What Do You Call a Yoga Instructor?

Yoga is a vast professional industry, and what a yoga instructor looks like or is called can also vary depending on where you live and the yoga style.

But yoga is also thousands of years old, and there are certain norms around what you call a yoga instructor and what it means to be a yoga teacher.

As an outsider looking in, the world of yoga can be confusing with lots of Sanskrit terminology and other common words that aren’t always familiar to people if you don’t practice regularly.

This article will give you an overview of the different names for a yoga instructor or yoga teacher and how to differentiate between them to find the right teacher for you!

What is a Yoga Instructor Called?

The two most common titles for a yoga instructor are either yoga teacher or yoga instructor.

But in traditional Indian practices, a yoga teacher may also have been called a guru, a Swami, a Yogacharya, or a yogi.

All of these titles have specific nuances associated with them. Additionally, the title depends on the teachings, lineage, and tradition to which the teacher is connected.

What is the Difference Between a Yoga Instructor and a Yoga Teacher?

This is a common question in the yoga world. On a basic level, the words instructor and teacher are really just two words that mean something very similar, but they also indicate some crucial differences.

Both a yoga instructor and a yoga teacher suggest someone who teaches yoga and has reached a certain level of knowledge about yoga.

Regarding the general title and certification level, the words yoga teacher and yoga instructor are often used interchangeably. But on a more philosophical level, there’s a distinct difference:

A yoga instructor primarily instructs and demonstrates poses. In contrast, a yoga teacher may give more personalized direction and go into the more profound teachings of yoga.

Indeed, a yoga instructor and a yoga teacher can teach all aspects of yoga, regardless of their title. But in general, a yoga instructor is someone who instructs others on what to do and focuses mainly on yoga poses or asana. In comparison, a yoga teacher may be able to give more personalized instruction and weave in yoga philosophy.

So, do you call someone a yoga instructor or a teacher? The short answer is it depends! Every teacher may choose the title that suits them the best, and the interpretations of that title can also vary.

What is a Yogacharya or Yoga Master?

Yogacharya is another common name for a yoga teacher that typically conveys respect or honor.

The word Yogacharya is a Sanskrit word made of two root words, “yoga” and “acharya.” Acharya means spiritual master or spiritual teacher.

On a deeper level, it really means someone who truly follows and embodies the deeper teachings of yoga, particularly the ethical teachings of the Yamas and Niyamas.

In traditional practice, someone can be an acharya in any discipline. So, the combination of the word Yogacharya indicates that it is a master yoga teacher. Often, these honorific titles are passed on to yoga students by their teacher after decades of practice and teaching to indicate their expertise in the subject of yoga.

What is a Swami in Yoga?

If you have practiced the more traditional teachings of yoga, you may have been exposed to teachers such as Swami Vivekananda, Swami Rama, Swami Sivananda, Swami Satchitananda, Swami Dayananda, and others.

The title swami indicates someone who has renounced worldly life and was initiated into a specific monastic order. During this initiation process, the student’s teacher often chooses a spiritual name for them that follows the title “swami.”

A swami is often identified by their signature saffron robes, indicating their status as a monk and renunciation from worldly life. Receiving the title of swami usually indicates someone who is exceptionally knowledgeable in yoga philosophy and the deeper practices of yoga. A swami is also often within a lineage of teachers, indicating that their teachings have roots in other great saints.

But it is important to note that just because someone has this title does not necessarily mean they are an enlightened master. There are many cases of swamis and other spiritual leaders who abused their students and used this title as a way to harm others. So, as you should do with any spiritual teacher, it is always vital to dutifully check the teacher’s qualifications and whether they really embody the spiritual teachings.

What is a Yogi?

In modern times, almost anyone who practices yoga seems to call themselves a yogi.

But traditionally, that was not the case. To be considered a yogi, it did not just mean that you did some yoga poses every day. The title of yogi indicated someone who was a spiritual master and deeply immersed in yoga’s spiritual and mystical practices.

Some traditional yoga teachers also use the name yogi instead of using the other honorific titles of swami or guru as a more humbling title. But the term yogi is primarily reserved for highly advanced yoga practitioners in deeper yoga teachings.

What is the Difference Between a Yogi and a Guru?

As mentioned, a yogi is traditionally someone who was primarily a yoga student in the more profound teachings of yoga. Although a yogi can also be a teacher, they are primarily practitioners and lead by example.

In contrast, a guru is a highly advanced yoga teacher who focuses almost exclusively on passing along the deeper yoga teachings to others and supporting others in their journey towards enlightenment.

The word guru in modern times is used for anyone who is a teacher in any subject, but in Indian philosophy and yoga, it has a much deeper meaning. The word guru is made of two root words, “gu,” meaning darkness, and “ru,” meaning remover. On a spiritual level, a guru removes the darkness of illusion or ignorance from their student’s minds and helps support them on the journey toward enlightenment.

A guru is often seen similar to a deity by their students and is extensively worshipped and praised. But not just anyone can become a guru in traditional practices. A guru is someone who is a profound expert on their spiritual discipline, embodies these teachings in their life, and is dedicated to protecting their students in their own journey towards awakening.

Again, it is essential to note that some yoga teachers abuse the title of guru and use it to establish superiority and create a system of control over their students. There are many cases of gurus abusing students and harming them in various ways. While this isn’t always the case, it is important to emphasize that simply using the title “guru” does not automatically mean that an individual truly embodies the title on a deeper level. Any student should ensure the quality of their teacher through reasonable and respectful means.

Should I Become a Yoga Teacher?

Becoming a yoga teacher in modern times is much easier than it used to be, and becoming part of this spiritual tradition can be life-changing.

No matter what title you use for a yoga teacher, the responsibility of this position cannot be overstated. The yoga tradition is thousands of years old, and to become a yoga teacher is to step into a role connected to these lineages of teachers.

So, whether you choose to be a yoga teacher focusing on yoga poses or you pursue the yoga philosophy teachings as well, it will be the journey of a lifetime.

All yoga teachers have something extraordinary to offer the world through the profound teachings of yoga. As you begin this exciting journey, it is always important to stay rooted in this tradition and practice with respect and reverence for its origins.

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