Scroll down for Yoga Teachers update April 4, 2015.
by Suzanne L. Beenackers
It was 2009, and a camera crew and a stressed-out tv host were an hour late. Class was supposed to start, but I felt obliged to give soundbites to this semi-spiritual television show. So I wasn’t exactly in the best of spirits. Cameras were rolling, bright lighting was blinding, and a microphone was poking my face just outside the frame.
“What made you turn to yoga?” the interviewer asked.
This wasn’t scripted! The question wasn’t among the 10 questions the assistant had asked me to prepare. I figured I had two options: either to take her head off literally, or figuratively.
“Madonna did,” I snapped.
Fu**ing up her entire hook, script and item. Well at least no one died, right.
That was the first time I said out loud what I had always considered classified information; that I had never turned to yoga because of anything related to India or spirituality; nor to overcome anxiety attacks. Not for my posture, and not to heal a weak lower back or painful knees.
For a long time my only experience with yoga was a traumatizing case of children’s yoga.
And I didn’t even have back pain or knee issues when I started yoga.
But that would soon change.
Yoga Brainwash Teacher Training
My critical opinion is two folded, because I did two entirely different yoga teacher trainings: both with their own strength and limitations. And it has taken up till now, till Sadie Nardini’s RISE and RISE and RISE on You Tube and her teacher (re-)training courses at the Udemy that I have come to realize how severe the flaws of a teacher training really are, what damage they do and that your diploma comes at a price, that extends the thousands of euros you invested.
I have two students right now who want to start a vinyasa yoga teacher training and I don’t know what to tell them. Next to Sadie, there are two other vinyasa trainers who I believe to be really good. One of them is Tara Stiles, who states her training is about finding your own voice as a teacher, not to duplicate what someone else tells you to.
But even with Tara and Sadie I wonder:
do I still support the idea of an organized teacher training, where you are trained to meet standards and use ideas someone else has set?
Does organized education outweigh the risk of physical damage, the setback in developing your own strengths and vision? Does it compensate a loss of joy in doing yoga?
And from a broader perspective: What are we really doing when we (accredited teachers) claim becoming a yoga teacher is something you should learn at a bona fide and standardized teacher training? Are we acting in the best interest of the students of yoga or are we simply protecting our own livelihood in a pretty pitiful way?
Don’t get me wrong: I know the whole Guru, teacher, India, disciple connection. And for years I bought it. But Sadie Nardini’s online re-education changed my mind.
I have experienced a direct correlation between the amount of alignment and the amount of pain in my body. At times when I practice vinyasa and ashtanga my back and knees are plotting against me; which then makes me turn to therapeutic (and boring) Vini Yoga sequences, where you move at sloth-like pace without any straight line in your body. Tadaa! I heal. Until I start doing vinyasa or ashtanga again because I read someone got her 19 year old thighs back with it, or because I was drooling over Madonna’s upper-arms.
My hatha yoga training on the other hand was alignment-free. Not only did I stay safe: everybody did! Hardly anyone had injuries, and if they did, it was because they were taking power yoga classes, not because of our hatha yoga practice.
Sadie Nardini has studied anatomy, and has designed a new system (with accompanying teacher cues) that allows you to move safely through your vinyasa yoga sequences. Watch what she has to say about Warrior 1, in this You Tube video. However for me, personally, I still struggle with the idea that we would need so much emphasis on alignment, when
obviously my hatha yoga teacher training has managed to keep everyone safe for generations on end.
But in all fairness: they had their own blind spots.
The Serious Yogi Debunked
In an age where we get our inspiration mainly through the internet, yoga teachers have to compete not just with the local pilates center or their colleague in a nearby big city, but with yoga teachers, retreat centers and teacher trainings all over the world!
Your students could also spend their money going to India, to the ashram in the South of France, or by taking online classes from for example Tara Stiles or Sadie Nardini. To compete in a global market you have three options:
1. Stay an old school professional yogi renting a space at the local health center (Oh! Children’s yoga trauma flaring up again!) and appeal only to those who share your digital disdain and to those looking for yoga classes that are completely cut off from their digital lives.
We all take time off from our digital lives so despite my bantering: option 1 is a valid one.
2. digitalize your classes and build an online empire yourself or
3. connect with your students at the classes you teach and also online, being present in both worlds. It is human nature to want to share things (f.e. the fun yoga classes/studio/teacher we love) and there is psychological evidence that exposure leads to love: seeing someones name or face will automatically lead to feelings of affection. So do I have to spell it out how potent it is to be visible online?
For option 2 and 3 you need something that is not provided in the whole Guru, student, teacher, disciple thingy: unwavering faith in yourself. This is not about your strength and weaknesses but about being comfortable with every aspect of yourself. Sadie Nardini gives another cue to this in her course The Yoga of Success:
Market your weird.
An aspect Patanjali never quit got I’m afraid.
