I am a Yoga teacher. I am a Yoga student.
I will always be a student of Yoga.
As such I have a passion for reading…about Yoga. This, of course includes finding quality content on-line to read…and there is a plethora of on-line Yoga content! And I have my favourites…one of which is anything written by Amy Landry. An inspiring Australian Yoga teacher and practitioner of Ayurveda…who has ‘made it’ on to covers of magazines, writes regular columns, and has appeared as a featured teacher at prominent Yoga Festivals. Amy is ‘da bomb’…well, she is to me!
Amy recently wrote an article on her Blog Read Amy’s Blog
and I wanted to respond to the points she raised because they are good points about Yoga teachers.
#1 The Majority of teachers are only qualified at a base level (200 hours).
True…this is why I chose to attend a Level 2 Teacher training. I trained with John Ogilvie of Byron Bay Yoga. This ensured that I got at least 500 hours of tuition, which meant I could qualify as a Yoga Teacher with Yoga Australia. I am also a qualified Naturopath and Zen Shiatsu Therapist, and worked as a qualified Remedial Massage therapist for 17 years. Before I entered into training as a Yoga teacher I had been practicing Yoga for over 25 years. My practice, in the past, was varied and at times inconsistent; however, I maintained my passion for learning via reading ancient texts and modern interpretations of old teachings; I delved into Ayurveda, Buddhism, Kirtan and a study of philosophy; and enquired into different religious perspectives. All these things gave me a great understanding of the body-mind-soul connection and a firm foundation in the practice of Yoga.
#2 – Your teacher should have up-to-date First Aid and CPR training, plus both professional indemnity and liability insurance.
This is a no-brainer, yet…as Amy points out it is often not the case. As a Naturopath this is essential for maintaining our professional membership. I have been a member of ATMS (Australian Traditional-Medicine Society) since 1990. Current First Aid and CPR certification is required, as well as professional indemnity and public liability insurance. These certifications and insurances now extend to my Yoga teaching and one-on-one sessions.
#3 – If your Yoga Teacher has an ‘advanced’ physical practice this does not constitute a good teacher.
This is something that I totally agree with. In fact, although my physical practice has improved over the past four years to include some advanced Asanas (postures) it has taken, months, years even, to regain the strength and depth I had in my years of practice prior to an injury to my right shoulder.
I injured my shoulder in 2008 repeatedly throwing my daughter in the swimming pool – one more time mummy! At the time I, half of my naturopathic practice was hands-on physical therapy. Despite some really intensive efforts to heal my shoulder I ended up having to stop providing remedial massage. My shoulder ended-up freezing, and unfortunately I also broke my wrist in 2009 in that arm as well. This comedy of errors saw the development of an auto-immune disorder, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy). I totally do not recommend this! Apart from the pain, the loss of function meant that for almost a year and a half I could not do basic things…anything really…with that arm. I even had to get help to wash my hair and put on a bra. Anything more than walking slowly produced intense pain. Chronic pain has a way of lowering mood and a lack of being able to move saw me add about 15kg of weight to what was once an athletic frame. I was very much in need of strengthening my Yoga practice at this time! And so I did!
There was no such thing as Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) in my practice for several years! In fact nothing that required bearing any weight in that arm…or even holding that arm up in the air. It took years to rebuild strength and function in that arm.
This injury, I think, has made me a better teacher. I appreciate from a first-hand perspective the impact loss of mobility has on life and physical Yoga practice. Injury and loss of mobility requires patience and understanding…mostly from oneself! You have to modify how you practice to suit your recovery. And…take all the time you need to heal.
This has taught me the importance of giving options to my students during Yoga Asana classes. It has also taught me to give clear instructions. Most importantly it taught me the absolute value of connecting into our own body with our breath and tuning into what our body needs each time we practice. Every posture will look a little different on every body! Make every practice your own.
#4 – Nor does lots of teaching experience exclusively constitute a great teacher of yoga.
Although teaching is a skill that can be learned, there are those that have natural teaching ability. To me, the ability to connect with students is what makes a great teacher. Knowing this enables me to strive to connect. I have taught classes where my lefts and rights were muddled up, where I have had temporary amnesia of names of poses, where what I say makes no sense and my sequence may have been less than perfect…in fact I have had classes where I have totally forgotten what I did on one whole side! Opppsss! But…I do it with humour and transparency, and my students are ok with my faux-pas.
