How to Choose a Yoga Teacher

“The significant power of choice is the core gift to the human experience.” – Caroline Myss

Choosing a yoga teacher or studio is perhaps not often a Do or Die decision, but it is often one that’s clouded by yoga lingo, and complicated by factors such as costs, schedule, and location.

Finding a yoga teacher or studio is like standing in the cereal aisle at the grocery store, walking up and down, picking up and putting back cereal boxes 20 times, and wondering if you should have toast for breakfast instead.

I’ve been down that aisle a few times, and here are some things I’ve learned.

Death by Yoga: *Not* Okay!

If you take away nothing else, remember this: just as love is not supposed to hurt, yoga is not, not, *not* supposed to hurt either. There is pain that comes from soreness, and then there’s pain that comes from a torn ligament or dehydration in an overly heated room. Along with running injuries and football injuries, yoga injuries are becoming more common as yoga studios proliferate across towns and cities.

Your responsibility as a yoga student is to differentiate between the “good” pain from the “bad” pain, and to walk away from any situation where the probability of you getting hurt is surpassing the probability of you obtaining inner peace.

My friend Kevin sent me an IM one morning telling me he was dying in a hot/Bikram yoga class that he tried. He was dehydrated, hungry, and suffocating from the heat, and didn’t feel like he could leave the room. “Is this what you do, yoga?” he wanted to know. Absolutely not!

“Do it in such a way that you would want to do it again” – Theresa Elliott, on doing any yoga pose.

Alignment Matters

It might work for tourism revenue and look-Ma-I’m-Hercules pictures, the Leaning Tower of Pisa probably doesn’t attract a lot of tenants. A sound structure matters for functional buildings, and a sound alignment matters for functional bodies.

Yoga is not just about being able to put your legs behind your head. It’s about using muscular strength to stack and stabilize your joints. As you look for a yoga teacher, ask, is this teacher aware of basic anatomical concepts? Do they ensure that you don’t exploit your flexibility if you have too much of it, or help you build strength if you need it?

Think of it this way, when you take your car to the shop, the mechanic should know a thing or two about car engines.

Would you use this architect for your house?

One Size Does Not Fit All

Have you ever put on a t-shirt that’s labeled “one size fits all”, just to realize, “not so much”? Or been to a Chinese restaurant with a “Family menu for two”, but to you it could feed two dozen?

Yoga postures can and should be modified depending on your body and physical condition, if the teacher isn’t giving you options, or showing you modifications, it’s time to rethink if this class is a good fit.

“I used to play sports. Then I realized you can buy trophies. Now I’m good at everything.” – Demetri Martin

Can You Try This At Home?

As your yoga practice grows, you’ll learn more about the poses and your body such that you should be able to practice when you can’t make it to the studio. (Seattlelites, remember all the snow?)

Try this, if I say, Warrior 1, do you, where you are right now, have an idea of where your feet should go, and hips, and hands, and head? Can you tell what you should be checking for? Something along the line of (pun intended) bringing the back hip forward or having the inside edge of your front foot run parallel to the mat?

A good yoga teacher should empower you with tools and techniques that, when life happens and you can’t go see him or her in person, you can still carry on your practice.

Are you having fun?

If you really think about it, yoga is funny. After millions of years of evolution, we put ourselves in these absurd positions, and we have to work hard to look half way as decent as whatever we’re trying to imitate. The things we do for inner peace.

I once heard a great quote, “You have to be serious about not being too serious”. This is true in life, and it’s true in yoga. From my experience, teachers who don’t have a sense of humor can be stiffening.

All kidding aside, what I mean to say is, personality matters, and finding a teacher you could laugh with will make the journey a bit lighter.

“God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.” – Voltaire

Like Spiderman said, “With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility”

In other types of schooling, we have no say in who our teachers are. Fortunately, we get to choose our yoga teachers. Unfortunately, that also means it’s up to us to do the research and weigh our options.

In the end, remember that it’s a personal endeavor, don’t hesitate to explore.

For another take on how to Choosing a Yoga Teacher, this is an article by my teacher Theresa Elliott.

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