The Spiritual Bankruptcy of Yoga Teachers.

Via Philip Urso
on Oct 9, 2012
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Yoga is missing from teaching yoga.

While training people to teach yoga, I began thinking about that elusive quality, genius, where any endeavor feels inspired and effortless.

For many years my colleagues Stacy Dockins, Debbie Williamson and I were involved in yoga teacher trainings large and small. These trainings helped thousands of people in many ways, but they fell short in a single area: teaching teachers to teach yoga. And isn’t that the point of a teacher training, to learn to teach?

We finally confessed to each other what we didn’t want to say out loud: We had been part of a pretty massive failure. Our methods resulted in almost zero genius. Instead, we had trained teachers to become frozen, scared and scripted.

Instead of yoga teachers we were producing teachers who were acting like yoga teachers, and pretty badly at that.

Some sounded like kindergarten teachers. They would lead the class as though their students were somehow mentally and physically inadequate, unable to sit or even lay down without their precise step-by-step instructions every time. Some copied every word and intonation of their own teachers. Some were so nervous that they couldn’t look at their class. They appeared to be on life support.

Why was this happening? What was it about our methods that did not work?

We had created a learning environment that produced a persistent fear in the teachers. (I will share more of where this fear comes from in the next post.) And so, when talking to and coaching these teachers, we found that many were disappointed in their teaching experience.

Many had never inspired much of a following, and this led to a subtle kind of spiritual bankruptcy—a confirmation ”I’m not good enough. I’m failing. Spiritually I’m depleted.”

Some had gained a following but, unwilling to risk any changes, were not only stuck and uninspired, but exhausted from repeating their act.

Regardless of their following, these teachers knew they were not effective in the way they had dreamed they could be. Most of those we talked to knew something was wrong, especially in light of all that yoga practice had given them. How could this thing I love, yoga, turn into a job, a chore?

“How could I possibly dread teaching this?” they would finally ask.

We could have blamed Yoga Alliance for its out-of-balance certification standards. We could have blamed our own teachers, or the endless yoga schools who turn out thousands of petrified students every year. But we didn’t.

Instead, we reinvented yoga teacher training with the priority of coaxing out the inherent genius in each teacher.

The three of us tossed out the standard-issue teacher training curriculum. We studied the fastest and longest lasting learning methods through all disciplines. And we studied spirituality and yoga to find clues on how to reliably attain that deeply-relaxed yet highly-alert state through which our highest teaching flows. We continue to study.

We ask, “What if you could practice yoga while actually standing and teaching it?”

Because this is what is missing. Yoga is missing from teaching yoga.

The majority of teachers were not practicing yoga while teaching it. Quite the opposite. They were practicing a whole range of other strategies, from pedantically protecting themselves from embarrassment, to subtle attempts to manipulate their class to like or love them. As such, they were teaching fear.

When my colleagues and I compared notes we realized, dimly at first, that genius resides in each of us. When fear is absent, we automatically experience genius. It rushes in. A Course in Miracles says, “A cloud does not put out the sun.” We have seen genius rush in enough times now to be sure it is our natural state.  My guess, it has been waiting since time began for these precious moments when we stop valuing fear.

We also recognize that we cannot teach it. Genius cannot be taught.

But we did discover how to create a practice-teaching environment where fear can safely be put aside and where people can discover genius in themselves.  Where they can feel it and live in it long enough that it might not feel foreign any more.

We developed methods through which this elusive state might become more natural; the old way might become uncomfortable; this state of genius might even become a new way of living.

We train yoga teachers, but this journey belongs to everyone.

Our methods can benefit all teachers, performers, scientists, artists, anyone who communicates—everyone who wants access to the genius within.

The process is a little scary, because the first step is leaving the comfort of the known. It’s always a movement from certainty to uncertainty, from known to unknown. From defensiveness to defenselessness. From what seems like safety to what appears dangerous.

As any student of yoga knows, it’s well worth the risk.
Adapted from Philip Urso’s forthcoming book


Editor: Kate Bartolotta

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About Philip Urso

Yoga Teacher Philip Urso loves to train yoga teachers how to teach exhilarating and unscripted vinyasa yoga classes. He co-founded Live Love Teach Yoga Teacher Training School with fellow yoga teachers Deborah Williamson and Stacy Dockins. His two 5-star podcasts on iTunes — A Crash Course in Miracles and Yoga Classes, Live Love Teach — have over two million downloads. Philip studies the dynamics of love and fear and teaches practical, reliable and lasting methods for choosing between the two. His Elephant Journal column explores these very themes. More info at


28 Responses to “The Spiritual Bankruptcy of Yoga Teachers.”

  1. @truck6alpha says:

    I am thankful I have yoga teachers who meet these expectations and more. I began practicing last year and Jean, Ken, and the gang at Jiva on Hilton Head Island, in SC, have not just taught me poses, but taught me YOGA. And I know I have a long road ahead of me, but they have made it enjoyable, enlightening, and what's more, I genuinely believe they get it. Now if they can get a 48-year old firefighter to love yoga, I think they have a unique gift. These are teachers that others can learn from.

