Choosing a yoga instructor depends on more than simply checking their yoga instructor certification or competence, though those are a good baseline. Once you’re certain that a yoga instructor is certified and competent, you’ll want to take into account style, tone, class size, and your personal basic requirements.
No matter where you attend classes, your yoga instructor should be one who has been through a Yoga Instructor Training Program, and most of these are now Yoga Alliance certified. The designation “RYT,” or Registered Yoga Instructor, is relatively new, so some people who have been teaching for decades may be remarkably talented and competent and not have the RYT designation. But a newer yoga instructor will have been through such a program. RYT200 is the first level of yoga instructor certification and RTY500 is an advanced certification. An “E” before either one designates a yoga instructor who has logged more than 1,000 hours of teaching in two or more years and represents “Experienced.” Feel confident when you ask your yoga instructor about their qualification and experience; if they are confident they’ll enjoy sharing their experiences with you.
A competent yoga instructor will guide you through a safe and aligned class with enough instruction to give you options and encouragement to uplift you. Look for an arc to their yoga classes; there may or not be a separate “warm-up” section, but the poses should begin at an accessible pace for you, increase in intensity and lead to a deepening of your experience with an extended Savasana at the end. You should receive corrections when necessary, either through verbal instructions such as “Keep your knee over your ankle,” or through light, confident touching that is okay with you. If you receive no adjustments during your classes and are wondering whether you should have, ask after class about your form in poses that challenge you.
While seeking a yoga instructor, take as many classes as you can from as many different yoga instructors as you can. Pay attention to the effect their voices have on you. Pay attention to how you like the music they play, or don’t play. Pay attention to how you feel going to, during and after their classes. Beyond competence there are many intangible aspects to the student teacher relationship and only you can identify where you will learn best.
You may have a style in mind, and if you are set in that choice then limit the classes you take to that style. Some styles are excellent for conditioning or weight loss, while others have an explicit emphasis on meditation and spiritual experience. Chose a yoga instructor who is well versed in the style of yor choosing.
Come up with a list of five necessary requirements for you to regularly and happily attend and learn from a yoga instructor. Remember that their teaching persona is separate from their personality, and liking and enjoying their company outside of class may not lead to the experience you want from your yoga classes. Include in this list things like location and time if those are necessary requirements for you to attend regularity. Having a great yoga instructor doesn’t help if you’re not there on a regular basis.
Some people love large classes for the energy, but if you prefer smaller classes seek out a yoga instructor who regularly teach 8-10 students at a time. You may also want to take private or semi-private classes with your yoga instructor if this is the case. Expect to pay more for these one-on-one or smaller group sessions, and talk to the yoga instructor about how you can incorporate these times into your practice.
One sine qua non (“without this, nothing!”) on everyone’s list should be an adequate Savasana, or final resting pose at the end of class. Savasana should last about 10 percent of the time of practice, so six minutes out of a 60 minute class. Make sure the yoga instructor you choose balances their class with adequate cooling down/reflection time.
Finally, talk to your yoga instructor after class about your practice and ask for advice on postures, meditation and home practice. Inquire about their experience and request information about their other offerings such as workshops and retreats. In the end, your choice of instructor is an entirely, deeply personal one. Choose someone with whom you feel safe, supported, well instructed and like you have room to advance. Most of all, remember that your greatest yoga instructor is within. Listen, and all is coming!