Once upon the time, there was a system that was so hard to access, that you would probably have to travel far and wide to find your yoga teacher (or guru), who would hopefully share the knowledge of an unknown and mystical practice call “yoga”. In order to receive that precious gift of knowledge, a great deal of effort and discipline as well as a huge amount of unquestioning surrender was required from you in order to received such a precious gift.
Things have changed a lot in the modern world, and now yoga is so mainstream that you can find a yoga teacher or a studio in nearly every neighborhood. Although it is easy to find, it may be harder to actually find a teacher of the style of your choice, who possesses with enough knowledge, compassion, and humbleness to teach you about the practice.
In order to learn this system, you will need to put forth some commitment and patience to learn properly and at steady pace without forcing your body, spirit, and mind. So, in this post I will share some of my thoughts in hopes that this will help you on your path to choosing a yoga teacher.
First, choose your style
My first suggestion would be to start this research by learning the different types of yoga. Because yoga is becoming so popular, there are as many styles as stars in the sky! There are the more traditional methods such as Iyengar, Kundalini or Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, and even more modern variations and combinations.
So, where do you start learning about different styles? Unfortunately, I don’t consider Google ato be the best place to do your research. In my personal experience, the definitions of some of the styles I have practiced have been inaccurate. The best bet would probably try out a few classes in a few different styles, and talk to different teachers and student around your area to get an understanding of what each method entails. Maybe once you choose an ideal style (or a few of them), you can narrow down your search and try different teachers and studios in that style.
During this process, it’s important to do some reflection and ask yourself, “What is it that I want to get from yoga?” This will help you to pick the style that best fits your needs, desires, and expectations.
Next, choose your teacher (and stick with your decision)
What a big task! What I have found in different websites and blogs that the overarching advice is to look for a teacher who is very compassionate and who you feel a deep connection with.
In my case, my first and main teacher wasn’t as sweet as you would expect a yoga teacher to be. She was actually very strict, and coming from Latin culture as I do, I was uncomfortable and even considered her attitude to be wrong at times. Yet something made me feel as though I should stay with her, namely her knowledge and the ease with which she would translate information into terms that I could understand it and apply. Her passion and discipline were key factors for me to stay under her guidance for a long time. She was a very good example of discipline, and because of that, I owe her my discipline and deep understanding of the practice. It is because of her efforts and example that, today, I too wake up at dawn almost everyday of the week to do my practice.
I tell my students that the first stage of the process of learning Yoga is like a “seven year romance”. The first 3 to 6 months are perfect! Everything is great, you feel brand new, alive, lighter, and every time you step into class, you feel a state blissfulness and joy. Your body feels great, you sleep better (or if you don’t, you don’t care, you feel great anyway). You advance at a very fast pace and by the time a few months have passed, you feel like you know everything because now you know way more than you knew at the beginning (though if you continue practicing, in a few years you will probably realize that you didn’t know as much as you thought you did).
Then reality comes rushing in, and all of a sudden you attend class one day only to find that you don’t feel the magic anymore. Some of the postures are uncomfortable, the teacher asks you to do something you don’t want to do, or they say something that rubs you the the wrong way. What is happening here is that you have gotten to know more about the style, and may even decide it is not for you (because it is not perfect) and walk out the door. The only thing is, this is exactly at the moment you should stay! Sometimes quitting and starting fresh feels like the best decision, but it probably isn’t. There are key moments, and if you continue with your style and your teacher, there may be many more moments like that — because just like an intimate relationship, nothing is perfect.
So in seven years, you can either “date” different styles and learn a little bit of everything, or stick to one and dive deep down into the rabbit hole. There’s a big difference between dating ten people in seven years, or staying with the same person for that same time. Neither is better, but it is my belief that, in order to get glimpse of what this system is about, you have to develop an intimate relationship with one and go to those dark areas that may really need to be explored.
Finally, commit yourself for at least to three months
Continuing with the last point, the process of yoga, in order to start penetrating through the different layers of your being, requires discipline and consistency. After exploring a little and finding the teacher you like the most, commit to at least a three month trial period, attending class every week, and paying good attention to your teacher’s guidelines in terms of the practice.
If you have found a teacher that you feel has enough knowledge about the practice, have some trust in both them and the process, and approach classes with an open mind and humble heart. And don’t be discouraged if the teachers says or does one or two things you didn’t like. Remember, you are here to learn.
My teacher used to say that the first five years of consistent and disciplined yoga should be called “pre-yoga”. It takes a while to really understand what this system is about, and the process could take decades. So be patient, enjoy the process, and allow the practice to be your main teacher.