Can’t buy me love? A Yoga Teacher Training Review.

Via on Sep 21, 2011

Full disclosure: I was invited to attend the LiveLoveTeach Advanced Vinyasa Teacher Training Montana at no cost as a contributing blogger for their program. That said, in the spirit of my commitment to radical honesty, this article is a full-on, no-holds-barred review of my experience.

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Ed’s note: elephant (and our authors and readers) aim, too, toward constructive, respectful honesty—whether positive or negative. ~ ed.

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 Question: Is it possible to teach someone how to teach yoga from love?

That was the question I was turning over in my mind as we made our way to Feathered Pipe Ranch in Montana for the LiveLove Teach 5-day Advanced Vinyasa Teacher Training. The premise behind all of LLT’s programs is simple:

Teach from love, not fear.

You’ll either hear that and perk right up, or (like me) step back with a little skepticism. It’s a nice tagline, but really…let’s be honest: it sounds a little fluffy and new-agey at first. Like that yoga-speak teachers love to spew out during class…open your heart, connect to your highest self, feel the energy.

What does all that really mean anyway?

Well, the LiveLoveTeach co-founders (Deborah WilliamsonPhilip Urso, and Stacy Dockins) don’t quite tell you “This is what teaching from love looks like” (or the other way around) outright. Instead, participants are asked to derive their own conclusions experientially.

From Day 1, you’re thrown on beside the mat for practice teaching sessions. The structure is simple: Teach a sequence of your choice for five to ten minutes, then receive feedback from one of the program leaders and your peers. The entire program unfolds like this, different variations of practice teaching yoga. The philosophy, the spirituality, and the other “deeper” aspects of yoga (if you wanna call ‘em that) don’t come from studies of ancient books or lectures from gurus… they emerge directly from the experience of teaching yoga.

I was somewhat surprised to learn from other participants that this aspect of the training felt unique compared to what they’d experienced in other teacher training programs. Apparently, many YTTs are composed of (what sounds to me like) poorly conducted (and possibly traumatizing) group therapy, studies of bodies on a page, and theoretical discussions. Practice teaching is minimal, and real-time feedback is even more rare. Perhaps I’m being hypercritical, but that sounds like false advertising to me.

If there’s one thing you can count on for this training, it’s that you’ll get plenty of time actually teaching yogaBut as I scrolled through the LLT website prior to the training, I must admit my inner-skeptic was on high alert. Is it really possible to package something like “teaching from love”? Is that even something you can teach?

The Experience.

Let’s go ahead and state the obvious: LiveLoveTeach is a branded, packaged yoga teacher training program. But hey, what teacher training program isn’t? Yoga teachers (and teacher trainers) have to make a living, and to do that in a capitalistic society, you gotta package it. The question I had coming in, though, is whether you can really package something like teaching yoga from love. Let’s start with a sampling of the package they delivered:

Instant Forgiveness.

Of the 12 principles (or tools) the LiveLoveTeach team spoke to in this training, “instant forgiveness” was probably the one that felt most relevant to my in-the-moment teaching. It involves cultivating an ability to let go the hiccups and mess-ups that inevitably arise in teaching and come right back to what’s right in front of you… a human being and connection grounded in love. And it works off the mat too; guilt, shame, and overanalyzing keep us shackled to the past. It’s not always easy to “instantly forgive” ourselves or those who have hurt us, but if we can begin working that muscle with something as simple as teaching yoga… well, who knows what’s possible?

Truth and Try Again 

By day two, participants had become comfortable sharing blunt, to-the-point, and constructive tid-bits with one another during practice teaching sessions. I found the feedback to be enormously helpful in shining a light on those moments I’d unknowingly lost connection with my students.  A few of my favorites: “See your students,” “let go of that script,” and “quit acting like a yoga teacher.” And if these statements sound harsh, it’s a good time to mention another one of LLT’s principles: “truth and try again.”

I realized during this training that teaching really can become a spiritual practice if we let it. I would notice myself get pulled away (truth) and then practice returning right back to what’s in front of me (try again). It became like a meditation. Rather than watching thoughts, I watched my words. Instead of coming back to breath or mantra, I came back to my students. I saw their feet, their facial expressions, their breath. Teaching in this way, to me, felt like the ultimate meditation on selflessness.

Laugh at Yourself.

Okay, so this wasn’t one of the principles they taught during the training, but if I could add one to their list, “laugh at yourself” would be it. I must say, we did a lot of laughing. Yoga teachers do funny things when they get uncomfortable.

