September 21, 2011

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

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.


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


 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. 

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?


All photos credit Dave Dockins of d-project Studio

via YogaModern.com

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