14 Qualities That Make a Yoga Teacher Great

Do you have a yoga teacher with whom you just completely resonate? It’s an amazing feeling to go into a class and experience that sort of connection. 

What is it, exactly, that makes you feel so at one with that person? The reasons why one person clicks with another so deeply can be elusive.

There will always be instructors with whom you feel a stronger bond than others. And the student beside you may not feel nearly as strong a connection. So be it. 

But deep bonding aside, there ARE certain qualities that every great yoga teacher possesses. We’ll take a look at 14 of them here.

1. Checks in with His/Her Students

If you’ve ever attended a class only to encounter a bored or disinterested teacher sitting in the lobby and looking at his or her smartphone, it probably didn’t bode well for the class.

A mindful teacher knows the importance of making some sort of preliminary connection with the students. Whether it’s a smile and an introduction to someone new, or just simply asking how a regular student is doing.

This is particularly important if a student is dealing with some sort of injury that will require modifications. 

Checking in can be tricky though. Some students come into the studio ready to talk and share, while others have come for peace and quiet in a safe space. The more intuitive an instructor, the more likely that he or she will know just how much interaction the student requires. 

No interaction at all is a red flag. 

2. Shows up Prepared

This does not necessarily mean that the instructor should have a set flow or series of asana memorized and at the ready.

Some teachers like to plan their classes. But others work more spontaneously and intuitively – getting a read of the energy and the students in the room and catering the class to that.

But in either case, a prepared teacher doesn’t float into the studio one minute before class, out of breath and without having given some time or thought to how they will lead the class.

They will ideally be there already so they can set the tone and create a specific environment.  

3. Is Aware of Proper Alignment

Yoga teachers who have taken the time and training to learn alignment understand its inherent importance in avoiding injury.

This doesn’t mean that every teacher needs to come from the Iyengar lineage. But any respectable shala or training program will place a strong emphasis on alignment.

There’s almost nothing more frustrating to a yoga teacher than to go to another teacher’s class and watch students flail about with a blatant lack of regard to alignment while nobody corrects them. 

This is a sure recipe for injury.

4. Knows Appropriate Adjustments

Improper adjustments can be just as egregious, if not more so, than the utter lack of them.

Some teachers are quite comfortable with hands-on adjustments to help their students find the proper alignment in their bodies. And if they are doing them safely and respectfully, such adjustments are tremendously helpful.

Once again though, a good teacher understands that not everyone is comfortable being touched. Therefore, a compassionate instructor will often have everyone settle onto their backs and close their eyes before requesting that those who don’t wish to be touched give some sort of quiet signal.

Verbal adjustments are also valuable and can help the student determine the proper alignment without feeling vulnerable. 

Using verbal adjustments is also best practice if there is any sort of recognized physical attraction between the teacher and the student. This is a line that no respectable yoga teacher crosses.

5. Caters To All Levels of Practitioners

In the West, the dogged focus on asana and postures can quickly take students away from experiencing the deeper levels of the practice.

Teachers need to be cautious not to fall into this trap.

While students who’ve been practicing a long time might want arm balances and inversions in an all-level class, a skilled yoga teacher knows the importance of creating a class that is completely accessible to new students.

The ability to offer plenty of space and modifications in each pose allows each student to explore at their level of experience. 

6. Allows for Silence

There was never any mention in the Yoga Sutras of the need for loud pounding music that almost certainly leaves one with hearing damage.

This is not to say that great yoga teachers don’t use music in class. The choice to do so is personal. And some students find it easier to reach that meditative state with some ambient music in the background.

But what a great yoga teacher doesn’t do is rattle on incessantly without allowing any space for quiet moments of contemplation. This is more often than not the sign of a new teacher who is intimidated by the silence and feels the need to prove himself or herself.

When a great teacher has taught long enough to establish their voice, they also learn the importance of not always using it.  

7. Is Compassionate and Respectful

If you’ve ever walked out of a yoga class feeling beaten down, mocked or humiliated by a yoga teacher, we can only apologize on behalf of all the teachers who truly care.

Yoga is not a boot camp workout. Even if you’re doing a rigorous ashtanga practice six days per week, the idea is to come to your mat without judgment and to fully honor who you are.

A sizable task, to be sure. But it’s the path upon which a truly great yoga teacher will guide you — through respect, compassion, and an understanding of where you are on any given day. 

8. Knows the Importance of Breath

Yoga is breath.

Your breath is the one consistent thread through your practice. It is ultimately what dictates the pace and breadth of it.

Any instructor that makes no mention of the breath in class is, in essence, failing to teach yoga.

A skilled yoga instructor will continually keep you in touch with your breath, and bring you back to it if you lose it.

9. Values Authenticity

It’s usually easy to tell when someone is putting on a front rather than being real. And it’s off-putting.

The same is true for yoga teachers. 

An instructor who is trying too hard or has something to prove is only going to detract from the practice. Students will always connect better with teachers who are genuine.

10. Is Open to Suggestions

Be wary of instructors who are unable to acknowledge or validate student feedback.

Of course, you’ll want to be equally cautious of teachers who seem incapable of teaching a class unless they know what every student wants.

As yoga teaches us, it’s all about balance.

Great teachers are open to suggestions from students. They are then able to tailor the class to include these suggestions without them being the entire focus of the class.

So, for instance, two students might request hip openers while another wants to work on shoulders. A skilled instructor will then be sure to include perhaps an extra pose each that focuses on the hips and shoulders respectively. But the class will not be comprised solely of hips and shoulders.

Because even though being able to take suggestions is the sign of a great yoga teacher, so too is the ability to help students break out of their comfort zones and explore.

11. Sticks Around After Class

A good instructor is well aware of the importance of connecting both before and after class.

It is often after class that you have the desire to share something with the instructor. Perhaps you had a revelation you want to discuss. Or maybe you have a question about how to integrate the practice into your life.

These are important discussions, and a great teacher is thrilled to talk shop with you. They truly want to see you progress in the practice and become more empowered both on and off the mat.

12. Is Passionate About All That Comprises Yoga 

Yoga works the body, the mind, and the spirit.

A great teacher is passionate about this holistic approach and addresses all three of these components.

This isn’t to say that he or she systematically divides each class into equal thirds in speaking of them. 

But if you’ve been attending a class where the focus is eternally on great ways to tone your abs or achieve contortionist-level binds you can show off at parties, there is clearly something missing from the teaching.

13. Shares His/Her Knowledge

By “sharing knowledge” we’re not suggesting that a teacher gives a full-on lecture about the Upanishads while you’re held captive in a pigeon pose.

But a good teacher is an informed teacher.

You should be able to ask basic questions about the postures or yoga philosophy and get some solid and sensible answers that leave you with an increased level of trust in your instructor.

14. Is Unafraid to Show His/Her Imperfections

Every yoga instructor is human. This is one of the most important things to remember.

They do not live in glass castles perched atop the Himalayan peaks in a permanent beam of sunlight.

And a popular teacher is not necessarily a great teacher. So if you feel a strong connection with a yoga teacher, try not to put him or her on a pedestal. Else you may be disappointed when you see him lifting a beer at the bar or honking her horn impatiently at a fellow driver. 

Everyone is a work in progress. Even great yoga teachers. 

What Do You Want in a Yoga Teacher?

If you haven’t yet found a yoga teacher who brings the practice to life, then it might be time to find a new studio.

Feel free to contact us today to find out about our classes, styles of yoga, and, of course, our great teachers.