Finding your own voice
In my hatha yoga training I learned a lot of things. For example: my cuing is immaculate. Some think that’s because of my slow slightly husky teaching voice, but that’s only half of it. It’s because I was taught with military precision to use exactly the right words to bring people into their own experience of yoga. A priceless gift my teachers gave me for sure.
But what I missed in my hatha yoga training was the authorization, or encouragement to be me.
A striking example is my thesis: you were set to choose the topic of your thesis from a personal perspective. How a mantra effected you, research on a certain yoga pose, that sort of thing. I was keen to use that to my advantage, and to not waste time studying something that would bore the s**t out of me.
So I chose: The Ayurvedic Principles of Vata, Pitta and Kapha explained with The Buddha, Madonna and Brad Pitt. It was hands-down the only authentic thing I produced in those four
years. I even wrote it in English, just like my blogging right now. They congratulated me with the diploma, but I don’t remember them highlighting the thesis. They managed to miss, and to celebrate my most valuable accomplishment:
to find my authentic voice, my yogic identity.
And left without nurture or affirmation, I lost it.
I created a neutral website, used non-offensive class themes and eliminated nearly every reference to popular culture; using only “the good parts” of myself.
Until badass yoga teacher Sadie showed up and told me to stop squaring my hips in Warrior 1, to stop holding out, and to just run with it and unleash my full potential.
Stuff my inner-voice and sprained knees had been trying to tell me for over a decade.
Brainwashed and bad as bankers
Since the first draft of this post the pieces of the puzzle are falling together at staggering speed (although some are still missing). For the first time in my career I’ve reviewed my opinion on teacher training, focusing on ONE question:
Am I being of service?
Can I truly say that I act in the best interest of those who need yoga, or who want to develop their practice, by insisting an accredited Teacher Training is the only right path to becoming a good teacher? The answer is simple: NO.
And then I felt a wave of shame of having been wrong all those years: Successfully brainwashed. I had written an entire blogpost when Joris Luyendijk’s book about bad banks with super nice bankers came out, but couldn’t see that we yoga teachers are doing the exact same thing:
We’re good people in a bad system.
We’re conscious people teaching a philosophy about union, when we have been systematically protecting our profession from intruders. We’re as bad as the overly regulated taxi market being angry with Uber. As guilty as health insurance companies who are profiting on sickness.
By the Gods: we SHOULD be ashamed of ourselves!
The Transition Professor
Next to antropologist Joris Luyendijk there is another scientist whose work I ve been following: Jan Rotmans. He is chopping off the top of every organization chart, tears out every obsolete management layer, and peels away every excuse we have not to change. He is making power companies produce environmentally friendly, and advises government organisation on how to change. His ideas are behind countless new business models where cleaners organize themselves bottom up, and care givers cluster to independent teams instead of working for Molug organizations.
In his book about transition the people who promote change are called topplers (kantelaars) and the institutes or organizations that resist change are The Regime. Contrary to Luyendijk, Rotmans does not let members of a system get away with excuses, but instead holds them fully accountable for their part.
And so do I.
Be a yoga rebel
My conclusion that we need to fundamentally change the way we have organized yoga, is new (and honestly: quite shocking) for me. So I don’t have a manifesto ready, or a campaign we can run. But I can show you three directions in which you can topple, regardless of whether you want to become a (better) professional or want to develop your own practice.
Be of service to others
If you re a yoga teacher ask yourself how you can improve your classes. Is there a way to make your yoga more accessible to your target group? Can you increase the value of what you’re offering?
If you re a trainer of teachers: review your program and find if you can improve it by offering online programs and/ or separate modules on a specific topic. I would encourage you to consider the “impossible”: to take the gratification of accreditation totally out of it. You get paid for your time, knowledge and skill: leave it up to your students to choose what they want to study with you and how much they choose to get out of it.
If you’re a yoga enthusiast and have never taught yoga before, you could start by sharing your knowledge of yoga, and more importantly your passion, for it. With your colleagues, your patients, your clients, classmates, inmates. Even with your children, if you insist 😉 You are the perfect teacher for the people around you. Last week someone with a back injury asked my advice, and although I will look into it before I see her again (to be of service of course!) it made me realize that it would be so cool if every physical therapist or back surgeon would incorporate yoga into their treatment. If you work with a special needs group, or if you have special needs yourself, YOU are a far better teacher for the people you relate to, than “we” teachers. Recently a student told me she had taught English in Africa; she and her colleagues opened with yoga every day. “We brew up our own yoga,” she apologized their lack of professionalism. Good on ya! That’s exactly the way to do it!
On every level: Teach what you know, to the best of your ability, to the people you resonate with. That would be my step one.
