Yeah. Not a teacher.
It happened again this morning. I was drinking my coffee and browsing my Facebook and Twitter feeds and the news and blogs and all kinds of stuff and generally checking in with the online world and I came across someone saying that they are a “Yoga Teacher” now.
Of course they are.
A few minutes later, I was talking to a good friend of mine. She mentioned that she had been invited to go to a yoga class in a nearby town. When I asked if I knew the teacher, she said that nope, I didn’t and no one else did, either, because this person had had absolutely zero training.
Of course they didn’t.
I saw the newest lineup of “yoga” classes at a local gym. I also looked at the lineup of “yoga teachers.” Zero real yoga, zero real yoga teachers, and tons of blind yoga students being led by untrained teachers.
Hear that? That is the sound of shoulders and knees going out, of hamstrings tearing, and of Ahimsa being ripped to shreds.
Now, look, I never once claimed that everything I write will be kind. I also never claimed that I gave a hoot or a holler if anyone agrees with me. What I have claimed is that I will write the truth as I see it, so put on your big girl yoga panties and get ready for a hearty slice of Satya.
Not every person claiming to be a “Yoga Teacher” is a Yoga Teacher. I’m astounded and shocked at what people are accepting as adequate training before being allowed to teach yoga. A weekend training does not a yoga teacher make. A memorized DVD does not a yoga teacher make. Not even years of practice does not a teacher make. And, if I’m going to be completely honest (why shouldn’t I?) not even all 200hr Yoga Teachers are Yoga Teachers. I’ll wait here as you get on your soapbox and get defensive and start huffing and puffing. Breathe, folks. Hear me out.
Most of the gyms around here and even (mindbogglingly) a studio or two in this area require absurdly small amounts of training before “yoga teachers” are allowed to teach. We’re talking maybe MAYBE 20 hours. In these trainings, these students are told NOT TO TOUCH anyone. They are told nothing about alignment, nothing about modifications, nothing about anything, really. It’s insane. It’s harmful. It’s like sending your newborn to some dude in a garage for pediatric services because that dude once took a mandatory health class in Junior High School. Know how I know this? Because I did it. I took that training. I started teaching with that little amount of training and even then, even before I knew that I wanted this to be my life path, I knew it was a total joke. Still, I taught with that small training and I nearly lost my job because I knew due to my own personal research and study that folks were busting their knees and shoulders and necks and so, in order to prevent injury, I touched them. You BET I touched them. I moved knees and heads and arms and feet. I was willing to lose my job in order to keep others from losing their safety. I regret nothing. Clearly, I eventually left that location and into a real yoga studio and took the leap and got my 200hr certification and training.
Guess what I learned after 200 hours of training, 200 hours of teaching, over 30 books read, and more than 16 years of practice? I learned that I barely know anything. Far cry from those folks who have 20 or 30 hours of training, one book read, 3 dvds watched, and a spotless yoga mat and think they know it all!
Let me stop right here and say this: EVERYONE HAS TO START SOMEWHERE. I know this. I started there, too, remember? But it’s a starting place. Just a starting place. If you think you’re going to get a decent yoga teacher training studying a program that is designed to be taught in a gym, well, please stay in the gym and think really hard about what you’re doing. You’re teaching Asana. Asana is the smallest part of yoga. It’s actually the least significant part of yoga. If you want to stay with that, fine. But don’t tell me or anyone else you’re teaching yoga because you are not. If you want to teach yoga, use that training as a springboard to get you into classes with a highly trained and certified YOGA teacher. Be an apprentice. Shadow. Learn. Take notes. And then, for goodness sake, get some real training at a highly qualified yoga school.
Even that can be tricky, though. What is a good school? Folks will point to Yoga Alliance and, while it’s something, it’s not foolproof. YA is not certification. It’s registration. There’s a difference. I am certified through White Lotus Foundation, but I didn’t pay the fee to register with Yoga Alliance because it really means next to nothing. Yes, you have to be certified by a Yoga Alliance accredited Yoga Teacher Training school, but dear lord, look at who they accredit! They accredit folks who really really don’t have much training in areas that matter themselves, much less have any business training other people to be teachers. Perfect example: one of my dear friends and former / sometimes current students recently completed her 200hr YTT at a yoga school that I thought would be perfect. It’s not too far from here, I have (limited) experience with the yoga teacher trainer, I thought it would be perfect for her. Yes, it’s true she learned more than most do about the Yamas and Niyamas and the other limbs of yoga Patanjali mentioned, she learned next to nothing at all about:
She kind of left wondering what the hell she spent all that time and money on. I wondered the same thing myself. I mean, if you aren’t taught how to modify, how to adjust, even the very basics of alignment, you haven’t been taught to teach. My friend is a very studious person, however, and she’s taken notes on every class she has taken, has read way more than what was required of her, and knows that she still has much to learn, so her training has served her well in that it taught her that there is so much more to learn! Reminds me a bit of me (and everyone else who truly wants to learn the path of yoga), that girl.
So what do you do? Start with Yoga Alliance. It’s a good place to start and will at least weed out schools you really don’t even
Vitarka Mudra: the mudra of the teacher. Every teacher is a student, every student is a teacher. Sort of.
want to look at. You ask around. You ask for references. You check and double check credentials. You look at syllabi. You research. If you want to be a teacher, get fully trained. Do not settle for a place that doesn’t require 200hours before unleashing you to teach. Do not settle for a place that doesn’t teach alignment, adjustments, assists, modifications, contraindications, anatomy, history, philosophy. Look, I know that there are some excellent teachers out there who have been teaching long before Yoga Alliance and there are loads of folks out there who are excellent teachers out there who are not accredited. I’m not here to say that you have to have all of that to be a good teacher, but those people have been teaching AND studying forever. They know that you don’t stop learning. They know that you have to keep learning. And I’ll tell you this – they know that the more they know the more they have to learn. I also know that, if you ask them, they’ll tell you to get a high quality education, that there are no shortcuts, that a mat in the front of the room doesn’t make you a teacher.
They’ll also tell you that if this is what you believe in, if this is what you love, if this is the path you feel has been chosen for you, then do not let anything stand in your way. If you feel drawn to this, as though you were born for it, follow it. Go after it. Do what you need to do to be the very best at it you can be. Do not stop. Do not give up. Do not see obstacles. Dive in, swim deep, and be. They will tell you that the world needs you. They will tell you all of these things — and I couldn’t agree with them more.
Yoga is a sacred journey. It is a path, a lifestyle, a way of being. It is not something you do, it is someone you are. Don’t cheat your students or yourself out of all the incredible gifts that a thorough, consistent, dedicated, all encompassing education can bring. Don’t be in such a rush to call yourself a yoga teacher that you forget that you must first – and always – be a yoga student and all that entails.
Love and light from your ever-opinionated, constantly learning, 200hrCYT, highly flawed, rebel yogini.