Yoga Teacher Training Schools: Creating Teachers Or Life-Long Students?

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“This yoga training thing never really ends does it?”

“No, it really doesn’t.”

This is is the conversation between me and my husband  right before payment is sent for each yoga workshop and conference I regularly attend. He see’s the check writing as a never-ending process. I see the learning as a journey in progress.

Teacher training should never end. There is always something more to learn.

Lately, though, I’m beginning to see that not all yoga teachers feel that their training is a lifelong commitment. Actually, I now realize that not all yoga teachers consider themselves teachers or anything other than a fitness instructor who happens to also teach yoga.

Let me be very clear, this is in no way a criticism of qualified yoga teachers who work for minimum pay to bring yoga to a population that would never have the opportunity to walk into a yoga studio. In fact most of my yoga teaching is done at gyms and rec centers. I’ve spent the past few years defending the yoga taught in gyms, rec centers and church basements. Now I have some concerns.

What concerns me is the pumping out of new yoga teachers who attend a 6-hour workshop and walk out with a piece of paper that says “certified” yoga teacher

“Just because you have a piece of paper that says you are a yoga teacher doesn’t mean your training is over, “ says Barbara Nobles, E-RYT, yoga teacher trainer and owner of  Body Benefits in Jackson, Ms.

That mirrors my concern with these quickie yoga teacher trainings. Whether your training happens in a Yoga Alliance registered school or a non-registered weekend workshop, there is always more to know and learn.

Recently a friend of mine, and fellow Yoga Alliance certified teacher, decided to sign up for a popular Primary Yoga Certification for the bargain price of $69. She signed up strictly for the CEC’s she needed to put towards her group exercise certification.

First we had some fun pointing out the horrible misalignment in the pose pictures.  We giggled at the incorrect Sanskrit terminology. We searched for mention of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and found just 3 short sentences.

Then we realized, someone is going to take this certification and think this is all there is to it. Someone is going to get hurt.

“I can’t imagine taking just this class for a few hours and considering myself qualified to teach yoga. This is scary.” said Annette B.

So the question becomes are we going to teach just another group x class or are we teaching yoga?  Do we work to keep yoga true to it’s roots or do we allow it to become yet another exercise fad?

“If you want to learn something, read about it. If you want to understand something, write about it. If you want to master something, teach it.” Yogi Bhajan

Photo credit Jennifer Fields

A Time Magazine article made waves a few years ago when it reported that according to the US Consumer Products Safety Commision, 13,000 people were treated for yoga injuries between 2004 and 2007. With more gym-type settings adding yoga to the group exercise schedule, and hiring less experienced teachers, those numbers are doomed to rise.

When Pam M. attended a yoga class at a local Y she was just looking for a bit of relaxation and deep stretching. Instead she walked out with a very sore hip  and multiple doctor visits courtesy of her  teacher who literally pushed her deeper into eka pada rajakapotasana. Later, when Pam told her teacher about the injury suffered in class, the teacher said she had “seen” the push done on a DVD so she figured it was OK.

Certainly yoga practitioners need to take some of the blame for injuries – pushing too far into a stretch, refusing to follow a teachers instructions or even “forgetting” to tell a teacher about a physical issue.

But yoga teachers, with nothing more than minimum training  have also played a part in the increase of injuries.

“You can’t teach something without proper knowledge. It shames the whole institution,” says Thais G, a Yoga Alliance registered teacher.

According to the Yoga Alliance website, there are currently 26,979 Registered Yoga Teachers in the United States alone. Add up the number of yoga classes taught per day across this country in venues from gyms to studios to church basements, and it’s obvious there are a lot of non-Yoga Alliance teachers out there teaching.

I know it’s not popular right now to defend Yoga Alliance. As a registerd Ygoa Alliance teacher myself, I question where my yearly dues go and what does it really get me except a piece of paper. I would like to see Yoga Alliance do more in the area of oversight and regulation.