There is so much stuff out there, most of it for free even. I m still partial to books, but the number of You Tube tutorials and online classes is phenomenal too. I have a student who taught herself a flawless forearm balance and full bound pigeon with Kino’s ashtanga videos. There are also lectures on complicated things like chakras, karma, mantras; you can find anything on the internet. And an increasing number of trainers are offering their training online, so that you can have access to “classified” knowledge for a bargain price. Real life training is much more time consuming and will include travel expenses, housing, and so on.
You may also still want to consider attending a regular teacher training; if you do it for the fun of it, or as a hobby, or because you prefer in-person training: Go for it!
But remember that you have your own unique voice: keep it vocal and don’t let it be silenced for a decade by the opinions and teaching style of others.
RYT: Become Rebel Certified
The Yoga Alliance in the United States uses the abbreviation RYT: Registered Yoga Teacher. A short training to become a teacher is usually 200 hours, a longer one 500 hours. If you want to boost your confidence or want to start charging money for your classes but are unsure if you are “ready”, you can take these training hours as a bench mark:
Pick & mix your own education and note down the hours you invest in studying.
200 hours? 500 hours?
Accredit yourself and let your RYT stand for Rebel Yoga Teacher!
I wonder if it was a coincidence that I started this Yoga Revolution when I made the Vinyasa Yoga Playlist from Madonna’s REBEL HEART. Probably not. But nevertheless it was a multitude of factors that had been bugging me for quite some time; I had more people than one Queen of Pop showing me the way; and I have my obstinate character to thank as well.
I don’t recommend it though: I lost a lot of sleep, disappointed friends, and that is after only one week. I’ll probably get expelled from the world of yoga, because I think we should take a very close look at the costs of professional yoga training and support a DIY and entrepreneurial attitude for upcoming yoga teachers.
All hot issues that meet resistance.
So no, don’t recommend it.
But I gladly pay the price: this is The Biggie for me. Ruffling some feathers, burning a few bridges and converting one yoga teacher at a time:
That’s what I came here to do.
I have a vision how to break open the yoga market, and how to create some much needed diversity.
1. Welcome new teachers and teaching methods
This is the pro-amateur and do-it-yourself attitude described above. This could be yoga enthusiasts training themselves or someone including yoga in their work, teaching it to friends and so on.
2. Encourage a personal approach in yoga teachers
As soon as teachers find their own voice, and bring their personality and what inspires them to class, they will want to teach more because it starts to nourish themselves. This will put an end to a trend of overqualified barely working teachers.
And their classes will move from good to brilliant: increasing their impact immediately. Since I’ve been studying with Sadie Nardini I have a consistent rise in students: I m now at a 25% increase in students in 5 weeks! And the energy is vibrant & adventurous. Because I feel vibrant and adventurous.
Being authentic is the most empowering thing you can do for your students.
And being successful is also empowering to your students!
Please add that to the list below why you should not shy away from raising your price
3. Ask what you’re worth
It was the first year of my € 8.500 hatha yoga education, and I remember the teacher answering questions on how much you could ask for a class. She said you can ask anything you want, and illustrated it with a story of pregnancy yoga in her city. “I know someone who asks € 20,- for a class. I suppose people will think you’re offering something really special or something.”
Okay, wait a minute.
We’re at the elite yoga training of the Netherlands, and we’re questioning the motives of teachers who ask a lot of money for their class?
How about this?
Standard 500 hour teacher training is € 4000 and a graduate now asks € 9,50 per class.
In my book a € 8500 graduate should then raise the price to € 19,-
And say 10 years experience should add another percentage let’s say to €25
There are different options of course: to scale up, and teach 50 people at the same time, so you can lower the price. I am also a big fan of making paying exciting, with huge discounts if you sign up for a whole season, early bird reduction, and selling out the spots you have to spare to people who think you need it, or bargain hunters.
And of course: never scare away your existing customers.
Email them a guarantee that you’ll provide excellent transition conditions and consider keeping payment the same for them for 18 months or so.
I know many of you will resist the idea of senior teachers asking more money, and how much more, is of course up for debate! But before you dismiss the idea altogether I would like to share a few more nuggets of wisdom here. And my mom said I should add that I have a Master’s in business management.
– you’re not giving new teachers a fair change if you keep the same price
You re like a big whale eating far more than your share, and taking up lots of space in a small pond. Do everybody a favor and migrate to different waters.
– yoga as a sustainable profession
I’m not saying you can’t offer low priced classes. But I believe that as a whole, everybody is better off if yoga is a sustainable profession: it makes it more interesting to become a yoga teacher, to invest in yoga education, which in turn improves and professionalizes the yoga education system. And by professionalizing I mean: education that encourages and allows you to earn back every penny. Multiplied.
The yoga revolution so far has brought a vision of inspiring yoga teachers, with great impact, and setting a good example as sound and financially responsible people. Yet, it’s still developing so please send me an email if you like to contribute at firstname.lastname@example.org
or leave your thoughts below.