It was just seven in the morning when I entered my teacher’s shala.
The marble floor was a cool respite for my feet from the heat outside. The silence of an early morning practice was obvious to my ears. Being this early, the class was empty. There was no one but me and my yoga mat.
Now, my early morning practice always begins like this. Calm, quiet, unassuming.
My teacher Jani, a Finnish born down-to-earth yogi (who has made it to the list of cool yogis on Instagram), comes down half an hour later. He’s a figure of composure. Always sure and always firm but always kind. He observes my practice and adjusts me where needed.
Such is the nature of our student-teacher relationship. He guides where I need, allows me to explore my own limitations but also gently prods me along when I need that extra push. Outside of asana practice, he also shares with me the meaning of yoga and how to work it into my daily life.
People tell you that yoga is life-altering. Practice it and you will find just how wonderful it will make you feel. But they forget to tell you that to for yoga to really change your life, you need to find the right teacher, too.
But what defines a right teacher? Is it their ability to perform a great number of asanas? Is it their vast knowledge on the yoga sutras?
Before I met my teacher, I practiced at various classes by various instructors. They taught the same asanas, gave out accurate cues and corrected my alignment. Their technique was, for the most part, good. (I’ve also come across bad ones unfortunately.) They understood the sutras and could speak of them well.
But I never ended up building a solid student-teacher relationship with them. They were good at what they were doing but they weren’t right for me. They helped me light a spark in my practice but didn’t ignite my fire.
But who’s the right one?
Now I know, that the right teacher is one who isn’t afraid of telling you right from wrong.
It’s one who understands you and your unique circumstances. Everyone is different, physically and mentally. The right teacher must be able to recognize that and work with your abilities and limitations.
The right teacher must also not only teach you asanas, but also help you understand what yoga is really about. They should guide you through your practice on and off the mat and help you understand that yoga is not just about asanas. It’s about a way of life.
The right teacher should also be lifelong. The best way to really grow in your practice is to find one teacher and stick to them. This way, your teacher grows to understand you well—your history, your wants, your needs and your complexities.
Where to begin the search?
Look around you, try out some classes with different teachers and find one that is really attuned to your needs. Once you find that one teacher, make your student-teacher relationship a long-standing one. It won’t be an easy search and sometimes you might find that you doubt your choices, but as they say, with everything good in life, when you know, you know.
That’s how I knew I had found the one.
Author: Elaine Clara Mah
Image: Helen Alfvegren / Flickr
Editor: Sara Kärpänen; Catherine Monkman