Finding a Teacher

Jan 14 2011
Article by Viriam

As a yoga teacher, I often wonder what it is that draws a student to their teacher. Time and again I hear people talk of their teachers with such reverence – they have been drawn to their light – they have shown them their path. But I also know students that are shouted at and criticized in class, and yet they go back for more.

Maybe even more than finding the yoga that you most resonate with, it is essential that you find a teacher that you resonate with. You want a teacher that inspires you. But you also want a teacher that pushes your limits and makes you grow into your potential. The mantra for the Kundalini Yoga teacher as decried by Yogi Bhajan, is ‘to poke, provoke, confront and elevate’!

With me, I came to Kundalini Yoga in a roundabout way. I was doing Ecstatic Trance Dance for many years with Amoda Maa Jeevan in London and we worked a lot with kundalini energy. As a teacher, I found her utterly inspiring. She introduced me to a new way of thinking, being, expressing myself – she unlocked a door in me. This is probably the key to finding your teacher.

I was always interested in yoga and dabbled in a class here and there – ashtanga for a few weeks and then hatha, but maybe my meeting at work ran over or there was a delay on the underground and I ended up missing my class. But from my first Kundalini class, I left work on time, early if necessary and made it to class every time. The energy of the yoga was mirrored in the many teachers I studied with – all with their own unique style. I was drawn to the strong teachers where there was guts and humour in class. Some teachers I didn’t even like outside of class, but during a kriya they would say something that could cut right through all my doubts and stories and take me to a place of deep understanding.

I’ve now been living in Arambol in Goa, a haven for yoga and all holistic pursuits, for about five years. I am surrounded by yoga teachers. If you come to India on the hunt for a yoga teacher, how do you find the right one? You can apply most of this advice to arriving in any little town around the world – Yoga is now global!

Word-of-mouth is essential. Talk to people. Within a few hours of being in some of the tourist hubs like Dharamsala, Rishikesh or Goa you can get the lowdown on all the teachers. Some people will love their teacher to talk to them like a sergeant-major, some will recoil.

If you are coming to India to go deeper into yoga, ask your teachers back home for recommendations and inspirations. Some people come to India to immerse themselves in tradition and to get back to the source. If this is your path, Rishikesh on the Ganges and home to the International Yoga Festival will hold the space for your yogic adventures. You can find many teachers both Western and Indian.

Some people would baulk at the idea of coming all the way to India to study yoga with a Western teacher. Obviously there is a whole wealth of knowledge and wisdom to be found here from Indian teachers, however some people find it hard training with Indian teachers because of their language, manner and codes of conduct. It is also hard to find an Indian woman teaching yoga and maybe you resonate more with a female teacher. Often Western teachers, as well as speaking the same language literally, speak the same language energetically. They hold the space for you in a very different way.

So whether you venture to Rishikesh, or Mysore the home of ashtanga, or Pune the home of Iyengar, or really anywhere around the world, you should ask about the teacher’s qualifications, teaching style and values. Ask what you can expect from a class. You often discover, in Goa especially, that people have just finished a short yoga training and are now teaching or maybe have no recognized qualification at all. Some people trade on the fact that yoga has its roots in India and have jumped on the yogic bandwagon - they know it’s a good way to make a few rupees. Obviously if you are in the West, you can check websites for qualified and insured teachers, but this is not always the case around the globe.

Essentially the best way to find a teacher or a form of yoga is to immerse yourself in a class. Drop preconceptions and surrender to the class and the teacher wholeheartedly for one session. Often it’s only a two hour experiment, it’s not for the rest of your life, unless you want it to be.

Obviously if you are signing up for a retreat or a course, especially online it is harder to get a sense of a teacher. Testimonials can come in very handy. If you are new to yoga, maybe it would be better to dip a toe in this ocean somewhere like Brahmani Yoga or Harmonic in Goa, rather than immersing yourself in an ashram with, for some, very gruelling 4am starts. Ashrams naturally have very specific codes of conduct which you might want to consider before setting off – dress codes included.

Often it comes down to two essential yogic abilities – trust and intuition. Sometimes you just need to go on gut instinct. One of my biggest lessons in my yogic life is to trust my intuition.

Essentially, know that you can jump ship, especially as a beginner. If a teacher is not doing it for you, don’t dismiss the yoga as a whole – just ask around, and see if you can find another teacher that speaks your language. Finding the right teacher is sometimes like finding your way back home – getting back to the source.

You find your Guru, master or teacher when you are ready. You might spend ages waiting for the right teacher. You might stay with some for only a short while. You need to recognize when the master-teacher relationship nourishes and nurtures you and when maybe it doesn’t. Alas, around the globe, but especially in India, a lot of charlatans play the Guru card and can manipulate and prey upon you (in all senses) rather than provoke and elevate.

Whether we are a beginner or not, we all come with our preconceived notions and expectations about yoga... and more importantly our preconceived ideas about ourselves. That’s some baggage we can leave at home. Come with an open mind.

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About Viriam Kaur

Viriam Kaur is a writer and Kundalini Yoga teacher based in Goa, India. She has been teaching yoga for seven years in London, Goa, the Himalayas and Thailand. India has been her greatest teacher - it challenges, provokes and elevates her! She trained with the SKY School of Kundalini Yoga, UK in 2003 and is also a UK certified massage therapist. She writes regularly for Yoga Magazine and Essence of Life and is currently working on her second mantra album - check her out at

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