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May 24, 2016

What Makes A Good Yoga Teacher?

Yoga has gained a great deal of popularity over the past two decades – and popularity generates demand. As a result, we now live in a world that is almost over-populated with yoga teachers!

People are often wary of individuals who travel to India, or pretty much anywhere in the world, attend an intensive four-week-long teacher training course and come back as qualified (glorified!) yogis.

And perhaps rightly so, considering that on the training course I did there were a couple of fellow trainees who couldn’t do Shoulderstand. Some of them had been practising yoga only for a few months; many of them for two or three years.

When questions arise about the quality of the yoga teacher training system, the parallel with the medical profession comes to mind. Is it the training received at university that makes a good doctor or nurse? Or is it one’s aptitude and genuine desire to help others?

Over the years, I’ve attended countless yoga classes – and having taught quite a few myself now, I can’t help but wonder: What makes a good yoga teacher? Is it flexibility? Strength? Stamina? Does it matter if you can do Headstand? Handstand? And is it necessary to know the Sanskrit names of all the postures?

Ultimately, I believe it’s more about being a good teacher than about being able to stand on your head—although the latter helps. While some of the best yoga teachers I’ve had happened to have impressive physical skills, others were ordinary humans with limited flexibility, rather like myself.

I love teaching yoga because I know how transformative the practice can be. I started practising regularly in 2003, aged 29, in order to correct a bad posture caused by many years of piano playing and computer work, but I soon realised I benefited from the practice mentally and emotionally as much as I did on a physical level.

In classes, energy and presence are important factors: teachers need to be focused and grounded. A good tone of voice will be soothing and at the same time motivating. You want your students to relax, but also to feel stretched out by the end of the class. This can be a tricky balancing act. I’ve been in yoga classes where the tone was harsh, almost military, and others where it was artificially calm. In both cases, the effect was a feeling of irritation!

Perhaps the most delicate balance to be struck in order to deliver a good yoga class is the one between the physical and mental aspects of the practice.

Even though I’m very much interested in yoga philosophy, and I trained at a centre where the emphasis was on Vedanta, I don’t feel in any way qualified or inclined to teach it; also because I don’t believe spirituality is something that can or ought to be taught in the form of a lecture.

The physical branch of yoga (asana) seems to be the best preparation towards a spiritual and personal development path. A good yoga teacher, however, will not reduce the practice to mere physical exercise but will incorporate some mindfulness: the most basic and probably most useful of the spiritual principles; which is in fact inherent in yoga.

The pace of the class is also key. Regardless of the style of yoga – from slow yin to more dynamic flow – one must allow for space between postures and not be scared of silence. Allowing for playfulness is rather important, too.

Above all, a good yoga teacher will be capable of adapting the practice to suit different degrees of physical fitness, making all the students feel at ease; unjudged.

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About the author:

Nico de Napoli is an integrative coach with a background in music and linguistics. You can connect with him via his website: nicodenapoli.com

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Author: Nico De Napoli

Image: Flickr/The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

Editor: Travis May

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