Teaching From The Top

Yoga has been around for thousands of years, but has experienced exponential growth in the last 10 years. It is now taught in most gyms, fitness community centers, and traditional yoga studios across the United States.

The right instructor can make all the difference in a yoga program.

In the yoga community, there is an ongoing debate among instructors about which environment is best suited to present a safe and effective program.

Last month, I read an article in The New York Times about instructors in yoga studios who view those who teach yoga elsewhere as less qualified. From my experience, the quality of instruction depends on what you value in your yoga practice, not where you teach.

I’ve been teaching and studying yoga for over 30 years, and half of that time I owned and operated a successful full-service yoga studio in the beach cities of Southern California, which included a teacher-training program for those making the bridge from yoga enthusiast to yoga teacher.

Working with hundreds of yoga teachers and consulting with new studio owners and fitness-facility managers, I have discovered a reliable formula for providing a safe and effective yoga program that consists of three basic considerations:

  1. Instructor
  2. Environment
  3. Community.


A great yoga instructor possesses a sincere and devoted interest in what he or she is doing and how it is presented, but also shares a level of knowledge, presence, and communication that makes learning a compelling, contagious, and fun experience for students.

Yoga Alliance is the current governing body for national yoga standards, and provides 200- and 500-hour registration status to all teachers who have graduated from qualified training programs; when hiring instructors, consider selecting from this group. This demonstrates a considerable degree of professionalism and loyalty by the instructor.

Yoga classes can taught in many different venues.

However, the registration doesn’t necessarily guarantee a competent instructor. It only assures that he or she has completed the program and met the requirements designed by the alliance.

Some yoga schools focus more on philosophy, while others focus more on poses. Yoga in America primarily teaches the poses as an entryway into yogic philosophy.

Beyond the poses, look for instructors with strong backgrounds in anatomy, injury management, restoration, and recovery, as these are essential to safely guiding students to breathe properly and move freely on the mat.

Before class begins, an effective instructor will ask students to share any injuries they think the instructor should know about. Not all instructors will know how to work with students recovering from injuries; however, if a yoga instructor is watching the students rather than practicing with them, there is less chance of injury as the instructor can watch for potential problems and provide proper modifications.

Whether they teach in a gym, recreation center, traditional yoga studio, spa, medical clinic, or elsewhere, the best yoga instructors will study, practice, reflect, evolve, and have an ongoing commitment to professional and personal growth, both on and off the yoga mat.

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