5 Things That Make a Great Yoga Teacher
My writing for MindBodyGreen has given more attention to answers than questions. But I found myself in a Nissan 'Innovators' interview with my wife Tara Stiles last week, suggesting that one benefit yoga gives to relationships is comfort with not having all things answered. I'll save the other relationship benefits for a possible later post!
For this one, I'd like to ask a question for collaboration. What is it that makes a great yoga teacher?
I believe we all have an aim in common, which Tara expresses as helping people to live healthy and feel good. How we all go about this is subject to a great deal of variation. It's also subject to evolution. My hope is this evolution can be a conscious, deliberate one, chosen to support our common aim of helping people. Clearly, this makes sense whether we happen to be leading groups of people on mats, or just living good lives with the people around us.
I'll start with five key qualities. Please keep this one going!
A great yoga guide:
1) Connects people with themselves. Yoga is about choice and intuition. Your choice and Your intuition is what needs to come out, not someone else's. Rather than lining up after class to receive the blessings of our guru, we need to connect with our own blessings -- what we all already have inside our selves. Good yoga strengthens us, rather than makes us dependent. A great teacher isn't looking for the spotlight. Rather, the spotlight is entirely on and within each person.
2) Leads a good, healthy, happy life. Yoga is working for this teacher! It's tough to share what you don't have. When you live what you share, you can inspire others to find their own way, through their own intuition. A teacher can motivate people by sharing what they have read and heard. But motivation is never so powerful as inspiration -- which can only come from what we feel through direct experience, what's inside our own lives.
3) Understands how we are in a pose is more important than the appearance of a pose. This understanding fundamentally evolves yoga from striving for what you don't have, to feeling what you do have. Interestingly enough, this is what make it easy to do any pose you can imagine, to move in any way you can imagine, and to live in any way you can imagine. It's all in our ability to feel. Feeling is much stronger than forcing.
4) Has strong self-awareness. Another way of saying this is a clear psychology, what we need to avoid tripping over ourselves. It doesn't mean we're perfect! It just means we can see. When we see our selves, we connect with the choices that exist for us. This includes seeing and choosing how we can influence and inspire others. The people inspired by a great teacher are stronger, healthier, happier, more capable in their own lives. This clarity also makes it easier to understand and connect with people, which leads to many good things, compassion and ability to help among them.
5) Has a good sense of humor in the midst of serious things. The Dalai Lama's smile comes to mind here. It's always ready, even in the midst of important work. A great teacher gives us an example of working through heavy things with ease, gentleness, softness. Not a pushover, but not confronting others and life like a concrete wall. When a teacher has a sense of authentic (not pretend!) fun about them, everybody can feel this. It sets everyone at ease. When we're at ease, it's easier to go inside, to be inspired by our own selves.
It was easy for me to select these qualities, because I see them all every day in Tara Stiles! We've all seen great expressions and moments of these qualities in our favorite teachers, which is why they're our favorites. Dana Flynn's great sense of play and humor that's authentically her, Schuyler Grant leading a balanced life worth watching, Vinnie Marino guiding us to ease in the middle of great difficulty... all favorites for me.
What else makes up this list? What should we do everything we can to evolve in ourselves (this isn't just about people leading yoga classes), so we can give great things to the people around us?