From what I understand, the traditional teaching of yoga can always be traced back student to teacher, all the way to a guru. That’s how you have these lineages of yoga, and knowing a teacher’s teacher and who THAT teacher’s teacher is creates a nice “resume” of credibility.
While you can certainly go to any teacher that you please, there are also benefits to studying under one teacher over a period of time. The biggest benefits include having someone who knows your state of health, knows when to challenge you or introduce you to new things, and knows where you are in your practice.
So how can you go about finding a good teacher (or teachers)?
1. Figure out what you want to get out of practicing yoga. Do you need predictability? A really physically demanding practice? One that focuses on awareness and breath? A moving, flowing practice? Alignment? Spiritual connection? Determining what you want out of the practice helps determine the style of yoga (and therefore the type of classes and teachers) you’re looking for.
2. Think about how you learn best. Everyone has a different way of learning – a little more rah-rah enthusiasm, just give me the information straight, lots of demonstration and breaking down step by step, need more hands-on instruction, etc. Your learning style will help determine what you need in a teacher’s teaching style.
3. Consider the class size. While you may have heard wonderful things about a particular teacher in your area and how you need to arrive at least 20 minutes ahead to get a good spot for your mat, take into consideration whether being crammed mat-to-mat will give you the right opportunity to learn and grow. Also, seeing how a teacher manages a large class versus a smaller one will help you determine whether he or she is a good fit.
4. Ask a yoga friend. Get someone else’s recommendations and experiences, especially a friend who has a similar practice and knows your personality. Word of mouth is a powerful resource.
5. Don’t skip the class just because there’s a substitute. Usually, when a regular teacher has a substitute, he or she is asking another teacher friend to step in. And most likely, the sub has a similar teaching style. You might end up with another teacher on your short list who suits your needs.
6. Give new teachers a chance. While new teachers fresh out of training may not have as much experience (yet), they might offer a completely new and relevant perspective. Perhaps they’ve dealt with a similar health issue and have deep knowledge in ways yoga can help. Or maybe they have awesome taste in music, and their class playlists rock your world.
7. Attend events where you can sample teachers. Events and festivals often give you the opportunity to “sample” a bunch of teachers for the price of attendance. This is a low investment way of test-trying multiple teachers without committing to 60 or 90 minute classes.
Having a “roster” of yoga teachers you like is beneficial for maintaining an ongoing teacher-student relationship as well as keeping things fresh in your practice.