Tag Archives: yoga teaching

teacher trainings: then and now

desikachar kripalu
L TO R: Leslie Kaminoff, Navtej Johar, Mirka Scalco Kraftsow, Gary Kraftsow, R. Sriram, Mark Whitwell, Richard Miller, Larry Payne  ©2018 Metta Yoga: Mind-Body Education

I’ve returned from Kripalu from the Desikachar tribute weekend put together by Leslie Kaminoff and Lydia Mann that I wrote about here.  Leslie entitled it “Celebrating T.K.V. Desikachar: We Are the Lineage” and in the photo above are the presenters who took part.

There were three yoga sessions daily by each presenter, each one presenting an aspect of what they learned in the Krishnamacharya Yoga tradition.  Each night the presenters talked about how they came to the Krishnamarcharya Yoga tradition, what inspired them about it, and how they interacted with Desikachar.

Each one learned different things from Desikachar but the consistent thread was learning one-on-one with him and relationship.  Desikachar always taught that Yoga IS relationship.  Each of them went to India with different agendas, each one wanted to learn something different from the other so Desikachar taught to the individual according to their interests.

None of them went through a typical yoga teacher training with him as one does now, like a 200 or 500 hour training.  Listening to their stories it reminded me how differently they were taught then by Desikachar as opposed to now where people chase the pieces of paper that declares them a “yoga teacher.”

Does studying a mere 200 or 500 hours make you a yoga teacher?  In the 1970s and 1980s you would study with a teacher like Desikachar who would one day tell you “OK, now you’re ready, go out and bring what you learned into the world.”  Nowadays, who would be willing to study with a master teacher until they were told, in the master teacher’s opinion, that they were ready to teach?  What if that took two or three years instead of less than one year?  Be honest.

Each of the above presenters wanted to learn different things — Kraftsow was into religious studies while Kaminoff was not.  Johar went to Chennai to learn dance at the famous Kalakshetra dance school and met a man on a bus who said “you should go see my yoga teacher” and told him to go to the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram.  Kraftsow learned something that Payne did not learn that was different from Miller’s training and so it went with each one.  Same same but different as we say in India.

Which brings us back to yoga teacher trainings as they are currently taught and what makes a good teacher.

I’ve never studied with Rod Stryker but he said this:

“Above all else: never, never stop being a student; study with the best, most notably, those who truly embody what they teach. Only then can you become a teacher of distinction. Only when you grow to understand and feel a legitimate link to the vision of yoga as seen by the tradition of yoga, and relate to it as something that breathes with sublime life and wisdom––and has long before you took your first breath––will you truly thrive as student and only then can you become a great teacher.”

My first teacher training in 2002 was not even 200 hours and my teacher did not belong to Yoga Alliance, he grandfathered into it.  He also did not go through a typical teacher training.  He was living with his Indian guru who told him, “You’re ready, go to Chicago and teach,” so he came and opened one of the first yoga studios in Chicago, if not THE first one in 1984.

I went back in 2003 to do Suddha’s course again where he taught it a bit differently.  I ended up meeting Srivatsa Ramaswami shortly thereafter who introduced me to the Krishnamacharya tradition and the rest is history.  None of the intensives or private one-on-one classes I took at KYM from 2005-2015 were “teacher trainings.”  I do not have one piece of paper from KYM that says I am a “certified yoga teacher” in the lineage, yet I’ve been told that with all my trainings since 2002 I have a PhD in Yoga.  I once received an email from KYM referring to me as a “senior teacher” in the Krishnamacharya Yoga tradition.  Cough, cough.  Yeah, that and $3 will buy me a Starbucks.

So where are the students who want to study with a lineage holder in the Krishnamacharya Yoga tradition AKA me?  Crickets.

After teaching for 17 years I finally have a mentee whom I adore because she said she wanted to study with a teacher from a lineage.  Lineage was important to her.  She drives from Indianapolis (about 4 hours) once a month for a weekend and I teach in the old school way as Desikachar taught each of the presenters mentioned above:  she comes with what she wants to learn, asks questions, and I answer them.  Simple.

She leaves and then until we see each other again, she allows what I’ve taught to resonate with her.  She recently told me:

“I have been processing a lot about being a modern yoga teacher — what is authentic and truthful to the practice and what resonates as authentic and truthful to me (in my understanding of that truth)?
What I am finding is that the Krishnamacharya lineage, as I am learning through you, has strong resonance.  I am looking forward to continuing under your mentorship.  I am also rediscovering and reengaging my practice on a very basic level.  I’m getting to my mat and simply making shapes and witnessing my body respond. …
I am feeling more relaxed about my learning journey.  It’s a lifetime.  … I am letting what I learned settle and integrate.  There is no need to hurry the process.  I was seeking to obtain some definition of who I am/what I do.  It does not matter.  The label is the suffering and has often been my suffering.  I do not fit the mold.  It’s okay.  I am enough.”
That’s REAL YOGA.

