“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?

Sri Desikachar has died – June 21, 1938 – August 8, 2016

“The light has expanded and is continuing to guide us beyond boundaries of space and time.

After an extraordinary life of service and healing, Sir TKV Desikachar reached the lotus feet of the lord on 08 August 2016 at 2.45am India Time.

The family is making arrangements for the funeral following the traditional Indian scriptures. An international memorial meeting to honor him will be conducted later in the year, where his students from around the world can participate. Details of this will be communicated in time.

At this current moment, we request you all to hold him in your prayers and celebrate his wonderful contributions to the fields of Yoga, Yoga Therapy, and Spirituality.”
— Kausthub Desikachar

IMG_0150
My first Vedic Chant class, KYM, September 2005

Photo ©Metta Yoga: Mind-Body Education 2016

I became a Yoga teacher in 2002.  Three years later in 2005 I did my first trip to the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram.  I have studied at KYM every year since then and also with some of Krishnamacharya’s and Desikachar’s direct students.

Looking back I know now that before I went to KYM I floundered around as a teacher from 2002-2005.  In 2005 it all synced.  It synced when I heard Sir say “we begin where we are and how we are, and whatever happens, happens.”  My life and my Yoga were changed.

When I returned home in 2005 I was so excited about what I learned that like a religious convert I wanted to spread the Good News.  So I created a workshop in “Krishnamacharya Yoga” for the studio where I was teaching in far west suburban Chicago.  I geared it toward the teachers and seasoned students.

No one signed up.

I remember being shocked that even Yoga teachers did not know who Krishnamacharya was and did not know about what was then called the Viniyoga approach of teaching to the individual.

I wonder how many newbie Yoga teachers now, in this age of 200 hour teacher trainings in every studio on every block, know about Sri Desikachar.

I can tell you from experience that few (again, in MY experience) know about the slow, deliberate breath centered style of Yoga that Sir taught.  Last year when I was at a KYM intensive a student came up to me at the end of the first week and said, “You’ve been here many times so I want to ask a question….”  I knew what he was about to ask because I had heard it before: “Do the classes get any faster?”

I smiled.  “No.  If you’ve come here looking for an American style vinyasa class you’ve come to the wrong place.”

He did not return for the second week.

When I took the Trauma Sensitive Yoga training taught by Dave Emerson at The Trauma Institute, I realized on the first day that what he was teaching was recycled “Krishnamacharya Yoga”, i.e., breath centered Yoga.  Other than the physiological information about how trauma affects the brain and the body, it was nothing new to me.  If it was not for Sri Desikachar and the idea of teaching to the individual, I believe there would not be the “trauma sensitive yoga” trainings that there are today.

Weeping.

A true Yoga Master has died.

I remember how nervous I was to chant a few lines from the Gayatri Mantra for him the first time.

I remember Sir’s free public talks on the Sutras or Sanskrit or any other Yoga topic on Saturday mornings in Chennai.

From a blog post I wrote in 2006 after my second trip to KYM.  I believe the intensive was called “The Power of Yoga”:

“The teachers keep emphasizing how personal transformation is the true goal of yoga, not getting the yoga butt or abs, but personal transformation, changing our states of mind, replacing negative tendencies with positive ones, and connecting to the True Self, how ultimately this can not be done in a group yoga class, it can only be done one-on-one with a teacher, as Krishnamacharya taught.

They showed us the sequence on how to teach the bandhas, starting with jalandhara going down to mulabandha, and how people should be able to inhale and exhale at least to a count of 10 or 12, before even attempting to work with the bandhas. Also told us about contraindications. Again, once more this emphasized for me what NOT to teach in a group class because everyone is different and everyone will have a different reaction to it — uddiyana bandha aggravates vata for example.

We were told that Krishnamacharya did not believe in kriyas. He said pranayama practice — properly done — was effective enough to cleanse the body of impurities. Desikachar was with us last night and he told us stories of his father, about how Krishnamacharya stopped his own heart for 2 minutes — it was then that Desikachar took up the practice of yoga, when he saw the power of it.”

May his teachings live on in his students around the world.

May Sir have a fortunate rebirth.

what are they teaching out there?

depaul panel

 

The other night I was one of the speakers on this panel discussion in Chicago. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and I was invited to be on this panel by The Breathe Network.  The Breathe Network is an excellent online resource for trauma survivors looking for practitioners of holistic modalities and I am proud to be a member.