I believe that to be a great teacher it is essential to have a regular practice of Yoga. That being said, a dedicated practice does not necessarily mean you can transfer that into a great class. Teaching Yoga…especially to a general class, with students with injuries and different abilities…is a complex skill. Empathy, options, clear instruction, a clear understanding of Yoga, a disciplined personal practice, and the ability to connect…are some of the things that make a great teacher. I am dedicated to practicing all these things.
#5 – Your ‘favourite’ Yoga Teacher will themselves naturally evolve and grow in what they offer.
Certainly, as I have regained strength in my physical practice, I would say my classes have evolved to offer stronger options, and quite possible to overall be stronger. This requires me to be mindful to offer easier options. At the same time, my meditation practice has really blossomed and the inner stillness I find as I practice Asana has become much more apparent. So, in class I find ways to coax students deeper into their practice.
In our Yoga practice, we do not arrive at a final destination and stay there…we are either evolving or devolving. As teachers it is the same.
#6 – Behind closed doors your teacher may be suffering abuse (verbal and/or physical) from their employer.
This is a sad fact in all areas of life and Yoga teachers hold no exemption. Luckily, I have found wonderful people to work with. Most of my classes are my own…so running a business has its own tensions. Being kind to self and practicing self-care as a teacher is fundamental to being able to teach well and sustain the ability to teach for years to come.
#7 – Although your teacher may present themselves well (“inspirational”, “guru-like”, “life-changing”), they may harbour long-standing, unresolved behavioural problems, like drug and alcohol addiction.
Again, this may well, sadly, be the case. Teachers are human! However, I would hope that the majority are living examples of Yoga and have been able to overcome the heavier, more obvious negative behavioural issues. Yoga is more than a physical practice of postures. It requires dedication to certain principles such as Ahimsa, non-harm, including to self. I would like to think that teachers have applied the principles of Yoga enough to the degree to which they have overcome the anger, hurt, fear and avoidance that drive addictions…at least major addictions that negatively impact themselves, and potentially others.
Gunas, are the qualities that exert influence over mind. Rajas is the guna of stimulation, and the modern world can be rife with stimulation, to the point of imbalance, and addiction is one way this rajas show as imbalance. Teachers who are well trained and have a disciplined practice would know how to balance this guna. Along with practicing Aparigraha (non-grasping) a Yoga teacher has at their disposal all the elements to overcome such glaring issues. It is up to each and every student to find the teacher to suit them. A teacher with an active addiction who is working towards resolving all their issues and healing may well be the perfect teacher for some, and perhaps transparency and awareness are prerequisites for this to be the case.
#8 – Your Yoga Teacher may have been teaching for only a few months.
True…we all have to start somewhere! I agree with Amy, that we don’t simply need more teachers we need more exceptional teachers. Yes, the rate at which teachers are being produced has boomed! However, few actually go on to teach, or make Yoga their ‘career’. Having practiced and studied for years prior to gaining my certification as a Yoga teacher, I do find myself holding some concern for the students of people who have no history of personal practice of Yoga, who do a two week training and then immediately begin to teach, especially if they have not had any prior training in affiliated fields.
An exceptional teacher will embody Yoga! They will immerse themselves in the principles and practice of Yoga. They will know about the Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, The Yoga Sutras, The Hatha Pradipika, the Tantras, and other ancient texts. They will know the history of Yoga and have an understanding of the application of these ancient practices in modern life. They may not necessarily be ‘perfect’…however; their dedication to Yoga will shine through.
I do not strive to make my modern life fit into ancient Yoga practices. I strive to let Yogic principles guide me through my modern life. I am not ‘perfect’, however, I am dedicated to the study and practice of Yoga, and I hope this shines through.
#9 – Your teacher may not in fact have any formal qualification or accreditation.
This may be the case.
As Amy said, “some kind of training is essential for your safety and benefit”. Whether, this training be at the feet of a guru for years, or a face-to-face, hands-on training, or an in-depth on-line training…training is essential!
With Yoga being more and more identified as a physical practice in class format…teachers can get away with demonstrating ‘the moves’ and have no understanding of Yoga itself. My thinking is, perhaps, the people who want ‘more’ will move on to find that ‘more’ with a teacher who has studied and practiced for years, who can offer this.
#10 – A Yoga Teacher may have a lot less experience than what they convey/portray to the community.
Seeing as Satya – truth and honesty – is a core tenant of Yoga, I would hope that this is not the case, as it breeches this Yogic Yama (code of conduct).
