Monday, June 13, 2011

Yoga Teacher Training

Nobel talked about teacher training in his post, wondering if "yoga teacher certification" may give students the idea that a the learning yoga knowledge is terminal and that a 200YTT certification makes someone a "yoga expert".

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As I mentioned in my very first blog post, I started yoga because a number of my friends suddenly got their yoga teacher training completed at around the same time. You don't really hear someone taking up jazz, golf, crocheting, taekwando or whatever, and suddenly announce they are getting certified to teach that activity. What's special about this "yoga" that makes people want to teach it? I always thought of yoga as just simple stretching exercises. My friends' actions made me think that there might be more to this activity. Other people sign up for yoga for health reasons. I signed up for yoga as a Sherlock Holmes wannabe, wanting to get to the bottom of this phenomenon. From the very beginning, I didn't just try to learn yoga; I started analyzing yoga teachers and the whole logic to a yoga class even before I got used to placing my limbs and spine in positions they had never been placed before. At the time I didn't realize there were so many yoga poses, so many yoga styles, or that each each pose contained so much alignment information (you mean it's not just copying what the teacher demos?), or that yoga teachers knew so much about the human anatomy, or that there was a sequencing logic to a yoga class. Talk about overwhelming oneself with information. Each yoga class I tried was so different from the other class (I alternated between hot yoga, yin, pilates, Kundalini, hatha, power, and Ashtanga my very first month into yoga, because I had no idea what the heck I was doing), and I couldn't easily figure out a simple logic to it. I was absolutely fascinated by the complexity of yoga.

Only a few months into yoga, I attended a free information session for a one-month intensive yoga teacher training program with at a studio at the far side of town, not because I wanted to become a yoga teacher myself, but because I was on a mission to find out what it takes to become a yoga teacher. I was expecting them to tell me I should practice for at least 2-3 years before I sign up. I was shocked when this teacher told me anyone can sign up for teacher training. I asked her how could I expect myself to teach people if I couldn't even do the most basic arm balance poses like bakasana. The teacher smoothly answered, "Maybe you'll be able to get into one during this teacher training". Hmm.... I have no doubt she would be able to teach me all the theoretical stuff about yoga, and I am confident in my memorization and understanding skills. But some poses take a lot of practice in order to get the strengthening, balance, and flexibility in place. How could she be confident that I would gain enough strength to do those poses within one month?  Ironically, her attempt to ease my concerns made me more sure that teacher training was not worth my money at that time. She reassuringly told me, "Don't worry, you won't have to learn how to put your foot behind your head". Why not? I thought at the time. For $3000+, shouldn't I be able to learn how to do almost every single yoga pose? 

At the time I did believe that all certified yoga teachers knew all the poses. Now I know that you can have a great asana practice yourself but suck as a teacher, and you don't have to pull off perfect asanas yourself in order to be a great teacher. I've been to simple hatha classes without any advanced balance or strength poses, and walked out of class feeling that my body had a well-rounded stretch, my core was sufficiently challenged, and my energy were properly balanced. I've also gone to power classes where I got really aggravated because I couldn't breath with the teacher's "choreography", or I was asked to attempt an advanced pose when my hamstrings weren't sufficiently prepped top open up fully in the  warm up sequences leading up to the pose. Teacher training program can only teach you technical stuff and give you some basic tips on how to lead a safe, logical yoga class. But amazing rock star teachers shine through with their own unique charisma, through a combination of teaching experience as well as their innate ability to connect with students and inspire. With Ashtanga teaching, the sequencing of primary series already makes mechanical sense in systematically opening up the body, where the beginning poses prep for later poses. The greatest challenges are to figure out how to engage the students and keep them interested, and how to lead beginners who are stiff and not very body aware through the sequence without having them feel defeated and over-challenged.

After all the serious investigations and analyses I've secretly conducted, violating drishti focus every class by curiously watching how my teacher adjusts other students, observing other students' poses, analyzing what are the alignment corrections for that particular version of the pose, what are the modifications that can be provided for that particular student, trying to figure out why the teacher would choose to adjust some students but not others, I think I am finally ready to stop being a busybody and  settle down as a yoga student to focus on my own yoga practice. Yah I know, I'm weird this way :)

p.s. To learn how to put your foot behind your head at no cost to you whatsoever, see this video for instructions. It worked for me! (after a few months of hip opening poses practicing yoga. My hips were pretty open to begin with though.)


  1. I'm in the middle of a 9 month teacher training right now. After having practiced nearly a decade. I may well become a teacher, but anyone who thinks a training like this will give them everything they need is foolish. And studios letting anyone into these programs are doing a disservice to yoga in general, and to their students in particular. I still struggle with certain aspects - such as offering decent adjustments, doing the bandhas, and even giving decent verbal cues into poses. In fact, my strengths are probably more in the areas of meditation, yogic philosophy, and the more contemplative end of practice. Puts me in an interesting place in the body-centric yoga world.

    But anyway, you're totally right on that "knowing all the poses" doesn't mean squat when it comes to teaching.

  2. Hi Nathan, I think good teacher training programs do cover a lot of materials, but students have trouble absorbing it all right away. For people who haven't being practicing yoga for a good period of time, they end up teaching from a script rather than from personal experience. I like to play the game of guessing which local yoga school a new yoga teacher did his or her TT by what they say and what yoga sequence they teach :)

    I think you should emphasize your strong points when you teach, offering meditation at the beginning and/or the end of class, and talk about the yogic philosophy throughout the class. You can take specific workshops on adjustments later on. Bandhas.. I don't have them down either. Just tell the class to engage their cores. "Draw your navel in and up." Say it often because students always forget.

  3. I agree with Yy. There are new ways to teacha dn motivate discovered each day even by very experienced teachers. I am challenged myself because I have taken yog aover 30 years( more like 40) frommany teachers and with a BS in Prephysical Therapy I know much more about certain aspects of yoga than many teachers in my city. I am nto tryign to get a yoga teacher job, but I am sometimes shocked by what younger teachers say and do . Then I am left with my thoughts and soemtimes criticisms. Studio owners do NOT like to hear that their prize teacher yells at their class. Sometimes I have to suck it up.

  4. Hi Anonymous, thank you for your comments. Not all yoga teachers are equally well-trained, but a ton of excellent yoga teachers are available in the market today who are willing to share their knowledge with anyone who wants to learn. Sometimes one's first yoga teacher may not be the best teacher out there. My first introductions to yoga years ago were less than exciting, which was why it took me so long to get into it. Sometimes it's fate that brings one to a particular activity/spiritual path.

  5. Thank you for your observations!
    We believe that everyone already is teacher. We are all teachers and and students our whole life. Some become conscious of that and take the step to make this part of their living. At evolation yoga we believe that teacher training is the first step and not the last step on a conscious path of sharing yoga. We believe in life long learning individually and as a collective. Constant constructive feedback is an ongoing part of our trainings and is something that continues among our teachers for as long as they teach, brand new or with many years of experience, we strive to always learn from each other. So teacher training never ends. Yoga is not about rock star teachers but about collectively raising awareness and changing lives!

  6. Hello Evolation yoga, I agree I can always take away something new from all yogis, but I prefer to pay the big bucks to train with the best of the best, or at least with teachers whose teaching styles most suitable/inspiring for me. :)

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