It was a great event with a big turnout. The other three presenters spoke about their modalities, Biofeedback, Holistic Psychotherapy, and Reiki. I learned from all three presenters and what was interesting was that we all had a single thing in common, as noted by the moderator:  the BREATH and HOW WE BREATHE can change things for us mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Many of you know that I am a long time student (10+ years) in the Krishnamacharya Yoga tradition and that the Yoga I teach is all about the breath, a breath centered practice.  I have seen how conscious breathwork can change lives.  Yes, literally, such as with trauma survivors and people with anxiety attacks and major stress.  They learn to self-regulate just as the ancient yogis, the sramanas, discovered that asana and breath can regulate their internal systems.

“Trauma sensitive” and “trauma informed” Yoga are buzzwords in modern Yoga but when I did my four day Trauma Sensitive Yoga training at The Trauma Institute, I realized how the training was a retooling of what I learned at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram insofar as therapeutic yoga.  It was nothing new to me.  The only thing new was the information about the physiology of trauma, the parts of the brain that are affected, and some languaging, the “technical” stuff.

Before I did that training in 2011 I had already been teaching for 6 years to survivors at a domestic violence shelter starting in 2005.  I intuitively knew that what I had learned in India and from my own insight meditation practice would help them.  And it did, tremendously — because it was a breath centered Yoga practice.  The survivors learned how to be in charge of their own physiological systems.

After our 90 minute discussion we had breakout groups where attendees could ask us questions.  I had handouts of articles (one that I wrote) about how Yoga helps with PTSD.  More than a few young people (“young” meaning college age students) took my handouts and then it got interesting — they started telling me about their experiences in Yoga studios.  Note that this was in Chicago so they were talking to me about studios there.

I preface what comes next by saying that I no longer attend public Yoga classes so I don’t know what people are teaching nowadays.  If I do go to a studio it will be to my teacher’s class at the studio where I certified as a teacher 15 years ago (one of the first studios to open in Chicago.)

I take that back — I DID go to a class just last week.  It was a gong meditation plus Yoga class and one of my students came with me.  I know that every teacher is trained differently, has his/her own style, and I am 200% sure there are many who would hate my classes and probably with a vengeance.  But I was stunned at the practice.  Shocked even.

The teacher was also a “woman of a certain age” and whom I know has been teaching longer than me.  There was absolutely no attention paid to the breath.  In fact, I could not even catch my breath because the sun salutation was so fast.  I decided (of course!) to move at my pace with my own breath ratio.

My long time student was incredulous and instead of a calming, grounding practice to go into an hour long gong session (by the way, I was NOT expecting a gentle or restorative practice, just a more mindful one) I felt completely agitated.  This is the reason why I no longer attend public classes taught by teachers whose teaching styles I don’t know.

Each person at my table at DePaul asked me “where do I find a class as you describe?”  Because EACH student told me “I take Yoga but …”  It’s “competitive.”  A “work out.”  “No one talks about the breath.” “I feel intimidated.”  “How should I breathe?”  “They don’t teach meditation.”  If I lived in Chicago instead of 40 miles away I’d probably have a dozen new students now.

Finally, what made me sad was a trauma survivor who told me she went through a teacher training program at a corporate Yoga studio chain.  I won’t say which one but they are all over Chicago and other big cities.  Many times they open down the street from independent studios.

She told me that she went there looking for a more meditative, what she called “spiritual,” YTT.  Instead, she told me the training triggered her PTSD, so much so that she completely stopped her own Yoga practice.  What was worse, she told me, that when she tried to tell her trainers what was happening with her, no one knew how to help her.

She finished the training but no longer practices.  She told me that in order to teach she knows she has to work on herself.  She asked me how to get back on the Yoga horse.  I said slowly and recommended Sarah Powers’ book, Insight Yoga, and her DVDs.  I gave her my card, it was all I could do, and told her to contact me if she got stuck.

After listening to the questions and comments, I was re-inspired to create a teacher training so I had better get my ASSana in gear before I go to India in November.  But I am SO STUCK, I don’t know where to start.  Mainly because I don’t know where to begin in writing a manual.  You can’t charge $3,000 for a training and not have a manual, people expect one after dishing out the dough.  But I only know how to teach OLD SCHOOL, the way I am taught in India.  You sit down, listen, and take notes.  In all my years at KYM the only handouts I have are from asana and meditation classes.  Ten plus years of notes will make a kick ass YTT.  I’ve already decided that this book will be the class text.

