How to Choose the Best Yoga Teachers to Suit You

Establishing a home yoga practice is a beautiful thing. Though there are multiple benefits to practicing in a yoga studio, defining your own practice space at home is hugely rewarding.

  • You get to apply what you learned in a studio class
  • There is greater freedom around when and for how long you practice.
  • If you have little ones, they may join you on the mat.

However, establishing your own home yoga practice comes with its own unique set of hurdles and hard work.

For many of us, we will turn to YouTube for online classes. Here lies the first hurdle – not getting stuck on YouTube for too much time trying to find a class to suit your needs. More about that here.

Let’s imagine you’ve successfully narrowed down your search to three or four potential classes. Some have an exceptionally high view count. Others are much lower. So herein lies the question: how do you know who are the best yoga teachers to suit your needs?

Jump ahead to:

Getting Lost in YouTube: a vast world of online yoga

A woman in black leggings doing a standing forward fold, holding her calves with her hands and pointing her nose to her shins.

The yoga industry is huge, for better or worse. Case in point, YouTube is saturated with yoga classes. In my opinion, this is no bad thing. If more people practice yoga, more people will feel better on some level. However, this can create a bit of a conundrum for new home yoga practitioners.

The online world of yoga is vast. You will find yoga classes that target emotional states and physical gripes. You’ll also find classes separated by different  “styles”. These might include:

  • Ashtanga yoga
  • Vinyasa yoga
  • Iyengar yoga
  • Yin yoga
  • Hatha Yoga
  • Yoga Nidra
A woman white trousers and a white tank top is practising yoga on a beach in the sun.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Restorative yoga, prenatal yoga, post-natal yoga, and hot yoga will also make an appearance, among many others. You can see how it can quickly become overwhelming.

As much as YouTube is packed with a variety of yoga classes, it also boasts a plethora of some of the best yoga instructors out there.

YouTube is packed with thousands of yoga channels from good yoga teachers. These include (but are in no way limited to):

When you search for your first yoga class online, you could end up rifling through YouTube for hours wondering who would be the best teacher for you.

At the start, though, you simply won’t know who is best for you. Don’t let that hold you back. The ethos here is to try a few different classes out from a variety of teachers with diverse backgrounds. And, importantly, reflect on the class. You can do this using a simple reflection journal.

Pro tip:

If, like me, the idea of journaling makes you cringe, here is a helpful little freebie to get you started.

Deciding what’s essential in an online yoga teacher

A young woman in a white camisole and mid-grey leggings is sitting cross-legged in a room with her eyes closed and her arms raised above her head.

Once you’ve spent a few weeks trying out classes from a variety of teachers, it is time to take a closer look at what is and what isn’t working for you.

Metrics such as the number of followers or the video view count can wow many of us. Alternatively, we are attracted to teachers who stick to just asana (the movement aspect of yoga), or to ones who provide classes that also include pranayama (breathwork), and dhyana (meditation). We might be lured in by credentials, or even by the type of yoga on offer.

I chose some of my first classes because the teacher had millions of followers, decades of experience, and taught a yoga style that appealed to my ego. The teacher looked how I wanted to look, and moved how I wanted to move. The problem? I was not the target market for that class, as it was most definitely not aimed at complete beginners like me. Therefore, I understood very little of the instructions given.

So, let’s take a closer look at some of the components that might influence our decision on who are some of the best yoga teachers for us and our unique needs.

Do world famous instructors make the best yoga teachers?

As mentioned, one of the first yoga classes I ever took was from an internationally celebrated yoga teacher. I huffed and puffed through what felt like a torturous and unnecessary amount of chaturanga dandasanas (yoga push-ups as they are referred to in the West). In Savasana (corpse pose) I was nearly in tears.

Does this mean the teacher was at fault? Absolutely not. However, it does indicate that perhaps they were not the best yoga teacher for me and my needs at the time.

Most internationally renowned yoga teachers are this well-known because they have incredible teaching skills. The teaching of yoga is by no means an easy feat. You’re dealing with people’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. You’re telling people:

  • what body parts to put where,
  • how to breathe, how to avoid injury,
  • where to direct awareness,
  • how to turn inwards,
  • mini anatomical science lessons,
  • and you’re contextualizing it all with some digestible yoga philosophy and yoga history (sometimes in a foreign language, Sanskrit).

All the while adjusting this to best suit each individual who stands before you so they leave with clarity, not confusion.

Yoga teachers essentially need to be proficient in anatomy, communication, Sanskrit, psychology, and yoga philosophy. 

They also need to be able to quickly scan the person in front of them to decide the best way to convey all that without overwhelming, confusing, or injuring them.

