To Teach or Not to Teach: 3 Essential Qualities of Great Yoga Teachers

I became a teacher last year after 2 months and $10,900 dollars worth of intensive, immersive training in Los Angeles, California.  I told myself I did it because I loved yoga so much the next logical step was to become a teacher and share it with others.  I was wrong.

Not all men or women are meant to be teachers.  I see that now.  Perhaps I always did, and it begs the question: How do you know if you are a teacher?  I’ll talk more about that in a moment, but first let me tell you why my decision to attend teacher training was a misstep.

photo credit: kevin dooley

Quick Disclaimer: The two months I spent in LA in what came to be affectionately known as the “yoga bubble,” were two of the best months of my life. I would do it again.  No doubt.

I started practicing yoga about 3 years ago, and from the first month people were telling me that I should go to training.  I resisted the idea at first, of course.  It seemed silly to me to become a teacher of something so complex and detailed after only a few weeks, even months.  A couple of years later, I still resisted the idea.

Somewhere in my third year, however, I yielded.  I figured if other people were doing it and I was no better or worse than they were, then why the hell not.  So I packed my bags and headed off to LA to become a teacher.

I did well in the “yoga bubble,” and when I began to practice my new profession, I did well enough there too—externally, at least.  Internally, I felt like a phony.  I was no more a yoga teacher than a monkey banging away at a piano is Chopin.   The reason I felt this way, I would later discover, was because my passion for teaching yoga did not match my passion for practicing it.  The grueling hours, the businesslike atmosphere, and a jaw-droppingly incompetent co-worker, among other factors, violated my expectations.  No one’s fault but my own—expectations strangle life. In the end, I simply had to admit that my love for Yoga did not translate into a strong enough passion to teach it.

photo credit: sfjalar

The great teachers I have had, no matter the subject, have shared three essential qualities:

  1. Experience. My best teachers have had years of it, years of practice under a qualified teacher, and years of training learning to be a qualified teacher.  I am not suggesting that years of experience automatically translate into good teaching, but it certainly helps.  While it is possible that the 18-year old instructor is the Doogie Howser of yoga teachers, it is more likely he is not.
  2. Uncompromising devotion to students.  This one may be hard to separate in the course of the business of yoga, as concern for the business may mask itself as concern for the student.  The concern has to be genuine. But that is a loaded term, one that space does not permit me to go into.  I’ll just say that we all have an innate ability (in varying degrees) to determine when someone is genuine and when they are not — trust it.
  3. Passion not just for teaching, but also for what is being taught.  There has to be  a desire to teach so intense, that the idea of doing anything other than the beloved profession—save for absolute necessity — is anathema.  Teaching isn’t something you do on the side; teaching is who you are.  Anything less and you are a dilettante.  You can have another job, of course, but the other job is the side job, not teaching.

photo credit: andriux-uk

A good yoga teacher, of course, has many other necessary characteristics; I once conducted a job analysis that turned up close to 30. However, the above three form the triangular foundation upon which the others are built—a Teaching Trinity if you will.  This is where you start; the rest you learn along the way…perhaps.   I lacked all three in varying proportions.

I also believe that one has to have an aptitude for teaching.  This aptitude has little to do with how well the teacher performs asana, or their shape, age, race, gender or intelligence.  It has even less to do with a desire to “share yoga with the world.”  It does have quite a bit to do with a natural inclination to teach, and that is something that is rare indeed.

The current glut of poorly trained teachers is a result of an industry (yes, industry) that, due to its unchecked growth, needs bodies more than it needs qualified bodies.  Therein lies a great part of the “dangers” of yoga referred to in the recent New York Times article, “How Yoga Wrecks your Body.”  You can’t throw a dog into the ocean and tell it to fish simply because there is a shortage of fishermen on the wharf.

Creative Commons License photo credit: snuzzy

In the end, a teacher must understand that the moment a student enters his class, a tacit agreement is formed.  This agreement states that for the next 30 to 90 minutes, I am entrusting my body to you and your instruction.  I do this believing that you are knowledgeable, well trained, and understand the complexities of the human body: it mechanics, possibilities, and limitations.  You further agree that you will do everything within reason (I have some responsibility too), to ensure that my body leaves this room in much the same way or better than when it came in.

If a teacher is not willing or able to make such an oath, then he or she has no business teaching yoga.  It is as simple as that.


Do you agree?  Do you disagree?  Whichever it is, leave a comment and tell me your position.

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Ifeoluwa (Ife) Togun is a freelance writer whose articles have been featured on Yoga Modern, Yahoo, Yahoo Finance, and He also maintains a blog dedicated to his adventures raising his newborn daughter, Skye Lily, at He holds a Bachelor's degree in Psychology from Grambling State University, a Master's degree in Clinical/Counseling Psychology from Southern Methodist University, and a Doctorate in Experimental Psychology from the University of Texas at Arlington.

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