But when the day comes when I have a Metta Yoga: Mind-Body Education training you can bet your ASSana that I will have sliding scale payment for survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and vets with PTSD.

What the hell are they teaching out there?

 

 

 

 

in my humble opinion

Sergio DiazGranados of the Yoga Teacher Training website contacted me for an interview when I wrote the “babies teaching babies” post.  He also published an interview with David Frawley so I am in good company!  Maybe my thoughts will benefit someone out there so I am posting a few of my pithier answers.  You can read the entire interview on his site next week.

Sergio also has an opportunity for someone to win a yoga scholarship for a 2012 teacher training program by teachers such as Rod Stryker, Rolf Gates, Shiva Rea, or David Swenson, among others.  The deadline to apply is November 18.

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What was your biggest challenge during your teacher training process?
I think my biggest challenge during my first yoga teacher training was doing chatarunga dandasana!  I had never done that pose in a beginning yoga class and I felt intimidated by the younger students (I did not become a certified teacher until I was 48) who could do it without thinking twice.  Fortunately I’ve come to realize that real yoga is not about the asana!

What has been your biggest challenge in continuing your craft as a yoga teacher?
I think my biggest challenge is teaching the style of yoga that I teach.  I must qualify this by saying “in my geographic area.”  My yoga is informed by my spiritually which is Buddhism and by my vipassana practice.  The yoga that I teach is grounded in the Krishnamacharya lineage and mindfulness practice.  My style of yoga is not what you would call mainstream.  I call it the Yoga of Awareness and many times it seems that people are only interested in yoga as a workout.  My yoga will make you sweat but not because you’re doing 100 chatarungas.  It’s one of the reasons I no longer teach in yoga studios, only privately.  I let students find me.

What do you think makes a good yoga teacher?
Someone who is always a student first and a teacher second, no matter how long they have been teaching.  Authenticity.  Walking your yoga talk even if you stumble.  And if you stumble, then owning it instead of making excuses.   Practicing what you preach, especially meditation.  Compassion and empathy.  Constant self-inquiry.  The ability to say “I don’t know” if a student asks you a question instead of letting your ego answer for you.  And the ability to laugh and not take yourself too seriously.  We are always laughing in my classes.  I tell my students that laughter is the best pranayama!  Notice I said nothing about asana — because asana knowledge is a given!

Do you feel that teachers are doing a disservice to the Yoga community if they only focus on the physical asana practice and leave out the spiritual component?
I used to think it was a disservice, but I now believe “you do your yoga and I’ll do mine.”   I only know what’s right for me and most of the students to whom I teach have been with me since Day One of my teaching, 10 years ago.  If someone comes to me and doesn’t like what I teach, that’s fine, they will find a teacher better suited for them.  I would not exactly call it a “disservice” because any type of movement is beneficial for the body.  

But I also do not believe what many teachers believe that everyone will come to know what “real yoga” is, i.e., with the spiritual components, if they practice long enough.  Yes, of course that happens with some people, but I don’t believe that’s true for everyone who starts out with yoga as a purely physical practice because not everyone is on the same path.  That is like saying everyone who runs a marathon is on equal footing.  They’re not.  There will always be someone in front, running with you, and behind you.  Again, everyone is different and we all have our karma to work through in this lifetime.

For me, yoga is ALWAYS asana + pranayama + meditation and yoga always was a spiritual practice.  I’ve heard Desikachar say that yoga contains X, Y and Z, and anything else is acrobatics.  The bottom line is that you can call a dog a cat all you want to, but that doesn’t make it a cat.  Calling your morning stretches yoga without having X, Y and Z doesn’t make it yoga.  Would you still call it a chocolate cake if you left out the chocolate?  It might still be good, but it’s not a chocolate cake.

What is Yoga to you?
Yoga to me is about personal transformation.  You can only change the world by changing yourself, a day, a moment, a breath at a time.  Through our inner work and self-inquiry, yoga teaches us to treat each moment as brand new, to be present with whatever arises in our lives, pleasant and unpleasant.  It teaches us to observe and listen to the inner voice that bubbles up that is our connection to whatever it is we believe to be greater outside ourselves.

WITH METTA…..

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.

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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.”

babies teaching babies

John Friend and Anusara Yoga have never been my cup of chai but to each their own.  If you get high on the love and lite and kula, knock yourself out.  But I do have to say that I agree with what Friend says in this video.

