10 Qualities of a Great Yoga Teacher

Written by Karen Fabian

I spent most of this week with a group of people who love yoga at the Baptiste Power Flow Immersion led by Baron Baptiste in Estes Park, CO. Over the 3 days, we spent time practicing yoga, meeting each other, sharing ideas and supporting each other to be fearless in our teaching and in our lives.

These experiences give me a chance to meet new people, practice yoga, learn new yoga sequencing and postures, but also learn how to be fuller in my expression as a yoga teacher. I hesitate to use the phrase, “ be the best yoga teacher I can be” because whose to say what the “best yoga teacher” would look like? But I can share from my experience, from my own personal challenges and especially, in my most recent observations and conversations I’ve had over the past 72 hours.

This analysis has little to do with an individual’s intellectual knowledge of yoga. It assumes that there is a certain level of proficiency around yoga, its background, the postures and sequencing. It’s more of an illustration of the human qualities that may be part of the profile of a successful yoga teacher.

1. Courage: Yoga teachers are fearless. For those of us that have a fear of speaking in front of groups, being a yoga teacher puts us face-to-face with that fear but we do it anyway. Great teachers show themselves to others, express freely and take personal risks.

2. A need for approval/A fear of what others think: When you teach from a place of wanting the approval of your students, the whole student/teacher dynamic changes. This kind of need puts us less in the position of serving our students and more in the position of feeding our ego’s needs and the needs of our ego have little to do with teaching yoga to someone else.

3. A sense of humor as well as humility: Smiling, bringing a sense of joy and love to your teaching, laughing at your obvious mistakes, sharing funny stories; these all keep the class light while maintaining the integrity of the process. Quality teachers aren’t afraid to say, “I don’t know” rather than make up an answer and are willing to show themselves with all their flaws in both the expression of their teaching as well in interactions with their students.

4. Creativity: One of the best times of each day would be when I’d eat community meals and have the chance to talk to other teachers about what they’re doing. Teaching in studios, opening new studios of their own, teaching in other countries, working for non-profits, teaching children, serving people that are facing many different kinds of physical and emotional challenges; the list is endless. Yoga teachers are creative in the form that their passion takes but they’re also creative in the expression of the sequence, the way they manage their class, the way they may offer modifications and the inspiring thoughts they share.

5. A willingness to smile fully: You know how it looks when someone fakes a smile? A great yoga teacher is willing to really smile and you can feel the warmth. There’s an inner glow and in quality yoga teachers, they’re willing to share this kind of smile, freely and often, in part because they love what they do but in large part because they love people.

6. A willingness to make mistakes: Teaching yoga can be messy. Arms and legs everywhere, sweat, personal expression, emotional release; these are not the stuff of control. You’re also leading a sequence, managing the room, and supporting beginners. In the context of this, you may make a mistake. A good teacher continues to move forward, learns from the mistake without personalizing it and looks for future opportunities to do it differently.

7. Passion for yoga and a strong desire to teach: It seems obvious but it’s worth mentioning that simply loving yoga may not be enough. You need a passion for expressing both the poses as well as the coaching relationship that goes along with being a yoga teacher.

8. Passion for constant learning and ability to change: Teaching yoga is not static. How you teach in your first year will be different from how you teach in your second year, even around the same sequence. You’ll change, what you emphasize will change but along with that comes a requirement that you’re always looking for ways to increase both your academic knowledge of yoga as well as continue to push yourself to take personal risks in the areas of personal expression. This kind of personal expression only grows deeper and takes on a richer quality as you get more experience, as you learn from your mistakes, as you take risks, as you’re willing to step into your full sense of yourself at all times, regardless of what role you’re playing in your life.

9. Flexibility in mind: Having rigid thoughts about how we are, who we are, how others are and what is happening in the world is no way to live and is certainly cannot be the mindset of a yoga teacher. Yoga teachers work with people and people are dynamic, ever-changing beings. They need to be able to give and take feedback without making it personal, be able to think on their feet, be willing to take on new opportunities, even when all the details are unclear and be willing to let people make mistakes and show emotion, all without the need to control what is happening to meet their own needs.

10. Faith: Your own yoga practice is a beautiful expression of your faith. Every time you step on the mat, even during your deepest struggles, you affirm the resilience of the human spirit that there is a belief things can be better. Yoga teaching, while a wonderful, inspiring and rewarding occupation can include different practical challenges as well as personal ones. But it is the faith on the mat that great yoga teachers show fully in their yoga teaching as well as in their lives.

The last thing to note is that great yoga teachers don’t wait to be ready to teach. They recognize the learning is endless, the fears are always there but we work with these two factors all the time. They show a willingness to dive in, even though things may seem a bit unsteady. So, what are you waiting for? We’re all waiting for you to step fully into your greatness! 

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