Yoga Learning without Teacher Training and within Group Classes

TKV Desikachar teaching at Gaunts House

I have just come across a post on the “Pros and Cons of Yoga Teacher Training” by J Brown from July which rolled up yesterday in my Facebook newsfeed via YogaDork.

He raises some good points in his blog such as the observation that running Yoga Teacher Training Courses have become a de rigueur for Yoga Teachers and, I would add, especially Yoga Studios, to the point that as a new studio opens its doors, such offerings are part of its programme from day one.

As I observed in a post from March 2012 on:

Further musings on Yoga Student and Yoga Teacher Trainings……

I remember teaching across the pond many years ago and being collected at one city airport by a Yoga teacher who had just opened a Yoga Studio. During our conversations this person quite blithely talked with me about their studio saying that they soon realized that if they/the school was to be ‘successful’ then they needed to set up teacher training as this was where the real money was.

One could even suggest that this attitude has increasingly pervaded Yoga worldwide and it now even seems to be the intention of any upcoming Yoga outfit.

So it increasingly appears that ‘running’ a teacher training Course seems to be becoming or has already become the obligatory ambition for todays Yoga careerist – is this really going to protect Yoga for the future?

Will we end up with Yoga becoming yet another victim of pyramid selling in that we increasingly and inevitably end up with too many teachers chasing too few students?

A far cry from running Yoga teacher training arising out of a personal experiential development, following a process of running group classes, then short workshops to longer workshops, perhaps retreats and linked weekend workshop series, before embarking on a longer venture which will also involve training students to teach.

Even those processes seem increasingly rare from what we encounter today where the priorities are on driving students from any situation towards Yoga teacher training, often with increasingly shorter preparatory steps ere to joining such courses, perhaps being increasingly driven by the huge proliferation of training courses that are on offer today.

As J Brown notes in his blog:

“for those earnest students who wish for a more in-depth understanding of yoga than those drop-in group yoga classes are providing, yoga teacher training is where the real learning about yoga is happening. Where people decide to take it more seriously. And, for better or worse, the time and money investment is often what makes it seem real for people.”

I agree and also feel there are further implications around this that need to be considered. Such as the potential confusion of priorities between learning for oneself and learning for others. This is without the professional pressures of having to take on all the organisational aspects of setting up a small business process around finding venues and especially students.

That we can see from todays marketplace with Yoga classes being offered on every street corner as if wheeling and dealing drugs, each with their claims of amazing experiences awaiting those who want to sample the delights of this particular brand.

To quote again from my March 2012 Post referenced previously:

“I also feel that having to simultaneously train as a Yoga teacher alongside moving into exploring Yoga for ourselves can even be detrimental to the development of the students personal relationship with Yoga.

There is also the issue of the student often having to proceed into teaching before even completing the learning of the techniques and theory that comprise the different dimensions of practice.”

For myself, even though I was quite methodical around the preparatory steps to teacher training and focus on personal work through insistence on direct attendance at a number of weekend workshops preceding application and 121 lessons being part of the training, I still felt I needed to change even this and as I commented in the same March 2012 Post:

“It appears that too many raw teachers are going out undercooked or even worse both undercooked and on one side only (as with Āsana and calling it Yoga or with the Yoga philosophy in place and a sloppy approach to or understanding of Yoga practice techniques).

Sadly these days it also seems too much priority is on learning to be a Yoga teacher rather than choosing to learn what it really requires to be a Yoga student.

This means for me that we need to be re-visiting the more traditional Yoga notion of apprenticeship and is one of the reasons why I am considering only training future students in terms of a personalised apprenticeship supported by small study groups rather than a group training course, even one replete with occasional or obligatory 121’s.”

This I further commented on within a more recent post in February this year on:

My role as a trainer is to teach you to teach Āsana not teach you how to practice Āsana…..

“It has also long been an issue for me and a cause of conflict to have to contend with a confusion of my priorities as a Yoga teacher in running teacher training courses.

‘Training to learn how to teach Yoga is not the same as
training to learn how to practice and study Yoga.’

In that my role as a teacher trainer is to train students to teach and the conflict with the realities of encountering students that are not yet adequately trained to practice, or in their understanding of and relationship to personal practice.

As I have said many times, my role as a trainer is to teach you to teach Āsana not teach you how to practice Āsana (amidst many other dimensions of learning Yoga).”

Hence this led to a complete and total restructuring of my own student based and teacher based Study Programmes. This stripping away back to the raw content, rather than just a re-tweak,  took 3 years to rewrite and reframe into its current format. What has arisen from the ashes, I feel, brings me closer to the environment within which I learnt myself all those decades ago.