Part of the Yoga Alliance mission is to “work in the public interest to ensure…that the public can be confident of the quality and consistency of the instruction”.

Meredith LeBlanc attended a Yoga Alliance registered school, yet felt her education lacked direction and wasn’t well organized. She says the quality of her teaching is more due to her dedication and self study and less to the school she attended.

Meredith says  “Just like a top medical school doesn’t make someone a better doctor, it’s up to the individual teacher to continue their self study,”

Like personal trainers, there is no standard test or oversight that every teacher must pass. Rather there are a few select organizations that have proven over time that they provide a quality education and continued oversight with required CEC’s .

So ultimately, it falls to us teachers to prove our credibility and skills. Until Yoga Alliance finds a better way to monitor the different yoga schools and keep their thousands of yoga teachers accountable, it’s up to us to seek out quality education.

I personally have never had a student ask to see my certifications or check my training. But I have had new students come to me when they were hurt in another teachers’ class.  And I’ve had other teachers refer students to me when they didn’t know how to teach to their injury, pregnancy or other complication. I have referred students to other practitioners when I wasn’t comfortable teaching myself.

All registered Yoga Alliance teachers are expected to follow a code of conduct that includes “acknowledge the limitations of my skills and scope of practice and where appropriate, refer students to seek alternative instruction, advice, treatment or direction.”

Each site I work at has asked for a copy of my yoga certification. However, most just wanted that piece of paper. I don’t think it mattered if it said Yoga Alliance or Billy Bobs School of Yoga Teaching.

Meredith sums up her teacher training philosophy by asking herself, “Am I good teacher? Yes. Is it because I went to a YA certified school? No. I could have gotten the same education had I found a mentor to work with. I am a good teacher because I am constantly studying, I have a solid practice, and am a part of yoga community,”

If Yoga Alliance or the places we teach don’t require their teachers keep up with CEC’s or further education, why bother spending the money and time to travel to yoga workshops and conferences?

Because it makes us better teachers.

Barbara says,”As teachers, our workshops and trainings that we attend are not only about “learning something new” but about gaining new meaning and perspective to enhance our teaching. Refilling our cup so that we will have something meaningful to share with our students.”

“The very best yoga teachers are life-long students”.- Barbara Nobles

Follow Meredith LeBlanc on Twitter @MeredithLeBlanc and on her blog at The Pondering Yogini

Follow Thais G on Twitter @letitgo8 and on her blog at Living in the (k)now

Visit Barbara Nobles at Body Benefits, voted the Jackson area’s best yoga, spinning and fitness center.

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Jennifer Williams-Fields

Jennifer Williams-Fields is passionate about writing, yoga, traveling, public speaking and being a fabulous single momma to six super kids. Doing it all at one time, however, is her great struggle. She has been teaching yoga since 2005 and writing since she first picked up a crayon. Although her life is a sort of organized chaos, she loves every minute of the craziness and is grateful for all she’s learned along the way.
Jennifer was a featured speaker at the 2015 inaugural CourageMakers Conference and is a regular guest speaker for local media outlets. Her motivational talks on gratitude, addiction and self care have been called “inspiring and life changing.”
She has had her essays featured on Yahoo!, Dr. Oz The Good Life and Scary Mommy. She is a regular writer for, YourTango and YogaUOnline.
Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, her blog or website.

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anonymous Nov 28, 2012 5:03pm

[…] Foster questioned the credibility of Yoga Alliance standards and argued for regulation in order to better the standards for yoga teachers and communities […]

anonymous Sep 12, 2011 1:37pm

jennifer, i'm in a different tribe here in houston… perpetual students… hopping from one teacher to the next… to the next… so many amazing offerings, yoga rock stars coming through… it's hard to afford it all. did I just say that… we can't afford it? yep. it's $$$. I'm the worst of the worst.. traveling, teaching, taking, giving… i love it all and would do it constantly, well, I do.

