Will Western Yoga Change When We Return to the Studio?

What makes a yoga teacher? Pieces of paper? Letters behind a name? I’ve plenty of both and yet I hesitate to call myself a ‘teacher’. A facilitator? Sure. A guide? Maybe. But twenty-eight years – almost to the day – of standing at the front of the studio for the first time I recoil at the thought of using the word ‘teacher’ to describe what I do when I roll open my mat.

A conundrum forms when we try to codify unregulated practices like yoga. Codification helps set standards the consumer should trust but it also transforms a time-honored practice into an industry. It binds yoga to an unnatural list of rules and expectations that, the longer I lead classes, the more I want to push against.

The post that follows is little more than a frustrated vent. I know I have a point in there somewhere. I mean, I really do believe we need to question the current system. What I don’t know is how those questions take shape and what are the answers they reveal?

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon an online advertisement for a new yoga teacher training program created by a well-known leader in the yoga therapy community. Since then one question has been simmering in the back of my brain. Why does this training exist? And why does its existence vex me so?

I think it’s because I’ve over-stretched my tolerance for the Western Yoga Industrial Complex (WYIC). Does the world need another yoga teacher training program? Instead of trainings maybe what the world needs are yoga teachers who are dedicated to serving their students, and the yoga tradition, more than they serve themselves. I know they exist, but they’re hard to find in all the noise and bustle it takes to transform a tradition thousands of years old into a billion dollar industry.

That’s why I hope one of the silver linings of these extraordinary times is a forced reckoning in the WYIC studio system.

The Western Yoga Industrial Complex is a system that forces a surfeit of studios to design 200-hour yoga teacher trainings in order to keep their coffers filled and their doors open. Some of those trainings, in turn, become human puppy mills. Every few months they produce a new litter of smiling faces posing for photographs with pride and holding teaching certificates fresh from the printer. They send a copy of these certificates and their hard earned cash to Yoga Alliance (YA) who then allows them to add the designation RYT (Registered Yoga Teacher) after their name. These eager graduate RYTs are giddy with excitement about their future. But after investing thousands of dollars in their training, most graduates will not go on to teach. And the ones that do often feel they’re in over their heads because the three months of training they received did not provide the experience they needed to feel competent. 

Doesn’t it seem odd and a little arbitrary that two hundred hours of study is all one needs to call themselves a yoga teacher? Ludicrous, actually. How did this happen? In an attempt to codify teacher trainings, and with what I believe was good intention, a YA committee created a list of competencies and sub-competencies deemed important for yoga instructors to understand. These are the recently revised competencies:

  1. Techniques, Training, Practice
  2. Anatomy & Physiology
  3. Yoga Humanities (formerly Yoga Philosophy, Lifestyle, & Ethics)
  4. Professional Essentials (includes merged Educational Categories of Teaching Methodology and Practicum)

Each competency has a minimum number of hours in which it must be taught. There is a heavy emphasis on the first two. Studios create a training program based on these hours and competencies, submit the written program to YA – along with payment, of course – and wait for approval. Once that approval is received YA allows the studio to use the designation ‘RYS 200’.

Given the absence of accountability – meaning there is no check to see if the studio’s program is following the curriculum submitted to Yoga Alliance or, for that matter, if the lead trainers meet Yoga Alliance’s approval – the studio is somewhat free to do whatever they like. Unless, of course, an enrollee in the teacher training is dedicated enough to look at the YA standards for RYS 200 trainings and to call the studio on it if the training they are receiving has strayed.

 If 200-hour teacher trainings weren’t necessary to keep a studio open and if we understood that the Yoga Alliance seal of approval holds no weight, what would happen? Would we forget about trainings and certificates altogether and transition to a mentoring protocol, where those who might feel a flickering call to teach study under a mentor until the flicker becomes a flame?

Or what if we flipped the yoga teacher training model around and instead of placing an emphasis on the physicality of yoga began trainings with a deep dive into the philosophy of yoga?  What if entrance exams were required? Or proof of a personal practice? Should personal practice – something difficult to define – be a requirement? 

My guess is that there would be fewer teacher trainings, fewer individuals wanting to train in the art of teaching yoga and, ultimately, fewer studios. 

Am I wrong to think that would be a good thing?

