I still remember how I chose my yoga Teacher training. There was a lot less choice back then, but still the same arguments about which organisation provided the most thorough training & even whether training was needed to teach yoga! I remember walking around the Yoga Show in London being sold at by various organisations & being tempted by flying abroad to do my training on a beach somewhere!! I have a background of academia & enjoy study, so I wanted to make sure I made the right decision. It was also a big decision financially; I sold my car to finance it!! So, I really wanted to get as much as I could from the experience. Having already completed some counselling training I understand the idea that a longer course was often necessary to allow the student to develop themselves, & that much of this study requires personal experiences to fully develop as a teacher or practitioner. I understood that just because insurance was in theory available for quick fix courses, that they would not provide me with the depth of study, understanding & development required to be what I considered a safe teacher. I wanted to be able to trust myself with the vulnerable! I know when I first started my yoga practice I was nurtured by an experienced, knowledgeable and kind teacher & I wanted to continue in that lineage with my own students.
After all my research, I was torn between the Independent Yoga Network who I knew from links with my father & the British Wheel of Yoga who were Sports England accredited & appeared to be one of the largest most supportive organisations. I wanted an organisation who really oversaw their accredited courses rather than just taking money off teacher trainers to accredit courses. I chose the BWY course because it only offered 500hr training & had strict application requirements. I was less impressed by the courses which required merely payment…I wanted to feel I had earnt my qualification!! And wow did I feel that!! I was also completing a Masters degree at that time & in so many ways my BWY training asked the equivalent level of study from me. It also required that I attended regular weekly classes throughout my over 3 years of training, completed a pranayama diary so I understood how the different breathing techniques affected me on different levels over time. We started the course by looking at the anatomy & physiology of the human body, understanding the contraindications & modifications required by many conditions that yoga students may attend with. We read, discussed, wrote essays on & generally enjoyed deep philosophical discussions from the history of yoga. Great texts such as the Apanashads & the Bhagavad Gita which still have such relevance in modern society once you understand their messages.
The most important thing I learnt from my BWY training is that yoga is a lifetime study. That we are required to do CPD to maintain our qualification…not because they wanted more money from us but because part of being a good yoga teacher was that our first 500hr training was a foundation for much more training to come. That it provided us a with a base from which to explore the different yoga traditions, the new fads coming through (Boxing yoga, acroyoga, yin yoga, goat yoga!!!) some of which have become respected ideas & some which came & went!! I have chosen to move into the area of yoga therapy as I found most people attending classes or private tuition had dents…these dents may be physical…bad backs, knee pain, flat feet, or issues such as anxiety, insomnia or neurological conditions. Some of these conditions were temporary & some chronic & I chose to explore how yoga can benefit the most common ones I saw. Over the years I have seen some beautiful experiences, people learning how to live comfortably with a body or mind that prior to yoga they struggled with.
I have also learnt to utilise yoga to deal with my own life struggles, the stress of adulting, the curveballs I experienced emotionally, physically through two back surgeries & a double hip replacement plus neurological issues leaving me with only one working foot. My good training foundation allowed me to not only to continue to practise yoga, but also to teach, explore & continue my own exploration in the vast subject that we call yoga! As I will touch upon in future blogs, yoga is such a huge subject, basically designed to reduce human suffering!! A good thing from any angle!! I am forever grateful to my teacher in building the understanding that a practice that doesn’t change you in some way, is not yoga! That yoga is the process of change towards something better.
So how do I feel when I see yoga training options in most yoga studios, many holiday destinations, even on Groupon!! I feel nervous for the future of yoga. I have so many students ask me if I can advise on training as it seems that being a yoga teacher is now trendy! Wow I have never been trendy until now!!!! What concerns me is not the students asking, as many of you know we are very lucky with so many previous students of Yoga in Cheshire now being well qualified, experienced lovely teachers. I worry about those wanting a quick fix. I am concerned about those people who think they can adequately support yoga students in all their vulnerabilities after a few weekends looking at a physical part of the vast subject that is yoga. Those students may have studied a bit of physical movement…but is that yoga?