Some of us try to minimize the fact that we’re telling people what to do with their bodies by adding a “so” or “just” or “if you’d like” before every command. Many articulate each phrase like a question, like“Raise your right leg to the sky…?” – as if the student’s going to respond with “Okay, teach. If you say so.”  

I found myself speaking extra-softly or hanging out in the back of the room when my fear of being too big, too pushy, or whatever else I had lying around in my closet of insecurity in that moment showed up. If you can laugh at yourself when you notice those habits and patterns arise, it’s a lot easier to let go (forgive) and move on.

An Overall Critique.

Was the teacher training perfect? Of course not, not by any means. But for a program that’s only been around less than a year… I must say, I was impressed. As LiveLoveTeach matures, I’ll be interested to see if they can make this training more relevant to non-vinyasa traditions. I think the principles they teach can certainly apply to just about any style of yoga, but it’s not easy to lead a truly eclectic teacher training… one where Iyengar, Ashtanga, Baptiste, and Forrest yogis all learn the same things, the same ways.

For the most part they pulled it off, but there was a little stumbling along the way. Yoga teachers hang onto their “traditions” like it’s their very skin, and I think it’s common to say “Oh, this doesn’t apply to me because I teach it a different way” when we feel challenged. It seems to me that our attachment to tradition can became like a defense, a reason not to adapt to an ever-evolving practice, a shield for keeping our students at arm’s length. And here’s the thing: if the facilitator isn’t familiar with the tradition, it’s pretty difficult to penetrate that coat of armor to get at the core of what we’re all doing… teaching, sharing, and hopefully connecting with something greater than ourselves.

Can you really teach someone how to teach from love?

So let’s come back to my original question. Well, after five days of teaching, forgiving, laughing and trying again… I’m still not sure it’s possible to articulate how to teach from love. But maybe they don’t need to. For me, the package LiveLoveTeach delivers doesn’t really encompass the product, because the product inevitably must emerge from within you. 

Video of LLT Montana Training

Click here to see a video of the training.

I think this program provides a sort of mirror, one that allowed me to see myself and my teaching habits with increased clarity. It also provided some wonderful tools for clearer communication and for dispelling what gets in the way of my showing up fully, confidently, just as I am, both in my teaching and my life.

But it certainly brought up some questions about what exactly these expensive teacher trainings actually deliver. So how ’bout it, yoga teachers?

Is it true that most teacher trainings don’t actually teach teachers how to teach? 

What do you think a good teacher training should encompass?

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All photos credit Dave Dockins of d-project Studio

via YogaModern.com

About Chelsea Roff

Chelsea Roff is a nationally-recognized author and speaker, and the Founder of Yoga for Eating Disorders. In September 2013, Chelsea raised $50,000 on the crowdfunding platform IndieGoGo to kickstart her non-profit, Yoga for Eating Disorders. The program is currently being offered in treatment centers and yoga studios around the country at no charge, and she is working with researchers at UC San Diego to evaluate the program’s effectiveness in treatment. Chelsea is known for her intelligent, inspiring, and tell-it-like-it-is speaking style, and for weaving together profound personal experiences with her scientific background to deliver deeply moving insights. After nearly losing her life to anorexia and a subsequent stroke when she was 15, she has became a national advocate for community-based mental health interventions. Her work was recently showcased by Sanjay Gupta on CNN, and she’s been keynote speaker at 92nd Street Y, The Omega Institute, and at various universities and conferences around the country. Chelsea currently lives in Venice, California, where she can be found cartwheeling across the beach, hiking in the mountains, and practicing yoga poses on her little pink scooter.

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11 Responses to “Can’t buy me love? A Yoga Teacher Training Review.”

  1. Wonderful insight, Chelsea! Thanks for sharing as I, too, am skeptical about some of the advanced teacher training programs. Luckily, my teacher training was with a teacher who had us teaching each other right from the start… if you can master teaching your peers, teaching your students will become so much more available to you. I've talked with teachers who went through other programs and they had little actual off the mat teaching time, which surprised me. My training was in Hatha, which introduced me to many styles and my teacher encouraged us to explore styles that felt good to us… I have since veered towards Anusara and Vinyasa and my teaching blends the two, with my own life experiences thrown into the mix.

