Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth yoga, fitness, & nutrition courses, when you sign up for Outside+.
As you progress in meditation practice, you’ll want some expert guidance. The following teachers recommended by Sonima are a good place to start.
At this point you’ve read at least one Pema Chodron book and have a favorite quote that resonates from the Dalai Lama. You follow Thich Nhat Hanh on Facebook and think he’s incredible. If you want to study regularly with someone, though, it might behoove you to consider a few more accessible teachers.
In the vein of full disclosure, some of these wonderful teachers we host at my meditation studio, MNDFL in New York City. If schedules allowed, though, I’d host them all. Here are 9 meditation teachers that may not be as well known but are deeply inspirational.
Also from our partner 10-Day Meditation Challenge
Angel Kyodo Williams
First impression: Before I ever met angel I was prompted by everyone I know to cold call her and ask her advice on starting my non-profit, the Institute for Compassionate Leadership. The subtext was, “If you want to know about the intersection of social action and meditation, this is the leading expert.” Called “the most intriguing African-American Buddhist” by Library Journal, I was delighted to also find her incredibly warm and generous when we finally hopped on the phone and became friends.
Lineage: angel is a Sensei in the Zen Buddhist tradition
A book of hers I recommend: Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living with Fearlessness and Grace
You would love her if: You read the morning paper and are sick to your stomach at the injustice in the world and want to know how compassion is actually an effective tool in combatting that.
First impression: When I first met Elena she immediately embraced me and then told me that she was angry with a family member and talked to me about how she was working with her anger, then introduced me to all her friends, and then about 20 minutes later we got into whatever business we had to meet about.
Short form: She’s incredibly warm and loving.
Lineage: Elena studies with the incredible Thom Knoles, and teaches from the Vedic tradition.
A book of hers I recommend: The Art of Attention
You would love her if: You’ve ever done yoga and/or wanted a wise sister.
Mindrolling Jetsün Khandro Rinpoche
First impression: I first met Khandro Rinpoche when we hosted her for a sold-out talk at the Boston Shambhala Center a decade ago. I was incredibly nervous meeting her behind the scenes and she held the space for my wide range of emotions like the queen of dharma that she is. We hosted many teachers while I was the Executive Director of the Shambhala Center. She was the only one who asked me about my personal meditation practice every single time.
Lineage: Khandro Rinpoche is lineage holder in the Kagyu and Nyingma traditions of Tibetan Buddhism
A book of hers I recommend: This Precious Life: Tibetan Buddhist Teachings on the Path to Enlightenment
You would love her if: You want to study with someone who will hold you in her heart with compassion and simultaneously cut your neurotic trip.
See also A Beginners’ Guide to Meditation
The 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Drodul Trinley Dorje
First impression: Before he ever came to the United States I had read and studied the work of this young teacher, who is roughly my own age. The amount of wisdom I experienced coming from those pages, offered by an 18 year old (at the time), makes a good case for reincarnation.
Lineage: His Holiness the Karmapa is the head of the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism
A book of his I recommend: The Heart Is Noble: Changing the World from the Inside Out
You would love him if: You want to study with someone who is 30 years old but enlightened, who can talk to you about love on a vast level, and understand that you might still have a one-night stand.
Venerable Robina Courtin
First impression: I recently discovered Venerable Robina, as I was invited to attend a talk she gave in New York City. While her presentations are insightful, she’s widely known for her cutting and slightly terrifying Q&A sessions where people ask her basic questions and she asks a series of questions right back at them in order for them to come to an understanding based in their own wisdom.
Lineage: Robina is a nun in the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition
A book of hers I recommend: How to Meditate: A Practical Guide
You would love her if: You’re really into studying Buddhism in a systematic way, love long talks, and are interested in analyzing concepts like emptiness
Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
First impression: Having grown up in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage, I met the Sakyong when I was 13 years old. I was on the beach with some friends and challenged him to a pull-up contest. You might think that a deeply compassionate being such as himself would take it easy on me. He did not. Years later I took him on as my guru, or root teacher. He has continued to challenge me and I love him for it.
Lineage: The Sakyong is the head of the Shambhala Buddhist lineage
A book of his I recommend: Turning the Mind into an Ally
You would love him if: You want to study with a complete master who is still incredibly humble, caring, and kind, and/or you want to see how meditation directly applies to your daily life
First impression: As a lifelong Buddhist I was skeptical of sound meditation. I mean, I generally teach shamatha, which can be translated as calm-abiding meditation. How calm could a sound bath be? Yet when I first sat in on a class with Sara Auster I was blown away. In addition to being a master at the singing bowls, she knows the ins and outs of traditional meditation techniques and blends the two into a wonderful experience that is relaxing and helpful for a practitioner of any level.
Lineage: In addition to being a yoga and meditation teacher, Sara is a certified Sound Therapy Practitioner
A book of hers I recommend: No books, but she does offer recordings of her work. They’re good, trust me. She’s the Rebecca Solnit of sound.
You would love her if: You walk around carrying a lot of tension in your body and love a good bath.
First impression: When I was still at college I reached out blindly to Sharon to see if she would ever consider giving a talk at my school. And she got back to me! I was shocked. Only now, over a decade later, as a friend of hers, do I realize that she goes everywhere and offers meditation to everyone. A lazy person like me comes up with all sorts of ways that I can teach and not have to leave New York City. Sharon is constantly on the road, looking people directly in the eyes and offering her full heart.
Lineage: Sharon has studied in a wide variety of traditions ranging from Theravadin to Tibetan Buddhism and is one of the co-founders of the Insight Meditation Society and The Barre Center for Buddhist Studies
A book of hers I recommend: Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness
You would love her if: You love Pema Chodron and/or need to experience a being who simply lives with her heart wide open
First impression: Susan and I met at a Shambhala retreat ages ago, when I was still figuring out what it meant to be a young Buddhist. We reconnected in recent years over our shared love of making meditation practice really accessible to as many people as possible. That connection sprouted a deep friendship plus a number of projects, most notably the Daily Dharma Gathering, a half-hour live online Buddhist talk offered every single day by a variety of teachers, as part of her awesome Open Heart Project.
Lineage: Shambhala Buddhism
A book of hers I recommend: Start Here Now: An Open-Hearted Guide to the Path and Practice of Meditation
You would love her if: You appreciate when people stop being polite and start getting real. Susan is uncanny in her ability to be vulnerable and strong at the same time.
See also Dear Susan, How Do I Deal With Loss?