alan little’s weblog

finding yoga teachers

20th January 2006 permanent link

Somebody wrote to me the other day:

Hello Alan,

I saw your web blog and thought this might be a question you could answer. I’ve been practicing yoga for about 15 years off and on. I practiced Hatha for a few years and now am on to Kundalini. It’s been brought to my attention by my fiancé who is Indian, that it’s difficult to find a good teacher in the West as it’s not so important in NA whether there is a lineage and whether that knowledge is passed down along with blessings to the next teacher. It seems we are not so serious here what with our oxymoronic power yoga centers and the like....

Originally I was attracted to Kundalini as it seemed to integrate a more balanced view of exercise that comprises spiritual teachings. But now I’m wondering if I’ve made the right choice. I want to get serious about yoga and find a practice that takes me through this life. I’d like to a) find a yoga that follows a lineage and is anchored in a tradition and b) be able to find that school in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Is it possible or necessary to find a teacher who has been taught by a guru and whose practice of yoga has been blessed. Any suggestions you might have would be received with great thanks.

Interesting question – the current western rash of well-intentioned but inexperienced and under-qualified yoga teachers, versus the Indian mindset about direct guru lineages (allegedly) dating back hundreds or thousands of years. My thoughts:

it’s certainly necessary to find a teacher who is dedicated and serious – I wouldn’t regard it as worth studying with anybody whose yoga practice wasn’t the central focus of their life. It’s also important to find somebody whose teaching style you personally are comfortable with and who teaches a style of yoga that suits you. That doesn’t mean it has to be all laughs all the time – nothing worthwhile is – but if you don’t basically like your teacher and mostly enjoy your practice, then you’re not going to be motivated to carry on for very long.

Direct guru lineage is a good positive indication of a teacher having the necessary qualities, but I don’t see it as a be and end all in itself. In ashtanga vinyasa yoga – the style I personally practice, – direct guru lineage is the norm; most (though not all) of the good teachers have studied directly with and are blessed/authorised by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.

I’m very much a believer in the qualities of the teacher being more important than the content of the teaching. On yoga message boards I constantly come across people saying “well, I have a good teacher of Yoga Style X in my town and no teacher of Yoga Style Y, but I want to practice Yoga Style Y so which book/DVD should I buy?” (where Yoga Style Y tends to be the one I personally practice). I always say stick with the good teacher. Depressingly often that’s a minority opinion.

Even some of the “oxymoronic power yoga” teachers you seem unimpressed by are good and serious yoga teachers – admittedly maybe a lower proportion than in some other yoga traditions.

Something else to watch out for is that these days, yoga being so fashionable, there are far too many yoga teachers who are doubtless very dedicated, enthusiastic and well-meaning, but have started teaching far too soon and really don’t have enough experience and knowledge yet. I personally wouldn’t consider studying with anybody with less than about ten years regular and committed practice under their belt. “Under their belt” is a good phrase there: in many martial arts styles it’s possible for a dedicated student to get to black belt level in maybe five years or a bit less; but then it’s a big mark of pride among “real” black belts to have practiced so much that you’ve worn most of the black silk outer layer off of the belt and it’s well on the way to being white again. You should be able to detect signs of the same thing having happened in your yoga teacher – trickier to spot without the belt though. Yoga mats don’t last long enough to be a reliable visual indicator.

Lots of vague generalities there; I’m afraid I don’t know and can’t personally recommend anybody in Vancouver. I can say that in Canada any ashtanga teacher who has studied/trained with a guy called Darby in Montreal is likely to be good.

Steve Pavlina is of the opinion that “my writing time is better spent producing articles to be seen by thousands of people rather than individual emails to be seen by only one person.” Re-use, Steve, re-use. If something interests you enough to be worth writing a long/considered email response, maybe just write it and then decide to post it too.

related entries: Yoga

all text and images © 2003–2008