When it comes down to it, your yoga practice is a relationship. A relationship between you and your mat. You and your surroundings. And ultimately, a relationship with You. Getting there however usually requires a yoga instructor that can guide you to enjoy all the goodness that comes from a regular practice.
So what do you look for when you want to start a yoga practice or try on a different instructor? I like to think of this as the journey Goldilocks took in finding “just the right” everything:
- Try a few on – you never know what gems await. The number of instructors has increased exponentially as a demographic seeking a compliment to typical workouts is emerging. Don’t be discouraged by your first bad experience. If it was a bad experience for you, I’d say your instructor has something to do with it. But not all yogis are the same – search out, ask others and try them yourself. Consider it a bit of an interview process. Be prepared to have a long lasting relationship with your instructor if you want it. Waking partners and coffee mates have emerged from my friends from the mat. One of my students used to dash out before Savasanah and years later we did our teacher training together and is one of my best friends.
- Is it safe? Did you notice your instructor providing alternatives or do they come off their mat to assist? A good instructor will ask their class if they want hands on adjustments in a way that is subtle (like at the beginning of the class when everyone’s eyes might be closed). A good instructor will also have a strong knowledge of anatomy so that they understand the mechanics of poses so not to put any stress on joints in particular. Let your instructor know of any injury you may have ahead of class and listen to how they address.
- Go with your gut. A very traditional yogi teaching applies here- Intuition is always your best guide. What was your first meeting like? Did the instructor give you a good first impression? Was there too much talk and not enough movement? Did your teacher make themselves available to talk? Was the space you were in cluttered or not properly equipped? I teach in a gym setting with very little equipment which is not always ideal, but I would never teach poses that require props if I don’t have them. If your instructor can’t do a pose, they shouldn’t be teaching it. As well, manage your expectations. Going to a class that is about power when you want to stretch will not sit well with you no matter how good the instructor is.
- What is their yoga education? Beyond a certification (which is now a plethora of choices), ask your instructor what other yoga they do. The more you know about yoga, the more you realize you need to know. So don’t be afraid to ask where their practice comes from, if they attend other classes or conferences and retreats. And ask them how much they practice (not teach) themselves. Self-study is the most important way to improve and grow.
- Will this teacher inspire you? You will likely know this fairly soon. Only when you’ve established that you can trust your instructor with your body, you can then explore trusting them with your heart. It sounds a bit cliché, but as you get comfortable with the movement (asanas) of yoga, you will quickly find out that yoga is not about doing the perfect down-dog. It’s about being aware of who you show up as every day, where you do the hardest work of all – the work on yourself.
The longest journey is the one from your head to your heart. Make sure it fits “just right”.