“Stripping the Sacred” – Brenda Feuerstein

patanjali2
Patanjali

“Teach people, not poses.” — Gary Kraftsow (paraphrased)

“Yoga contains asana, pranayama, meditation.
Anything else is acrobatics.”
(TKV Desikachar, from a long ago intensive in India)

Many of you know Brenda Feuerstein.  She was married to eminent Yoga scholar, Georg Feuerstein (1947-2012) and they collaborated on a wealth of books and trainings in traditional Yoga.   Brenda carries on their work in Traditional Yoga Studies where she does distance learning courses and has a Philosophy/History Training Manual for teaching that segment of 200- to 500-hour Yoga teacher training programs.  It can be purchased here.

Recently on her Facebook page she posted this note that generated many comments.  I believe her words should reach a larger audience beyond Facebook so Brenda gave me permission to post it here.

Of course I agree wholeheartedly.  One of my students who has studied with me for 7+ years is moving out of state and she said:  “This is a great post, I love it and it is so true. I am sure this is exactly what I will be facing once I move and attempt to find a studio/teacher that provide real yoga as it was intended.”

Talk amongst yourselves.

Stripping the Sacred
*Warning – you might not want to hear this*

I started learning Yoga when I was very small from a book my Mom had purchased. Richard Hittleman was the author and I suspect there was no other book on Yoga at the pharmacy where my Mom would have been shopping at the time. She was probably intrigued having read something in Reader’s Digest or possibly heard the word on one of the two TV channels that were available to us.

A little later a TV show started featuring German born Yoga teacher Kareen H. Zebroff. My Mom and I would “do” Yoga with her once a week. We had no sticky Yoga mat, no meditation cushion, no clothing that set us apart from anyone else, and no studio to support our practice after the show. We sat on the cold farmhouse floor and didn’t wonder if we should look into stickier mats and travel mats. My Mom and I just practiced and I felt a “specialness” that I wouldn’t fully understand until years later.

In my teens, I ended up in a small town where I saw a hand written poster of a Yoga class being held at the school gym. Nothing was said about getting my cakras cleared, my core muscles being strengthened, and no mention of the Yoga Alliance. It was straightforward just like her class. There was no music, no props, nothing to sit on but the floor, and most people didn’t even have an exercise mat. People wore sweat pants and t-shirts and a sweatshirt if it was a cold evening. She introduced herself as having studied at the Sivananada ashram and most people had no idea what that meant but most recognized the feeling of “specialness” in her heart. It was quiet and no one was showing how they could do a headstand before class. The class was straight forward. When she spoke it wasn’t in hard-to-understand anatomical terms, but she did use Sanskrit throughout the class. I suspect that is the way she was taught. She spoke gently and sweetly about her teacher and I’d often see her in tears which I knew meant something very “special”. Her class was challenging but not necessarily in a physical way. She taught us Yoga philosophy saying we needed to learn it well otherwise we were just doing calisthenics and we should go elsewhere if that’s what we wanted. She was strong and courageous and filled with love for her teacher and the path of Yoga.

Jump forward to 2015. I was invited to live in a city after living in a rural area for several years and I decided that experience would be helpful in better understanding the current state of Yoga (generally speaking). I was taken to studios daily until I suffered a severe injury. The injury was the result of two Yoga teachers believing they could fix my life-long physical condition from a C3,4,5 fracture that had healed well enough for me to lead a strong and very active life. Even though I told both teachers prior to the class that it was best to not adjust me under any circumstance because I’d worked one-on-one with therapists for years and knew my body very well, my adho mukha śvānāsana, utthita trikonasana, and śavāsana didn’t look “right” to them so I got surprise adjustments and was unable to function normally for months and even today I’m still suffering from the well-meaning teachers who thought they could cure me with their 200-500 hour YA training. Now I understand that modern postural Yoga has helped many people with physical injuries, but the fact remains these teachers felt they could “heal” me with Yoga when in fact I ended up being severally injured. I don’t know of a Yoga anatomy module in any teacher training that would address “fixing” or “healing” neck fractures.

What I learned through all of it was that the “specialness” – the sacred – appears to have been stripped away from Yoga. How is it that we went from a class or two a week offering to a gym/studio setting with 20-30 or more classes a week? How can anything feel sacred when there is so much of it and students become numbers on ledger for the accountant? True, for a tantric it could be, but really? I suspect that many people who say they’re tantrics have no idea what they mean and when asked come up with something they’ve memorized from the internet or some book written by someone who heard tantra sells.

