About Daniel Clement
Like many yoga practitioners and teachers, I had a natural predisposition to yoga practice. The qualities of self-study, a desire for balance and harmony and a somewhat sensitive and introverted personality served me as a musician and songwriter. I found the same qualities could be directed toward understanding and practicing yoga.
I became interested in hatha yoga in the mid 1990’s as a way to heal a back injury. After attending classes in Iyengar yoga, I gravitated to Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and was lucky enough to have Fiona Stang as one of my teachers. I practiced this rather intense form of yoga regularly for 3 years before attending my first teacher training with David Swenson. David honored the yoga his teacher taught him, but was not afraid to add his own voice. After that training I was asked to assist with the morning self-led classes at City Yoga in Vancouver. That experience taught me the value of observation; both to the poses the students were working in, and the relationship each student had to the practice as a whole.
I was introduced to Larry Schultz of It’s Yoga in 2001 and after practicing with him, began teaching his variety of “Rocket Yoga” in his Vancouver studio. Larry flew me down to his San Francisco studio where I slept in a loft above the open-air studio, practiced on my own in the morning, studied his teaching style and took his 200 hour training. Larry took the traditional Astanga Vinyasa Yoga sequences and created his own dynamic flows from them. I came back to Vancouver more prepared to teach this demanding practice and less concerned with teaching a traditional style.
I moved to a seaside town called White Rock in 2002, cleared out my living room and began teaching from home. The students there were older than my Vancouver students and deeply uninterested in attempting the acrobatic jump-throughs and arm balances of the yoga I’d been teaching. I had to change what I was teaching in order to serve them.
In the fall of 2003 I was introduced to postural biomechanics by Anusara Yoga teacher Elissa Gumushel, who was kind enough to teach me regularly at her home. By this time I had acquired a deep set of habits in the body through my Astanga Yoga practice, and also many small injuries and misalignments. I realized that though I had developed some strength, discipline and flexibility, I had a superficial relationship with the poses I was doing. I knew the basic forms, but had not spent enough time in each pose in any one practice to really understand how to use the pose to get into the body. I had been using the body to get into the pose. My practice began to change. I also began to question the value of fiercely traditional approaches not only to the physical practice, but also to the more subtle practice of breath, meditation, and philosophy.
In early 2007 I was invited to Shanghai to lead my first 200 hour yoga teacher training. After working from many different books and resources to prepare each day of training in a way that made sense, I promised the students I would write down what I had taught them in a comprehensive way when I got back to Canada. “Teaching Hatha Yoga” was the course manual that evolved from that work.
After leading six to eight 200 and 500 hour trainings per year from 2008 - 2013 in Canada and graduating over 500 teachers, I began to ask some hard questions about what I was doing. Many of the students attending my trainings had little experience with yoga practice. Even the students who had been practicing for years at yoga studios had not developed the home practice essential to effective teaching. Yoga had been offered to them as something that happens in a group, facilitated by and instructor who often had only taken a training course themselves and had not developed a home practice. Like a facsimile of a facsimile, the practice seemed to be degrading. There also seemed to be a desire for quick results rather than dedication to study. The ease of graduating from a 200 hour course was made worse by the new Yoga Alliance mandate that any student attending the hours of a course could register with them as a yoga teacher - whether or not they had illustrated any skill as a teacher.
I created objective certification standards for Open Source 200 hour training in 2014. In order to graduate from an Open Source training, the student must demonstrate competency in teaching a 45 minute fundamentals postural sequence.
My work now is to train effective hatha yoga teachers and to explore the more subtle aspects of the healing power of yoga through writing and workshops. Like almost everyone I’ve met who does yoga, I want to share what it has done for me with others. I am currently offering both live and online meditation, yoga courses and trainings.
On teaching in today's social climate
Essentially, my hope is that through my work students will gain proficiency in practicing and teaching postural yoga and be able to offer it in an effective manner. Through this process students will very likely confront their own fears about public speaking and both limitations and strengths as a student.
The process of becoming stronger and more capable almost always includes some degree of discomfort, in the same way that building a muscle requires taxing that muscle which is actually creating micro-tears in the muscle which then repair and grow stronger over time.
I am not "woke" in any way, I consider the avoidance of necessary stimuli - physically as well as mentally and emotionally - one of the causes of fragility and immaturity. I don't teach yoga from a religious or ideological standpoint because not only would that...suck...it would also rob students of the ability to think for themselves.