So, it is highly likely that world-famous yoga teachers are world-famous because they are incredibly talented at all of that. It takes long years of study and self-practice to be proficient in teaching yoga.

The influence of social media.

Social media is a blessing and a curse. It allows some excellent yoga teachers to become well-known globally. Some examples might include:

Someone (sex unidentified) is sitting in the sun with their hands resting on their knees, facing up with the index fingers connecting with the thumbs.

Social media also allows us to be wowed purely by the shapes people make on the mat. Someone effortlessly pressing up into a handstand is inspiring and we follow that person for more of the same. It helps us to visualize our future self, an integral part of motivation.

Pressing up into a handstand does not make you a skilled teacher, regardless of how many followers you have.

Communicating the process you followed, contextualizing this one pose in the greater field of yoga, and doing so without overwhelming your student, does. This is usually covered in a decent yoga teacher training, so I recommend checking out the credentials of any certified yoga instructor you choose, to see if they align with your values.

For example, I strongly believe in consistently contextualizing modern yoga within its ancient roots.

This avoids further appropriation and colonization of a practice that harks from the Indian subcontinent and is far greater than the “fitness” image often attached to yoga. To adhere to this value, I choose (and recommend) teachers who do the same, and who have some link to yoga’s roots. My own training at Akashay Yoga Academy placed a huge emphasis on maintaining the authenticity of our message of yoga as teachers. The teachers themselves studied for years under some of the greatest teachers India has produced.

How important are yoga certifications and training?

Yoga certification is a contentious and dividing topic.

Currently, most teachers will, at minimum, complete a 200 hr training approved by Yoga Alliance, the current governing body to which you can register yourself upon completing an approved training.

A 200 hr training is the current requirement to teach as a registered yoga teacher. Ask any yoga teacher and they will likely tell you that this is not enough, by a long stretch. Such yoga teacher training programs provide solid foundations on how to teach, but by no means are they sufficient when it comes to producing confident, proficient, and discerning teachers.

This is where subsequent yoga education and years of experience come in. Upon completing a 200 hr training, teachers registered through Yoga Alliance are required to complete a minimum of 45 hours of teaching and 45 hours of training (continuing education) every three years in order to maintain their “Registered Yoga Teacher” status. In the grand scheme of things, this is arguably quite small.

In terms of years of experience, it is important to keep in mind that most training programs require at least 6 months of consistent yoga practice as a pre-requisite to taking a training. Considering the level of awareness a teacher must maintain during a class, students might be forgiven for thinking that someone with less than a year’s experience in yoga practice might not be the right fit.

That said, most of the teachers I have encountered only decided to take a training after years of personal practice experience.

A note about Yoga Alliance

Personally, I have little issue with Yoga Alliance. I think it is a great support network for new teachers to find and complete new trainings, and to keep a record of their teaching hours. As a student, I am reassured that at least some governing body exists that teachers have the option of registering with.

However, registering through Yoga Alliance is not mandatory. It basically provides confirmation that you have trained with a Yoga Alliance-approved school, whose programs will have been vetted by the body.

Yoga Alliance is also a modern Western invention superimposed upon an ancient Eastern practice. This practice was passed down for thousands of years without any governing body intervening. Indeed, Pattabhi Jois only began dishing out “certifications” upon request of a Western student whom he’d approved to teach Ashtanga.

COVID-19 influenced yoga certifications monumentally. Prior to 2020, online certifications were largely unheard of, and it was near impossible to be registered through Yoga Alliance with an online training under your belt. Brett Larkin was perhaps the only teacher in the West to ignore Yoga Alliance’s requirements and has produced high-quality teachers through her online training for decades. These days, online trainings are now the norm.

So, I completely understand why some teachers vehemently oppose the existence of something like Yoga Alliance determining who gets to give and receive somewhat arbitrary credentials. In my opinion, it is fantastic as a networking and support service. Beyond that, I wonder if its existence helps or hinders the appropriation of yoga in the West. As a student, I have found that certifications often mean very little. Teacher integrity is not solidified with a piece of paper. Instead, it is carved out through years of personal practice and reflection.

What makes a yoga teacher influential on YouTube?

When looking for a decent teacher on YouTube, there are a few things I recommend you keep in mind as you’re getting started. These are related to the channel itself, and the teacher’s communication skills.

The best yoga teachers have the best YouTube channels

By this, I don’t mean the most amount of followers. I mean that the channel is organized into playlists that reflect student needs, not teacher desires, and has enough to keep you going for a few weeks.

  • Are their classes organized into playlists that are labeled by time length, time of day, and target physical or emotional desired result? (For example, “30-minute classes”, “Morning classes”, “Yoga to ease lower back pain” or “Yoga for a calm mind”.
  • Are their classes uploaded with some consistency (you can check the time stamps)? This shows that the teacher is listening to their audience’s requests and tweaking classes to suit your needs, keeping content fresh and up-to-date.

