Want To Try Yoga? Finding The Right Teacher Is Key

Whether your goal is to get fit, reduce stress, relieve pain, become more flexible, improve your health, gain some spiritual grounding, or all of the above, the best yoga teacher is the one who makes it happen for you. Bear in mind that for a beginner or a returning practitioner, yoga can be quite challenging, especially if you are older or have a chronic medical condition that requires special accommodations. The good news is: there is a style of yoga and a good yoga teacher for just about everyone. Here, some tips.

Check out different teachers and classes. There are many different styles of yoga—ranging from gentle to vigorous—as well as classes that combine yoga with other disciplines and other types of exercise. Some classes are therapeutic, some are more spiritual, and some are more invigorating. Your choice of yoga style and teacher may depend on whether you are approaching the practice to fill a spiritual, physical or emotional need. Since many teachers invite newcomers to observe a class and some studios offer a first class for free, consider trying several before you settle on one.

Trust your instincts. How comfortable you feel in a yoga class can tell you a lot about whether or not the teacher is right for you. The teacher sets the tone and the level for the class and you should feel good about both.

"Look for a teacher who creates a welcoming, joyful environment," says Carol Krucoff, E-RYT, yoga therapist and author of Yoga Sparks: 108 Easy Practices for Stress Relief in a Minute or Less. "Yoga is non-competitive, and it's important to begin where you are." If you attend a large group yoga class that's too demanding for your specific fitness level or one that's taught by a poorly trained or inexperienced instructor, you may risk injury, she adds.

"Ask prospective teachers how long they've taught yoga, where they studied and, equally important, how long they've practiced yoga and whether or not they have a personal practice," Krucoff advises. "Authentic yoga instruction is rooted in a teacher's own yoga practice and the best yoga teachers live their practice on and off the mat." A skilled yoga instructor will not be a drill sergeant, she adds, but will act as a facilitator, pointing you in the direction of your own "inner guru" and helping you explore what works for you.

Find out about his or her training and current studies in yoga. Some teachers will talk about their background and their own teachers but if not, ask. With yoga, there is always more to learn; good teachers continue to take classes to improve their own practice and pass on what they learn.

Teacher Training and Licensing is Important

If you are older or suffer from chronic pain of any kind, and cannot find a yoga studio or gym with yoga classes that fit your needs, call local community centers and hospitals to find out if they hold yoga classes for seniors or for those with special needs. It is increasingly common to find yoga classes designed for people with health challenges, such as cancer survivors or those with arthritis.

There are several different types of yoga teacher training programs across the country. Standards for training and certification vary depending on the style of yoga. Some training programs take place over the course of a few days; others last two years. One non-profit group, The Yoga Alliance, requires at least 200 hours of training with a specified number of training hours in technique, anatomy, physiology, philosophy and teaching methodology.  

In addition to setting minimum standards for teacher training programs, The Yoga Alliance also keeps registries of both approved training programs and teachers who have completed approved programs.  A teacher who is registered with the Yoga Alliance has met the minimum standards set by the Alliance, and can use the initials RYT (Registered Yoga Teacher) or E-RYT (Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher) after his or her name.  On their website, the Yoga Alliance features a directory of registered yoga teachers and schools.

To find a yoga instructor who can offer you individualized training, visit the International Association of Yoga Therapists, a professional organization for yoga teachers and yoga therapists worldwide.

Carol Krucoff, E-RYT, reviewed this article.


Yoga Alliance. Web. Accessed February 2014. http://www.yogaalliance.org

International Association of Yoga Therapists. Web. Accessed February 2014. http://www.iayt.org

National Institute of Health, National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). "Yoga for Health," Web. Accessed 18 February 2014. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/yoga/introduction.htm