With the explosive popularity of yoga, there are more varieties of styles, studios and teachers than ever before. To someone who is brand new to yoga, it can be confusing and difficult to choose the right class for you. I assure you: There is yoga out there for everyone! It's just a matter of navigating away from teachers who won't resonate with you to find those who will inspire you to thrive.
Here are a few primary components to look for in a yoga teacher or class:
-- Knowledge. In class, educated teachers provide you with a concise, general shape of the pose, along with safety tips like setting clear, physical landmarks. These landmarks are usually if-then statements. For example, "If your shoulders slouch, then get as tall as you have to until your shoulders are no longer rounding forward." Finding progress without pain is key. An aware teacher offers modifications and variations to keep you progressing without hurting yourself. They provide props and more accessible steps to help you approach difficult poses.
-- Compassion. I'm all for challenging students and encouraging hard work. There is no substitute for sweat. However, yoga should be fun and positive. If it becomes too rigid and focused, it will feel like a job, and eventually you will burn out. I always try to see the good in each student. Every day will be different, and a good teacher will demand that you try your best, but in a way that encourages you and isn't aggressive or demeaning. If you have questions, a teacher should make themselves available to talk with you before or after class.
-- Motivation. Yoga is most beneficial when you are challenged at the precipice of your physical and mental limit without crossing that edge. A teacher who helps you bump against that threshold intelligently but fearlessly is a gem. That type of class will keep you advancing seamlessly and coming back for more.
-- Inspiration. A good yoga class leaves you feeling uplifted and fully alive. My classes always have a simple theme to make them meaningful, such as strength, commitment or patience. While the other technical components of teaching yoga are necessary, if you don't feel more conscious and vibrant afterwards, you're not getting the full experience. This is what makes yoga unique. It connects your body and mind, and with the right teaching, it inspires real-life changes.
-- Honesty. We all know the stereotypical yoga voice -- the ridiculous, long-winded tone that makes you wish you brought your headphones. An authentic teacher should be themselves completely. This means using less yoga jargon and more everyday language to connect with students. Someone who is authentic let's his or her unique personality shine through and can thus relate and empathize with students. A good teacher will be real and honest with you. They are confident enough to tell you when you are doing something wrong or misaligned. At the same time, good yoga teachers are humble. They embrace their own vulnerability and humanity.They don't pretend to be perfect.
-- Consistency. While it's important to mix it up, there should be consistency in a yoga class. When a yoga teacher shows up prepared and confident to teach what they love, there is a logical progression throughout class. I always teach at least 10 to 15 minutes of the same poses every time. It's a good way to find noticeable progress and gain an understanding of the fundamental positions. It's good teaching to prepare students with the basic poses, because they are the prerequisites for attempting the more advanced, peak poses in the class.
-- Empowerment. A good yoga teacher will encourage you and celebrate your progress. Yoga should make you feel good about being yourself with all your imperfections. The common misconception with yoga is that it's blissful all the time. In fact, yoga is meant to bring up all of the emotions that you face in life. To be most beneficial, it invokes feelings of happiness and light-heartedness, as well as the tough stuff such as confrontation and frustration. Yoga should teach you how to navigate through it all. A strong teacher both guides you and allows you to do it yourself rather than just doing it for you.
-- Efficacy. Most importantly, the class has to work for you. The poses and physicality are fun, but it only matters if it's inspiring you to do the things you enjoy most in life. If it's not helping you live your life to the fullest, then what's the point?
-- Qualifications. Yoga does not have a set standard that all teachers are held by. However, there is a registration, confirming you've completed a training. Most studios require this, but it is not mandatory. Teachers should have an extensive foundation in yoga and healthy alignment. Read the teacher's biography on the studio's website before attending class. If his bio reads "RYT" or "ERYT," it means that he is a registered yoga teacher with Yoga Alliance. Not all teachers register after training. Be sure the teacher has completed some yoga education. If there isn't a bio provided, you can simply ask the studio or teacher. Reading about the teacher will give you a sense of whether or not he is right for you. If you are a guy who is a former athlete, with a long history of injuries, you will most likely get more out of a class from a former athlete who has used yoga to help heal his injuries.
The best way to get a sense of whether a teacher or class is right for you is to attend his or her class and experience it for yourself.
[Read: 7 Benefits of Yoga for Men.]