One outcome is that my current teacher training programme is that it sits, on outward appearance, amongst those 200 hour, 18 month programmes that J Brown refers to in his post as:

“That acquiescence to the fallacy of a 200-hour standard has resulted in cookie-cutter certificate factories that are quickly destroying any remnant of authentic yoga. Hordes of unqualified teachers with dubious credentials are being unleashed upon an unknowing public, causing injury and sullying the name of an ancient and sacred tradition.”

I agree and would add comment from my 2012 post quoted above:

“Or, of even more concern, a re-setting of the bar downwards in order to compete in this shopping mall of one stop Yoga training department stores and franchises.”

“Personally when I look around the various modern UK Yoga accreditation organisations lists of approved teachers and see the 100’s (if not 1000’s or even tens of 1000’s worldwide) of Yoga Training courses all around the 200 hour mark and all competing I really wonder what will happen in another one or two decades.”

Thus I now get many enquiries from the first sight of it being yet another 200 hour TTC on the Block. This first glance is even more attractive because the training focus also embraces another new kid on the training block, that of Yoga as a Therapy.

However, these enquiries soon move away from the enthusiasm at the potential of an appealing career change, such as J Brown mentions in his post as:

“Or if you read any number of mainstream media outlets, you might think that yoga teacher training is a plausible way out of your terrible office job. A way to become your own boss and make a living off the healthy lifestyle that we all crave. All you need to do is complete your yoga teacher training, nail some impressive poses on Instagram, and you’re good to go.”

Why, because of the caveat that prior to even applying to commence this seemingly fast track 200 hour, 18 month teacher training programme, the student must complete a personal based Yoga practice and study exploration through a minimum of 250 hours of prerequisite training in the twin fields of Yoga Practice Techniques and Theory and Yoga Textual and Lifestyle Studies.

This distinction and emphasis on a prerequisite that is actually more hours than the TTC itself, is further explored in a September 2014 post on:

What is the relationship between Yoga training as a Student or as a Teacher?

Where I commented:

“This is unusual these days, as normally to access such a breadth and depth of Yoga training material a student would need to be a participant within a Yoga Teacher Training Course.

It also increasingly appears these days that around teacher training courses we are even seeing a burgeoning of ‘fast track’ priorities, seemingly to more quickly accumulate prospective trainees, thus further reducing the options and especially time, amidst our many other life commitments, for a deeper learning as a student prior to undertaking training as a prospective Yoga teacher.”

As well as this observation, I commented again regarding the conflict of simultaneously learning, training and marketing in the same September 2014 post:

“Added to this can be the burden of the pressure, or desire, around being out there whilst dealing with all the business and promotional aspects involved in drumming up students, amidst also having to engage with all the required specialist Yoga Teaching and Yoga Therapy training learning. This can create a situation where the student’s personal developmental and practice priority focus becomes blurred.

Especially these days with the phenomena of there now being many hundreds of Yoga Teacher Training Courses available, thus increasing competition for both aspiring teachers and available students.”

We also increasingly find that even the Vinyāsa Krama, where there were developmental steps for students from learning about practice and study at a personal level ere to moving towards learning practice and study for teaching others is now not necessary.

In other words a situation we now encounter, from the same September 2014 post:

 “It has even become a career option for school leavers these days, classified alongside Aerobics, Fitness, Personal Trainers, etc.”

Which brings me onto the second consideration I would like to add to the above comments on the difficulties of simultaneously studying and practicing personally for oneself and professionally for others. This is around the idea of Group Class situations facilitating an environment where you learn Yoga, rather than just do Yoga.

I look at how Yoga studios are increasingly trending towards Fitness Centre style offerings where you just drop in whenever it suit you, popularised by early morning on the way to work or lunchtime classes, or on the way home happy hour classes.

I feel this perspective is also compounded by themed classes such as Yoga for: Happy Hips, Stress Management, Men, Fitness, Relaxation, Mindfulness, Runners, the Soul, Weight Loss, the Peaceful, Energy, Back Pain, Harmony, et al

This trending is further exacerbated by:

“studios offering ‘as many as you can eat in a month’ style discounts and modern Yoga mat style cut ’em thin so you can pack ’em in facilities.

Taken from a post in December last year around:

It is interesting that in this current boom of Yoga Vogueing there are two distinct camps emerging……

Furthermore this restaurant style Yoga canteen facility makes it increasingly difficult to offer a learning environment rather than a mere practice mat space, as emphasised by a quote from the same post.

“Though these marketing strategies can also mean thats its increasingly difficult to develop a continuity of student profiling or a systematic developmental pedagogy, but what the heck its all Yoga.”

Thus Yoga is in danger of no longer being seen as a learning environment where you explore why you might be practicing, or even remembering what you practiced the previous time you attended. This might also be a factor whereby the more formulaic styles with fixed patterns of practice may appeal from the viewpoint of familiarity.

Equally, of course for some, if the plat du jour is not different every day then they will seek a new chef.

