Tag Archives: Americanized yoga

is school out on old school yoga?

copyright OmTapas

I posted this blog post on my Facebook page yesterday:   Is Old School Yoga Becoming Extinct?

The blogger — who owns a studio  in Lewisville, Texas — makes many excellent points.  When I lived down the road from that area, 1989-1992, I think if I would have mentioned the word YOGA to anyone I would have been run out of town on a rail.  People did not appreciate this very left of center Yankee gal in that area back then, but that’s another story.

If you’ve read this blog since 2005  (yes, I really was one of the first yoga bloggers to critically question and comment on the status quo of modern American yoga), you’ll know how I feel on the subject.  I’m an old school teacher and am not afraid to use the phrase “real yoga” (you can also read about that somewhere in these 400+ posts.)

Another old school teacher and I had a Facebook discussion on this topic:

HER:  The yoga boom has not been good for those of us who have been teaching a long time. I’m also “old school,” and have seen a drop in attendance as studios that offer trendier yoga styles have sprung up all over town. While my classes retain students quite well, they don’t attract a mainstream clientele.  Like you, my students are dedicated. Many have been coming to class for 20 years or more, partly for the yoga, but also partly for the lovely sangha that has evolved over the years.

ME:  exactly. I also find that most people I come in contact with in my area have no idea what yoga therapy is about.  when people ask what I do I mention about working privately, one on one, with yoga therapy and they always ask, “what’s that?” so I explain.  and the ONLY thing they know about yoga is using it as a work out, sweating, and pretzel poses.  I have been blessed for the last 2 months to work with a trauma survivor of sexual assault who truly gets it, her progress has been phenomenal.  but she is only one.  and she is moving out of state.  so I am back to square one. 😦   it is depressing for me and I have thought about quitting teaching many times.

HER:  I’ve thought about giving up many times. When I hear about packed classes where a fresh-out-of-a-200-hour-training teacher is putting people in harm’s way, it makes me want to throw up my hands. But over the past few years I’ve come to realize that the kind of yoga I teach, and I suspect the kind of yoga you teach, is never going to attract a mainstream audience. The people who come to my classes are an out-of-the-ordinary group of people, and because my classes are not huge, I can get to know them as fellow humans. I count this as a blessing, even though I struggle to survive financially.

I am unapologetically old school which means I don’t make a lot of money (it’s actually becoming less and less every year, so much so that I’ve thought about working for lawyers again, part-time), but my students are very dedicated practitioners (most of whom have been with me since Day 1 of my teaching, going on 11 years now), and it definitely is a sangha in the true sense of the word.

All I can say is thank the Goddess I don’t own a studio because I probably would have had to close the doors years ago.  I still believe all this is dependent on geography, on where you live.  If you are a teacher/studio in an area with little yoga, you are a big fish in a little pond.  If you live where I live, Chicagoland, where the city has a studio on every other block and the suburbs have studios within a stone’s throw from each other, the story will be different.  Supply, demand.  As I’ve written before, studios make money on their workshops and teacher trainings, not on their group classes.  OR, by selling memberships now.   The owner gets the money up front, every month, no refunds on that membership charge, so if a student only goes a few times and switches to Zumba, it still ca-ching for the studio.

But I keep sticking it out.  I will still go to India to study for as long as I can (every dime I make goes to that), I have partnered with a friend to teach what we believe is a paradigm shifting therapeutic yoga training because the world needs healing, and for the first time I will bring a group to India for old school study at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram and retreat next March.  And I believe I am being called to amp up my energy healing work (but not necessarily for humans) — I’m learning two new practices at the end of the year

In the meantime, I just keep on keeping on.

read. this. now.

The Trouble With Yoga.

One of the best pieces I have read about “what’s wrong with yoga.”  Actually, NOTHING is wrong with yoga and I’m damn tired of reading how people quit yoga because they’ve hurt themselves.   Maybe the writer should have read this that I wrote four years ago before she up and quit.

