At least once or twice every month, students or friends will forward recent news articles to me about the benefits of yoga. Just today, Google offered up more than 56 million resulting weblinks (in 0.34 seconds) to my quick search on benefits of yoga: everything from 11 unexpected benefits to 77 surprising ones. So, I’m going to assume that you’ve heard the news: yoga can be good for you. 

However, with even minimal search, the variety of yoga offered is rather overwhelming. What’s the difference between all these different classes? Are there different levels of teachers? How can something that is practiced in a hot room with vigorous movement be the same thing as something practiced in a quiet room with lots of pillows and not much movement at all? Is all yoga created the same? Is yoga something different than meditation? How important is breathing and attention? And, most importantly, how do I find the right yoga teacher for me?

I’m nearing the 15-year marker for teaching yoga, and for almost ten of those years I’ve lived right here in our good ol’ cowtown of Columbus, Ohio. As I near that 10-year anniversary, I am thrilled to look around me at the yoga community in this area and see it thriving. From new teachers to experienced ones, Cbus has so very much to offer those wanting to learn. While it may be wonderful to take a vacation to Bali or Greece or even California to study yoga, the quality of teaching here in Columbus is as good as any I’ve seen nationally or internationally. Here are my tips for finding the right yoga teacher for you. 

Before we delve in, though, let’s dial it back a bit and look at some history. Yoga is thousands of years old. Pre-Google, pre-Natural Awakenings, pre-written word old. It was taught from one human to another. So the direct relationship between the teacher and the student was paramount. It still is. Yoga, no matter what the outward form it takes, is about understanding our human experience. Just like you need a good therapist, priest, or even just a good friend to help you understand life and make sense of your experience of it, a good yoga teacher can do the same. One of my favorite teachers, Mark Whitwell, says, “The guru (teacher) is no more than a friend, and no less.”

The Basics
Time & location. All else aside, you and I both know it boils down to these two factors. We need a location and time convenient to us. Fortunately, there are teachers in every nook & cranny of the 614 area code. Don’t be afraid to venture into a smaller space or less well-known office or studio. There are gems to be found in single-teacher operations. It’s often well worth it to look beyond the local gym. It’s also worth it to drive a little further or juggle that schedule a bit. Your teacher may be in the next town over and the middle of the afternoon. I once had a student ask for early leave from work every Thursday so she could come to my 4:30 pm class. She was granted that early leave and felt it was well worth it. Obviously her boss did, too.

Be Prepared to Invest
While it might be great to take the yoga class that comes with your fitness club membership or free/sponsored classes, often times it comes with the downside of a teacher who is willing to settle for about twelve bucks an hour or less. High quality yoga teaching programs cost thousands of dollars and years to complete. A teacher who’s making $12.50/hour often can’t afford a good teacher training. Good quality often requires good investment.

Area of Expertise
Consider what else the teacher offers, or what they do in their off time. For example, if you are mom, perhaps you’ll be able to relate better to someone who is also a mom. Sometimes people who decide to teach yoga come to it because they want to expand their skill set. Is this someone who works 40 corporate hours/week and teaches yoga on the side? Is the teacher also a massage therapist? A personal trainer? A hair stylist? Has a dance background? Nursing background? Is it someone who teaches yoga full-time? Try as we might to be vessels of clear communication, we teachers can’t help but filter our teaching through our own life experience. Search out and read the bios available about your potential teacher.

This one is pretty self-explanatory, but sometimes overlooked. How long has the teacher been teaching? Someone newly graduated from a training may have loads of excitement to motivate your practice, but void of the depth you may need to keep you practicing long term safely. Someone with many years of experiences may be able to help you figure out exactly why meditation is anxiety-producing for you or why that nagging click happens in your shoulder when you lift your arm, why your practice may want to stress stabilizing poses or why it is simply not safe to find your biggest stretch in a given asana. Yoga is about you on a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual level. Consider what you really want to know and find the teacher who has the experience to help you. Take the time to talk to your potential teacher and let him/her know what you are looking for. 

Individual Time
Does the teacher offer individual sessions? While someone may be a charismatic leader of a group, perhaps you learn better one-on-one. A good yoga teacher can break the teachings down to an individual level, whether it be the physical alignment of a posture or the intricacies of philosophical issues of the mind, in order for you to truly be able to learn what is appropriate for you. Individual sessions of yoga will help you understand your practice at a level that makes sense to you, which hopefully will inspire you to deepen your studies. Yoga can be a lifetime of exquisite learning and exploration.

Again, going back to that bio online. Go ahead and click through to see what school the teacher studied at and investigate that school. Research the lineage of the teacher. Does he/she come from a line of good teachers? Does the school promote it’s professional associations? How long has the school been around? Here in the U.S.A we don’t have a culture that supports yoga teachers by donation (as in other cultures) so sometimes yoga studios & programs nationally have offered yoga training programs because they needed to stay financially afloat or wanted to make a profit not necessarily because they had teachers who were trained to teach teachers. Let your savvy consumer out to play with this one.

The Click Factor
Yoga is about relationship. Ultimately, it’s about understanding and relating to our own human experience. This goes way beyond just a form of physical exercise. We use the tools of yoga (asana, pranayama, meditation, and ritual) to help us understand our own existence and experiences therein. That’s some pretty deep stuff. It only makes sense that you want the person who is helping to guide you on that path to be someone that you just click with. Be aware that this person may not be your same age, your same gender, your same race, your same level of physical fitness, or any other outward form that you may have initially thought mattered. Stay open to finding the right teacher and chances are you will.
- Elizabeth
Owner, Reden Yoga