In my opinion no. Yoga is the beautiful integration of movement & breath. The turning inward & learning how to explore our body & mind with the breath. Yoga is a lifetime practice of learning…it is not making a bendy shape…that is gymnastics. It is not sweating through a workout or achieving a posture with a Sanskrit name although that may be a part of it. Yoga is that which changes you. Yoga supports you. Yoga is the practice of awareness, on & off your mat. Yoga is focusing on the breath in the moments when life throws us a curveball. Yoga is helping someone who needs it, even if they don’t notice it. Yoga is a kind word or deed, a relaxed long breath & being able to climb a stile on a walk through nature. Yoga is not about the physicality although that, the asana, is a part of it.
This festive season I have been lucky to have the opportunity to attend many yoga classes with different teachers. It has been a lovely experience…I love to be taught & I am experienced enough to avoid anything that is risky to my body or mind, but I have been astounded at the poor teaching standards offering in the Cheshire region. I often attend with my husband & we have often left the class discussing some of the scarily risky options offered in classes which are marketed as general, open or offered in gyms. As I have a double hip replacement it is good manners to notify teachers of this in case I have to modify postures or take an alternative due to risk of dislocation. I am saddened that few of the yoga teachers even understood which direction a hip replacement is risky…crossing legs ….often only offering me options for postures where we moved in the opposite direction!! Now I am OK….I am a full trained yoga therapist with awareness of how much my body can do. What about a new yogi, someone attending class after hip replacement surgery without my knowledge? I know of students who have had their spines seriously damaged by under-educated yoga teachers, I know of yoga teachers making dangerous adjustments to force students’ bodies into what they may consider an easy posture. Without any understanding of the differences in anatomy, injuries or why they are even doing it! I am saddened that in not one class I have attended has the teacher requested medical history from students prior to attending classes. How can a yoga teacher modify or adapt without that basic knowledge about their students? Without understanding the potential effects of pranayama, breathing practices, how can yoga teachers safely teach them. Especially without understanding the medical history of their students.
How can these instructors, because I do not want to call them yoga teachers, feel that they are safe looking after students without basic knowledge of the common medical conditions & how to adapt for them? How can insurance companies feel that they can insure such instructors if they injure students? Is that not like insuring someone to drive a car when they have only completed the theory aspect of their test? Some of the yoga teacher training offered is only online! How can the training provider know those who qualify with them are safe to teach? How are students to know the difference? If I cannot find out even a full name of yoga instructors in my local gym, & that there is no way to investigate their qualifications, how would potential students know that they are safe. Please be assured that any cover teachers teaching Yoga in Cheshire classes are well qualified, insured & first aid qualified. That they are experienced, that they would appreciate you notifying them of health issues (although I will usually have already done so), & that I trust them with my students.
So, this blog, rant, warning, however you see it is simple. If you are to attend a yoga class please ensure that your teacher is qualified with a provider that requires them to have been fully assessed. If your teacher does not request, or ask individually, for medical history or injuries then maybe be wary of attending that class. Asking for details of injuries across a room full of students is not acceptable as most people are not going to speak up in that situation. Please ensure that your yoga teacher understands how every style of pranayama is not suitable for everyone. That they understand the basic contraindications and modifications required for the most common issues. If a teacher doesn’t offer any options or modifications during classes & you feel they are basing the practice on their ego..what they are good at, rather than the ability of the students attending the class then maybe find a better teacher. The class is not a workout for the teacher, it is not for the teacher to demonstrate that they can achieve a posture, it is not an easy career choice. Teaching yoga is a privilege, something that we need to respect. Teacher training is not an easy way to make extra money but a way of training the next yoga teachers who will support their students through a journey. Please understand the difference between someone who thinks that a few weekends or online training is sufficient. That they are not respecting the health, safety or time of their students. There are many amazing yoga teachers in the North West. There are many possibilities of attending a yoga practice with an instructor but please be safe, be aware of your own limitations & safety. Please if you wish to take your yoga practice further and train as a yoga teacher, understand the depth of the journey you are to undertake. Please don’t try to take shortcuts or see the practice as merely a gymnastic workout. Please spend time researching the possibilities for study, understand that part of that study is self-study & development, & most importantly please enjoy the journey & appreciate the privilege that we have as yoga teachers to support, nurture & allow the practice to promote a change. For that is yoga.