Recently, an article was published by About Time Magazine titled ‘Top 10: Best Yoga Teachers in London 2017’. This headline grabbed me and I felt compelled to read it. I went through the whole list and thought to myself: “Where are my favourite yoga teachers teaching in London right now? Why aren’t they on the list?” Compared to the vast majority, I haven’t been practising yoga for very long. I also don’t know how ‘best’ is defined. I know I am nowhere near qualified to judge who is ‘best’.
Looking back on my practice so far, I have been taught by various teachers who I needed at different points in my life. For those of you who know me, the primary sequence I practise is Bikram Yoga and you might wonder why it would matter who I get taught by, as the sequence is the same everytime and the standard Bikram Yoga dialogue is the same each time. Lock the knee, suck your stomach in, etc. etc.
When I first started Bikram Yoga, I was overcoming a relationship breakup and I was taught by teachers who were a bit less forgiving than teachers I have met since. The loudspeakers were always quite loud, maybe a little too loud than what is deemed comfortable to listen to. The classes were demanding as all students were highly encouraged to kick, bend, stretch and to keep going and pushing. I needed that in my life. The unforgiving decibels of the regimented Bikram dialogue helped me focus in class and forget about everything else in my life when I was trying to stretch back, look back, go back, way back and more back. There was no time to waste in class. I learned how to go into and out of postures the right way, keeping my practice safe. I developed my discipline for the practice. It was there that I started realising my inner strength as I witnessed my body transform.
I then started regularly practising in Bikram Yoga Fleet, with the most compassionate and kind teachers. The sequence was the same but they taught me to relax certain muscle groups in postures. I learned to relax my shoulders in half moon pose and why that is important. The teachers in Fleet supported me greatly after my fall and car accident. Their non-judgmental and compassionate approach helped ease me back into the practice that I have come to enjoy, despite my ego being hurt by not being able to kick up and back as high as I used to after my injuries. They helped me become very mindful about my practice and how to look after myself in class. I learned that it was ok that I didn’t look ‘good’ or ‘perfect’, whatever I thought I meant at the time. There was no such thing as perfection.
Since moving to London, I have learned more from various teachers about the differences in each of our bodies and why some of us need adjustments. I went on a Bikram Yoga retreat a few years ago and the teacher told us how he could not get into the full expression on one of his postures, because his arms were not long enough and it was “ok”. I remember thinking at the time: “Wow, that is a big thing to admit to.”
Although I have only practised once at LANO Yoga in Chichester, I remember that class very clearly as the teacher said: “Kitty, feet together, toes touching, heels slightly apart”. I must have looked shocked when I looked at the teacher and he nodded, asking me to try it out. It’s always been “Feet together, toes and heels touching” in the standard dialogue. I learned we don’t all have to do exactly the same thing to the letter, when our bodies are all so different.
Last year, I completed the 30 days’ Bikram Yoga challenge and posted a photo of myself in rabbit pose on Instagram. I wrote in the comment that I was trying hard to get the top of my head touching my knees but it was really challenging. A Bikram Yoga teacher commented that it is a tough posture for people like me who have a long neck and torso compared to the rest of my body. Another lightning bulb moment! It made perfect sense.
I have recently come to learn, practise and embrace slow flow vinyasa asanas and yin yoga. One of my wonderful teachers tell us in class that: “If you are feeling it, you are doing it.” There is no mirror to look at. It really isn’t about depth but about how everything feels in stillness. My overstretched hamstrings love the feeling of fascia release in yin postures. I have learned to be more mindful, to listen and focus on myself a lot more in class. I have learned to be a lot less serious and it really is a practice, not striving for perfection.
I really don’t know who the best teachers are. I have learned from every single one of them. The importance is really on finding the right teacher for you. If you ever come across a teacher who is pushing you too hard to the point of pain, perhaps that isn’t the right teacher for you. If you are encouraged to do a posture which you are totally not ready for (such as a headstand in your first ever yoga class), perhaps try a different type of class and teacher.
My view is that yoga teachers are a bit like finding your tribe who have your vibe.
What are your views on the best yoga teachers?