Yoga as Exercise, Exercise as Yoga……

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These past ten years have found me increasingly re-evaluating my work as a Yoga Teacher Trainer, within an ever widening proliferation and saturation of Yoga teacher training options, amidst accompanying concerns of competitive bar-lowering in teacher training programme course lengths and entry criteria.

This on-going re-evaluation has also sat within the ever widening debates, around the dilution/merging/hijacking/branding/re-labelling of Yoga and amidst multifarious claims as to the ‘origins’ within the oft used generic of Modern Postural Yoga. These debates and origin/ownership source arguments now exist not only within the West but even within its original home in the Indian sub-continent.

Adapting the form of Yoga is one thing.
Adapting the roots of Yoga another.
Better not to confuse the two when choosing.

Aside from this, at the heart of my concerns, amidst the backdrop of the increasing compromises I experienced in trying to ‘fit’ the methodology and process I learnt in India into the Western educational large group learning paradigms, was a wish to reflect even more studiously the 121 and small group teaching mediums that were the lifelong foundations of  T Krishnamacharya‘s and TKV Desikachar‘s work in Chennai.

Whilst appreciating the potential convenience from such mediums as found within the more commonly offered large group, multi-topic Yoga Training Courses, I’d also increasingly experienced that mixing a variety of aspects, albeit all Yoga, within one Course had increasing limitations in terms of topic learning depth and accommodating individual learning modalities.

For example, comparing the different learning modalities between students in terms of some students being innately competent at or around the physically perceptive aspects of practice whilst struggling with the practice theory or psychological textual concepts, or vice versa.

Or observations on the level of the students personal interest varying according to the nature or content of the topic being presented. Or even encountering distinctions being made as to whether the topic being presented has a professional application rather than something being seemingly only for personal application and maybe not even that immediately.

These days there is lots of talk on what is involved in training to be a Yoga Teacher,
however little talk on what is involved in training to be a Yoga Student.

Such are the increasing market pressures on modern Yoga/Āsana teachers/instructors to have their professional ‘skills’ and even brand ‘image’ sorted ere to integration of their personal practice and study priorities within the demands of their teaching commitments.

This increasing concern has once more led me back to the way I was taught where, alongside my primary paradigm of 121 lessons for personal practice, it was through mono-topics focussing on in-depth study of one area whether practice theory or textual studies.

This decision to say ‘enough’ meant a five year project since 2010 with several attempts at re-defining and re-prioritising of my entire Yoga Student Training and Yoga Teacher Training structure with its Introductory, Foundation, Practitioner and Postgraduate Course and Training offerings.

These attempts culminated eventually in choosing to make a total dissolution of all my existing structures within a re-write from the ground up of the entire Yoga Practice and Textual Study Personal Programme.

This means that the new Programme now offers over 600 contact hours of purely student prioritised training, within Small Group Study Projects through two day Workshops and four day Courses, all with an in-depth focus around:

  • Single topic specialisation facilitating a learning intensity
  • Modular structuring offering progressive levels for study and development
  • Exclusive learning environment supporting study and absorption
  • Small group size limited to around five students for personal attention
  • Relevance to personal situation through group size and single focus topic
  • Studying practice and texts with a personal rather than teacher training priority

This development of these two student based learning threads of Yoga Practice and Practice Theory and Yoga Textual Studies now mean that the 2017 Teacher Training Programme no longer has any Yoga content, it all being learnt as a student prior to needing to make any choices regarding whether or not to add professional teaching skills to the Personal Yoga learning already embraced.

The freedom that arose from separating my sense of responsibility for the ongoing transmission of my teachers own learning via professional skill based trainings, from my concern for transmission of the same teachings purely for a students personal learning development, was a relief.

Furthermore this sense of relief not only arises for me, but also from students own comments on their desire just to learn Yoga as a personal pursuit. This personal interest has often pressurised them into joining teacher training courses, as this was the only route by which they could access the depth and breadth of Yoga beyond what usually transpired within such as group class structures.

Yoga is a process to train a student,
not a training to process a teacher.

One further outcome of this re-alignment for me is an opportunity to sift through the 25 odd lever arch files that contain my 40 years of notes from my personal studies and re-evaluate any resources accumulated from other sources around teacher training.

The image that heads this article is one such example of a document that I accumulated from my early studies in Western anatomy, physiology and kinesiology in the 1980’s. It was from a Final Theory Examination for a Teacher Training Course within  the Woman’s League of Health and Beauty. Founded in the 1930’s it now operates under the title of the Fitness League.

Curiously, in researching the current incarnation of this organisation I looked at a promotional video of their ‘style’ on their website and have to comment I would find it quite difficult to distinguish from some of the current offerings around for Yoga Classes.

If you teach using background music, incorporate moving or dance style sequences, or use postures such as two foot support, or cobra, or half locust or seated forward bend, amidst a fitness based approach, then the differences between Yoga Āsana and Exercise Postures become increasingly blurred.

It increasingly appears that Yoga has been acculturated into the fitness mindset
rather than fitness being acculturated into the Yoga mindset.

However looking behind the similarities found within the front end presentation of Āsana and Exercise, at the priorities within the teacher training requirements in both, within the fields of Anatomy, Physiology and Kinesiology, raises questions given the depth and breadth of the minimum knowledge based expected of a trainee.

I would invite the reader, especially if a Yoga Teacher, to explore the questions in the sample paper as to whether they could respond within an exam based situation, let alone off the cuff?

Coming back to the issues that I raised at the beginning of this post begs a question or two:

  • Firstly, are these questions a reasonable selection of learning expectations for any Yoga teacher teaching postures within Modern Postural Yoga settings?
  • Secondly, would many of the current crop of Yoga Teacher Trainees make the grade if asked to complete this paper off the cuff containing the topics illustrated in this example?
  • Thirdly, are these areas that need to be an integral part of Yoga teacher training, given the posture dominant fitness and exercise focus these days and expectations of those attending looking for similar outcomes?
  • Fourthly, maybe these areas are already priorities within Yoga teacher training courses. If so are they at the expense of the personal practice and textual study Yoga training in favour of group class fitness and exercise environment skills?

I’m not advocating exams, merely raising questions from different perspectives around the priorities and skill expectations in the fields of Anatomy, Physiology and Kinesiology within modern Yoga Teacher Trainings, given their priorities and that the context they majoritively operate within, is the fitness and exercise environment.

For me there is an existential difference between teaching Exercise as Yoga and Yoga as Exercise.
In the former its a goal, in the latter a vehicle.

I am interested, given the training expectations of an organisation, that on its name alone might surprise the reader as to its minimum training requirements for its teachers working solely within a fitness and exercise environment. I leave the reader to reflect on this for themselves given this example from over three decades ago.

Download the Question Paper as a PDF

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Increasingly I observe Yoga teachers, even if not trained specifically in……

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

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