November 2, 2013

What Separates a Great Yoga Teacher from a Good One.

Over the years, I have studied with a wide variety of yoga teachers, including some pretty well-known “superstars.”

People often want to know who the best out of the bunch was or who my favorite yoga teacher of all time was. The answer tends to shock many: the truth is, my best teacher ever wasn’t a superstar. He wasn’t even someone who had this own website or an “ambassadorship” with a major label. Rather, he was someone was taught at a local studio and worked with me and other students over a period of several months.

When I say he was the best one, I mean it. He had the uncanny ability to take me to my physical and emotional edge without injuring me.

Prior to him, I had been injured numerous times by instructors who assured me that I was not actually in pain, but merely “afraid.” The results: an injured shoulder, numerous muscle pulls and a sense of wariness and general unease that persisted long after the injuries healed.

This instructor, though, was different.

A shaven-headed no-nonsense type with several tattoos, he looked more like a biker than a stereotypical yoga instructor. However, his intuitiveness when it came to my body was nothing short of amazing. He noticed right away that I hated drop backs. For me, going backwards required a level of trust that I had never quite established with anyone else before. Thanks to his guidance over the course of several months, I was able to go back further on my own than I had ever thought possible.

During the time he was my instructor, I had the opportunity to attend a few workshops by some well-known teachers. While they were good and I certainly learned some things, I realized that it was impossible for me to say that any of these people were really “my” teachers given the limited amount of time we actually worked together. Much like competitive horseback riders who say that it takes an extended period of time for horse and rider to build up a relationship, the same can be said between a yoga instructor and their student.

In case anyone thinks I am trashing workshops or the people who hold them, let me be clear that I am not.

However, I can say based on my own experience and those of my fellow practitioners that those who think that spending a weekend or even a week with a master teacher will result in a dramatic improvement and/or deeper exploration of their own practice are often disappointed.

For one thing, there simply isn’t enough time to build up the relationship between teacher and pupil that it takes to achieve that. Add to that that many workshops have a lot of attendees and it makes any chance to build any sort of relationship all the more challenging.

Another mistake people make is assuming that an amazing practitioner automatically makes a great teacher. Many yoga superstars (and even non-superstars) are blessed by being both. Some, however, are better at practicing than teaching.

Lastly, if the above weren’t enough challenges in the quest to find a great yoga teacher, there has to be a certain amount of chemistry present between the two. By chemistry, I don’t mean that you have to “love” or even “like” your teacher, but there does have to be an sense of ease between the two and the ability of the teacher to “read” their student’s physical and emotional cues. (In the case of my teacher, he picked up right away that I had trust issues which made drop backs all the more challenging for me.)

I also noticed that when we were working together, not everyone shared the same opinion of him as I did showing once again that what makes a yoga instructor great versus good in someone’s eyes, is largely in part due to personal dynamics between the two.

In any case, my story ends on a less-than-happy note, because like so many other instructors who have come and gone in my life, my great teacher moved away. I am still looking for my next great one and am optimistic that sooner or later, I will find him or her.

In the meantime, I just have to keep reminding myself that it may not happen overnight, but like so many other things that are worthwhile, it may take some time.


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Ed: Sara Crolick

{photo: via lululemon athletica}

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