In my area of far west suburban Chicago, yoga teachers are a dime a dozen.  When I was certified as a teacher almost ten years ago there were basically four studios in Chicago that had TT programs.   Now almost every yoga studio that I know of in the suburbs and Chicago have their own TT program.   The most searched for phrase here is “how much does a yoga teacher make” or something similar (the second most searched for term, which used to be #1, is “naked yoga” but that’s another post.)   My teacher training was not Yoga Alliance registered and neither was my teacher, but he eventually chose to grandfather into the YA because that’s what people looking for TT programs wanted, whether he was a “Yoga Alliance Registered” school.  However, he still thinks the YA is meaningless and so do I.  I let my membership lapse.

To make any money a studio must continually offer workshops or have TT programs.  A studio owner can’t make a living (i.e., support yourself) on only offering group classes (this is in my geographic area, your mileage may vary.)

If I had a dollar for every time someone over the years has told me I should do my own teacher training, I could buy a ticket to India.   I go back and forth on that question and I will admit that one of my reasons for considering it is money.  I made $250 in May teaching privately, not exactly what I call a living.  But ultimately using  money as the primary reason to conduct my own TT never feels right to me.

So with all the TT programs out there, I have to ask: what are the intentions?  Is offering a TT program a studio owner’s dharma?  Friend mentions the word “dharma” more than a few times in this interview and I think that needs to be considered by student, teacher, and teacher trainer.

Like John Friend, I also was a student for 7 years before I did my first teacher training.  Now people who’ve practiced for less than 6 months want to be a teacher.  Why?  Because it seems cool and hip and fun?  And what type of practice do you have?  Do you even meditate?  And yes, I believe every yoga teacher should have a sitting practice of some type.  In fact, if I had my own TT program every participant would be required to do a 3 day silent retreat with me before getting the piece of paper.  That would separate the wheat from the chaff real quick.

When I finished my first 200 hours of training, I felt like I knew nothing.  I felt like an ant at the bottom of the yoga hill.  Even after 15+ years of yoga, 5 trips to India to study with Desikachar and his senior teachers, and 1000+ hours of training (and next year with AG Mohan), I have crawled only slightly up that yoga hill.  I am student first, teacher second.  Yet, there are people half my age conducting yoga teacher trainings in my area whom I know for a fact do not have the training I have.   It confuses me.   The teacher with whom I trained has encouraged me to do my own teacher training, telling me “there are people doing it who don’t know half of what you know.  do it.”

Back in the day in the old school way, you went out to teach when your teacher said you were ready to teach.   That is how the teacher who certified me started teaching — he studied and lived with his guru for 8 years and then was told “go teach.”   I am not saying it has to be like that now, it would not be realistic here.   But now anyone who has had a weekend training or even just an online teacher training (believe it or not) can get hired as a “yoga teacher.”

Does this scare anyone else or is it just me?

I can understand someone wanting to do a teacher training to deepen their practice.  Not everyone who does a TT wants to teach.  Or should.   Friend says that not everyone is right to teach.  What is the person’s aptitude for teaching?  Is there a deeper calling to teach yoga, is it  your dharma?  Or is just something that sounds nice to do because you lost your job?  As for me, I was encouraged to teach by the teacher of my beginner’s yoga class that I took for a few years.  I also truly feel that teaching is my dharma — but that would require a lengthy discussion of my astrological natal chart so I won’t go there. 😉

A 200 hour training is merely the beginning and frankly, I have to ask what is being taught in all these trainings.  I ask this question because I was shocked at the quality of questions coming from people in my last training in India (all westerners.)   After the first days, I felt that the training was “dumbed down” because of these questions.  Many of the participants said they were teachers, but I know that my own students would not ask the types of questions that people were asking.   Their questions made me grateful (again) for my original trainings but then, that was almost 10 years ago and times have changed.

So are recent (i.e., within the last 10 years) yoga teacher trainings now merely diploma mills in the rush to get yoga teachers on the market?  Quantity over quality?

“The reason why yoga is presently skewed towards ekanga (or ardhanga without the breathing component) and not ashtanga is because by and large teachers do not teach the other angas.  When I was in school I heard a quotation which runs something like this: “If a pupil has not learnt, the teacher has not taught”.   Yoga is a rich subject.  Considering its popularity there is no reason why practitioners should not endeavor to go beyond asana practice while still having a very firm asana base. “  — Srivatsa Ramaswami, writing about what he has learned from teaching his 200 hour TT programs