As one of my Facebook friends commented:

“Leaving yoga is apparently the new black. You have to give it to the author for owning up to the fact that she left asana practice because of what amounted to a wounded ego. I’m not against holding teachers accountable. If anything I err on the opposite extreme. But 20 years of practice and you can’t manage modifications without feeling so humiliated that you need to quit and find something else that you can be the “best” at? Better yet, 20 years of practice and you can’t manage to do asana at home on your own? It’s a good thing that she moved into a new practice where even the most competitive mind will have trouble finding an actual gauge to measure itself against others. Running away from uncomfortable feelings is always a missed opportunity. It’s human nature and not always possible for us to counter it. But I would’ve expected more of an acknowledgement of that from someone willing to offer tips on finding what works for you, learning to let go and embracing change.”

And the following quote contains a deep truth.  Like I tell my students, stop doing yoga and be your yoga:

“Another, more serious but more subtle, symptom of our current trouble with yoga is that a large number of people are attending classes for years without developing an authentic, personal relationship to the practice. When I work with such students in my office and ask them to do a foundational asana like Downward Facing Dog or Triangle, there is a pervasive sense of strain, rather than ease and enjoyment. My eyes and hands—my whole embodied sense—tells me that these supposedly intermediate students are arranging their bodies as they think they “should,” rather than experiencing the internal dynamics of the asana for themselves. They imitate rather than inhabit the pose.”

Finally, oh, hell yeah I said in my head:

 “If the yoga community wants yoga teachers who can transmit embodied wisdom to students, it needs to alter its habit of turning out yoga instructors in a weekend or a month. If the yoga community wants to be true to yoga’s premise that the body is and should be a vehicle for liberation, for enlightenment, it needs to stand firm against our tendency to treat the body as less than the mind. “

yoga teacher training standards debate

Lots of good discussion here expressing some of the reasons why my future teacher training program will be 300 hours and include modules that are not usually taught in a standard 200 hour training (i.e., in my area.)

yoga in OMerika: what $95 buys

The Official Blessing

$95 bought that logo.

I don’t consider my posts about the Yoga Alliance as rants, although I am sure some would consider them as such.  I consider them a public yoga education.  I am reporting my own experience in order to help any newbie teachers make their own informed decisions.

I gave my reasons in this post as to why I renewed my registration with Yoga Alliance.  $150 later I am now officially an E-RYT 200 — “EXPERIENCED REGISTERED YOGA TEACHER.”  I know, I was such a hack before YA’s official blessing.  I can now conduct a 200 hour yoga teacher training after YA’s approval of my curriculum, of course.  After paying the requisite fees.  Of course.

I decided to upload more teaching and training hours to the YA site, so I pulled out my four inch thick folder with my teaching and training records.  I was amazed to finally see it all laid out in black and white, all the time and effort I’ve put into my yoga teaching since 2004 when I first registered with YA  — over 2000 hours of teaching and almost 900 hours of advanced training.  I did not even count each and every three hour workshop.

I thought what the hell, I will try to upgrade to E RYT 500 – 500 because one day I might want to conduct a 500 hour training.  The upgrade is another $95.  Piece of cake with all my hours, right?  Wrong, wrong, and WRONG.   This is the email I received from YA:

“In order to upgrade to an ERYT 500, one must first meet the criteria for an RYT 500, having graduated either from a YA registered advanced 300 or complete 500 hour program  (please see standards below).  

RYT 500-
A yoga teacher with a minimum of 500 hours of yoga teacher training, either:

o   500 hours from one school, or
o   200 hours plus 300 hours of advanced training from one school (training that requires participants to have a 200-Hour certification.

As you have not completed a YA registered training, but  have spent many hours of in depth study with Sri Desikachar, I would recommend that you complete the “graduate of a non-registered school”  application (attached) for your RYT 500 upgrade.”

Out of my 800+ hours of training, my three intensives at KYM plus private classes with Desikachar’s senior teachers total 300 hours of advanced training.  Apparently the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram is NOT a registered school with YA.  AS IF that would stop me from studying there.

I am sure Sri Desikachar stays up at night wondering whether the school he started to honor his father, the Source Scholar of Yoga, the Grandfather of Modern Yoga, should be registered with the Yoga Alliance.  Please.  Really?  The YA can’t cut KYM any slack?  Let them “grandfather” in as a registered school?  Seriously?  By the way, someone who certifies you in “Goddess Yoga” IS an approved school of the YA.  Right.

