Yoga Teacher Training : Does it Cover Being Safe?

Recently good friend and Chakra 5 Instructor Lewis Victor posted this article on Facebook, which states that Yoga Alliance is Ruining the Yoga Industry:

The first thing I thought was, “well, this company is a competitor of Yoga Alliance”.  However, that doesn’t mean that they don’t make fantastic points that I agree with wholeheartedly.  Besides, why should the Yoga Alliance be the only officially recognized certification program?

This topic came up again when  I was interviewing a new candidate to add to our mobile yoga team. The person I interviewed is a certified Sport Yoga specialist through the National Exercise and Sports Trainer Associations training program, with additional coursework in sport coaching and sport psychology.  He put himself out in the world immediately to teach and started working with everyone from primarily male athletes to seniors at retirement centers.  He also has excellent references, and I’m sure that when I go to watch him teach, I’ll be plenty satisfied.

He could’ve had years of extended training programs and academic coursework, but the main thing that attracted me to him is that he got himself out in the world and working with real people with real limitations and personal physical challenges of all kinds.  He wasn’t yelling over a headset to 40 people herding in and out of a gym every hour (not that there aren’t decent yoga teachers in that situation).

There is a significant amount of training on teaching and working with group classes with NESTA.  And that is where I think Yoga Alliance falls short.  My own training was a Yoga Alliance-approved curriculum that was overwhelmingly focused on yoga history and philosophy, with a decent amount dedicated to the fundamentals of level 1 and 2 asana, meditation, Pranayama and science/biology (that last part was my favorite).  I spent many of my required hours attending classes at my teacher’s studio.  While it was certainly helpful to watch her teach, I wish I could have actively assisted her in the class, or had time to talk to her about why she approached certain people and certain situations certain ways.  I never got enough experience learning how to assess people or situations on the fly until I just threw myself into teaching anyone that would let me–friends, family–for free.

Yoga Alliance is a decent program from an academic standpoint, but they need to provide a better way for teachers in training to get more experience teaching.  Safely. I think adding a module that covers common class safety hazards would be great (like students trying to do headstand against a wall with no supervision and collapsing into an awful position that looks like their necks are bent in half!  Oh my goodness!)  I have attended so many classes around town where the instruction, the sequencing was so WRONG.  There seems to be more of a correlation with reckless teaching at Bikram/hot yoga studios and sometimes Anusara ones (from my own observances).

Learning to teach effectively and safely is an art I am evolving in every time I teach.  I will never stop learning.  In my early days, just like other newbies, I made a lot of the same mistakes with trying to encourage people into headstands.  Now I think headstands are generally not good for anyone.  If my students insist they want to do it, I make sure they watch me first doing if the safest way I know how, but I still don’t recommend it for most people.  I used to do the entire yoga class with the students.  Now, I walk around and observe more carefully to make sure nobody is hurting themselves.  Before, I used to focus on speed and getting as many sun salutations (with a dramatic jump back into Chaturanga, of course!), now I focus more on challenging students to get in proper alignment and hold warrior 1 for a whole minute.  I’m still working on improving the experience I give to students every day.  Recently I was working with one of our corporate clients, and during class one of the students said: “Miss, could you please come look at me?”  That was a real eye-opener that I was not doing enough observing/adjusting and was spending too much time at the front “demonstrating”.

We definitely need to improve the existing training systems out there, and should embrace other programs as well.  There are many paths that can lead to a good teacher, but one of the best is just going out and getting real, varied experience.

McKenna Rowe is the Founder of Chakra 5 Mobile Yoga, an experienced team of corporate yoga instructors that provides mobile yoga classes on location and by appointment at businesses, schools and organizations throughout greater Los Angeles. Call us to start your corporate wellness program today: 310-853-3885.

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