To speak freely - which might mean offending someone that doesn't think the same way - is necessary to allow others to really know us, and for us to course-correct by getting feedback about our thoughts, to develop real friendships, to criticize what we feel isn't right socially and politically, and to be mentally healthy.
"Woke" is the word "Awakened" in another form. If I am awakening to deeper truths about myself or the world I live in, then I am in a process of deepening my understanding that may very well have no final completion, as life continues to evolve and so does our moral thinking. If I believe I am "woke" that implies my process of awakening is complete - hence "woke" not "waking up". This is a mistake, and people who believe they occupy a moral high ground because for them the process of waking up is complete are insufferable to be around as well as self-deceived.
(We see this play out in the yoga tradition in the form of the Enlightened Guru - one who's process of enlightenment is complete and now occupies an elevated social position because of that claim. Reliably, these gurus abuse their position because, of course, the concept of enlightenment as a fixed attainment and not simply a process of deepening understanding is bullshit.)
I don't ask students how they would like to be referred to as far as pronouns - I just call them by their first name, whatever that is. I try not to say "she's a good student" or "he's very flexible" - I just say "Jane is a good student" or " Kevin is very flexible". No need for pronouns if I know your name.
Our identity isn't entirely self-created anyway: if I'm unkind to people, I don't get to say "I'm a kind person". It is actually other people that collectively help to create my identity as a kind or unkind person. If everyone I come into contact with thinks I'm a jerk...I'm probably a jerk, not a kind person. Others are going to choose an identifier for me - "He's unkind" - regardless of how I choose to be referred to.
The recent emphasis - and insistence - that we use the "correct" pronouns when referring to someone else and must provide others with our pronouns adds a level of complexity and anxiety to communication that is almost always unnecessary. If it were true that I'm free to choose the pronoun with which I'd like others to refer to me by, then I choose "My Lord and Saviour". So, folks can say "Here comes My Lord and Saviour" when I walk into a room. However they would rightly refuse to use that identifier, because they don't believe I am their lord and saviour - because I am not. They can instead say "Here comes Daniel" - problem solved. I don't refer to a priest as "Father" even if they'd want me to for the same reasons - "Father" contains associations and implications that I don't like.
I'm free to choose whatever identifier I want for myself, but I'm not free to demand that others refer to me with that identifier.
The list of over 70 gender-based pronouns continues to grow and there is no way I'd remember all of it when dealing with a group of students. I'm setting myself up for failure if I assure students that I will remember all this stuff, and I'd be lying to them if I told them I agree with the ideology that is creating this mess.
So, those are a few of my thoughts. It isn't necessary for me to go into all of this in detail when I'm teaching yoga or yoga trainings - there is more than enough to cover with just teaching people how to cue yoga poses with clarity. But if I am asked directly what my thoughts are, I will respond honestly. If an honest response is unacceptable these days, I'll step away from teaching entirely or only teach people that have read through something like this and are comfortable with my viewpoint.
On the failure of Yoga Alliance
Race to the bottom: Yoga teacher training.
I just got off the phone with Tiyamu, a very nice person doing reception at Yoga Alliance.
I called to confirm what I suspected - that the requirement for any "synchronous" or face-to-face hours required in a yoga teacher training program has been removed if the online exemption (started during covid and has continued) is used. This exemption is still in place for 2023 and Yoga Alliance will not give me an answer as to whether it will continue on from there. I suspect it will.
What this means is that anyone can now take a completely pre-recorded YTT with potentially no real testing or practicum and then register with Yoga Alliance as a teacher. The online school never has to even meet the student to assess whether they are psychologically fit to lead a group of people. They just need your credit card.
Let me say that again: There are no standards whatsoever. A complete failure of responsibility by Yoga Alliance.
The next time you go to a yoga studio your "teacher" may or may not have watched/read the content offered within the training they took. They may or may not have ever actually practiced yoga. No-one is checking.
By removing all guardrails and goalposts in order to secure the continuation of yearly dues paid by teachers and schools, Yoga Alliance has incentivized a race to the bottom of both competence and price for yoga training.
YA has off-loaded any regulating of competence, safety or attendance to the online "school" - one of many automated online platforms granting access to pre-recorded content Yoga Alliance almost certainly has not assessed thoroughly. It is in the "schools" interest to sell as many programs as possible.
Cost for these programs is around $350 now and I expect as they compete for ever fewer students that price will drop close to zero. After all, you could just watch some great youtube videos for free and get the same thing. Staples sells blank certificates.
This also means that those of us who have allocated much time and energy in the past to gaining real competence as yoga teachers may be regarded with the same totally reasonable suspicion as a "graduate"... from watching a course on their phone. We are both yoga teachers.
