If you are a yoga teacher or training to teach – what governed your choice of training course? Did you feel ‘ready to teach’ before you began teaching?
I realised the title subjects have been occupying space in my head and time in my days without really making it onto my blog – so this week it’s a yoga post!
How I chose my training course, and how it’s going
I knew I wanted a thorough, reputable training course. It had to be mostly ‘distance-learning’ to fit round work, family and living in a remote rural area. I could manage being away for a long weekend every month or so for training.
I can see the allure of intensive training courses: a potentially wonderful atmosphere in which to immerse yourself in yoga and form close bonds with fellow trainees. And it would be particularly lovely if you were somewhere warm (she said wistfully, what with it still being a wintry 5 degrees Celsius here).
Not happening on a beach in Scotland.
(Photo credit: www.thesanctuarythailand.com)
It wasn’t possible for me to trot off somewhere sunny for a couple of months, but anyway I think it suits me better to train over years rather than months – it’s good having time to process and reflect on what I’ve learned between training weekends.
I have done all sorts of yoga over the decades and I knew I didn’t want to train in a narrowly defined school or tradition. I enjoy different styles when I get the chance, particularly if the teachers are not just well-trained in their chosen school, but also open to the possibility of learning from other traditions. There are one or two yoga schools that – while they have some excellent teachers – come across as keeping themselves rather separate and being quite hierarchical. I’ve heard stories of people feeling stressed and miserable about failing yoga exams, or being told they can only do things in a certain manner or routine. Personally, I think yoga is for everyone – no matter their strength, flexibility, age, health, or any other factor. The principles underlying yoga don’t advocate feeling superior, judging others harshly, or excluding. And most of us could benefit from valuing the discipline of thorough learning while still being a little light-hearted and playful in our approach.
So I chose a course which seemed welcoming and inclusive, but also took yoga and teacher training seriously, expecting hard work and high standards. It’s run by a long-established Scottish organisation, with a network of around 300 qualified, registered and insured teachers. It’s fun, too – we laugh a lot at training weekends.
I’ve noticed online that yoga teacher training qualifications often – perhaps particularly in the States? – seem to come as ‘200’ or ‘500’ (referring to the hours spent training). My own course is described as a 500+ hour course running part-time over two years. You can apply for it if you have practised yoga for at least three years and it’s strongly recommended you do a year’s foundation course first, too (their own or any similar equivalent). I did their foundation course (before I had any plan of becoming a teacher!) which consisted of ten 6 hour training days, spread over six months.
Over the two years of the teacher training course, there is a full interview day, two residentials at a retreat centre (Friday-Sunday) and 12 non-residential weekends (9.30am-5.30pm Saturdays and Sundays). We are expected to have a daily home practice of a minimum of 30 minutes and to keep a practice journal. We are also required to spend at least ten hours observing lessons given by experienced teachers. There are a further ten hours allocated to preparation and delivery of our own class teaching, and 15 hours for the planning and delivery of our assessed lessons (over the next year, we will be observed teaching three lessons to a class of at least 8-16 people).
There are specialist guest slots during the two years (covering e.g. First Aid certification, and yoga during pregnancy). The course has two main tutors, responsible for the professional teaching/asana/pranayama aspects. Then there’s a philosophy tutor and also an anatomy tutor (who is a yoga/meditation teacher and also a senior oncology nurse). There are lots of assignments. Last year’s graduates were asked to work out how much time they had spent on written assignments and the range was 32-300 hours, with the average student spending 64 hours.
It amuses me to realise many friends and acquaintances assume I’m wafting around lighting incense, chanting Om and perhaps standing on my head. People always look startled when they ask ‘what’ve you been up to today?’ and I reply something like ‘I wrote 1500 words on aspects of the musculoskeletal system, how about you?’