I guess maybe I’ve seen too much of the bad and ugly. Like the studio that boasts about the number of students it pushes through the trainings it hosts multiple times per year, taught by teachers flown in for the weekend and never seen again. And too little of the good. Like the pre-natal yoga teacher training that will hold back a certificate from a trainee until all assignments have been received and passed.

The yoga industry needs less of the former and more of the latter. Maybe, as we begin to return to our studios, that will happen.


For the New Teacher: The Business of Yoga

IMG_0168Sometimes it’s hard to think of those two words together: business and yoga. But yoga is a business. It’s a very big business. In fact, it’s a $27 billion dollar industry. And as yoga teachers we have a choice. It begins with asking the questions, “What does success as a yoga teacher mean to me? Is it about money? Fame?” Maybe it is. Maybe that’s your dharma. There’s no shame in being a yoga rock star who travels the world leading workshops or lands the cover of Yoga Journal. But what if your dharma is leading one class a week for seniors at the local recreation center? Or teaching underserved populations? Or not teaching at all?

I think for most of us there’s a middle path. I think most of us envision teaching three, maybe four classes a week, taking on some private clients, teaching a few specialized workshops and finding a local studio that holds space for our work and encourages us to grow. A studio we can call our yoga home.

It won’t happen over night, but if that’s what you want there is some groundwork you can put in place that will support the journey:

Join Yoga Alliance. Your 200-hour certificate will allow you to register with YA with the designation “RYT.” As you begin to teach you’ll keep track of your hours and you’ll be able to upgrade your designation. In time you’ll also qualify as a Yoga Alliance Continuing Education Provider (YACEP). This is a good thing. It means that, eventually and with enough experience, you will be able to offer workshops through which students can accrue continuing education units. As members of YA we are required to continue our education. This can include contact hours like workshops or additional trainings or it can include non-contact hours like research and publishing. Joining Yoga Alliance won’t make you a better teacher. But it’s a great resource. There is a yearly membership fee involved but there are also member benefits. Explore the Yoga Alliance website to see if it’s a good fit for you.

Have adequate insurance. Some studios will have policies that will cover you but if you intend to rent space to teach or to see private clients in their homes you must have liability insurance. The Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance websites will have information about how to find low cost insurance.

Continue learning. Attend classes, take workshops, read the latest research. Practice what you teach.

Cultivate a professional reputation:  Show up for classes on time, start class on time and finish on time, be present for your students – be an active listener, do not speak disparagingly of fellow teachers or studios, take the Yamas and the Niyamas to heart.

And that’s pretty much it. Almost…you may want to consider having a professional headshot to use for marketing purposes, creating a basic website to list your classes or, if you’re up to it, creating a blog.  Social media accounts dedicated to your practice and teaching are a nice idea, too.

What about taxes? It’s not as tricky as you think.

If you are an employee at a studio it is like any other job.  You’ll receive tax forms at the end of the year and you will file as usual.
If you are an independent contractor you will need to fill out a Schedule C when you file your taxes.  So keep good records of everything you earn and everything you spend for your yoga business. You might receive 1099 Forms from places you work. You most likely won’t receive these from private clients.
If you are an independent contractor and therefore self-employed, remember that you will owe not only income tax but self-employment tax (Social Security & Medicare) therefore you should pay quarterly estimated taxes.

 

 


The Dharma Path

IMG_2063Tonight I’m taking a break from my social media fast to share with you a program that will be starting at Samyama Yoga Center in Midtown, Palo Alto on Tuesday 7 October.

If you feel the calling to become a yoga teacher or if you want to immerse yourself in pure and true yoga study then you’ll want to join us for The Dharma Path. The Dharma Path is an 8-week, 200-hour Yoga Alliance sanctioned course. With the core curriculum being written and taught by John Berg with support from Natalie D’Onofrio, Hillary Easom, Lindsey Armien, Devin Begley, Louis Jackson, Anirudh Shastri, this comprehensive and intensive course will strengthen the relationship you have with your practice whether yours is a teaching path or not. I’ll be there, too, humbled and honored to be assisting John with asana and methodology.

Honestly? The Dharma Path is not for the faint hearted. John has created a teacher-training program filled with compassion, light and humor but one, too, that will challenge and call us to make a clear commitment to ourselves and to our practice.

I’m ready to make that commitment. Are you?

You can find out more by clicking here or by emailing our Program Director at natalie.d@samyamayogacenter.com.