Why I Do Not Train Yoga Teachers and…Yoga? Dangerous?! ~ Ben Ralston

Via Ben Ralston
on Feb 1, 2012
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Swami Vishnu - he flew over war zones in this plane throwing flowers out the window. A true hero.

As a child my heroes were the khaki-clad men and women who gave their lives in WW2 (for a cause greater than themselves). I was completely in awe of anyone who put their own comfort and safety aside in order to ‘fight the good fight’. I believed there was no greater life to be lived.

Many years later I travelled to India for an intensive Yoga Teachers Training course. It was the most challenging thing I’d ever done – physically, emotionally, mentally, and above all, spiritually. I wrote about it here.

On that course, I found new heroes.

The ochre-clad men and women who gave their lives, day after day, for a cause greater than themselves.

The Swamis are the people we may thank for the access that we now enjoy to the ancient wisdom of Yoga. For thousands of years they have taken vows of brahmacharya – mastery of the senses, and renunciation of the fruits of the senses  – as they put their personal comfort and ego safety to one side in order to transform the world. There is no greater sacrifice.

Towards the end of my time in India I resolved that I would one day be a Swami. 5 years later I did indeed give away all my ‘stuff’: my old man got my ipod. My brother got my Raybans. A recent TTC graduate got my small yoga business including 20 yoga mats, my classes, students and mailing list… and with just a small bag of clothes I entered an Ashram and began training. Why am I not there today? The fist person I met in the Ashram that day was the beautiful Goddess who is now my wife. But that’s another story…

Altogether I taught Yoga full time for almost a decade.

I taught Yoga in exclusive hotels and gyms, hostels, schools, and festivals, to Hollywood celebrities and millionaires and old age pensioners. I once taught a guy who’d (to coin the wonderful Ram Dass expression) ‘been stroked’. The whole left side of his body was paralyzed. So in Sun Salutations he would grab his left leg with his right hand, and put it into position. It took a long time, but he did them, and he loved every minute of it. I’ve never met a more smiley and determined person in my life, and it was a great privilege teaching him. The classes he was in were some of the most memorable I’ve ever taught.

I must have taught many thousands of people during those 10 years.

I never had a single student get injured. Not one.

And my style of Asana teaching is dynamic and physical! So how is it that some people believe Yoga to be ‘dangerous’?! Many times over the years I’ve been asked this question:

“Why don’t you run your own Yoga Teacher Training Course?”

In our materialistic society it seems to be a real no-brainer! After all, that’s where the money is in Yoga! We all know that. So why not do it? I’ll tell you why:

I won’t pee in the well.

The well of pristine ancient wisdom kept by countless generations of Swamis.

Swami Sivananda - a Hero

Swami Vishnu-Devananda had a vision in meditation of the world in flames. It was that vision that led him to create the Sivananda Yoga Teachers Training Course (the oldest TTC in the West – around 15,000 graduates over 40 years). His main intention was not so much to create yoga teachers – rather, he intended to create world leaders with integrity. He wanted to create a generation of yogis who would be able to steer the world away from its current crisis with integrity, compassion, and service.

In India, before I realized I wanted to one day be a Swami, I knew without a doubt that I would try to honor Swami Vishnu’s intention – I would do my best to repay the debt I owed him.

So when I’m asked why I don’t run TTC’s what I say is this: there are places I can send my Yoga students to become Yoga teachers. Places run by people who are completely dedicated to doing just that. People who haven’t got kids, aren’t in relationships, and don’t go on vacation. They just train Yoga teachers. Day in, day out, all year round. Total heroes.

So how could I take it upon myself to train other people to be yoga teachers, when I know that I would be depriving them of the best training available? I would feel that I was cheating my students, and betraying the lineage that I am honored to be a tiny part of.

That lineage comes from a land whose entire culture is founded on spirituality.

Our entire culture is founded upon materialism.

Different worlds.

So I understand completely what has gone wrong – people who lack a profound understanding of the spiritual essence of Yoga are running TTC’s.

So the graduates of those TTC’s are even further removed from the lineage. The pond is polluted further and further.

No wonder there is endless controversy in the Yoga ‘blogosphere’. No wonder there are articles suggesting that Yoga may be dangerous. No wonder people really are injuring themselves!

I’ve seen many suggestions that the reason yoga has become dangerous is that not enough attention is paid to anatomy.

That’s a side issue. It’s also something that householder Yoga teachers who run TTC’s will say to justify what they do (“I teach good anatomy so that my student teachers are safe”). But in reality, to teach Yoga properly only a basic understanding of anatomy is required. You don’t need a degree in anatomy to teach yoga, because

Yoga is not gymnastics.

Yogasana is intended primarily to prepare the body to be comfortable sitting for meditation. If it’s taught as such, with emphasis on breath and inner awareness rather than physical ‘shape’ and external competition then it’s totally, 100% ‘safe’. Actually, it’s more than safe, it’s healing.

It is also, of course, a wonderful physical exercise – but that is a secondary benefit.

Yoga is a spiritual practice.

There are true heroes on this planet.

Find them.

Because the world  needs one more.

If you feel it, share it. Please leave a comment. Spread the love!


About Ben Ralston

Ben Ralston has been practising personal development—necessity being the Mother of invention—since he was about six years old. He’s been teaching and sharing what he’s learnt along the way for a couple of decades. His main thing is Heart of Tribe retreats—whose very purpose is to help you fall back in love with life, no less. Leading these retreats alongside his woman Kara-Leah Grant—also an elephant journal writer (that’s how they met!)—they combine a deep well of lineage-based yoga teaching experience, with expertise in healing trauma and various other methods of personal development. Ben also works with clients one-on-one via Skype, writes, makes videos from time to time, and is passionate about parenting. He lives in an intentional, tribal community in the hills of Croatia, where you might find him gardening barefoot and talking to the rocks. Connect with Ben on Facebook or YouTube or check out his website for more info.


