Yoga Teacher or Yoga Instructor – Which one would you rather be? By Latika Pierrette Claude, Kripalu, SOYA, E-RYT 500

Certain words irritate me at times, and I have no clue why that is. Is it the sound, the connotation? And that is what I feel when I hear the word instructor applied to a yoga teacher.

To my utter surprise, one day I heard Rod Stryker during a training I was taking with him, say “Please never refer to yourself as a yoga instructor, you are so much more than that!” Vindicated in my intuition, I came out of that course a happy teacher but soon to be saddened by the popularity that the appellation “instructor” was evolving to.

To become a full-fledged yoga teacher, we have learned the 8 branches of this ancient practice and science that eventually leads to complete Union. A lot of wisdom is imparted in the Yamas and Niyamas, and yes, we can be “instructed” into the amazing techniques of Asanas and Pranayama.

Investigating the definitions of Instructor vs Teacher, I find this from The American Heritage Dictionary: 

Instructor: “One who instructs. A college teacher ranking BELOW assistant professor.”

Teacher: “The one to impart knowledge, to cause to learn by example or experience.”

In my process of pondering “instructor vs teacher,” I posed the question to Acharya Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani.  Here is what he said:

Sanskrit words for ‘teacher’ are based on their unique abilities…

1. The teacher who gives you information is called: Adhyapak

2. The one who imparts knowledge combined with information is called: Upadhyaya

3. The one who imparts skills is called: Acharya

4. The one who is able to give a deep insight into a subject is called: Pundit

5. The one who has a visionary view on a subject and teaches you to think in that manner is called: Dhrishta

6. The one who is able to awaken wisdom in you, leading you from darkness to light, is called: Guru

Sanskrit is perhaps the only language that has such a refined vocabulary to distinguish the different kinds of teachers.

In my studies to become a yoga teacher, we delved into the more subtle practices and got to understand the true nature of our Self. It is this precise knowledge, this science that we want to share with our students.

Is this something you would expect from say, a golf instructor? a chef? a dance or swimming instructor? In my opinion, our role is sacred, it is to open the way for the student to the ultimate goal of their lives: to know themselves truly, deeply.

Is this something an “instructor” can or will do? You certainly can as a yoga teacher if you have the knowledge and the wisdom. Yoga teachers, I encourage you to put yourself in the seat of the teacher and let the ephemeral instructor stand in the limited vision of their role. Refer to yourself as a yoga teacher, not as a yoga instructor.

Latika Pierrette Claude, Kripalu, SOYA, E-RYT 500, is a yoga teacher for the SOYA 200 hour Foundation Yoga Teacher Training in Melaque, Mexico. Her focus in on imparting knowledge of yoga philosophy to her students, which she is very passionate about. Latika completed her 200 hour foundation certification with Kripalu, and her 300 hour professional certification with SOYA. She has been teaching yoga since 2006.