So…who the f*ck let you become a yoga teacher?
Is it the studio that printed your name on a 200-hour teacher training certificate? Is it the teacher that made you memorize a script that you can rhythmically spew out during a 90-minute class? Maybe you’ve spent the big bucks and trained with today’s yoga elite. Perhaps you received no formal training and you’ve spent your time teaching yourself or learning from others.
In my journeys around the world I’ve seen the best and the worst of them. I’ve studied with internationally renowned teachers to those who think registering with Yoga Alliance is a pain-in-the-ass. I’ve taken a myriad of classes – it’s kind of a hobby.
One of the best classes I’ve taken was overseas in a language that I didn’t understand – the tempo, arrangement and passion from the teacher made me feel unbelievable. I’ve also taken classes where the teacher told me to “push past the pain” and “if you’re not a vegan, you’re not a real yoga teacher.”
I remember a specific moment while I was in dandayamana-janushirasana (standing head to knee pose) and lifting my gaze to look up at the teacher. As she was walking around the room, she departed from her script and commented on the temperature only being 105 degrees and 40 percent humidity (can anyone guess what class I was in?). As I lifted my gaze toward the teacher I wondered how hot it truly was in the class? I often teach in a heated room and when my heart feels like its pounding through my chest cavity, its at least 70 percent humidity (my own personal temperature gage).
My next thought was wondering if this teacher was prepared for someone keeling over with heat exhaustion. Did she know what to do? Was the physiology of the human body an important factor in her training or did she pay thousands of dollars to memorize a script?
I’m not knocking this style of yoga. I like predictability – especially when I’m looking for a downright ass-kicking. After taking absolutely outstanding classes and also hideously back-breaking (no pun intended) classes from both certified and uncertified teachers, you have to ask – what gives?
Does a piece of paper make someone who has the potential of harming a student more of a yoga teacher than someone who teaches in a safe and informed way without the certification?
This past month I found myself at a remote destination in the middle of the Mojave Desert. The only yoga offered was at a local gymnasium with two yoga teachers sprinkled throughout the schedule. The first class I took began with wheel pose and the next class left me confined to an elliptical for a week. One of the teachers casually admitted that she had never done any formal training due to money and the austere location. No offense, but the Internet works out there too and I’m going to assume the gal could read. I understand that money and location may prevent someone from attaining formal training, however, that gives no one the excuse to not educate themselves on their own.
Did you ever hear of YouTube? It’s free!
If you happen to be someone with one of those coveted pieces of paper – it doesn’t mean you’re off the hook either. The measly 75 hours of continuing training required by Yoga Alliance every three years doesn’t cut it.
What qualifies you to be a yoga teacher is not that your name is on a piece of paper, but the amount of time and effort you put into your “professional development” as a teacher. Yes, I said it…teaching yoga is a profession and requires you to be a professional.
What does this really mean? In Part I, Lauren Hanna Foster questioned the credibility of Yoga Alliance standards and argued for regulation in order to better the standards for yoga teachers and communities everywhere.
I see both sides of the debate. Regulating yoga can be considered an infringement of church and state, but we have to look at the facts: the asana part of yoga has become a popular activity in the Western world and yoga teachers are responsible for teaching asana. Yoga can absolutely be dangerous. Anyone who says it’s not has never taught 20 high school teens or a combat vet suffering from a flash back in balasana.
Most teachers, however, are not equipped to handle heat stroke in their classes or someone who cracks their cervical spine from tripod headstand. How do we navigate between state regulation, Yoga Alliance, the cornucopia of yoga styles, keeping the eight limbs intact and keeping our students safe? I absolutely have no clue or I would be the president of Yoga Alliance, but we can begin with the following:
1. Professionalism as a yoga teacher
This does not have to be paid for or given to you by Yoga Alliance, but it take some personal responsibility. Study the human body, study yoga history and study yoga philosophy. Experience other methods and by all means, take your own practice. If a sequence does not feel good in your body, most likely it won’t feel good in your student’s bodies.
Your students pay good money and give you their valuable time to be taught by you. No matter where your knowledge is obtained or how many certifications you have – teaching yoga is a privilege, not a right. A true yoga teacher is someone who continually educates themselves for their students.
Also, if you’re just teaching yoga because the local gym you’re working at is making you (you’re probably not reading this article) or you’re teaching yoga to make some extra cash for Saturday nights…please stop. I don’t care how big your biceps look in bakasana or the fact that you can do advanced poses because your parents made you go to gymnastics…this is yoga, you have to be able to teach the asanas and plant the seeds for the seven other limbs to grow. It’s not a step class.
2. Come together as teachers.
Consider the enormous possibility and opportunity we have as teachers of yoga. I believe regulation is inevitable and that it has its good and bad parts. With or without regulation though – we can make positive improvements to the great work we are already doing.
I don’t give teacher trainings, but maybe those that do need to up their standards on who receives the training and who graduates? Perhaps internship and apprentice programs should follow 200-hour teacher trainings. Perhaps Yoga Alliance should require a certain length of time and hours dedicated to teaching before progressing into a 500-hour teacher training program.
I would also suggest to yoga studio owners (which I also am not) that they have their own set of standards for their teachers – such as a teacher’s personal practice, additional hours of training beyond Yoga Alliance, or whatever the studio owner sees fit for both certified and/or uncertified teachers. See it as an investment to keeping your yoga classes fresh, interesting and most importantly – safe.