How to Find a Smart Safe Yoga Teacher

Find the right yoga teacher

“How do I find a smart, safe yoga teacher?” This is the question I get most often online and in my clinic. If there was an easy answer, there’d be no reason for this website! Finding a yoga teacher is much like any other consumer question, “Caveat emptor” (buyer beware). Let’s break this task down into some useful steps that will provide you with a shopping list to help you find that smart, safe yoga teacher/therapist.

1. What type of relationship are you looking for?

Shopping for your teacher will require first being clear about how you want to relate with the teacher. If your auto mechanic is curt and surly, but fixes your car the first time, every time…that’s fine. Probably not so much that’s your child’s daycare provider though, right? What you are looking for in your yoga teacher can run the gamut from “a good exercise instructor that is safe” to “a spiritual director that knows me well and wants to sustain a long term relationship.” So take a moment and jot down your thoughts on exactly how you want to relate to this person. Once you have done that, on to the next step.

2. Begin to weed out possibilities now that you know what you are looking for.

Looking in the directories in either hard copy or online is overwhelming because everyone is a “master teacher that has been healed by yoga and can now do the same for you.” So now what? Let’s create a filter to begin to weed out the choices. Here’s a list of screening filters to apply:

  • Do you have a/or several health challenges, and does the teacher have experience teaching others with the same challenge? Y / N   (Beware the ones that can help every condition without the evidence of having been trained rigorously.)
  • Does the teacher require you to meet with her/him first or can anyone just drop in any class?  Y / N  (Warning flag if they don’t or won’t meet first.)
  • Do they have you fill out a health history before starting? Y / N   (Importance varies with your age and level of fitness/experience; the older or more medically complex your challenges, the more important this is done first.)
  • Do they allow questions during class? Y / N   (Some don’t: stay away.)
  • What’s their perspective on pain/discomfort during class? (If it’s a blanket statement like “Just listen to your body” or “Pain is the fire of change”…look else where… you want someone that replies that it depends and invites questions during class.)
  • Do they communicate contraindications/cautions for the poses during a class? Y / N (They should and they should not presume “Everyone knows them by now.”)
  • How do they determine when you are ready to do advanced poses or breathing practices? Or do they just bring everyone along at the same time? (You know what answers are Smart and Safe, right?)
  • Do they have references you can speak to?  Y/ N

Who else might know someone with the same skill sets?

Now you know what type of relationship you are seeking and have a good sense of the screening questions you can ask those teachers that others recommend. Here’s who you can tell what you are looking for and ask for a referral to narrow your list:

  • If you have a networking group you trust, ask for suggestions from the group.
  • Check with your already existing health care or fitness team: Your MD/DO, chiropractor, physical therapist, NMD, LNP, trainer, psychologist, etc.
  • You can check national registries (https://iayt.com for yoga therapists and www.yogaalliance.com for yoga teachers). Please understand that neither registry has tested for competence, so you still have to do your homework. They do allow you to search by zipcode that help narrow your search considerably.
  • Your local health clubs, hospitals and spas may offer yoga but the quality and focus can vary widely, so apply your screening questions above.

Resources for Finding the Right Yoga Teacher

Established referral relationships

Presumes existing relationships; personalities may conflict.
Local hospital wellness programs

Quality of instruction varies as such programs tend to underpay instructors or allow too large of class size.
Check registry

www.yogaaliance.org; No competency testing, only indicates certain minimal training hours. For yoga therapy, www.iayt.org: is presently developing standards for school and individual teachers.
Yellow pages

Need to interview instructor, ask for references, insure they do an intake medical screen, and observe classes to monitor teacher style and ask about supervision/corrections.
Check with affiliate rehabilitation professionals.

Wide variance in direct relationships with yoga teachers, past experiences and concerns regarding professional “turf” infringement by studios.

Still not sure? Use our contact page to ask for our assistance. We can check our networks, and often in this connected age, we will either know someone or know someone that does know someone that can point you in a smart, safe direction!

Dr. Matthew Taylor
matthew@matthewjtaylor.com

Dr. Taylor is the founder of Smart Safe Yoga and creates resources for safe practices for the global yoga community. For the last 35 years, he's combined his graduate degree in physical therapy, advanced yoga therapy studies and his doctorate in the study of chronic pain to find solutions for a multitude of health challenges.

4 Comments
  • Kelly Colln
    Posted at 06:39h, 09 November Reply

    Dr. Taylor, thank you for taking this on. I’ve watched this with an ongoing interest in our town. Kansas City is now bursting with and influx of yoga. I have been fortunate to study with some of the best teachers, (I think) All of them emphasize just exactly what you are talking about. Injury is our first topic with a new student and we work on consistently addressing it in every class.

    Thank you so much for your resources. I will take advantage of your information about yoga injury this week with our operations manager. I feel I’ve been remiss with that. I needed the gentle nudge!

    Blessings,

    • Dr. Matthew J Taylor
      Posted at 07:30h, 09 November Reply

      I appreciate you posting Kelly. Yes it doesn’t take much to greatly enhance the ahimsa of the organization, so stay tuned for the follow up posts where I’ll share more resources. Safety emphasis is also powerful marketing for students that will be loyal and freely refer others to your practice…double bonus! ~ matt

  • juliana fair
    Posted at 15:52h, 23 January Reply

    This Is excellent information Matthew. I have vicariously come across your site and have signed up for posts.
    I do think you could add IYNAUS as a reference to seeking out a teacher . Teachers trained and certified in the Iyengar tradition of hatha yoga are listed here ….it is the National directory . And yes I am a certified Iyengar teacher and yoga practitioner.
    Thank you .

    juliana

    • devNirob
      Posted at 06:57h, 24 January Reply

      Thanks for posting your comment Juliana. The Iyengar tradition is near and dear to my heart having been my entry into yoga back at our health club in 1996. The training requirements are indeed rigorous and extensive so that’s a good resource for readers that they can now access per your post thank you. Continued growth and challenge in your practice! ~ matt

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