  2. greateacher says:


    I came to this article due to Karen fabian's discussion on FB. I disagree in some ways with you. I do nto believe that teaching yoga requires 'genius'. I believe that those who do NOT continue practicing after their 200 hours certification will become stuck or unchanging if they allow this.

    I come from the field of public education; am a certified teacher with over 25 years of teachign experience and 7 plus college/university training- the masters and doctoral work in education- techniques, methods, learning styles, motivation, management etc.. etc.. I am often astounded how a 200 hour program portends to deliver to one that which I still study in my public education career. Hard work and open mind do NOT require genius. Yoga instruction is an ongoing field.. in any education.. some who are gifted with selves and workign wiht others will blossom, those who do nto know themselves or who work from a closed or damaged heart or soul will likely not flourish.

  3. Elena says:

    I’m glad that Philip is finally saying out loud what many people have been thinking….
    There is more to it. Who are the yoga teachers? Yoga teachers grow from yoga students many of whom are worth off than the average American in terms of mental wellbeing, life satisfactions and etc. (Parks et al., 2011, unpublished data). Often people come to yoga after they hit the bottom. So, what happens when they start teaching? They stretch out a “helping hand” that is still trembling with fear to others. As a result, instead of helping their students to heal they amplify their “fear.
    The greatest gift master teachers can give to new new teachers is FREEDOM. Freedom from fear is the ultimate freedom one can have…

  4. Elena says:

    I think that the word “genius” is often misunderstood. It does not exclude continued education, hard work, perseverance… For example, in some languages “genius” does mean talent + perseverance.

    I think that in Philip’s article “genius” means “freedom of expressing one’s potential.” The training he talks about is designed to break down walls of self-imposed limitations and to empower the teacher to say “yes” to her/his own "genius."

  5. greateacher says:

    well, I thought it meant high IQ or mentally adept. Per Websters it means 'fondness for social enjoyment.. or a person who influences another for good or bad".. .. it is nto until meaning #5.. " a strong marked capacity or aptitude"..
    Thank you for increasing my vocabulary.

    However I still think tha in his quote, " the genius resides in all of us.." he refers to a mental ability to reach others, use a lot of acquired information and knowledge in an appropriate manner.

  6. greateacher says:

    Yes, absolutely

  7. Heather says:

    After learning yoga first at ashrams then later under my teacher in India, the one thing I remember saying to myself as I was teaching and operating my own Yoga school is just how much none of the programs or the courses teach you how to deal and work with real people. Not something from a text book, not the perfect student, but actually real, living people with physical problems, life stuff happening and many other things (re: personality, attitudes, etc).

    Very early on I knew that it was a bit of a fallacy to even expect that from any program on the earth. And that's what makes teaching teaching! I later went on to get my masters of education, (and as aside I do not really feel that many teachers of yoga are necessarily that but just really great instructors. People who have been through teacher's college and/or worked with children know that the theory does not always fit the practical). Teaching is not just leading or orchestrating a class.

    It is communication, exchange, dialogue and interaction.

    Getting back on track to my point, however, teaching is a generosity; a giving of what you know to others and inspiring them to know for themselves.

    The greatest thing a program can teach is to allow people to develop confidence and ethics in how they teach and to remain beginners themselves. But that alone is not enough, it also has to be why one is practicing yoga which is beyond body exercise, physical prowess or demonstrations.

    I am not sure that such a program can ever exist because in the end it is each individual's responsibility to hone their craft.
    As much as I learned from so many programs (I have 5 certificates, 3 degrees and many many trips to India to study and learn independently), I don't think you really learn until you start working and teaching the REAL student.

    It is then and only then it starts to take on its own life and character and one learns truly about teaching.

  8. greateacher says:

    what is a REAL student? vs regular students? many programs have tiem for practice teaching.. is this considered a REAL experience? Some programs require that their teachers do a certain numer of hours of practice teaching outside their classes … do the students in this experience qualify as REAL students?

  9. Heather says:

    Let's pick on words and confuse the whole issue.

    REAL is simply living, breathing people..people who come to yoga for a number of reasons that one cannot possibly count.

    REAL is all the different combinations of people's anatomical difficulties or challenges (whatever word suits you best).

    REAL are the people who could never have learned about from a program but by actually teaching people in community centers, hospitals and medicare programs. Also, rehab centers and nursing homes and seniors.

    That is what I call REAL!

  10. Sharon_Marie says:

    This method of teaching has freed me from debilitating fear that I have carried with me ALL of my life. The methods that Live Love Teach use didn't create or reinforce my fears, but diminished them. All of the teacher training and certifications I have been through were relevant, potent, and necessary. I had to go through them in order to get to where I am now. Live Love Teach was like the finishing school of my yoga teaching journey, if you will. I was given permission to BE ME, to relax, and be in love with yoga while I was teaching yoga in real time. MY NUMBER ONE FEAR? To be myself in front of a bunch of people I don't know and share my experience, strength and hope with them. It doesn't matter if you are a brand new teacher, a veteran teacher, or even a practitioner curious and entertaining the thought of teaching. It doesn't matter how much or how little you think you know. Come as you are, and leave as YOU AMPLIFIED with the freedom to be YOU. Bravo Philip. I cannot wait for the book! ~ Sharon Marie

  11. kathik says:

    The greatest thing a program can teach is to allow people to develop confidence and ethics in how they teach and to remain beginners themselves.

