Finding the Right Teacher for You

Finding the right yoga teacher is a lot like finding the right running shoe. The best fit will depend on your particular needs at the moment, and over time.
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Finding the right yoga teacher is a lot like finding the right running shoe. The best fit will depend on your particular needs at the moment, and over time.

I’ve just wrapped up teaching a five-day intensive for yoga teachers on working with athletes. It was a wonderful group of enthusiastic, kind, giving people, and you would be lucky to have a class with any of them. One of our discussions was about what athletes—and by extension, anyone—should be looking for from a yoga teacher. Of course, it completely depends on the individual.

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Take into account your learning style, level of experience, and personal tastes. Think of finding the right teacher like choosing a running shoe (though we could extend this sport-specific analogy to choosing a bike frame and components, or a wetsuit, or a tennis racquet).

Some runners need specific correction from their shoe, and are best served by one that offers stability or motion-control. Similarly, some students need explicit direction, alignment cuing, placement of props, and hands-on assists and adjustments in order to find ease in their practice.

Others need much less from a shoe and can run in minimalist models constructed of little more than a sock with a sole attached. Similarly, some students do best with minimal cueing, no correction, and the freedom to move lightly through their practice.

If you run a lot, you probably rotate among a few different pairs of shoes over the course of the week. This helps ensure that you don’t get too set in the patterns encouraged by a single pair.

In the same way, if you do yoga frequently, you should mix up your practice, working with more than one teacher and mixing in home practice, too.

Your needs can change over time. As your experience with yoga grows, you may move from the equivalent of a stability shoe to a more neutral or minimalist model. On the other hand, your body may shift so that you find a more hands-on and corrective model helps you deepen your practice.

Just as shoe brands differ, so do styles of yoga teachers. Some approaches to yoga will feel just right and others won’t. Sometimes companies update the model of your favorite shoe, and you find it doesn’t quite work for you anymore. Similarly, teachers may move in different directions that suit or don’t suit you. Be open to these opportunities for change.