The best yoga teachers have the best communication skills

​I am not referring to humor here, though that does help. Some things to consider include:

  • Do their cues make sense to you? Do they land on your body in a way that you can quickly interpret and take action on? Or, are they using ethereal, “fluffy” language that is wildly open for interpretation? To illustrate, many times I’ve heard teachers use the cue “shine your chest forward” which makes no sense to me. Instead, something more specific like “gently pull the shoulders back while engaging the core” is far less confusing. It is important to remember that not all people watching the videos speak English as their first language, so teachers who use specificity are likely to be considering the perspective of the student in more detail.
  • Do they include some digestible tidbits regarding anatomy, physiology, and yoga philosophy? This doesn’t all have to be included in one class, but essentially, are you learning something new other than making shapes with your body? Is the teacher contextualizing the practice in the greater field of yoga, or is it purely a “fitness-based” approach?
  • Do they include some Sanskrit? Sanskrit is important as it is the language of yoga. Pose names, techniques, and concepts should occasionally (at least) be given in Sanskrit. For example, one of my teachers, Lesley Fightmaster, always gave the Sanskrit names for common yoga poses like downward dog (adhomukasvanasana). This was not done to show off, but to keep reorienting the student into the greater context of yoga.

Creating a shortlist of the best yoga teachers online

A young woman in grey leggings and a light grey camisole is sat on a bright blue yoga mat looking at her phone, and wearing headphones.

A great way to make YouTube work for you is to utilize the playlist function. Try saving a class you love into several playlists of your own. These could include the length of the class, time of day (if that’s clear), the target physical or emotional release, the style of yoga (for example Hatha, or Ashtanga), and the teacher.

This helps you to build your own bank of classes specifically suited to you. This has two benefits. First, it saves time. You don’t have to remember what you searched for or scroll through endless classes to try and find it again. Secondly, it helps you to take accountability on some level for your personal practice of yoga. You’re choosing classes that suit you, which means you need to consistently reflect on the class. This develops your interoception (internal awareness of sensations) which is an essential skill in yoga. Making this practice your own will also sustain the discipline required to keep coming back to the mat.

When you’re completely new to yoga, however, it can be difficult to know where to begin. Therefore, you need to try out a few classes over a few weeks and reflect consistently on each one.

A lot of us don’t have the patience for that, though. So, here is a curated list of yoga teachers that I have studied under and been trained by, whom I believe are fantastic additions to your repertoire of teachers.

1. Lesley Fightmaster: Try out her beginners’ yoga series here.

2. Sarah Beth Yoga: Her channel is SUPER easy to navigate. Try out her 10-minute video series.

3. Yoga with Amit: He hosts a variety of videos aimed at beginners. Take a look through this playlist and select a couple of classes to try.

Influential aspects when choosing YOUR best yoga teachers

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​If you got this far, good work! We have covered a lot about how to choose the best yoga teachers to suit you.

Key Takeaways:

​1. It is very easy to get lost on YouTube when you’re just starting out with yoga. Deciding what is important to you in a teacher is essential to avoid this. However, when you’re just beginning, it’s not easy to know what is “essential” for you, so try a few classes out and reflect. Adopt a “trial and error” approach and get curious about your practice.

2. Keep in mind that not all world-famous teachers make good teachers, but there is a high chance they are famous for a reason. That said, don’t get swayed by fame and social media numbers. Instead, focus on whether or not you resonate with the teacher. Don’t force it. We aren’t for everyone.

3. Certifications play an important role, but they are not the hallmark of a good teacher. Pay attention to their personal experiences and reflections on the practice, not just their credentials. Governing bodies like Yoga Alliance, though important in some aspects, are not governed themselves, and so at the end of the day have little sway in deciding who gets to be called a good yoga teacher.

4. Check out the channel of a teacher that piques your interest to see how organized it is. This is an indicator of how much that teacher considers their YouTube audience (ie. you).

5. Pay attention to what the teacher is saying with regard to clear cueing and contextualization of the practice within the greater scope of yoga. If it’s consistently confusing and overwhelming, try someone else.

6. Create your own playlists on YouTube. Begin building your own bank of classes based on your needs and what has worked for you. Spend some time reflecting on each class, making a note of what made sense and what didn’t.

A final tip:

List any questions you have and be sure to join my Facebook group aimed at supporting yoga beginners. You’re very welcome to post your questions there. We are a friendly bunch and there is no such thing as a foolish question.

If you’d like more useful tidbits about yoga, be sure to follow me on Instagram and sign up for my weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Until next week, much love,