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*Ed’s note: while the author uses “she” for consistency, these archetypes can apply to both male and female yoga instructors.
At my studio, each yoga instructor is unique and infuses the class with his or her own energy.
Despite their individual personalities, I have noticed that yoga instructors tend to fall into particular archetypes. I often find myself seeking out teachers by archetype, depending upon my energy level, mood, and other needs.
An archetype is a classic example or typical character. In literature, archetypes might include: the hero (Robin Hood), the mentor (Dumbledore), or the monster (Dracula). Yoga teacher archetypes are not intrinsically good or bad. There are no heroes or villains here.
Instead, the types are fluid. Some instructors may embody two or more archetypes, while others fall squarely into a specific category on any given day.
Just as there are eight limbs of yoga, there are eight yoga instructor archetypes.
The Earth Mother
This is the person my parents or my boss might envision leading a typical yoga class. She buys organic. She is vegan. She is a minimalist. She rejects designer athletic apparel and all forms of monetization of the practice. She offers soft words of encouragement, such that her classes are gentle and restorative.
For her, yoga is much more than a physical practice. It is a state of mind and a way of treating others. She inspires you to be more kind and to eat more kale salad.
Seek out the Earth Mother if you are in need of grounding and a sense of security.
The Drill Sergeant (aka The Sadist)
This archetype is the polar opposite of the Earth Mother. She barks commands. She eagerly invites eye rolls and grunts of discomfort as she orders you into Plank position, yet again. She seems oblivious to the fact that you have been holding Chair pose for five minutes. Sit lower! Relax your face! She insists on practicing in complete silence with the thermostat at its highest setting; the only soundtrack is labored breathing.
She provides the tough love that you did not know you needed until class is over. During class, however, you seriously question why you ever started going to yoga.
Seek out this archetype if you need to challenge yourself or snap out of a rut.
The Corporate Logo
This archetype is a walking advertisement for the latest in yoga fashion and lifestyle. She is Instagram fitspo in the flesh. Every class begins and ends with a promotion. Even though you feel like a living dollar sign in her eyes, her enthusiasm is infectious. Her classes are high energy and brimming with optimism. She is quick to compliment your newly purchased pants and encourage you to sign up for the next training.
Try a Corporate Logo-led class to add flare to your practice.
This archetype may be a medical doctor, a massage therapist, or a physical therapist. She is focused on anatomy and loves to describe the physical benefits of each pose in clinical detail. She maintains her bedside manner inside and outside the studio. She has earned your trust and you know that you are in good hands.
The classes taught by this archetype are ideal for lifelong lovers of learning who also enjoy a well-balanced workout.
The Disc Jockey
We all know and love this archetype. She designs her entire class around a playlist. Her classes are a party and almost always filled to capacity. I know one such instructor who dedicates a full class to musicians when they pass away. And there have been some significant losses in the music industry lately which have made for epic dedication classes: Tom Petty, George Michael, Prince, Aretha Franklin.
Whenever a celebrated musician dies, I make sure to honor their memory by taking this class, where music is the foundation.
Taking a class led by the Disc Jockey archetype can be an absorbing and deeply enjoyable experience.
The Best Friend/Mother
This archetype remembers your name and takes a sincere interest in your yogic journey. She is tracking your progress, as well as your attendance. She gives specific feedback after class with glowing pride. She is compellingly genuine. You are disappointed and even a bit maddened if her class is taught by a substitute, but all is quickly forgiven.
Finding a Best Friend/Mother instructor may keep you accountable and committed to a regular practice.
This archetype started teaching yoga because balancing and flexibility are natural to him. He can effortlessly hold Handstand in the middle of the room while bringing his shoulder blades to touch, flow into the splits, and back to Handstand. He is always leading workshops. While some may find this archetype intimidating, his guidance is meant to be aspirational. He relishes attention, but not in a conceited way.
He shares his adventuresome spirit and encourages you to move out of your comfort zone.
Just as Justice Scalia approached the constitution, so does the Purist instructor approach yoga. Her class is traditional and frequently chakra-themed. Each class begins and ends with a series of three oms. She lives by the yamas and niyamas. She may offer a short quote from Patañjali or an epic narrative of Shakti.
This archetype’s class will bring balance and meaning to your practice.
Yoga is a reflection of how we show up in the world, how we treat ourselves, and how we react. Examining why we are drawn to certain yoga instructor archetypes may help us appreciate where we are now and where we hope to be.