I have been practicing Yoga, since I was about 14 years old – although mum thinks I was actually younger. I went with her to Swami Sarasvati. Although, my dedication to physical practice may have waned during certain periods of my life, my ‘way of living’ and mind-set has been driven by Yogic philosophy. I practiced Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga when I was in my early twenties and Iyengar Yoga in my late twenties, basic Hatha in my early thirties, Bikram in my late thirties, and then studied Purna Hatha Yoga in my forties. Along the way I have taste-tested many different styles of Yoga. I have read and re-read many texts on Yoga. With the extra years and life experience I have discovered depths and understandings that I did not have in my younger years. I certainly have taken my time!
In the scheme of years of teaching Yoga, I am relatively new. However, a decade as a Fitness instructor in the 80’s and 90’s – please forgive the fluro g-strings – gave me thousands of hours of up-the-front-of-the-class experience. My formal study and practice as a Naturopath, Zen Shiatsu Therapist and Remedial Therapist has given me a keen understanding of the body and mind. In the practice of Yoga I have been for many, many years, and am still…dedicated…and have been astutely so for the last 7 years.
I offer what I have from what I have learned over many years…and sometimes I still feel like such a beginner! There is so much to learn. Yet other times I feel abundant with knowledge. And…still there is so much to learn.
I am happy to share. And if I don’t know something…I can learn.
#11 – If you really love your Yoga Teacher’s classes, and you want to see them more often on your studio timetable, the best way you can make this happen is to tell the studio owner; and #12 – Another great way to support your teacher is to share your feelings publicly.
Yes! I concur with Amy on the subject of feedback.
Let me know…what you like and don’t like about my classes. I try to accommodate everyone as much as I can in each class…which is not always easy! And…sometimes I miss certain things, I am sure. Gosh! I know on occasion I ask you all what you need, identify an area to work on…and then…totally ignore that! I usually remember…on the way home! Yikes! If there is really something worrying you about how I teach please let me know and I will endeavour to take that feedback and improve. The occasional ‘off’ class…you can be pretty much guaranteed…I’ll point out my own faults to you all. I don’t sweat over little mistakes…yet I do feel my own self-assessed judgement from time to time, especially when I have missed the obvious…like a pregnant belly half way through a class (mind you please tell me, so I don’t have to guess, as pregnancy does require some options, and I do need to know for your safety) or a poor sequence, or no fans, or poor instruction.
But…please do tell me what you love about how I teach…because then I will do more of that. Let me know in person, in writing and on-line. It makes me feel good… alas, my Ego does like this reinforcement. And…yes…spread the word…the more who practice the merrier!
#13 – Your Yoga Teacher may be struggling to survive financially.
True, true, true.
So many Yoga teachers teach part-time. Or study with intentions to teach and then work out how hard it is to make it a living and so…quit.
Here is where I give huge thanks to my husband. He is the one who suggested I learn to be a teacher, and he is the one who supports not only me, but my 3 kids, and encourages me to keep doing what I love and what he believes I am good at.
Simply…gratitude…for without him…I would not be able to do what I do.
#14 – Your teacher may not have their own Self-Practice.
Stunned face! Gasp!
I hope not!
Just so you all know…I teach 10 classes per week. I also, have a dedicated practice. I do at least 20 minutes of Asana (postures) on most days. I practice at least 20 minutes of Pratyahara, Dharana and Dhyana (withdrawing the senses, single focus and meditation) daily. Almost daily I practice Pranayama (breath/energy control exercises). I strive to live my life by Yogic principles. I am very conscious about the practice of virtuous living. My favourite Yama to live by is Aparigraha…as Mahatma Gandhi said “live simply so that others may simply live.”
#15 – Your Yoga Teacher may, or may not, have a mentor.
I do! I have a few…many, in fact!
John Ogilvie of Byron Yoga was my head teacher and qualified teachers under his banner were my teachers. John, I still consider my teacher and mentor. Although we are not face-to-face I draw inspiration from him via his articles and on-line content. I also know I can contact Byron Yoga for any assistance, and in the early days of my teaching I did just that!
Belinda Andonaros, former owner of Agoy Yoga Darwin, was my go-to mentor when I first started teaching…it was her studio, and her students with which she endowed me her trust. I hope she knows just how much I drew from her influence. Belinda, as part of her due diligence, did one of my classes to check me out and she told me “You are born to teach Yoga”. This…gave me confidence at the start of my Yoga teaching life journey, and has been an endless source of encouragement to this day.