Either way what we have is an inconsistent educational learning environment, as well as a teacher being able to easily cultivate a developmental progressive Yoga teaching curriculum and especially one that extends beyond just being able to be bendier or more acrobatic or more athletic.

Even the expectation that students are there to learn something rather than lose something, as one student remarked to a trainee “I haven’t come here to learn”. Or the critique “Oh yes ‘viniyoga’ is where they spend half the class putting the practice on the board”. Or even a head of a college asking me why I need a board as its a Yoga class!

As J Brown rightly observes, albeit I feel with the attendant issues as mentioned earlier:

“Nowadays, yoga teacher training is where people are going when they want to actually learn yoga.”

This is where ironically, Yoga teacher training courses tend to be more systematic in that there is a curriculum and that it may extend beyond Āsana practice techniques into perhaps the theory of practice. Or even to other areas of practice, or even exploring underlying areas such as the energetic or philosophical underpinnings that support the practice.

Though the fact remains that not everybody wants to or actually needs to become a Yoga teacher to further their practice and study. Yet as many have said, this was the only way to learn Yoga, but this personal learning can then get hijacked within the professional demands.

Amongst the feedback I get from my current personal development curriculum is a sense of relief to be freed from the pressure of having to join a teacher training course, or the view that its something I do not have to worry about choosing for a year or more.

Along with this is the observation that this current teacher training based Yoga learning exclusivity is an unfair balance and frankly a far cry from how my teachers taught. They did not ever ‘run’ teacher training courses, nor saw that such environments were the club wherein the deeper teachings required a membership of becoming a trainee teacher.

Thus, I feel, that with this necessary professional emphasis on teaching or helping others, the priorities are by default less towards personal development and thus questions relating to our personal practice and study are not the priorities.

Or it almost feels selfish to be just focused on me and for many, as in other areas of our personal life, the me is relegated down the list over the kids (students) in our care.

This is a situation that I have encountered many times with teachers, attending personal development courses, so orientated to grabbing stuff to teach or help others with that, that the enquiry towards our own practice and study is consumed by trying to be the good enough teacher.

In addition to the stress of wanting to be ‘good enough’, the newbie teacher is also faced with the increasing reality that students come to Yoga to lose something, albeit symptoms associated with physical decline or mental disturbance, etc. Or gain something such as energy or ecstasy, or escape from other areas of the lives, etc.

Not that these things are wrong or bad, but it feels increasingly that Yoga is becoming more geared towards enhancing our sense of ‘I’ve still got it’ immortality, rather than exploring the more fundamental existential questions around our encroaching mortality.

Consequently I feel these influences and demands for Yoga to serve these needs are increasingly shaping the market and, with it the teacher training priorities are too much towards this more narcissistic aspect of ourselves, at the expense of exploring our relationship with what is truly permanent.

Personally I also feel that a student needs be free to learn all that Yoga can offer at every level of practice and study without encountering any need or pressure to become a teacher in order to access these areas.

This means perhaps two things. Firstly that teacher training courses bring all the learning around Yoga out into a more student based learning domain. Hence in introducing my own teacher training courses I write:

In other words the Practitioner Training Programme does not add any further personal Yoga Practice or Yoga Study skills, instead it is purely focussed on the art of applying what you have learnt to others within a variety of situations and for a range of conditions.”

Secondly, that modern style group class Yoga needs to be presented more as a place to learn all aspects of Yoga rather than the current situations I hear about such as ‘where folks even leave when it gets to the breathing bit’.

Given though, as J Brown observes:

Important to note that only sixty years or so ago, there were no group yoga classes.
An overwhelming majority of people who currently practice yoga have come to it by way of a drop-in group yoga class. But what many don’t realize is that this is an entirely modern format for yoga. In the not so distant past, there was no such thing.”

Maybe Yoga Studios need to be more Yoga Schools and with that rebranding offer more comprehensive curriculums and not just a progression based on physical expertise, as if an acrobat, or gymnast, or even ironmind. However exploring the esoteric and psychological is not a potential winner in terms of survival amongst the fittest.

But heck I’ve finished with school and I come to Yoga for playtime perhaps or maybe time out from the day school, or the pursuit of that which I am in fear of losing?

So thank you J Brown for your thoughtful reflections, to which I add my two main concerns regarding my perception of issues around exclusiveness of a comprehensive Yoga Learning to within teacher training and exclusion of a comprehensive Yoga Learning curriculum within modern group class environments.

One thought on “Yoga Learning without Teacher Training and within Group Classes

  1. Thanks for continuing this conversation Paul. While I have not gone as far as you in making consistent attendance a prerequisite for my program, it is required in order to complete. And honestly, only about 20% of people who participate bring it to conclusion and actually receive a certificate from me. Precisely for this reason. One thing is for sure, apprenticeship/mentorship that happens over time with consistency is essential.

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