I’m really enjoying the course. And boy am I glad I’m not school teaching this session. There are a few full-time teachers in the trainee group and they look tired. I do appreciate the luxury of being able to do the course properly, not squeeze it in between other exhausting and competing demands. I’m also glad I’ve been doing (and reading about) yoga for a quarter of a century, and have done some previous anatomy and physiology training. I think this course would be a bit much for someone who had only come to yoga three years ago and had no knowledge of anatomy/health issues.
Ready to teach?
When I started the foundation course, I wasn’t planning on being a yoga teacher. I just wanted to learn more about yoga and spend more time doing it. There are a lot of poses I can’t do and some I will probably never be able to do, just because of the way I’m structured. So I’d ruled myself out of yoga teaching without ever thinking it through. I was genuinely amazed to find that when friends and acquaintances heard I was doing the foundation course, the commonest response was ‘you’d be a great yoga teacher.’ The three yoga teachers who know me best all encouraged me to open my mind to the possibility that there is room for all sorts of yoga teachers, not just superbendy ones.
I loved the foundation course, and wanted to carry on, so I applied for the two year teacher training. At that point I was still thinking, ‘but I don’t think I’ll teach big classes. Perhaps I’ll do one-to-one lessons from home, or specialise in yoga for the elderly, or those with chronic back pain.’ The course tutors have been consistently encouraging in their attitude of ‘well, you may choose to do that, but there’s no reason you have to do that.’
I have 20 years’ experience teaching, in primary and higher education, and several of my fellow trainees who’ve never taught have said to me, ‘oh, that must make it so much easier for you.’ I’m sure it must do in some ways, but it’s funny how different it felt teaching yoga. For more than half my life, it has been something I learned in a class, or practised on my own – a personal thing that was all about exploring my own mind and body. Silently. It was bizarre at first, trying to do yoga that including moving, breathing and talking!
I gave a few one-to-one lessons to my dad and my husband, but I still wasn’t confident about teaching others or larger groups. Then fate forced my hand. My local yoga teacher (a lovely, supportive woman who has taught me for 8 years) has had a terrible year of family bereavement and illness. When the most recent crisis struck, she phoned and asked if I could possibly teach her classes for a couple of weeks.
I wanted to help her. I said I would. But I didn’t feel ready. And I wasn’t even certain if I was allowed to start teaching unsupervised yet (though of course, we have done more than a ‘200 hour’ qualification already). I checked with the course tutors and they confirmed that I was insured to teach and they both felt confident I was ready to. I confessed I was still concerned about not being flexible enough to demonstrate certain poses. One of the tutors said a nice thing to me – I wish I could remember the exact words! It was something like ‘you don’t need to worry – you work with yourself and do yoga with integrity, and that will inspire respect and confidence in your students.’ They both said ‘just be yourself, and you’ll be fine’.
Last week four local ‘yoga regulars’ kindly came round to my house so I could run through an hour and a half lesson with them. It really boosted my confidence. After that I felt nervous, but also sure it would be okay and I would even enjoy it.
I taught my first ‘proper’ class for two hours on Monday. Nine people, seven of whom I knew and are long-term yoga practitioners, and two women I’d never met before who were new to the class. I hadn’t expected any newbies at the Monday class, but it was okay as I was able to keep a closer eye on them, knowing that none of the rest of the class would do anything which might injure themselves. Next week I’m doing the Monday class again, plus a one-off class for five primary age children on Wednesday morning, plus the larger beginners/general class for 90 minutes on Wednesday evening. That’ll be the trickiest one, with up to 16 people, several of whom will be trying yoga for the first time. Then I’m likely to be teaching the two evening classes for a few weeks after that. My yoga teacher has loaned me all her equipment. When I picked it up, I could see how tired she is, and how relieved she was to be able to hand over the classes temporarily.
My fellow trainees have not started teaching yet. They are all in the middle of doing their first observed assessment. You can have this done by your own teacher (the next two have to be done by another teacher). And I’m in the opposite situation from the rest of our group – not able to get my assessment done yet, but responsible for several classes this month. It feels a bit odd, but exciting. It’ll be good experience and I’m sure it will all work out in the end.
Wish me luck…and tell me your own stories!