  2. Andrew Gurvey agurvey says:

    You ask an interesting question, Chelsea. Is it true that most teacher trainings don't actually teach teachers how to teach? Well, I would follow that question with another question (great tactic, I know): Does university really prepare us for working in the real world? From a yoga student, yoga teacher, and corporate perspective (I am enmeshed in all three), I would say that the biggest learning, in any of these areas has come from hands-on experience. Teacher trainings, like school, are really great to provide a lot of the insulated knowledge that we can call upon in our practical teaching or work, but the practicality is something that can rarely be taught? Even in a teacher training like the one you attended, do they tell you what to do when you are teaching a class, and one of your students practicing up front, and in the middle, sits down and starts texting on her iPhone? Is there a teacher training that tells you how to handle it when a person passes out in your class from lack of hydration and heat exhaustion? How about what to do when someone hurts themselves from overstretching? What do you do when a student chooses not to listen to anything you say and is visibly disturbing the class? These are all very real situations that we, as yoga teachers, face each day. When you are teaching in a teacher training setting, generally, your fellow trainees are very supportive. Some generally have a solid yoga background as well, so they unconsciously extrapolate what you are asking without you having to clarify your meaning. Even when, in a teacher training situation, some of the trainees are asked to be disruptive, it is almost more comical than scary or frustrating, because it is still a lab environment.

    At the end of it all, based on my experience, a teacher training can be a wonderful tool to provide one with the necessary knowledge to teach others, but the actual teaching has to come from inside you. If the teacher training helps you cultivate what is inside, then that is certainly a great way to assist the teacher when they are teaching actual classes. It sounds like this teacher training you took is taking that angle. We are all different in who we are and how we come across Authenticity is the common thread that exists among great yoga teachers, and authenticity is what separates the great from the so-so. Any teacher training that assist in helping each teacher tap into their own authenticity is a teacher training I would respect and love to try.

    Great review. Great article. I always enjoy reading your stuff.

    ~Ag

  3. Chelsea Roff Chelsea says:

    Wow! What a testimonial, Denice! I had no idea you used to be a scientist, no wonder we get along so well. And thank you so much for your kind words, reading them gave me goosebumps. :) I can't wait to see you when you come to Texas in a few weeks…. we have much to talk about with where we left off in Montana. Namaste, my friend.

  4. KRoss says:

    I can honestly say I have been to a lot of yoga teacher "trainings" – weekend workshops, 200 hour certs, bootcamps, intensives, all names of what they claim to be. I would glean some knowledge, yet nothing long term. I remember this one weeklong session I went to. Everyone claimed to be having a "breakthrough" in his/her life and yoga teaching. Really?? I had no idea what they were talking about. I wanted a "breakthrough"! But could a person know there was this effect on his/her teaching if there was no practice teaching even happening? I would never put ALL teacher trainings into this category, but I can put a lot of them into it for sure as I've been to them.
    Recently I have attended 2 LLT trainings, and they are so freeing, so fun, no one is out to impress anyone. There is so much practice teaching, so much positive coaching. The skills/tools that Chelsea mentions are imbedded in me now to allow my teaching to be easy. The people who attend become awesome, lifelong friends. When I went to LLT trainings – did I have a "breakthrough"? No, but I experienced much deeper connections that will stay with me through my life! Can't wait to go again some day :)))

  5. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  6. Mindy says:

    Dear Chelsea,

    I am a YT in T, about 2/3 through a 1000 hour course of study. We are doing a great deal of mock teaching using some very creative senarios but what I consider to be the greatest resource for teaching is the volunteer program associated with the teacher training course. We are required to do 40 hours of volunteer teaching. It is the perfect place to cut your teaching teeth as the students are not fellow classmates nor are they experienced yoga students. They are simply people who are intrigued by the word yoga and come with open hearts and minds to receive whatever is offered. This is a place a teacher can teach from love because there is no script, no preconceived notion of what yoga is and no expectation. I taught my first class yesterday or should I say…I learned from my students for the first time yesterday. Unforgettable.

  7. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  8. [...] Can’t buy me love? A Yoga Teacher Training Review. [...]

  9. [...] Can’t buy me love? A Yoga Teacher Training Review. [...]

  10. Andy says:

    I think it's tricky doing a review when you have been invited and you start to make connections with people there – it is hard to maintain objectivity but this seems a very honest account of advanced TTC's of which there aren't many.

    "…because the product inevitably must emerge from within you." 'Tis true.

  11. kathik says:

    "people draw on them most when they're trying to establish credibility for an experience they want validation for." Totally. when will we be OK with NOT KNOWING?! validate, schmalidate : )

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