Who wants some?

Sí se puede y viva la huelga!

medusa

In case you can’t read Spanish or are too young to know what the title means, I wrote “Yes, you can” and basically, “long live the strike!”  A strike is one of the most powerful tools workers can use to fight business owners.  “Viva la huelga” was the rallying cry of Chicano farm workers in California and Texas when they fought for decent living wages, decent housing, and for the right to be represented by a union.

I am certainly NOT comparing the working conditions of yoga teachers to farm workers who perform back breaking labor in the hot sun but…

what if yoga teachers stopped working for shit pay?

I mean, all over the country, in every yoga studio.

After yesterday’s post I was told that in Salt Lake City, Utah the rate for yoga teachers is more like $1-$3 per student instead of the Chicago rate of $6 per student.  Maybe someone who is fresh out of their 200-hour is fine with that, but for those who have been teaching for 10+ years, it’s damn insulting.  Add to that basic 200 hour training, years of study in India (if that was the teacher’s path), any type of specialized training like in trauma or addictions or Yoga Nidra, etc., or becoming a Certified Yoga Therapist via a 300/800/1000 hour training.

Obviously the current yoga studio model is broken and abysmal.

It also doesn’t help that yoga teachers are (and have been for years) a dime a dozen in America thanks to too many yoga teacher trainings.

BLOW UP THE MODEL AND INVENT A NEW ONE.

But people always get what they put up.  Always.

What if yoga teachers banded together and refused to teach for shit pay at studios?  What if they demanded a living wage where they could support themselves and pay bills?

How many teachers do you know — maybe you are one yourself — who are completely burned out and injured from teaching too many classes a week in order to support yourself?  You don’t even have time for your practice, right?

I know that some studio owners ask their established teachers to teach for free in order to introduce or attract people to the studio.  JUST.  STOP.

There IS power in numbers.  What could yoga studio owners do?  NOTHING.  If it meant yoga studios going out of business, so what?  Aren’t there too many studios in some places, a studio on every block in large cities like Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles?

Or would this scenario mean that only the corporate studios stay like CorePower and their ilk?

Think about it and talk amongst yourselves.

Spread the word, forward this post.  Maybe we can start a labor movement.  Dare I say it, a union for yoga teachers?  Oh wait, I just woke up from that dream.

What has the Yoga Alliance done for ya lately? 😉

 

 

ask me again why I don’t teach in yoga studios

all aboard, Madurai
Yoga teacher getting ready to throw herself down the shitter

Chicago area yoga studios still pay their teachers SHIT.

$6 a student?  I was paid $5 a student at a Geneva IL studio 10 YEARS AGO.  The owner also gave out “first class free” passes all over the Fox Valley and guess whose yin class she’d send them to because she thought yin yoga was a “beginner” yoga class for people who’ve never done yoga.  If you had never done any yoga whatsoever and knew nothing about it, imagine coming to a yin yoga class for your first time.   They never came back AND SHE WOULDN’T PAY TEACHERS FOR ALL THOSE FREE STUDENTS.  Some months I’d lose $100+.  Ask me why I don’t teach in studios anymore.

Shared from a teacher friend (who’s been teaching a very long time):

“I know that for many independent yoga center owners keeping the doors open is an ongoing financial struggle. The business model needs reworking, but what to replace it with?  I don’t think that paying instructors $6 per student is part of the answer. I was approached by 2 local studios in the past 3 months, & that’s what they were offering. “It’s an incentive to build your classes. If you get a big enough group you can make some pretty good money.”

She made that comment when she posted this article:

Yoga Center of Minneapolis abruptly closes, withholds teachers’ paychecks

From the article:

“It was no secret that the center was struggling, he says, even though people weren’t aware of just how bad things had gotten. He didn’t know how to tell staff in advance that there was no money left to pay them, and he didn’t want them to work another minute without compensation.”  [emphasis supplied]

WHAT?!  HE DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO TELL THE STAFF IN ADVANCE HE COULDN’T PAY THEM?!  HOW ABOUT THE TRUTH?

Do you think this would have given him a clue?

“He says he lost $1 million on the business, borrowed money from family and friends, declined a salary for years, and worked up to the last minute to try and make payroll…”

A yoga studio doesn’t lose a million bucks overnight so I think over the years he had a bit of a clue as to how his business was doing.

