Who The F*ck Let You Become a Yoga Teacher?

Via Rachael Arabian
on Dec 21, 2011
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Read Part I: Licensing Yoga.

The amazing awesome annoying infamous Inappropriate Yoga Guy.

Part II.

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.

What do you think?

See also: 6 Tricks to Becoming a Better Yoga Instructor & How To Find a Good Yoga Teacher: 12 Suggestions

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About Rachael Arabian

Rachael was a former Army officer and decided to trade in her boots for a pair of yoga pants. With her adventures across the United States and abroad, Rachael has had the opportunity to study a variety of yoga lineages and methods to include Ashtanga, Integral, Restorative, Vinyasa and Yoga Sports Science. Rachael is currently traveling, but you can find her at www.rachaelarabian.com.


16 Responses to “Who The F*ck Let You Become a Yoga Teacher?”

  1. […] Read Part II in this conversation here. Lauren Hanna Foster is a recent addition to Philadelphia as a yoga instructor and graduate student in the School of Social Work at Bryn Mawr College. It was in Pittsburgh that she first discovered the thrill of yoga, and her love for animal rescue work. With her cat Lotus in tow, Lauren hopes to someday combine her love for yoga and animal welfare with her career as a social worker. Lauren likes to dream a lot about saving the world – one puppy, kitten and human at a time. Lauren also loves cobblestone streets, arts & crafts, action movies and writing books with her Grandmother. She's never left the United States (except for Canada) but hopes to change this soon. If she had a billion dollars she'd probably spend it all here. She posts things about happiness at her blog, Sunflower Initiative. Follow her @laurenfoste. […]

  2. Well done. I completely agree that yoga teachers are well served by embracing a stance of professionalism – regardless of external regulation. I also concur that a willingness to invest in your personal practice and professional development is a must for anyone taking on the responsibility of serving as a yoga teacher.

  3. Interestingly enough, I'm moving to Germany at the end of next year and going through the long and arduous process of applying for a work permit to teach yoga locally. I'm also looking at the German Association for Yoga Teachers and the European Yoga Union. 10 years ago, German insurance companies began to realize that yoga has major health benefits and started paying for people to go to yoga classes. They also realized that trainings varied from school to school. The insurance companies decided to create minimum standards of training for yoga teachers/schools. These standards are a 4 year yoga education, minimum of 670 classroom hours, final oral, written examination and a final teaching demonstration-put that up against our YA standards!

  4. That's amazing, Rachael!! We should add that tidbit to this piece. Or write somewhere else about it! Germany knows where it is at!

  5. Rachael says:

    Definately Lauren…There’s over 10 other countries part of this union. It would be interesting to find out the role this organization plays in relation to the International Yoga Alliance. It would also be interesting to discuss the difference between our YA and the international YA and the role they play in the European countries.

  6. BrajaSorensen says:

    Well done Rachael; kickass article, and damned good question. Frightens me to see some people considering themselves teachers and they can't even get the basic namas and niyamas down….woah!! 🙂

    Looking fwd to reading more of you on EJ…. http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/12/armed-with….
    Edit Delete

  7. Michelle says:

    Annie I agree with your point about bad yoga teachers eventually going out of business – but what about the damage they could do (by injuring individuals and/or by turning people off yoga altogether) in the meantime?

  8. Laerke Olise says:

    I would prefer that more registered schools ask for a certain amount of experience before one can sign up for a teacher training. If not it looks too much like money business. I did 3 years of yoga before my 200 hrs and 4 years after that, I took the 500 hrs. Yoga is a serious thing but on paper or not a real yogateacher will shine through and pass on the wisdom of yoga. It's only through personal experience it can happen. It's all inside each one of us -hari om tat sat

  9. HJCotton says:

    As a minimum, certification should emphasize safe yoga over anything else. Very few yoga teachers can teach safely in my opinion. Yoga alliance only stipulates that you take a certain numbers of hours in teacher training, and safety is not a concern. I have been practicing yoga since 1997, and I feel I am not qualified to teach although my practice is fairly advanced. I live in a town with zero qualified yoga teachers, and I deepen my learning through self study, and I take workshops whenever I can.

  10. shankar says:

    For 5000 years the only way to be a yoga teacher has been to be told by a guru to teach someone something. This still the only way.
    Without confronting your ego there is no relationship with yoga – so without having submitted to a qualified authority you cannot be a yoga teacher.
    youtube is not a qualified authority!! anyone can post anything up there
    government (ie state regulation) is not an authority – their job is to govern not offer yoga guidance!
    the yoga alliance is not an authority – who authorised them? https://www.facebook.com/notes/swami-gitananda-gi
    Just call it what it is, gymnastics, and then it's already regulated

  11. Jay Johnson says:

    You absolutely hit the nail on the head with what qualifies one…"the amount of time and effort you put into your 'professional development' as a teacher." Also in a workshop a "master" teacher asked, "What do you call a teacher who has studied and taught extensively for decades?" Yes, you guessed it, a beginner!

  12. […] Who The F*ck Let You Become a Yoga Teacher? Part II. ~ Rachael Arabian […]

  13. […] Who the f*ck let you become a yoga teacher? […]

  14. cathywaveyoga says:

    very important article.
    bump it back sometime please

  15. Damian Hinman says:

    You deserve credit for working intently to become more responsible and effective as
    a teacher – basic teacher ethics. Keep it up! You owe it to yourself… However, state regulation of yoga at this point would be premature. If health insurance companies in the US were paying for yoga, then they would be in a good position to professionalize it…and then, professional yoga teachers could charge more, thus everyone who could afford health insurance, could afford the benefits of yoga. Are US insurance companies paying for yoga?

    There is a greater need for people in the US to be more physically active and more socially healthy than for yoga to be state regulated to become more professional. While it is obviously less than ideal to you (with your experiences), if an instructor in a gym is able to connect with people and help them become more physically active and less socially isolated, then they will all have made a great step, perhaps one that will lead to your, more competent class. If we leave the common sense of how to move and stretch our own bodies and how not to, to professionals, then most of us would not dance or even walk, each of which may well incur injury (arguably, more readily than yoga). Stretching is good. Common sense is too. Sometimes people just want a stretch-leader. Participants will decide whether they come back for more, thus validating the stretch-leader´s performance and price. If a student wants to seek out more advanced instruction, she will. I appreciate low-cost stretch classes, which invite me to follow into certain poses (or not).

    ¨Don´t call it yoga then,¨ it might be argued. Yes. Don´t call it yoga then. Call it something else if
    it helps… Keep improving your teaching!

  16. Julie says:

    There are some fantastic teachers out there!
    I should know i’v trained with them and then theres the few that let the side down.
    I’m in training to be a teacher, but one thing i realise is that you will continually be taking your own classes and workshops/courses to improve on these skills constantly.
    My aim isn’t just being a yoga yeacher and earning a few bucks, no no!
    My aim is to improve peoples lifestyles, if i can get them to take what they get off the mat and take it home with them for 5 mins or the rest of the week then i know i’m doing something right!
    All i need to improve on is the gentle yogic tone and words 😉