Here’s the kicker:  in order for me to upgrade to a 500 level teacher, the “graduate of a non-registered school” application costs $150 together with the $95 to upgrade to E RYT 500.  So another $245 over and above the $150 I already paid to renew and upgrade to E RYT 200.

Oh my Goddess, I am in the wrong business.  I need to be in the certification game.  And can someone tell me why YA is officially a non-profit organization?  I said “no thanks.”  I don’t want to pay another dime to YA especially considering all that dough is a lot of rupees in India which I will need starting in January.  But eventually I will have to pay it if I ever want to conduct a 500 hour level training in the future.  AS IF I could not do that RIGHT NOW.

Of course I can conduct teacher trainings without being “Yoga Alliance approved” but how realistic is that?  With the current mentality of yoga in OMerika, would anyone sign up for my trainings?  I doubt it, because even the most staunchly anti-YA teachers (Ganga White – a must read; Lex Gillan; and my teacher in Chicago, to name a few), ALL ended up registering their schools with YA.  Because that is what people look for.

So here is my question, good readers:  the curriculum being equal, if you had a choice of a non-YA approved 200 hour teacher training with someone like me, with all my hours, 5 times at KYM OR with someone who is YA approved but does not have the hours of training and teaching experience that I have, which would you pick?

And I will say this before anyone else does:  yes, I know hours of training does not automatically make one a “good” teacher, the same way inexperience does not automatically make one a “bad” teacher.  There are always variables.

Yoga in OMerika.  Travel at your own risk.

the further adventures of yoga in OMerika

photo credit: Diane Arbus

Yoga in OMerika. Things here always get curiouser and curiouser.

Over the years I have written a lot about yoga teacher trainings, babies teaching babies, and registering with the Yoga Alliance.  As of today I am officially an RYT…again.

I did two teacher trainings in 2002 and 2003 and at that time my teacher was not Yoga Alliance approved.  Suddha was one of the first yoga studios to open in Chicago in the mid-1980s.  He brought astanga yoga to Chicago.  He lived and studied with his guru Swami Narayanananda for years, studied with Pattabhi Jois three times, studied at an Iyengar institute, did his own teacher trainings, and he was never YA registered.  He later grandfathered into the Yoga Alliance after I trained with him because he said that’s what people started looking for in teacher trainings.  But he still thought YA was a bunch of horse manure.

I registered with the YA in 2004 just because.  I started studying with Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers and Srivatsa Ramaswami in 2004 and in 2005 I started going to India and studying with Desikachar and his senior teachers at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram.  After my first month long intensive at KYM, I returned to India exactly 6 months later and have been blessed to be able to return every year.  Right now in 2011 I can say that I have over 1000 hours of training and about 2000 hours of teaching experience — but I stopped counting the exact number of hours years ago.

After my first few trips to India people started suggesting I should train teachers so one day I called YA and inquired as to whether I could apply for E-RYT 500 before being at the 500 level.  I was told no, I had to be a 500 level for a certain amount of time.  I said, yeah, but according to your own standards I am ALREADY an E-RYT 500, why should I pay FIRST for 500 level then pay AGAIN for E-RYT 500?  Sorry, no go.  That’s when I let my registration lapse.

I’ve gone back and forth on the YA registration for years.  The only reason I started exploring registration again this year was because two studios where I teach workshops wanted to include my workshops into their YA registered teacher training programs.  I guess technically they can’t if I’m not YA registered.  This yoga iconoclast had never thought about that stuff before.

Then I had two conversations with teachers who train teachers.  One said that I would not be compromising my personal yoga morals if I was YA registered, it’s only a formality — just renew and I can do my own thing like she does.  I would still be a yoga outlaw, just one who’s registered with YA.  She said if I was YA registered I could train teachers anywhere in the world, and isn’t that what I want to do, travel and teach?