I do KNOW that this quickie thing will prove what it is… a quickie. students know and can tell the difference- once try an experienced teacher vs. a quickie teacher. The difference between teacher that is learning still and growing in their instruction by getting quality teachings… from those who go out once and then just teach is huge.

Bottom line, be your best. your students will know, and they will come — all you can do is make your classes a result of the teachings, studies, etc that you give to yourself. You will shine.. and your students will too, as a result.

love you, jennifer. keep it up.

anonymous Aug 29, 2011 2:47pm

[…] […]

anonymous Aug 13, 2011 12:37pm

[…] studio employers, there are now teaching gigs to be had everywhere. I’ve personally worked with hundreds of teachers (500+ […]

anonymous Jul 25, 2011 9:48am

Love the article ladies! I am always the student of yoga. I don't even tell anyone I am a teacher when I walk into a studio. At one time I had been practicing in a studio for almost nine months before my teachers knew I was teacher. I have to say that some of my local teachers have helped me understand a grow in my practice more than a weekend or week with a big name-therefore, a portion of my CE is happening on the mat on a random Thursday morning (or any other day). I have become very selective in what I enroll in for continuing education, as I have been disappointed several times. I am from the camp that feel that a student should be practicing at least one year before considerng YTT…there is just too much to absorb in a teacher training and remember, most people are going on with their 9-5 lives and families, etc.

anonymous Jul 24, 2011 8:24am

[…] yoga teacher training course you’ve wanted to do for years is probably tax deductible (read: much less expensive than you […]

anonymous Jul 23, 2011 9:22am

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

anonymous Jul 22, 2011 5:54pm

What's even worse is yoga teachers who call themselves yoga therapists without having the requisite training in yoga therapy above and beyond yoga teacher training.

I study yearly at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram and while I have studied yoga therapy there in some of my courses, I do not call myself a yoga therapist. Would not even think of doing that!

I did a workshop with Gary Kraftsow last month who spoke to this issue. He said too many teachers think that since yoga is "therapeutic", they will therefore call themselves "yoga therapists." Even YogaFit offers "yoga therapy" training!

He said he was working with others and the IAYT on standards for yoga therapy — a minimum of 1000 hrs. in yoga therapy training beyond teacher training will be required for anyone calling themselves a yoga therapist. He is working hard to establish standards in this field.

As for YA, I think it's a joke. refuse to give them any of my money…and after almost 10 years of teaching, I probably have close to 2000 hrs. of training.

anonymous Jul 21, 2011 10:20pm

This article is really awesome. It says it all.

anonymous Jul 21, 2011 7:31pm

Jennifer, this article is great, really well thought out and written. I feel grateful that what I had to say was helpful to you in writing this. Thank you for sharing this.

anonymous Jul 21, 2011 7:23pm

I definitely agree that no one should be teaching yoga who has just taken a weekend course. On the other hand, I completed a yoga alliance certified program that was an 18 month training. I have opted not to register with YA because I don't feel that it offers me anything. I have never been asked by a studio to be registered with YA. And I would rather spend my money on training when I am ready and interested rather than because I have to. I have been teaching for 3 years and have already taken quite a bit of additional trainings and workshops, yes the cost of teacher training never ends, so I'd rather spend wisely.

anonymous Jul 21, 2011 7:15pm

Jeanie Rowell Cobb Wow, Jennifer!! This is so true. I could not have read this a better time. Today, I was in Birmingham for treatment on my hands. After I left the Dr's office on the Montgomery Hwy, I stopped in to view a Bikram Studio, which is down the… street. Awesome facility. I talked with the Instructor, got a brochure for class times, and then mentioned to the Instructor that I was a RYT myself. The Instructor said, "WHAT IS THAT?" Scary is the word. Thanks for sharing!!See More

Bob Weisenberg Jul 21, 2011 7:02pm

Great article, Jennifer. Vital topic, very well thought-out and written.

Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

Bob W. Yoga Editor
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