And yes, you can still be insured to teach (not through Yoga Alliance, but through private yoga insurance providers) even though no-one has assessed your safety or knowledge as a yoga teacher, or even knows if you've studied the materials the school gave you.
To continue to be affiliated with Yoga Alliance would be to fail in our responsibilities as teachers and as people. This is the equivalent of putting a musician who's dedicated sincere self-practice and study of theory resulting in the ability to for instance ...read music, play a repertoire, record and compose... in the same category as someone playing air guitar.
The really irking thing to me is that what YA has done here is much worse than not existing at all as an organization. By implying that there are professional standards, YA suggests to the public that their registered teachers have accomplished some objective level of competence. If YA did not exist, each student would shoulder the task of deciding whether or not their teacher knows what the hell they are doing - which would be a much more honest and safe environment to learn in. YA has poisoned the well.
What to do? As a student of yoga wanting to deepen my understanding and possibly learn how to teach, I'd approach a teacher whom I trust, respect and who's competence is obvious and appreciated. I'd ask they if they would consider teaching me how to teach yoga. There are so many great teachers I could list here. Then when I'd finished my training, when someone asked where I learned to teach, I'd tell them the name of my teacher.
When authority becomes corrupt it must be cast aside.
We have to start again, from the bottom up. You'll see my offerings here in the future change as my
registration with Yoga Alliance comes to an end this summer 2023. Thanks for reading.
On trauma-informed yoga
I'm familiar with Bessel Van der Kolk's work on trauma and the body, I have taken some "training" on this and have had a short "about trauma-informed yoga" component taught by another instructor in some of my trainings in the past.
A licensed psychiatrist offering trauma-informed yoga classes after taking a reputable yoga teacher training program and learning how to guide safe movement within a group could very well be a competent trauma-informed yoga teacher.
A non-psychiatrist offering trauma-informed yoga classes is strongly implying that they know how to deal with trauma. They do not.
If someone has a trauma response within that class, that teacher is no more capable than the general public in dealing effectively with
that student. They are outside of the scope of practice of a yoga teacher, which is simply cueing movement at the student's discretion.
Even if all the faculty within a trauma-informed yoga training program were medical professionals, that still does not equip the graduates of that program to deal with a student presenting with trauma. All it will take for this recent experiment to end badly will be a lawsuit from a student who is re-traumatized within a trauma-informed class, suing the teacher or the school offering the class. Because re-traumatization could happen to a student from any stimulus within a class - whether or not the intention was to provide a safe space - the teacher cannot guess what might be traumatizing. I think the best practices here are again simply to teach responsibly and to admit as a yoga teacher, we are not equipped to deal with trauma directly. That is the domain of a licensed psychiatrist.
When you start to mix this with poorly-understood yoga philosophy, it gets even worse. For instance, telling someone that they have an immortal
element to their nature (atman, soul...) and that their fortunate or unfortunate next incarnation will be determined by their actions in this is likely trauma-inducing, primarily because it is almost certainly not true, and being lied to can certainly create trauma.
Reference to concepts like chakras and presenting them as a potential healing modality, when they were only ever a tool for imagining energies within the body, is another avenue of misinformation. Trauma-sensitive yoga teaching is staying within one's scope of practice, not lying to anyone, being accountable, and not believing and amplifying all the nutty concepts that have be misunderstood and propagated through modern yoga practice and poorly-researched books on yoga from non-scholars of the tradition.
Here is a quote from one Trauma-informed training:
"After successfully completing the 200hr program and
graduate prerequisites, students will gain a TRMBWTM
Somatic Healing yoga teacher certification through the RFR
HAI and will be prepared to effectively address SEL, mental
health and well-being."
...Nope. They will not.
Here's one more from the .pdf in the workbook section of the same:
"What systems of oppression are in place that challenge my sense of well-
being? Where am I unfairly blaming myself?"
So this is what you call a "loaded" question - one that is meant to provoke a certain response.
The question assumes there are systems of oppression that challenge well-being, and the student is then asked to simply choose which ones.
This is an indicator of an ideologically-based program that assumes systemic oppression as a form of trauma. Forms of social oppression may very well cause trauma...and they may not. Loaded questions may be a form of trauma.
I would advise anyone interested in trauma-informed yoga to exercise caution - not because trauma isn't a real and difficult thing to experience, but because helping someone with trauma by directing them to a professional is the best course of action.
Here is a one-hour class, I work towards Lotus pose. It'll give you a sense of my style of teaching.