Another teacher whom I met during the Erich Schiffmann weekend put it to me this way over dinner:  she considers teacher training as a way of spreading yoga dharma, putting it out into the world.  She told me she registered at only the E-RYT 200 level just to train teachers, she’s not interested in giving YA any more money merely for the privilege of having a higher designation.  I recalled the words of a KYM teacher:  teach what you learn here or else we are nothing more than thieves.   Besides, she said, what’s wrong with the picture that “people with not even half your training are training teachers?”   Babies teaching babies.  She said if I was YA approved my TT program would draw more students than without it.  She told me that where she lives the first thing people ask is whether her TT program is YA approved.

Valid arguments.  So I called YA today and officially reinstated my registration at the 200 level.  Now the studios can include my workshops into their TTs.  I was told I could do teacher trainings at the E-RYT 200 level, after my TT program is approved, of course.  I again asked about the 500 level telling the YA rep that I’ve studied in India five times, I have over 1000 hours, etc.  Now here’s where it starts getting stupid.  I mean, real stupid.

I can not register at the 500 hour level without having an “advanced training” 300 hour certificate from an approved yoga school.  All my time with Desikachar and his senior teachers (including private classes), Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers (being one of the first certified yin yoga teachers in the Chicago area), Srivatsa Ramaswami, Mark Whitwell, my Mindfulness Yoga and Meditation Training at Spirit Rock, the Trauma Sensitive Yoga training, and every workshop I’ve taken since 2004 does not “officially” count.  Yeah, I know what you’re thinking because I’m thinking the same thing.

No more piecing together trainings to add up to the required hours, no more being grandfathered in, and letters from people (like if Ramaswami wrote a letter saying I’ve studied with him since 2004) don’t count.   “I’m in the wrong business,” my husband said.  “I need to be in the certification racket.”

A yoga teacher friend called me not more than five minutes after posting my complaint on my Facebook page.    “THAT SUCKS!”, was the first thing she said after I said hello.  She said, “You of all people?!?  Someone who has spent all that time not to mention money in your training?”  Yup.  I know.  The irony is that with the right design software I could print up my own “official” certificate for that 500 hour designation and submit it because YA does not check credentials.  But would I?  Of course not.  Yoga morals indeed.

Why does something that is supposed to be right feel so damn wrong?

From the original Karate Kid:

Daniel-san:  Hey, what kind of belt do you have?
Mr. Miyagi:  Canvas. JC Penney, $3.98. You like?
Daniel-san:  No, I meant…
Mr. Miyagi:  In Okinawa, belt mean no need rope to hold up pants.


Addendum: Comment from Facebook:

“When are they going to go after the charlatans?  We had a woman show up at our studio, recently released of her corporate duties due to cutbacks, very saleswomany and self-promotional, wanted to know how to open a yoga studio cuz she thought it was a good way to make money but had never done yoga, and didn’t have “time” to do a full training.  In the wink of an eye she had opened a studio, was promoting herself as an E200RYT (don’t even know how that is possible after a weekend workshop training) and get this: was offering teacher trainings at $3000/per.  Checked her out on the Alliance and she was there, E200RYT.  BULLSHIT is all I can say.  I don’t think they check anything.  It’s not worth a damn thing and its too bad that it seems to set the industry standard.”

admit it…

…you know you’ve always wanted to say it.

yoga championships?

Mary Elizabeth wrote in the previous post that she “can’t help but think that the emphasis on asanas has contorted not only many bodies, but also our minds, and has encouraged narcissism on and off the mat.”

A yoga instructor in this article states:

“‘Anybody who doesn’t believe it’s a sport should come take a yoga class,’ said yoga instructor Robyn Riconosciuto, who attended the championships to support some of her students who were competing, ‘There’s balance, grace and athleticism. I think they deserve recognition for the strength they have.’”

You know what type of yoga championship I’d like to see?  One where people are sitting in meditation:

without twitching and picking their feet after two minutes..

not looking for a wall to support themselves after one minute;

not picking the lint off their yoga pants…

not picking at their cuticles…

not jumping when someone coughs, a door is slammed, or a lawnmower starts up….

not looking around to see what other people are doing.

THAT would be a true yoga championship!

Do you have any other true tests?