A friend and I taught at a now defunct yoga studio in Sycamore IL and when my friend’s paycheck bounced, the owner became insulted when my friend told her “I need that check to pay my bills” — as if my friend had no right to get upset about a bounced check.

In 17 years of teaching I have found yoga studio owners to be of two types — one (the most prevalent) is the airy fairy type who has no idea how to run a real business.  The ones who are all peace love dove and about manifesting abundance but never returning the phone calls of people asking for information about a workshop.  Guess who was giving the workshop and had to cancel because “no one was interested.”  Uh huh.

The other is cut throat who doesn’t give a damn about yoga or the teachers who show up every day.  The less you need to ask about anything, the better, because you’re on your own.  For that type of studio owner it could be a Pilates studio or a dance studio or a butcher shop for all they care.  Just make sure you clean the toilets.

99% of the owners I’ve dealt with have no business whatsoever running a shoe shine stand let alone a yoga studio.

Now before anyone tells me what a big meany I am or how judgmental I am or wants to tell me how hard it is to run a business, check yourself.  I run TWO businesses, my yoga biz and my India travel biz.  The latter requires me to deal with people 8000 miles away, most of whom I’ve never met, setting up hotels, drivers, guides, etc., a year in advance of the trip and then hoping and sweating and fingers crossed that everything I’ve set up is OK when I get there.  If you don’t think that causes many sleepless nights, try it.

Plus, I grew up watching my father run his business, a neighborhood grocery store and meat market, that he owned for about 40 years.  I learned about running a biz via osmosis.

So if you’re a studio owner reading this and you are not one of those two types and who knows the difference between a spreadsheet and a mandala drawing, your teachers are very lucky and blessed.  I commend you wholeheartedly and I wish I was teaching at YOUR studio, being valued and compensated appropriately for all my experience and knowledge and emotional labor.

You are a very rare bird indeed.

 

 

 

 

morning rants

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Artist unknown – sorry! If you know, tell me, I will give credit where credit is due.

Good morning, yoga peeps!  No, I’m not going to say NAMASTE.

Because OH MY GODDESS, GIVE ME STRENGTH TO DEAL WITH THIS MODERN YOGA WORLD.

I just came back from one of my favorite places on Earth and I’m not talking about India.  The only reason I returned home was my cat Maggie, NOT because I have to teach yoga.  So I am feeling extra ranty this morning.

Two articles came up in my Facebook news feed and of  course there’s lots of back and forth and blah blah blah about it.

Y’all might have seen the original article about ethics for yoga teachers, the one that appeared in the New York Times.

This is the one being discussed in my FB feed today:  A Code of Ethics for Yoga Teachers – a draft.  

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

As a Buddhist, I’ve also taken the Five Precepts.  But those AND Patanjali’s Yamas and Niyamas don’t stop anyone from doing anything if they really want to commit something or take advantage of someone.

We’re talking about INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY, PEOPLE.

Fuck rules or suggesting that LICENSING yoga teachers will help.  There are scummy yoga teachers who know the Yamas and Niyamas and still went off the rails. There are Buddhist lamas who slept with their students.  There are yoga teachers who don’t know yoga philosophy from a hole in the ground yet they are ethical and smart teachers.

Maybe I’m a total simpleton but I don’t need a set a rules to enforce me to be kind, to have empathy, to not take advantage of someone, to not cheat someone, etc. etc. etc.  Too much talk, not enough discernment.

The other article is Yoga can be painful and can lead to injury, study says.

Well, no shit, Sherlock.

“Doctor, my shoulders hurt so much from doing 108 chaturungas in my Power Yoga class every day.  What should I do?”

“Don’t do them.  Take a rest.”

DUH.

I’m pretty much over these reductionist articles about yoga including the recent one that Consumer Reports published about how yoga is great for back pain.  YAY, everyone jump on the yoga bandwagon because IT’S ALL GOOD!

Yoga IS good for back pain. But depending on the yoga AND the yoga teacher it can also aggravate back pain.

How is “yoga” defined?  If a doctor tells someone to “do yoga” where are they going to go? To a local studio where a class is taught by someone just out of a 200 hr training the previous week?

To a local gym or park district fitness center where classes are an hour and there are 30 people in a class?

Or are they going to seek out private one on one yoga with someone with a ton of training and experience who has studied in a therapeutic yoga tradition for 10+ years and knows how to modify asanas/meditation/breathwork for their body and condition?