My own opinion is that as long as we have large studios pumping out teachers and building their client base we will never fully regain the sacredness in Yoga. It will continue to be a marketplace where one teacher is trying to outdo the next one and where the words disrespect, lack of teacher and lineage recognition, and plagiarism means getting ahead in business.

We’ve used and abused a tradition with a sacred foundation and the outcome has been devastating on so many levels. People email me asking about book recommendations stating they’re confused with everything that’s out there. People email me and say they have to take a break from their Yoga practice because they’re injured, and I respond with, “what an incredible opportunity you have to go into the foundation of traditional Yoga by studying philosophy!” People email and say, “I feel bullied…do I have to certify with YA?” People email and say, “I don’t want to learn Sanskrit in a Yoga training.” I respond, “Please go talk to your Grade 1 teacher and ask them if learning the English language (that being their first language) was important for your Reading class.” and the list goes on and on…

There are people trying their best to keep the sacred in this beautiful tradition of Yoga, and possibly like me, they feel exhausted and frustrated at times. How many Yoga magazines do we need to buy? How many books on asanas do we really need? How many ways do we need to explain the yamas which were so clearly stated? How many ways do we need to do things before we finally see that the sacredness of Yoga is hanging on by a thread? How many times does this need to happen before we wake up?

do I need to be anointed to be credible?

 

So much goes on in the Modern Yoga World (TM) now that it’s hard to keep up without it sounding like a constant rant.  Maybe I should just write about what actor or rock star does yoga, post a photo of them drinking a latte with a mat under their arm, and comment on what brand yoga pants they wear.  That would really be so much easier and would probably get me more readers.  But I digress.

I’m sure by now many of you have heard about the Yoga Alliance stance on using terms such as “yoga therapy” or “therapeutic yoga” or anything that sounds like a teacher has anything to do with “healing” or “medicine” or even “alleviating.”  You can can go on their site and see the restricted words.  As someone who worked for litigation lawyers for 20 years I know it was a CYA (“cover your ass”) move.

The policy does not only apply to your YA profile but also to your personal website IF you are YA registered.  Don’t register with the YA and you can say whatever you want about what you do or how you teach.

I am now an E-RYT 500 teacher with the YA and also an official “Continuing Education Provider.”  Yes, yes, yes, I know — I ranted for years about the Yoga Alliance, I totally own that.  You can read what I wrote in 2011 here when I was a mere E-RYT 200.

But the fact remains that there are those WHO WILL NOT STUDY OR TRAIN WITH A TEACHER UNLESS THEY ARE ANOINTED BY THE YOGA ALLIANCE.  I resisted reinstating my YA registration for years and finally broke down.  Of the teachers I know who also consider the YA useless and a waste of money, 100% say that the reason they pay up is because of the above reason.  The teacher training I took at the old school Chicago studio where I originally certified in 2002 was never YA registered until people starting asking the owner whether his training was YA registered.

The fact is that I re-joined the YA purely for marketing reasons, not because I think it means anything.  The fact is that after teaching for 15 years, training for 10 years in India, and being featured in a book, I am a yoga nobody where I live so if the YA seals give me “credibility” and “presence”, so be it.

I do not have the luxury of owning a studio that can attract students.  And yes, if you are surviving and making money with a yoga studio that IS a luxury in today’s yoga business market, consider yourself lucky.  I live in a town of 25,000 and there are three studios besides a park district that offers yoga.  Fifteen years ago when I started teaching and basically knew nothing, I had 40 students in another park district’s class.  Now I am lucky if I have five students who show up consistently.  Those students don’t care about the YA but if I can get teachers who want more training by using the YA seal, I am going to use it to my advantage.  It ain’t personal, it’s business, baby.

Cora Wen told me that back in 2001 Judith Lasater told her: “Every profession has an organisation and YA looks like they are winning in the registry.  Get the certificate now.  Or you will one day have to pay someone less qualified than you are to get a certificate.”

There ya go.  Like I said….

YACEP

Now the International Association of Yoga Therapists has rolled out their “certification” for yoga therapists.  I’ve been an IAYT member for years and even wrote an article for their journal on teaching trauma sensitive yoga.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think there should be some type of measure of a yoga teacher’s ability just as there is a measure for massage therapists, for example.  And yes, I know MTs are licensed which I absolutely do not agree with for yoga teachers.  But for these paid for labels to be the be-all and end-all and the only thing that makes a teacher worthy in the public eye makes me very itchy.

I looked into the IAYT certification process but I don’t have the proof that in all the intensives I took at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram that there was any “yoga therapy” involved.  But there was because there always is something about yoga therapeutics beyond asana practice.

