact, they’re immensely common. They hold no power for your teacher. Only you’re feeding them. Show up, fully. For yourself. Continue to show up, and you’ll get there. Remember – the physical postures of the yoga system are such a small fragment of the path of Yoga. Therefore how you ‘perform’ is not so important. What is important is that you simply do the work. The most therapeutic elements of Yoga are the breathing practices and working with the mind. This is where the potency lies. Look for your mental limitations. You can chose to let them shape you, or otherwise break through.

“Do your practice and all is coming.” – Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

Find out about your Yoga teacher. Search for their website, seek out their bio. Ask them questions – how many hours or years they’ve taught? What trainings have they done? Who is their teacher? What else do they do besides teach (as many work part-time in other industries, which is a great thing)? Do they have a self-practice, and what does it look like?

Are you a student of yoga? I’d love to know what you’ve found the most eye-opening from these points – leave a comment below. And please share with your friends who are also walking this path with you!

Are you a teacher? Is there anything you would add to this list? Pop a comment down below. I’d love to hear from you.

With love,

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