For many thousands of years Yoga has been transmitted from teacher (master or guru) to student on a one-to-one basis. Only recently has yoga been offered in a group format due to its spread to the West and subsequent adaptation to Western cultural habits and lifestyle. This format has led to the commercialization of yoga, increasing demand, and an accompanying boom in the number of yoga instructors to meet the demand. Students are no longer evaluated by the teacher and accepted into life-long practice with a single teacher (or turned away). Today, often the sole criterion to study with a teacher is payment and students switch teachers freely, often without even knowing their teacher’s name. Likewise, teachers no longer have to undergo years, often decades, of apprenticeship before they become teachers.
The commercial spread of yoga has arguably been beneficial both to Yoga itself and to those practitioners who are now able to access the benefits of yoga, where before they could not. However, commercialization has also unfortunately led, in some cases, to lower standards within the teaching community. Yoga itself does not lend itself to standardization, and for that reason alone it is difficult to state definitively what is good yoga instruction and what makes a good yoga instructor especially in the increasing commercial world of yoga.
For that reason, Global Yoga Shala has sought to define certain criteria for its yoga instructors to ensure the highest quality of instruction for our students.
All of our yoga instructors:
- Have a foundation in a classical (traditional) style of yoga, one that has been passed down through and unbroken lineage of gurus and sages in India – study and practice of a classical form of yoga is essential. Instructors who have only studied and practiced more recent forms of yoga, such as “Power Yoga” or “Flow Yoga”, run the risk of missing the fundamental tenets and experience of Yoga and being no more than group fitness instructors rather than true Yogis.
- Maintain a regular personal yoga practice outside of group settings – to truly know ones self in relation to yoga, one must cultivate a personal practice. Personal practice is the foundation of the true yogi. Instructors who only know how to practice yoga in a group setting with an instructor “calling” the postures can never truly know their own bodies and realize the deeper, more spiritual practice of yoga. Likewise, without this knowledge, they cannot instruct students in the true path of yoga.
- Maintain a mentor-student relationship with a more experienced instructor/mentor –every instructor, no matter how experienced is but a student of yoga and should always seek to learn throughout their life. No yoga instructor knows everything. Yoga is a dynamic, ever-evolving field of study and practice. It has evolved over many millennia and will continue to do so into the future.
- Study foundational Yoga texts- Study is one of the five observances that are part of the essential eight “limbs” of Yoga practice. Yoga instructors should have a dedicated background of study that includes Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the Bhagavad Gita, as well as the predominant world philosophies in order to impart the wisdom and tradition of Yoga to their students and others.
- Embody and uphold the most ethical standards Yoga instructors should respect and embrace Patanjali’s Eight-limbs of Yoga but particularly the first two limbs, the Yamas and Niyamas, as they relate to ethical principles. The five Yamas or “restraints”: nonviolence, truthfulness, non-stealing, preservation of sexual energy, non-hoarding. The five Niyamas, meaning “observances”: purity, contentment, practice, study, remembrance) are the first two limbs in Patanjali’s system of classical Yoga (called “Ashtanga Yoga”). The ethical guidelines of the yamas and niyamas are a part of Yoga practice not only for ethical reasons but because they support and protect the student during the unfolding of personal experience in meditation. A teacher needs this support and protection for the same reasons as well as to help reduce the interference of personal ego in the teaching process. An ethical Yoga teacher conducts classes in a responsible, safe, and aware manner; organizes classes that are not too large for each student to receive individual attention; and never pushes students beyond their limitations.
- Have training in basic anatomy as it relates to yoga practice A teacher must be able to vary the techniques according to each student’s physical ability or disability.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle – Yoga instructors must be committed to maintaining their body in optimal physical condition. This means following a healthy, mostly vegetarian diet, along with sufficient physical activity, mental stimulation, and rest. It goes without saying that a teacher should not smoke or use drugs (other than prescription medication) or misuse alcohol.
- Have the ability to separate yoga from religion- Yoga is not a religion; it predates Hinduism – as well as all known religious practices – and its techniques have been used throughout the world. Yoga is a system of non-religious, techniques that transcend culture and can lead the practitioner to develop greater self-knowledge and awareness. Unlike a religion, Yoga does not require adherence to certain creeds or beliefs, nor does it require belief in any prophet or god. The texts of Yoga are not scriptures but rather handbooks or guidelines of how to use the techniques safely and what kinds of experiences might be possible. Everyone has a right to their personal religious beliefs, but a teacher must never impose his or her personal beliefs on students in a Yoga class. Instructors should stay true to themselves, their religion, as well as their culture. To be a true yogi does not require taking on cultural or religious practices of the Indian culture. In fact, doing so is a misinterpretation of yoga practice. While many who practice come to yoga appreciate the Indian culture and traditions, it is not the intent of yoga to lose oneself in the culture; rather each student should practice yoga within their own cultural context. One does not gain spirituality by adopting the trappings of another culture and abandoning your own. Spirituality must be found within oneself.