Continuing Ed

Yoga was traditionally handed down from a teacher to a student. The teacher taught directly to that individual student’s need. It was a relationship that lasted, and changed, over time. Instruction was never limited to postures. It likely involved family questions, social questions, ethical observances and spiritual development. It involved poetry and grunt work, independent study and mentored progress. The teacher would help the student work his own things out. The teacher would guide the student through these dense studies, over a long course of time. It takes time to understand the philosophy. It takes years to understand the breath. It takes a decade or two to understand non-grasping.

At different times, with different students, a teacher might have given a poem. Or told the student to write poems. Maybe it involved personal ritual. Or returning to a personal practice over time. Or the long hard work of sifting through our mind.

Today yoga is taught as group exercise. Students are taught to go with the flow and do what they can within the context of the group. This is a far cry from Yoga’s original methodology. Our time in class never really teaches us how to involve ourselves in the traditions or what any of the ‘whispered wisdom’ means in contemporary life.

Say what you will about ‘beginner’ or ‘level 1 2 3’ or ‘inclusivity’ in classes; the fact remains that the studio, group class model is more about business than it is about education. It is more about the studio/teacher than about the students.

The same conundrum exists around teacher training programs, but it’s worse. “Teacher trainings” aren’t traditional; they are part and parcel of the yoga industry. I’d love to poke at the problems of this model and descry the false sells at length, but here are just a few of the issues:

  • when we originally go to a yoga teacher training program, we don’t know what to look for. So we end up going with something convenient rather than knowing how to find a teacher who really speaks to us. Someone we really want to study from. This isn’t our fault; we didn’t know any better. But here we are.

  • if drop in classes teach to a group standard, then RYT200s bring the law of lowest common denominators to a new tipping point. Syllabi are standardized even though every single attendee has different experiences, different questions, and different needs.

  • The focus is ‘teaching a class’, even though the vast majority of participants are not interested in teaching and are there precisely because they suspect that yoga is more than group exercise. They want to learn. They want to go further into their own practice but end up performing a thing they still don’t understand.

  • 200 hours isn’t very much time, so most programs dilute. It becomes memorization of a few sequences, an overview of the 8 limbs, and sequencing that emphasizes ‘warm up, peak pose, cool down’ or talks vaguely of energetics. What little anatomy is taught is poorly taught. We’re not taught to discern movement from anatomy. We’re given the impression that we should memorize ‘cues’ and something about ‘alignment’ rather than given a genuine understanding of bodies.

  • students are treated as ‘trainees’ and ‘consumers’. Personal questions and passions are never really addressed. You don’t get mentorship, just a certificate. After you’re done, you’ll generally not get anything more from your school unless and until you shell out more money for another program. This usually translates to a few more poses - or alignment secrets or newly minted styles, whatever is trending this year - for a few more bucks.

  • Trauma, yoga for any body other than a skinny young person, the boundaries and ethics of teaching, let alone social justice, are not covered in most RYTS. They may get honorable mention. But generally we’re told they are specialized; you can take that training some weekend after you graduate. I happen to think that trauma awareness, social justice, and professional boundaries should be backbone to training, not a specialization.

  • After graduation, we’re generally left with a huge, gnawing sensation of ‘now what?’ There is pressure. If training did anything, it proved there’s a heck of a lot we don’t know. We’re left alone in a culture that breeds competition over cooperation, encourages postures and perfections we don’t have, glorifies thin young bodies and minds untroubled by shit like anxiety, sadness, stress, or doubt. We’re left alone.

I’ve gotten tired of hearing RYT200s who feel heartbroken or snake oiled. I’ve had too many people say they wish they’d studied with me. I’m always a little saddened when people feel they have to go to a teacher training program to deepen their practice; I think the depth comes from time with a good teacher, not a certificate. I’ve heard too many people say they learn more from my classes than they did in their teacher trainings. The vast majority of training programs utterly fail to discuss the important questions of our world. Let alone our own personal soul. In some ways, the moral bottom has dropped out of yoga education and I am all for raising the bar.

Point blank: I realize that people who’ve already done a 200 hour program might be interested in studying with me but don’t because they’ve already done 200 hours. They’ve already spent that money.

I want to sweeten the deal by making it 25% off if you’ve studied elsewhere.

And if you really feel like covering a 200 hour’s materials is not something you need, I have only to point out that the field is changing so fast the most basic understandings of body and movement have changed since you studied. The basics are truly the advanced course: if we can understand the basics, our options are limitless. You can never talk about the foot or the spine or the breath enough. Most teaching of yogic philosophy and body are woefully superficial. And you can’t really learn any anatomy one time through.

If what you’re really after is mindfulness practice, mind-heart medicine, personal development for yourself or for your students, then the focus I bring to actually meditating and living our practice is timeless. It’s worthwhile every time. I learn something, every single year.

I sometimes tell the stories of how many RYT200 programs I’ve done (a lot. I’ve done a lot of trainings.). I also sometimes point out that when a teacher of mine is teaching, I want to be there, regardless of what they are teaching or if I’ve taken that ‘course’ before. It isn’t about the course. I think RYT200 and Continuing Ed are superficial understandings of what this whole process is about. I think you know that too. I get it, the pressure around it, and I participate in the teacher training and continuing education model. But there is something else happening here. Or there could be.