Sure, most yoga teachers know something about alignment. Or maybe they can put a good flow together. But very few teachers are practiced and learned in the ways of what yoga truly has to offer.
There is clear evidence of this in the lack of teachers who understand and teach methodologies such as stillness (Stirha), or the ability to cultivate effortlessness and good space (Sukha). Instead, there are a lot of great classes with awesome playlists, loud music (often so loud you cannot hear the instruction of the yoga teacher), fantastic flows that are so fast and long they leave no time for savasana, and enough backbends to make you feel like you could join Cirque de Soleil after class.
One time I attended a yoga class at Laughing. The teacher began the class expounding on the virtue of stillness and how yoga was about getting there and then staying there. Moments later, he started his class with a flow that did not stop for 1 hour. In order to keep up and go at a pace suitable with my breath, I skipped every other pose. He made it a point to let me know that if I could not keep up with the class, he would have to ask me to leave.
My bliss had left the building.
To you, the true seeker, the one looking for a true teacher– you are not so easily fooled by those yoga teachers who need the smoke and mirrors to get your attention. You are looking for someone who is not only full of real experience, but someone who is connected to a tradition. Someone who has been led and guided by a real teacher themselves. You are looking for a yoga teacher who has had direct experience with what they are teaching.
Real practice leads to direct experience. And direct experience is ultimately the best source of real knowledge.
Many can dispute and argue what should be the criteria for choosing a teacher. I cannot speak for others, but my three are simply this:
1. Who was their teacher and what is their lineage?
As mentioned above, it is important to note the different lineages and the kinds of teachers they have. Some yoga lineages are not lineages, but more of a name-brand style of yoga. Like McDonald’s and Burger King is for hamburgers, so we have the same for yoga. They are not connected to a tradition or a teacher. There are many in the yoga world who would have you believe otherwise, but do not be fooled.
There are other lineages that have popped up in the last 100 years. You may think that they are ancient in their techniques and lineages, but they are not. Some of those are Iyengar Yoga, Sivananda Yoga, and Ashtanga Yoga, just to name a few.
Find out who the teacher’s teacher was, and then who their teacher was, and so on. If what you learn feels right to you, you will know that you have found your teacher.
2. Are they actually thriving in life?
I have been surrounded by spiritual leaders ever since I knew how to walk. Many of them amazing, and so many others…well…not so much.
In the late 80’s and early 90’s I lived in Vancouver, Canada, where spiritual leaders seemed to come out of the woodwork. There was a constant theme in all of their lives – they were not thriving. All of them seemed to be simultaneously ending a relationship, a marriage or a partnership of some kind. They were nearly all in debt or financially insecure. There was another theme of heavy drug use or pot smoking. They all gave the illusion they were doing well, and it was all “cool,” but none of them were thriving. It was just an illusion.
Find an instructor who you are proud to call your teacher. Not because they have a lot of things or live in a big house, but because they are taking care of themselves and their responsibilities. And most importantly, because they do what they say they are going to do.
3. How content are they?
A great way to gauge if a teacher is right for you is to notice how content they are. Try asking them.
Contentment is an interesting word, and it is a hard one to define. The best definition I’ve heard lately is that contentment means you have no ambition. You have no desire for more. That statement in and of itself demands more explanation.
The way I would define contentment is this – a general overall happiness with one’s life.
Now I know that is almost too broad of a statement, so I will let you sit with it.
But here is what the opposite of contentment looks like. Someone who is:
- Perpetually negative or complaining about their life.
- Needing to have new things all the time.
- Obsessed with the latest yoga clothes and fashions.
- Constantly dolled up whenever they show up to class (I knew a yoga teacher who got eyelash extensions to advance stage presence for her yoga career).
- Surrounded by a lot of stuff and things.
- Seems restless and agitated.
- Cannot sit still for very long and fidgets a lot.
The gauge in finding a yoga teacher that is right for you is a difficult path. For some of you, you might go years and even decades without finding your teacher. And for some of you, you will meet them and not even know it.
My best advice is to keep your spiritual ears open, your heart sincere, and stay devoted on your path. Don’t be distracted. Pray every day for guidance. Stay true on the path to enlightenment and the right guru or spiritual mentor will show up and change your life forever.
Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Yogi Aaron, author of “Autobiography of a Naked Yogi.” Bringing passion and adventure to his teaching, Yogi Aaron guides students to secret and far-flung locales, empowers them to realize their own limitless potential, and makes yoga relevant and accessible for the modern world. Since 2002 he has been traveling and leading retreats worldwide and currently serves as the yoga director at Blue Osa Yoga Retreat + Spa in Costa Rica. Follow Yogi Aaron on Facebook.