This is why there must be differentiation between asana only classes and yoga as a vehicle for transformation mind/body/spirit (whatever spirit means to you.)  Those categories require different levels of training and have different outcomes.

I’ve always said YOGA is a question of semantics because asana only is not YOGA.  Yeah, I said that, deal with it.  As I’ve said before, I heard Desikachar say in class, “Yoga contains asana, pranayama, and meditation.  Anything else is acrobatics.”

Talk amongst yourselves.

 

 

are you faking it ’til you make it?

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ONLY IN INDIA ©2017 Metta Yoga & Bodywork Company

Below is a question that was asked in a Facebook yoga group I belong to.  As a teacher who is persona non grata in my local “yoga community”, it was an important question.  My answer to the teacher’s question is below it.

“I’m wondering how people experience and process professional jealousy. It seems to be a part of our normal human experience, but it feels particularly horrible – sticky, viscous and taboo. Sometimes it’s ridiculous – resenting that a new teacher, who I’ve mentored and supported – has ten people in their first class, even though most of them are friends there to offer support. Other times it’s more peer-related: why has that person received that opportunity (even if it’s one I didn’t want) or that recognition or that amount of money? For me, it seems to be rooted partly in anxiety about my capacity to make a living (which is compromised because of my disabilities), and partly in a voracious need to be seen – which I can laugh about, but there it is.”

MY ANSWER:
“I think it’s all about finding your niche and to stop trying to be all things for every yoga student. I’m not a “love and light” type of teacher so for those people looking for that, I’m not their teacher. There are plenty of others out there who will be. I always remember what I heard Seanne Corn say in a workshop, that she’d rather teach to the two who get it (i.e., what she teaches) than the 10 who don’t.  I’ve reconciled myself with that.  That might not mean a lot of money in my yoga bank account, but it’s all about choices. I’d rather be me than try to be something I’m not.  I’m not going to fake it to make it.”

What say you, yoga peeps?  Are you faking it by pushing down your emotions as if they are something dirty?

From my Buddhist perspective, less than beneficial emotions are not to be transcended, they are merely to be recognized and let go.  Yes, I know, SIMPLE BUT NOT EASY.

In this Facebook yoga group some said negative emotions should be transcended so we can evolve into an enlightened state.  Good luck with that Humans!

It fascinates me to see how many yoga people believe we are supposed to be immune to jealousy, hate, anger, bitterness, etc. merely because we practice yoga.  A 200 hour training, 1000 hours, or even 10,000 hours of training does not mean we become enlightened.  I mean seriously?!  Ramana Maharshi spent days in such deep samadhi that he was unaware of ant bites.  THAT’S trancendance, people!

After about six weeks, “he was carried out and cleaned up. For the next two months he stayed in the Subramanya Shrine, so unaware of his body and surroundings that food had to be placed in his mouth or he would have starved.”  And we expect to become enlightened or transcend painful emotions just because we do a little yoga?  WHAT?!  One woman commented in the Facebook group that she felt “immature” and so “unevolved” for having an emotion like jealousy.  I’ve heard the Dalai Lama say that sometimes he still gets annoyed at reporters’ dumb questions.  Hey, if HHDL can get miffed about dumb questions, so can I.

I have found these things to be extremely helpful to me over the years.

The first thing is the wonderful book Shadows on the Path by Abdi Assadi.  It is not a recent book but I think it’s the best I’ve read about our shadows on the spiritual path.  It will definitely be required reading if I ever get around to creating a teacher training.  My copy is heavily underlined and dog-eared.

The second thing is Jack Kornfield’s technique of RAIN:  “RAIN stands for Recognition, Acceptance, Investigation, and Non-Indentification. This acronym echoes the Zen poets who tell us “the rain falls equally on all things.” Like the nourishment of outer rain, the inner principles of RAIN can transform our difficulties.”

I also recommend Phillip Moffitt’s book, Emotional Chaos to Clarity: How to Live More Skillfully, Make Better Decisions, and Find Purpose in Life.   The Amazon blurb: “Despite our best-laid plans, life is difficult, and we sometimes experience anger, anxiety, frustration, and doubt. This emotional chaos can negatively affect the way we live our lives. Yet, Phillip Moffitt shows us that by cultivating a responsive mind rather than a reactive one, we can achieve a state of emotional clarity that allows us to act with a calm mind and a loving heart.”

Stop beating yourself up for being human.  You’re only a yoga teacher. 😉

who says yoga classes should be 90 minutes?

New York yoga teacher J. Brown raised an interesting question today in his blog post regarding the “Incredible Shrinking Yoga Class.”