What got me thinking about all of this was the article “Are We Entering a Golden Age of Yoga Therapy??” by Eden Goldman.  According to Goldman’s quote…

“Yoga Therapy is the philosophy, art, and science of adapting classical Yoga techniques to contemporary situations to support people with physical, mental, and emotional ailments. According to the definition of the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT), “Yoga therapy is the process of empowering individuals to progress toward improved health and well-being through the application of the teachings and practices of Yoga.”

Practically speaking, Yoga Therapy is the reinvention of a personalized Yoga experience where the practice is modified to meet the individual’s ever-changing needs. Since ancient times, adaptability in one’s teaching, practice, and approach has rested at the heart of Yoga’s most fundamental influence: the relationship, insights, and trust created through the practice by one teacher working with one student.”

…I’ve been a “yoga therapist” for 10+ years.  Do I still need to be anointed by the IAYT to be credible?

I’ve done 10 years of many intensives at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, multiple yoga therapy trainings including two levels of Phoenix Rising, 300 hours of Svastha Yoga Therapy with Dr. Ganesh Mohan, a Therapeutic Yoga for Seniors training at Duke University, and trauma sensitive yoga.  Besides teaching in India and Africa.

Can I call myself a “master teacher”?  You tell me.

Do I still need the YA and IAYT seals on my website to prove my worth to the rest of the world?

It’s become crystal clear to me that the name of the game in the Modern Yoga World is MARKETING because no one gives a damn about all of the above.  I don’t have the $6,000 that I need to upgrade my website to grab SEO and make it the latest and greatest Yoga Business site.  It’s much cheaper for me to lose myself in South India and hang a shingle that says “YOGA TEACHER TRAINING.”

In my 15 years of teaching I’ve never put myself out there as a “yoga therapist” because I believe all yoga can be therapeutic if applied in a beneficial manner.  Even Bikram Yoga was beneficial to the Vietnam War vet who spoke to us about his PTSD when I did the trauma sensitive yoga training.

I’ve always said that no one called Krishnamacharya a yoga therapist, he taught YOGA.

Krishnamacharya’s principle was “Teach what is inside you, not as it applies to you, to yourself, but as it applies to the other.“  He taught that Yoga should always be adapted to the unique needs of each individual.

Does one who jumps through the hoops and pays for the IAYT “certification” automatically know more or is more capable of supporting or empowering someone than I am?  The buying of labels has been problematic for me for years. It’s the same old story: people will study with a Yoga Alliance or IAYT labeled teacher before they will with someone who has the years of experience.

In the end, I don’t need validation.
I know what I offer.

But then in this Modern Yoga day and age there is this passing itself off as “Yoga Medicine.”  Yes, you CAN think yourself thin AND sexy!

It’s Tara Stiles’ Slim Calm Sexy Yoga all over again.  Just use the word “meditate” and it makes it all credible and so deliciously New Age.

THAT POST IS EVERYTHING THAT IS WRONG WITH MODERN YOGA.

Women with eating disorders feel bad enough about themselves already, how much worse will they feel if they can’t “think themselves thin”?  At least she didn’t mention bra fat.

How is this in any way empowering?  I’m all about mindful eating and eating healthy foods, but the buzzwords used by this “master yoga teacher and specialist in sports and Chinese medicine” are what is typically found on a magazine cover at your grocery store check out line, the same bullshit that sounds like “LOSE YOUR BELLY FAT IN 5 EASY YOGA MOVES!”

No wonder us old school teachers throw in the towel

Funny.  I did not see the Yoga Alliance or IAYT seals on her website.  Anywhere.

Without them you can say whatever you want to say about yoga.

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.

my next yoga career move


It’s the beginning of 2009 and I’ve pretty much decided that I will not teach in yoga studios anymore. Those of you who are regular readers of this blog know why. I should never say never, things can always change, but as of this moment it’s a better idea to run my own workshops and classes and not teach for anyone else. My yoga persona is not conducive to teaching in gyms or health clubs. I’m not saying that there aren’t good teachers in those venues, but it ain’t me, babe. I can’t teach to someone who is looking for a “work out” in yoga. I mean, I can, but I don’t want to. I can kick your yoga ass and leave you dripping with sweat if that’s what you think makes a great yoga class, but I don’t want to. It’s good to know that because knowing who you are in the yoga world saves you a lot of hassle and heartache. Advice to newbie teachers: don’t try to be someone you’re not. Teach what you know, not what you THINK you know. It’s a gift to know who you are.

