There are three qualities of a great yoga teacher that I learned from my own teacher and mentor, Amy Ippoliti. Each time I hear her talk about these qualities, it resonates more deeply than the last.
Touching on the body, heart and mind, these qualities help us to relate to ourselves and our students more authentically and whole-heartedly.
Write out these qualities and place them on your altar. Bring them with you to the studio and look them over before you teach. Reflect on how each quality applies to your own unique offerings, aspirations and visions as a yoga teacher.
Focusing on these qualities will not only make you irreplaceable as a yoga educator and magnetic as a person; embodying the vibrancy, softness and sharpness outlined below can rub off on your students and change their lives as well.
1. Vibrant body
To have a vibrant body as a yoga teacher means you embody the essence of the teachings. Simply put, it means you are doing your own practice and engaging in habits that leave you feeling inspired, healthy, and full of energy.
It is as simple as having good posture and as layered as connecting to your inner landscape. It means eating foods that support and nourish your body, engaging in activities that improve the longevity of your physical body, and carving time out for self-care, however that translates for you.
I love when Amy says, “inner body bright” because it captures what happens when we commit to our own well-being and self-nourishment: the light deep within us is turned up and then radiates out, touching those around us, including our students.
• Who do you want to be for yourself and your students?
• What daily practices can you put into place that leave you feeling inspired and ready to make positive change in the world?
• What type of teacher are you attracted to and how can you invoke similar qualities in yourself?
Ideas for a vibrant body:
• Healthy eating habits
• A quiet ritual in the morning (writing, reading, pranayama, meditation)
• A luxurious face care routine
• Yoga practice
• Adding more beneficial nutrients to the body (high quality water, organic greens) to help crowd out any toxins that are blocking you from vibrancy.
2. Soft Heart
I would also add soft eyes to this one. Soft eyes means truly seeing your students and making an effort to build connections.
Examples of this include:
• Looking them in the eyes
• Offering a smile
• Infusing a light hearted quality into your teachings
• Offering them a prop if you see they need it
• Being intentional and receptive in your assists
I like to come back to something I heard from my teacher, Judith Lasater: “Don’t just see the pose, see the person who is in the pose.”
A soft heart allows us to be spontaneous as teachers. When we remember that what matters most are the people who come to create the community of the class, something magical happens.
We are gifted more spontaneous moments of connection, laughter, joy and discovery during class because we aren’t as rigid. A soft heart dissolves blind spots and helps us see the person behind the pose.
A soft heart means that even though you are the teacher, you are on the same playing field as everyone else in the room. It means there is a humility present in the room, one that reminds us that we are all humans trying our best.
When we can walk around the room and interact with our students through a soft heart and eyes, we relate to our students in an approachable and accessible way. Our way of being with them is a reminder that what we’ve found through yoga is also available to them.
Ideas for a soft heart:
• Devotional practices such as chanting or dedications
• Readings from yoga philosophy
• Quieter practices like restorative yoga
• reflection (writing, ritual)
• Getting to know your students outside of class,
• Asking for consent in hands-on assists.
3. Sharp mind
A sharp mind is concomitant with studentship. To possess a sharp mind as a yoga teacher means that you are dedicated to your own studies.
The quality of our studentship is commensurate with our quality of teaching. What I love about 90 Monkeys is that continued education is encouraged and celebrated. Every single time I study with Amy, I go back home with a sense of revival. I feel confident and wildly inspired to teach my students. It’s a total, whole-body yes; an affirmation of everything that I believe in and love about this practice.
It’s easy to burn out as a teacher and lose touch with the reasons why you fell in love with the practice and wanted to teach in the first place. Studying is the medicine that reanimates what may have gone numb.
Staying current with your studies and keeping your mind sharp puts you at a whole other level as a yoga teacher. It engenders a sense of trust from your students and creates the context for curiosity and enthusiasm to arise around the teachings.
Ideas for a sharp mind: invest in advanced yoga studies, take courses through 90 Monkeys, pick a yoga text to study (Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, for example) and commit to it for a little while, find a studio in your area that hosts dharma discussions or study groups.
A theme through all of these three qualities is that you’ve done the work. When you dedicate yourself to the practice of yoga and take the time to immerse in its teachings, you naturally step into a vibrant body; you can’t help but soften your heart; you sharpen your mind over time. You, as a teacher, create a collaborative experience with your students and this collaboration is the ticket to remembering the bigger picture.
Sarah Diedrick is a writer and yoga educator. She leads classes, retreats and trainings around the world and serves as a mentor to yoga teachers who are looking to refine their skills and sustain their inspiration. Sarah is currently working on a book and teaching yoga full time. She is also working toward her 500-hour certification with 90 Monkeys!