It may sound like the most obvious statement in the world but when, like me, you’re just starting out in yoga, the difference between a good and a bad teacher can be monumental. Having somebody to teach you the correct form for those base poses from which the more advanced asanas can be achieved later as you improve, is crucial. At this early stage, without the right instruction, bad habits and wrong form could stay with us unchecked until such time as another instructor happens to pick up on them and offer correction. Hypothetically this could be a very long time if you’re attending the same class on a weekly basis!
5 Traits of a Great Yoga Teacher
In my short life as a yogi, I am happy to say that I have been taught by some very good instructors, all found at Blue Osa Yoga Retreat and Spa. It is because of these four teachers and their vastly different styles of instruction that I have managed to embrace yoga so easily and find improvement in every class.
I have, however, completed one class outside of Blue Osa. This was my first EVER experience. Call it dipping my toe in preparation for arriving at Blue Osa where I would be embarking upon 5 weeks of yoga as part of their volunteer program. From this experience, I now have a frame of reference to realize that the instructor in question was possibly not as good as the rest. This got me thinking about what encompassed a good teacher when it came to yoga? Drawing on my own experience and that of the other yogis and teachers I am spending my days with here at Blue Osa, I’ve devised a list of 5 important teaching traits that I think help to make a great instructor from the perspective of a relevant novice.
1. Acknowledge the Class level
Any teacher worth their salt will recognize any new faces turning up to a regular class or ask the people they’re teaching what their yoga background is. A class has to be tailored to fit everyone’s capabilities. It stands to reason that someone with no experience of yoga walking through a door marked “Advanced Yoga” should be politely turned away, but in any other circumstance try and welcome in all levels by letting your class reflect the experience in the room setting a nice balance without leaving a newbie struggling in an attempt to pull off Birds of Paradise!
One of the reasons I realized just how poorly I had been instructed in my first class compared to my later experiences at Blue Osa was just how often I found my form being corrected by my instructors. Either a subtle push on my hips in child pose, or a whisper in my ear, these interventions went a long way in helping me improve, and more importantly in preventing strain and injury. I appreciate that sometimes it’s a case of knowing the person you’re helping; I personally welcome any sort of correction, if it’s done in the right way. Some people may prefer being directed rather than touched, others might feel uncomfortable if they’re called out in front of the whole class. However, you choose to intervene, it’s important that you do, don’t leave your students to discover their own mistakes later down the line.
3. Read The Room
This doesn’t just apply when an instructor finds a beginner in their midst, it applies at all times. There’s nothing worse than when an instructor misreads the energy of a room and sends the class off into a sweat busting power flow when all they want to do is slip comfortably into their savasana. I’ve seen this happen before in an afternoon class. At the end of an overly exertive class the instructor asked the class to get into side crow…one person attempted it out of a class of 16. The other 15 flopped into child’s pose!
4. Find the right voice
Being a beginner my yoga classes are completed for the most part with one eye open, forever needing visual prompts to move into my next pose. When I look around and see people flowing seamlessly with their eyes pressed firmly shut, it makes me determined to reach their level. But for now, I need instruction, I need those detailed verbal prompts of where my body should be and where I should feel the stretch. There is literally nothing worse than being in a big class and holding the wrong pose while everyone else is synchronized! Remember, as yogi’s we follow your voice, it guides us through your class. Take the responsibility to lead!
5. Plan B
Out of the many snippets of good information that I have gleaned from the wonderfully talented spectrum of instructors teaching at Blue Osa, the one that seemed to remain a constant throughout is this; Yoga is not simply about flexibility. We all have different bodies with different limits, the parameters made even more blurry when you factor in variables like age, weight and sex. For that reason, it is integral, especially for any beginners in your class, that you provide your students with options when moving their bodies in to and out of poses. Even if it’s something as simple as offering the choice to drop their knees to the mat during Chattaranga, or maybe incorporating props such as blocks or blankets to relieve the tension on the muscles. Providing such relief can mean the difference between an enjoyable yoga class and an ordeal, or at worst, an injury. Allow your students to grow at their own pace, give them a plan B!
About The Author
Chris Barkess is a blogger and aspiring author in his thirties. He also drives trains in his hometown of Newcastle, England.
His love of travelling brought him together with his fiancé, Holly, another like-minded travel nut, and the love of his life. Together they embarked on an adventure in 2015 to explore Latin America where they fell in love with Blue Osa Yoga Retreat & Spa.
Aside from writing – his indisputable first love, Chris enjoys reading, running, football, and being fully immersed in nature. He is a self-proclaimed Stephen King fanatic.
Chris admits to having been initially skeptical and openly dismissive of Yoga until he realized the benefits it had to offer him; physically, mentally and spiritually. He now recognizes the depths to his ignorance.
“The ultimate ignorance is rejecting something you know nothing about, yet refuse to investigate” – Dr. Wayne Dyer