With the experiences I’ve had in the last two years with studio owners, I’ve paid my dues. I’ve been teaching for 7 years. I’ve studied three times at one of the most prestigious yoga schools in the world and I am an ongoing student of three yoga masters. I’ve been a student of Buddhism for 30+ years. The next logical step for me, as it has been for other long-time teachers I know, is training yoga teachers. Maybe that’s not the next step for some of you reading this, but I have moved on from teaching group classes. I have private students and I only teach two group classes where I teach for other entities. I call the shots in the rest of my classes.

Many yoga studios in the Chicago area run their own teacher trainings. I have no idea where all these new teachers are going to teach because there are more teachers than there are students, but yoga studios keep cranking out the yoga teachers. Any yoga studio that wants to make a buck comes up with a teacher training program. Let’s be honest — the yoga bucks aren’t in teaching group classes. As I was taught in India, personal transformation for a student only begins in a group class; it is accomplished by working one-on-one with a teacher, in the traditional way. At a yoga conference workshop I heard a show-biz yogini say (and I’ve learned better than to name names anymore in this blog) that she’d rather teach to the two students who get it than to the 10 who don’t. I feel the same way. Her statement was honest and real.

For the last six months I’ve been going back and forth about doing my own teacher training. Frankly I think my training would be unique because it would include Buddhism. Not one training in my area includes that subject. Nor does any teacher training include yin yoga. I’ve studied with the two American yin yoga masters for the last 5 years.

But first I have to get it on with the Yoga Alliance. Yee-ha. I’d love to know what the Yoga Alliance does for yoga teachers other than take their money, but this culture being what it is, everyone looks for that seal of approval to study with. Five years ago I registered at the 200 level and I now have enough hours to be an “E-500” level, that is, an “experienced” yoga teacher. I never wanted to play the game of getting a higher registration, the mere thought of filling out their form gave me hives, but now that I’m thinking of training teachers it’s almost a requirement, future students look for it.

I emailed the YA and asked whether I could apply for E-500 instead of being a plain ol’ 500 hour level yoga teacher. The answer was no, I have to be a 500 hour first, for FOUR YEARS (WTF?!?), before I can apply for E-500. I totaled all my teaching hours since 2004 and according to their own rules, I’m already E-500. As far as I’m concerned, this is just a scam to get more of my money. And for what? The Yoga Alliance does nothing for me. As they say in Texas, that ol’ dog won’t hunt.

So what’s the big deal about being registered with Yoga Alliance in order to train teachers? Unfortunately, for the sole reason that people think Yoga Alliance registration really means something. It’s all about marketing, nothing more, nothing less.

The master teacher I trained with 7 years ago was not, at that time, registered with the Yoga Alliance, but he trained with Pattabhi Jois twice and at an Iyengar institute and lived with his guru for almost 10 years. When I trained with him he didn’t care about being anointed by the Yoga Alliance. As ridiculous as it was he was not an “approved” school when I registered with YA. But over the years he grandfathered into the Yoga Alliance registration — only because people think it really means something. My teacher Ramaswami who studied with Krishnamacharya for 30 years has recently become Yoga Alliance registered — as if someone would not study with him because he wasn’t.

One year from now I’ll be living in an ashram in India studying yoga therapy under the personal guidance of a a swami, after which I will receive a yoga diploma certified by the Indian government. I really think that trumps anything the Yoga Alliance can give me.

I will look to training yoga teachers in the near future. But not in America. In India. I can do a 200 hour training, 8 hours a day, in 5 weeks. People study astanga in Mysore, Iyengar in Pune, viniyoga in Chennai, and travel to Rishikesh all the time to study yoga in general. British ex-pats run yoga teacher training programs in Goa. Why should I not teach yoga and yoga teachers in my beloved Tamil Nadu, India? I’ve been told that with my India experience I should do “sacred temple tours.” That would be a perfect thing to do after a teacher training — a temple puja blessing the new teachers.

I must finish some of my own training first because then I will be fully seasoned. A good cook knows when the seasoning is just right and a smart vintner knows when the wine is aged to perfection ready to be uncorked.

My time has come. The events of the last few years have certainly been in tune with what my vedic and western astrologers have said, both have been right on. So I’m putting it out there and I’ll go with the flow. Buddhism teaches me to detach from the outcome, not to cling but to let go — if it happens it happens. I’m giving it up to something that is greater outside myself.

If you want to study with me, tell me your interest. Just because you take a teacher training doesn’t mean you must teach. Many yogi practitioners take teacher trainings only for the deeper knowledge. I already teach workshops, so doing a teacher training is merely taking it a step further.

Besides…my teachers in India told us that if we do not teach what we have learned and take it out into the world we are nothing more but thieves.

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