    Exactly! What Philip is saying is that many TT programs are keeping teachers from finding this … unintentionally throwing up walls that block what each has to offer… her own "genius" (it's not special, we all have it). Once you remind teachers of their passion, and they see how powerful it is, inspiration flows effortlessly. Fearlessly. But yes, you've gotta practice (and I don't mean asana) to contribute in a meaningful way. Sometimes I think "practice" is as simple as being awake….
    So I try teach yoga classes the same way … break down the barriers created by fear, judgment, insecurity, expectation, comparison, separation between student and teacher … so that students can start or advance this process for themselves.
    It's that old tired saw "I am not your guru, you are…"

  12. kathik says:

    Who are the yoga teachers? Yoga teachers grow from yoga students many of whom are worth off than the average American in terms of mental wellbeing, life satisfactions and etc. (Parks et al., 2011, unpublished data).

    This scares me a little… let's not make assumptions … what is this study about?

    Pretty sure I have yet to hit bottom 🙂

  13. greateacher says:

    To clarify, I mean that the study scares me. I take yoga classes from many in my area.. and none of them are lower in self worth or mental wellbeing than average people. They are clear and centered.

  14. greateacher says:

    let's be clear with words which we use for discussion. By doing so people understand our meaning.
    I am very interested in the topic and want to knwo what people mean and infer.
    I am sorry you feel I am confusing the issue.. it sounds like you think I am being rude. That is unfortunate.

  15. Bob Carocari says:

    I have done three different 200 hour teacher trainings, and I learned more about how to conduct a yoga class,and how to think about teaching yoga in one weekend workshop with LLT than in all 3 combined.I am comfortable and happy in front of a class now,and my students seem happy too.

  16. Carole says:

    I am also from public education, in my 28th year as a teacher. Teaching–whether it is classroom instruction or yoga instruction–is a craft, and a skill, and a practice. Every day is different, students are different, classes are different. It takes years of teaching to learn how to adjust on a moments notice, re-teach when unsuccessful, and communicate effectively. Though I am not a yoga teacher, I plan on becoming one. I can completely understand how students have fear after coming out of a 200 hour program, especially given that so many that I've observed are young, not all that experienced in yoga, and do not have experience in front of a class.

  17. Heather says:


    Glad to clarify things 🙂

  18. papillon says:

    i hear you. took a scripted– from beginning to end– class the other day, it was too cheesy to enjoy,her voice was completely changed from her regular speaking voice. the instructor has great potential, but she has a vision of what she wants to be, and wants to teach, and it had nothing to do with everyone else present. the YA ryt means nothing. so many great teachers do not have them, and just about every studio sells them– some great, but some just need the dough and extra instructors.

    that said, I LOVE YOUR PODCASTS. with the exception of a couple instructors in my town, when i need motivation, i prefer to stay home and practice to your podcasts. i have been practicing and studying yoga for 18 years, and i have never enjoyed any studio class as much as your recordings. THANK YOU SO MUCH.

  19. I am a Yogi and I have 15 years of experience in 200 hour in teacher training and I don't think that I am discomfort in front of class because you know "Practice makes the man perfect".

  20. Emersoniantoo says:

    It sounds like “genius” in the Emersonian way, vaguely: finding one’s potential and uniqueness. Yet that takes time and experience, not just a cool new kinda teacher training. This entry reads more like a plug for the book. Why buy one more person’s claim to have the Real Yoga Training Deal Going On? I agree with the comment about most yoga teacher trainings not training teachers about how to actually communicate with people. Yet frankly, many teachers don’t seem terribly interested in people — as in, really getting to know how students experience their own bodies and helping them with that. Many teachers really do seem to be in this to hear themselves talk, or “lead classes,” or dispense “wisdom.” They really do want to be the “sage on the stage.” Fear can come from bad teacher training, yes, but it can also be insecurity underlying the narcissism underlying many teachers’ approaches to yoga in general. I think you need to get real about that, too.

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  26. Jenifer says:

    I'm getting increasingly frustrated with people not seeing the forest for the trees on this issue. The real problem with teacher trainings is the lack of relationship. This teacher training included.

    The real process of learning to teach comes over time through studying with a teacher — a teacher who knows you and with whom you have a relationship of trust. It's a long-term process. It is how I was trained, and it is how I train the teachers who work for me.

    This cannot happen in a weekend workshop or series of immersions or a course that is only a few months long or by correspondence. It can't happen if the teacher doesn't know who the student is before they start their training, and it definitely doesn't happen if the teacher has no idea who the person is at the end of the training.

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