78 Responses to “Why I Do Not Train Yoga Teachers and…Yoga? Dangerous?! ~ Ben Ralston”

  1. Ben_Ralston says:

    Hi Tony,
    The only Yoga teacher training that I can really recommend without hesitation is the one that I've done. Not because I don't think that there are other good ones – of course there are – but simply because I can't endorse anything that I'm not sure of, or don't have experience with.
    So the training I had was with the Sivananda organization – specifically I trained in their Ashrams in South India (Neyar Dam) first, then the Bahamas, and later on France and Austria too.
    It's an organization that remains extremely loyal to the original teachings, and was set up and created with the purest of intentions.

  2. Ben_Ralston says:

    Ah Juliette, that sunshine feels so good – it's -10 degrees here.

    And thanks for your comment – i feel the same, having gotten 30 or so comments like yours, that it's good to know that there are many others out there quietly teaching with respect and integrity.

  3. T.A.H. says:

    Love this. Thanks. Sharing…

  4. Ben_Ralston says:

    Thank you – appreciated.

  5. […] I Do Not Train Yoga Teachers and…Yoga? Dangerous?! ~ Ben Ralston 4 Feb Why I Do Not Train Yoga Teachers and…Yoga? Dangerous?! ~ Ben Ralston. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  6. and now yoga says:

    true there are many real heroes and saints … and if one is a true seeker, s/he will find them…. Thank you for reminding the importance of lineage, parampara….this can never be over stressed. Without the blessings of your teachers, and your teachers teachers, where can you go? And with their blessings, everything is possible. everything. Stay blessed. Jeanine

  7. Ben_Ralston says:

    Thank you Jeanine, I agree. It is important to keep an awareness of our teachers and our ancestors too. Our society has lost sight of this respect and reverence, and as a result we see many of the problems we see today. Thank you for commenting,

  8. karlsaliter says:

    Nice perspective, Ben. I'm enjoying your stuff here.

  9. […] This is what happens when spiritual practice is used as a vehicle for fame and fortune, when persona… (The link is to a post I wrote the other day about the corruption of Eastern spirituality by Western materialism, specifically – yoga teachers training more yoga teachers). […]

  10. Ben_Ralston says:

    Yes. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and unfortunately that's exactly what a lot of people are being given in many (perhaps most?) modern yoga ttc's – a little knowledge.

  11. Dawn says:

    Thank you for this wonderful article. As a TTC graduate and teacher, I couldn't agree more!

  12. Ben_Ralston says:

    Thanks Dawn, keep up the good work 😉

  13. Gretchen says:

    Sivananda yoga healed my mother’s back, and it’s what I do to keep healthy so that (hopefully) I’ll never have back pain.

    Unfortunately I now live far from any Sivananda yoga classes, and am so spoiled having learned from Swami Narayanananda in Chicago that a lesser teacher would just be a letdown. So I practice at home, every day, using a Sivananda yoga book to remind me of the details.

    But yes, what I really miss even more is the satsangs/group meditations.

  14. Ben_Ralston says:

    Good to have your comment here Natalie 🙂
    Great points, and a great perspective.
    Prem 🙂

  15. Ben_Ralston says:

    I hear you Gretchen. I'm very far from the centers and Ashrams too, but once it's in your heart it's in your heart, isn't it?
    Great that you practice daily. I'm out of practice lately, having just had a baby last year, but slowly getting back to normal.
    Thanks for the comment.
    With love, Ben

  16. jamesvincentknowles says:

    "Yoga is a spiritual practice." ~ namaste ~

  17. tama says:

    how refreshing! thanks for leading by example. keeping your integrity in the pace of life these days can be challenging. slowing down through meditation is one way to gather insight into what is true and meaningful. cheers!

  18. Gail Henry says:

    Thank you for making me think about important matters – to bring my attention and knowledge to an important understanding. I started practicing yoga for my body and now have the gift of spirituality. It's a great gift for which I am grateful every day. Also, I just volunteered to teach high school students in a school where I teach and, because I've had a gifted teacher whom I believe to be a natural healer, I am very careful about how I teach and make sure no one gets hurt. We all calm down as I stress the quiet. I am terribly, terribly grateful to the yoga I've been given. Thank you for this. It is more reason for more gratitude…. and knowledge.

  19. Priscilla says:

    Great article! Sadly yoga has become a fad and sadly people are going to these “yoga teachers” to get a workout and missing out on the beauty of a real practice.

  20. Ben_Ralston says:

    Yep. It's hard to maintain integrity – often it seems like 'selling out' is the only way to go. Somehow society supports that, and makes integrity a hard path to follow. But if we lose that path we really get lost.
    Thanks for commenting.

  21. Ben_Ralston says:

    I agree. Missing out on a really beautiful way of life.
    Thanks for commenting.

  22. A yogi. says:

    Well said. Yoga is a spiritual practice sums it all up.

    Om Namah Shivaya.

  23. Ben_Ralston says:

    Om Namah Shivaya.

  24. karlsaliter says:

    Just re-read. Beautiful. The article improves with age, Ben.

  25. Ben_Ralston says:

    Yes. I wrote this in a similar vein (the state of the yoga Industry, TTC's, and why I won't have anything to do with either) 4 years ago: