With so many styles of yoga available, it is easy to understand how some people might feel confused about choosing the ‘right’ yoga class and teacher.
Seeking a qualified instructor can be challenging, you have to trust your gut on some levels but on other levels there are certain basic qualifications for excellence if you want good results from the yoga practices you are learning. Be mindful and aware of your special needs and what it is you need to bring yourself into balance and try not to follow what the ‘latest yoga trend’ or even your ego may suggest.
Remember, yoga is about bringing harmony and balance to your mind and body. I am often asked by beginners in my class about how to evaluate a yoga teacher? The following items are usually listed in a teacher’s bio and are a good place to start the winnowing process. Is he or she certified? By whom? How long has she been teaching? How old is he? This last question is an important factor that is often over looked as experience is acquired with time not by qualifications.
As yoga has proliferated, so have yoga injuries. Part of the intrigue is also what makes it risky:
Increased flexibility is helpful for everyday living, and the ability to stretch can produce breathtaking forms. However, uncontrolled flexibility can result in muscle strains—or worse. For example, overstretched ligaments result in the destabilization of the structure, such as a knee joint. Common yoga injuries include hamstring pulls, sacroiliac dysfunction, rotator cuff injuries, strained lumbar vertebra, and medial collateral/lateral collateral ligament damage in the knees.
Alignment is crucial in posture work, as is an understanding of how to stabilize joints through strength while muscles are being stretched. It is time well spent to do some research on a potential teacher and the ‘right’ yoga class for you.
Some teachers or teachings may be too athletic for you, as some forms of yoga are highly athletic or Yang, such as Ashtanga and Bikram yoga. If you have an injury or illness, a Yin or gentle practice is essential until you are strong and your health is vibrant again and you are energetic enough to approach a more physically challenging or Yang practice.
Ask around as most teachers will invite you to try a class first for free without expecting you to pay for a several week session in advance. A knowledgeable and experienced teacher is not necessarily one who has a certificate or a pretty body and a peaceful demeanour or a fancy studio.
A master may be quite old, having practiced an entire lifetime, or quite young having been introduced to a lifetime of yoga as a child in a family that has practiced daily. One thing for sure, a good teacher will stimulate your mind and instil in your heart a deep and enduring respect for the depths of yoga. You should feel challenged but not so much so that you do not have ample opportunities to make progress quickly.
A good yoga teacher, remember, should be able to give masterful instruction of any of the postures she/he teach, move people toward the practice of kindness. Treat people kindly as she/he presents material to them. Care about others. Care about this world. Be a defender and protector and devotee of this earth. Teachers communicate and raise consciousness. Stay well-informed. Empathy and compassion are absolutely necessary.
Like the saying says, when you are ready, the teacher will appear. If you are truly seeking a real teacher, a real teacher will appear. Remember though that they, like you, are human and that the ultimate and true teacher is you, your intuition and your inner guidance which discerns all teachings and learns what you need to know for your own purpose, path and connection with source and all others.
So take what serves you from each teacher you meet respectfully and leave behind that which does not serve you personally. You are allowed to be discerning. Listen to the voice within and follow it as it will always guide you in the right direction. Namaste’
Editor: Lindsay Friedman
Cris Chi lives in Australia and is the director of www.yogaalliance.com.au. As a trained professional ballet dancer, after an accident on stage that ended her career, Cris began her yoga journey. She moved to India to study and practice yoga under the guidance of the Reverend Swamiji Vidyanand Founder and President of Yoga Alliance International and Director of SriMa School of Transformational Yoga in New Delhi. Cris has been teaching a blend of Hatha and Ashtanga yoga style for over 20 years. She developed and trademarked in several international jurisdictions SPORTS YOGA® Teacher Training program, a new yogic system which approaches the practice of yoga from a physical standpoint, with little or no emphasis on meditation or spirituality. Cris travels to London, Italy, Spain, Rishikesh to conduct yoga teacher training. In 2010 was nominated Director of Yoga Alliance International in Oceania for her long standing contribution to the yoga community.