Marcelle Dwyer from Bikram Yoga Bayside is like my Yoga Fairy Godmother…I love her…she took care of me and guided me in a time of need. The Yoga and space she provided to practice in was exactly what I needed at the time.
I draw inspiration from other teachers…my fellow local teachers, and those on-line and abroad. Amy Landry…you inspire me…and seeing as you are the inspiration for this episode of writing…this is not going to print without your blessing. So you may as well know…I have been ‘following’ you for some time now, and I appreciate you for your brilliant, whole-hearted sharing of your deep understanding and practice of Yoga and Ayurveda. It was an honour for me to introduce you at The Ekam Yoga Festival this year. Namaste Amy.
#16 – A brand or company endorsement (eg. yoga apparel) does not at all constitute a great Yoga Teacher.
And…I am open to being endorsed! Just so all you Yoga apparel companies know…my favourite colour is green! Haha!
I am 45 years old, have three kids, almost 15, 16 and 17 years old at the time of writing this…I live in a small town, practice and teach Yoga, I come from injury, am not super-flexible…in fact, my students are aware of my nemesis poses (Cow-Face pose is one) and I have some students who can do poses I can’t – when I grow up I want to be Sophie and Gracie in King Pigeon, Jade and Tania in Double Pigeon…but…I love Yoga!
#17 – A Yoga Teacher really wants to be able to please everyone.
Yes…I do! I also know that I may not suit everyone. As much as teaching skill, knowledge and practice are important, so is personality. I know I am not for everyone, and I may not please everyone in all my classes, all the time. And, that is ok! (Reminder to self.)
#18 – Most Yoga Teachers have not done any formal training in hands on adjustment and assisting (i.e. touching you in class).
At Byron Yoga…we got this! We practiced this a lot!
Mind you…here is my philosophy on adjustments and assisting you in class.
Listen. When I teach I aim to give clear instruction. In fact I aim to be as clear as I possibly can be so that if you really wanted to you could do the entire class with your eyes closed (ok, maybe peeking on occasion!). So, listen. I verbally instruct how to get in and out of postures, and how to identify where the posture is working in your body, as well as remind you to focus on your breath.
Watch. Some people need to see the teacher to get it. I aim to demonstrate each posture so that you can see what each one looks like.
Rarely do I touch someone in class. I want you to discover for yourself the best expression of each and every posture…by listening and watching. I may stand closer to you and give some verbal and visual cues…sometimes we just bliss out a bit too much and need to come back into our body! I may ask you if I can place my hands on you to give you a little guidance…don’t be offended (but I totally understand if you don’t want to be touched, and I can give you some verbal cues). I attended the class of a fellow teacher, Marina, who was in the same Level 2 training as I, and she asked to fix my Downward Facing Dog…best adjustment ever! Now this pose is so much more for me!
#19 – A Yoga Teacher who works in a fairly established/commercial yoga studio is most likely being told how they’re expected to teach.
Probably, and for many teachers this provides a great structure and maintains the ‘style’ of practice for the studio.
I teach 3 classes per week at 5 Star Fitness and have the freedom to teach how I wish. I enjoy this.
#20 – An experienced Yoga teacher can see right through you.
I am getting better with my x-ray vision.
This is true, especially with regular students. I notice progressions and set-backs, and I notice when you are off-your-game. It is ok! I think learning to allow ourselves to be truly ‘seen’ is a valuable lesson in life.
#21 – Your Yoga teacher is human.
Yep…last time I checked I was still human!
This human being-ness can be a trial…but I have survived 100% of my days so far. We all have ‘stuff’…and I am definitely no stranger to ‘stuff’. I have got to say, Yoga has been my saving grace. Without Yoga…I would not be the me I am today. Also, despite some great efforts I have not entirely escaped illness, although, thanks to natural health and Yoga practices I have fared considerably well. I do feel the weight of having to cancel a class if I am unwell. I do not like it, but am learning to be gracious in my requirement to have to from time to time. Thanks for your understanding.
#22 – Your Yoga teacher wishes you would do more private lessons.
Yes, yes…I do!
I am ready…are you?
#23 – The world of Yoga Teaching, in these modern times, is often very competitive.
For sure, but I don’t feel this. I teach Yoga because I believe it is for everybody…and I love it! I want the whole world to practice Yoga!
#24 – You may be able to claim your yoga classes under private health insurance.
True…you may. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org stating your full name, the date(s) you attended and which health fund you are in, and ask for a receipt.
#25 – Your teacher has heard all the excuses before.
Yes…you totally have to read Amy’s point on this one…all I have to say is…ditto!