While there are many ways to be a powerful yoga teacher, here are some common traits of the truly excellent yoga teachers. A teacher loses their power when they become self-absorbed and the solid teachers know this. As teachers we must get over our selves and show up to serve others. We must truly embody and practice yoga to teach yoga authentically.
Here are 7 key qualities of the very best yoga teachers:
To be a powerful yoga teacher, we must be focused and present while teaching. How can we inspire our students to show up to the moment if we are distracted? As teachers of yoga we must breathe for and with our students, we must set the rhythm, the energetic tone, and hold strong in presence.
When I was a new teacher in my early 20’s, I remember I was initially attached to the actual sequencing of teaching a yoga class. It was all about remembering! I would spent hours designing the creative, challenging yoga flow sequences and the music playlists I was going to present for my first studio classes as a hired yoga teacher. When my first students arrived and I began to teach, I noticed that a lot of the sequences I was teaching were not appropriate for the students who were actually taking the class. They couldn’t physically do them. I remember the confusion and humility of being attached to the sequence, so much so, that I lost my ground with guiding the actual practice of yoga.
Luckily I had good teachers and had been prepared for these moments with postures like child’s pose, and downward facing dog to safely hold students in for 5-10 breaths while I got my BS together, found my breath, my practice, and became inspired with more appropriate sequencing.
Now as I step into teach a yoga class there is no plan, just presence. I never have a planned sequence, unless teaching hot yoga. Now I just hold the resonance and sense the collective energy of the group. We can tell so much about our energies through our physical bodies. To the trained clairvoyant eye, the body is the way the soul communicates. As a teacher, I can just sense the energy of the group. I take a couple breaths and I can feel the molecules and vibrations of the collective. Here, I ground and hold the seat. From the two plus decades of practicing yoga, and who knows how many years through previous incarnations, there is an expansive resource of artful and beneficial sequences. It is more simple than the very breath.
3. The best teachers stay humble.
I remember experiencing insecurity and anxiety in that moment teaching yoga in my first class. I had remembered every breath, every transition, everything of the "pre-planned" class. Another sweet teaching from the experience is, we can't control things like this, all we can do is train ourselves to stay in the practice of presence. I got lost when my student’s bodies weren’t like the 21 year old flexible body I was then experiencing. My mind became irritated because I wanted to show off this great sequence. Luckily, I recovered my center and modified the practice when I realized it was not an appropriate fit for most of the students, but my face flushed, I was sweating, and embarrassed. Before this I had only taught yoga to other yogis in my teacher trainings, and some of my friends who were experienced with yoga in studios. This was a valuable and humbling experience.
4. Perhaps they've done it before.
Some of the best advice I got was from one of my first yoga teachers and spiritual friends, Alanna Kaivalya. Alanna too was very young at that time in her body, but oh so, wise and deeply rooted in the devotion and mysticism of yoga. I remember being awe struck by her ability to calmly present throughout the yoga teacher training I was enrolled in. What was the magic she had? She was maybe 19 years old and teaching ancient knowledge. It was still one of the most impressive things to be apart of for me to this day.
To me, it was a true sign, that, we are not just coming to the yoga practice for the first time ever when we go to our first yoga class. Many of us have been practicing since ancient times. The soul spark is eternal! That is why mentioned earlier remembrance is an important step to commitment in yoga. We may not have clear memory of a past life as a yogi, but we sense the connection, a strong sense that we found refuge.
5. They recognize it is not about them.
Alanna observed my internal struggle with my ego. She lovingly, yet clearly, shared with me the truth about my role in creating my confusion with teaching those first yoga classes. It was like a bolt of lightning how quickly I saw the truth in her words. I literally gulped. What Alanna told me was, “Get over your self!” She reminded me that when we show up to teach yoga, it is never about us. It is always about the student. Ah-ha! Being a good teacher wasn’t about having a unique sequence or great playlist, but it is about showing up in service to the student, in honor of the devotion to the practice.
Powerful yoga teachers realize, it is not about them. When we step into the world as a yoga teacher we must get over ourselves. We are here to offer our service. We teach our students to listen, not just to listen for the cues of the postures, or breathing. It is beyond that. A yoga teacher must create the resonance. A yogi practices, seeing the best in others, their inherent nature, and thus creates the space of allowance for others to become just that, their best.
7. They practice yoga.
Another of my most influential yoga teachers and spiritual friends, Sharon Gannon, shared with me that to be a good yoga teacher we have to be a good yoga student. We have to be thirsty for the teachings of yoga revealed through, and inspired by, the practicing of, yoga. A good student of yoga lives the practice and lifestyle of yoga. As yogis we practice holding our own in our energy, and not getting over reactive with the whirling’s of mind, and the emotional entanglements of the material world. It is an essential characteristic that, a yoga teacher must practice. How else can we assist our students in achieving liberation? We must reach with our entire being to receive liberation for ourselves. We must be thirsty. Then we will become the teachings. Then we will illuminate like a lighthouse to our community and students. We have to practice what we teach. Yoga is as much of a journey as it is a destination.
What I do do to prepare for teaching yoga is I live my life in service to my students off the mat by acting in accordance to the morals and ethics of the yoga I teach. I study yoga texts and follow many of the lifestyle suggestions from ancient yoga scriptures. I live in practice of radical love and acceptance towards myself, people, Nature, and animals. These things help me live my yoga and because of that, be a powerful yoga teacher. Hold your seat yogis, practice, all is coming.
By Shannon Connell
Shannon is a certified Jivamukti, Power, Hot Yoga, and Mindfulness Meditation Instructor, Usui and Karuna Reiki Master Teacher, and Registered Psychotherapist. She honors the interconnectedness between All-beings and All-things and is passionate about participating and supporting her community in physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Visit her at her website www.shannonconnellhealth.com.
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