He writes, “In the last twenty years, yoga in the west has gone from a guru-driven model to a market-driven model. Decisions still often come from atop a pyramid. But now, the directives are based more on aggregated data than on the presumed authority of an ancient wisdom. One small manifestation of this turn can be found in the way that yoga classes have gotten progressively shorter. As yoga teachers are newly questioning old models for what and how they teach, industry mores also deserve examination.”

When I got back into yoga in the mid-1990s the class I attended at my local park district was 60 minutes.  I practiced at the park district for about 7 years (never moving into an “advanced” class whatever that meant back then) before I did my first teacher training and started attending yoga classes in Chicago studios where the classes were 90 minutes.

Those 7 years of 60 minute classes were never “just asana” classes.  Not that we talked much about philosophy or even did formal pranayama, but the teacher was a mindful yoga type before being”mindful” was a thing in Modern Yoga.

J. Brown writes, “Perhaps there needs to be a better way to distinguish between classes that are more directly concerned with the broader aspects of yoga, and those more geared towards an exercise regimen which potentially hints at something found elsewhere.” [emphasis supplied]

I have a simple answer for that: don’t call the asana only/exercise regimen classes “yoga.”  Truth in Advertising, what a concept.

I wrote about that in 2010 (sigh) when I said it was a question of semantics.

Or if it’s an asana-only class, why call it yoga at all? Physical therapists use movements derived from yoga all the time but they don’t call it “yoga.” It’s physical therapy and everybody knows that is what it is. Nothing else.

Getting back to the length of time of a typical modern yoga class, at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram where I trained the morning asana classes are 60 minutes.  The asana classes also include pranayama and meditation (which is how I teach) and the classes do not feel rushed, in fact, they are perfectly sequenced.  Long savasana is not needed (like a 10 minute one at the end of typical American classes) because we do one or two minute savasanas after certain sequences.

So who decreed that a yoga class needs to be 90 minutes?   But I guess that depends on what calls “yoga” (getting back to semantics.)

At the KYM pranayama classes contain some asana and the meditation class — a whole hour of meditative focus, how shocking! – contains some asana and of course, pranayama.  In other words, the yoga is not compartmentalized like it is here, the yoga is a seamless process.

A shorter, powerful practice is absolutely possible, it depends on the skill and training of the teacher.  But who can teach that way coming out of a modern 200 hour teacher training?

If what is referred to as “yoga” nowadays is shrunk to 60 minutes of posing and a 5 minute nap at the end, how then is that Yoga?  A 60 minute class of 20 minutes each of functional asana, pranayama, and meditation, skillfully taught, can be more potent than 90 minutes of something where “the teacher kicked my ass” that I used to hear all the time in studios.  How many 90 minute classes are nothing more than rushing through as many sun salutations as possible with no attention paid to the breath and doing a typical vinyasa flow once on each side and moving on?

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my “freedom style” yoga class in India

Thank the Goddess I no longer teach in yoga studios.  J. Brown writes, “The days of regular attendance in group classes allowing for a comprehensive yoga education have perhaps passed. People are not generally looking for a yoga education when they are coming to a yoga class anymore.”

Maybe so, I haven’t taught in studios for years.  I teach out of my house and I’ve been told my classes ARE like going to Yoga School.  Maybe that’s why some of my students (few that they are nowadays) have been with me since Day One of my teaching in 2002.  They keep telling me every class has been different in all those years.  I still can’t figure that out.

As a wise and pithy friend commented in my semantics post linked above:

“It’s [Yoga] a path of liberation we are talking about here – and not from “bra fat!” Patanjali’s first Yoga Sutra (Hartranft translaton) says it all:

Now, the teachings of yoga.
Yoga is to still the patterning of consciousness.
Then pure awareness can abide in its very nature.
Otherwise awareness takes itself to be
the patterns of consciousness.”

That can still be done in a 60 minute class.  You just have to know how.

children’s yoga

Overheard a long time ago:

“People can learn to bend over and touch their toes (or rather, re-learn since they could do that as a child), and yet that isn’t necessarily yoga.”

I read a story about a yoga student who thinks he is an “advanced” student because he can put his leg behind his neck and other pretzel poses. You know, an Instagram Yogi with thousands of followers.

Thinking he has accomplished everything, he goes to India to find a “yoga master” to teach him more. He finds a yoga master in a cave (of course) and begs to become his student.

The master tells him to show him his most advanced pose so the “advanced yogi” guy does some crazy leg behind the neck arm balance.

“Hmmmmm….,” says the master. “Children can do that, too.”

The guy is shocked and dismayed and disillusioned.

The master says, “Now you can start learning Yoga.”