This past Sunday marked the end of my six-month teacher-training course at Avalon Yoga Studio in Palo Alto, California. While I don’t often speak for a couple dozen or so other people (at least not all at once) I believe it’s a safe bet they’re as ecstatic as I am to see the return of a weekend for the first time since the beginning of September. I’d be lying, however, if I didn’t confess there is a part of me that will miss the gathering – the friends I made, the philosophies I embraced and the moments that tested and challenged me.
The teacher training at Avalon is unique. Where other programs train to a certain method or school, the comprehensive 200-hour program at Avalon introduces participants to the major styles of modern yoga. Guest instructors lead us in sessions of Iyengar, Jivamukti, Restorative, Dharma Mittra and more.
The program places a heavy emphasis on recent scholarly research that suggest the asana practice we believed was thousands of years old is actually a 20th century construct. Not everyone is ready to accept this radical re-thinking of our discipline’s history. For me, however, knowing Surya Namaskar arrived at the beginning of the last century and not centuries before brings a sense of relief. Understanding how asana practice evolved gives me permission to participate in the evolution.
The program also offers an examination of the yogic texts. Most of us won’t be scholars on the subject but yoga teachers should at least be familiar with the Sutra’s, the Gita, Pradapika and Upanishads. Fortunately, the teaching at Avalon made the philosophy of the ancient texts relevant to our hectic 21st century.
The Avalon faculty is a diverse group. Standouts for me are psychologist and author Kelly McGonigal, yoga historian Mark Singleton, restorative yoga doyenne Judith Hanson Lasater and musician Girish. We can’t forget beloved local Iyengar instructor Shastri and Jivamukti dynamo Giselle Mari. Although Jivamukti doesn’t resonate with me, Giselle is an amazing teacher full of life and energy. She even softened my hard-edged opinion about the use of music during asana practice.
Avalon Studio Owner and Director of the Teacher Training Program Steve Farmer is a generous man. During the duration of the training participants are invited to attend any yoga class at Avalon for free. He encourages us to build our teaching skills by inviting us to teach free classes for the community at the Avalon studio.
All this is great. Without a doubt the Avalon Teacher Training Program is an excellent educational opportunity. But like most teacher training programs it is not without its flaws.
I entered the program with a beginner’s mind and eighteen years of teaching experience. I wanted to learn. But there is an art to teaching people how to teach and I found too many guest lecturers did not have that skill. While they are more than able to teach yoga blind folded with two hands tied behind their back, they don’t have the skill set for teaching people how to teach. I found this frustrating, and a bad attitude began to crowd out my beginner’s mind.
And while the opportunity to practice our teaching skills through the free community classes is a generous one, someone with limited prior teaching experience might find the prospect too intimidating to consider. My feeling is that the program should offer more opportunities to teach in the classroom right from the start and that those teaching moments should include a peer review.
I am not the only one who feels in-class teaching time was too limited. The issue was discussed in an open forum on our last day of class. Steve easily agreed and is working to add more teaching peer reviews.
The Avalon Teacher Training Program is not perfect, but do I recommend the program?
Absolutely. Without a doubt. It’s the best non-residential yoga teacher-training program I’ve seen.
It happened about four months into the training. One of my long time students approached me after class. She said, “You know, Mimm, I’ve always enjoyed your classes. But something’s changed. It’s your teaching. You’ve become a better teacher.”
My first thought was “after eighteen years it’s about time.”
But then I realized that despite the moments when my beginner’s mind failed and arrogance overwhelmed me; even when I wore my bad attitude like a heart on my sleeve, I still learned. When I disagreed with an instructor, my faith in what I believe yoga is grew stronger. And when the words I heard resonated in my heart – which was often – I learned even more.
The Avalon Teacher Training Program stretched my teaching wings. It pushed, encouraged and enlightened me. My confidence as a teacher has grown but more than that I now know with unstinting certainty there is room for the style of asana practice I embrace in the continuing evolution of modern yoga. And I have the Avalon Teacher Training Program to thank for that.