Qualities of an Inspiring Yoga Teacher

My teacher, Amy Ippoliti, assisting a student in Jakarta, Indonesia. I was lucky to assist her in Asia for three weeks last Spring!

My teacher, Amy Ippoliti, assisting a student in Jakarta, Indonesia. I was lucky to assist her in Asia for three weeks last Spring!

I am blessed to study with some amazingly dedicated and seasoned teachers in this discipline. When I really stop to remember that, I not only feel grateful for the education I’ve received, but also what I hope to embody as a yoga educator myself.

Teachers come in all forms. My family, friends, lovers, yoga teachers and college professors have shared some exquisite teachings with me that I cherish. Who are your greatest teachers and what are the qualities they possess that you are most attracted to?

For now, I speak specifically to qualities I love and respect in my yoga teachers. They remind me why I continue to teach and study this practice. I hope this serves as inspiration to contemplate the qualities your own teachers have passed on to you and use that as a bridge to revisit the qualities you hope to embody and carry with you into your daily life.

Qualities of an Inspiring Yoga Teacher (in my personal experience)

1. They don’t cut corners

The teachers I study with are meticulous. They take the time necessary to clearly and intentionally convey the teachings to their students...because they firmly believe in the teachings themselves. Despite our conditioned desire as a culture to move fast, these teachers fight against that for the integrity of intelligent and safe alignment. They repeat alignment cues, they share themes and stories with a passion that grips you, and they are not afraid to hold you in a pose until they can tell you’ve clearly absorbed the instruction. Which conveys their care and reverence for the practice and for their students. They know themselves as not just yoga teachers, but yoga educators. Plus, it’s clear that they have personally experienced and sat with the ideals and actions they are teaching their students.

2. They have a light-hearted attitude

When I was in a restorative teacher training with Judith Hanson Lasater, she said to our group, “come on, this yoga stuff is too important to take seriously.” I love that. I notice that all the teachers I look up to are seriously steeped in this practice yet they maintain a light heart. This would make sense, since we know that yoga has the tendency to dissolve hard layers within us, or shed the veils, and open our eyes to the awe-inspiring energy of the universe. How could you not be light once you’ve tapped into - even glimpsed - something so much bigger than yourself? Of course, we are all human, and these teachers surely have moments of feeling heavy or hardened, but I don’t think they lose sight of that lightness; they trust that it is still there waiting for them, even in moments of being so understandably human.

3. They recognize, and thank, their students

Teachers that I have either studied with or assisted always take time out to recognize the students who show up. They acknowledge what it might have taken for the student to get there: arranging child or pet care, getting subs for yoga classes, taking off of work, etc. These teachers reiterate what we all know: what a rare and precious opportunity it is to be able to take time out to be there (particularly in longer workshops or trainings that last an extended period of time). But even in hour-long group classes, I really appreciate when a teacher thanks the students for taking time to get on their mat. “You’ve invested one of your most precious resources,” my teacher Amy Ippoliti has said in the past, “...time.”

4. They share, selflessly

Inspiring teachers share the teaching of yoga whole-heartedly because they know the teachings are not theirs to claim. They honor the nature of the tradition - one that is passed down - and they continue the trend by passing it on to their students. They share from a place of fulfillment, expressing how the practice has deeply served them and so it would be a shame not to share that with the world. They’ve also ditched the “guru complex”. I’ve sat in front of many teachers who teach their teachers, “remember, it is not you (the teacher) that is giving the student the experience. It’s the yoga that’s working its magic on them.”

The teacher doesn’t give their student the experience of yoga. In the words of Judith Hanson Lasater:

“We can only create the environment where the student can find the pose, their ease. We cannot give them the experience.”

I’ve been extremely lucky to study with teachers who have created conditions that continue to inspire my personal practice and my teaching practice. It is through their own dedication and reverence to the practice that inevitably inspires those they share it with. My mentor and teacher, Amy Ippoliti, embodies all of these qualities and more. Jason Crandall and Judith Lasater are two other teachers who continue to inspire me, and their fervent involvement in the practice is something you can’t help but be inspired by.