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The end of yoga teacher training?

It is 2019, and I've been teaching teachers since 2007. When I started, one of my goals was to graduate 1000 teachers. I've come close to that, but as much as I hope my grads enjoy teaching, the shifts in the presentation of yoga over the years might make trying to teach this practice well very difficult.

Postural yoga as we know it is a cross-fertilization of some traditional shapes referred to in 15th - 16th century texts from the yoga tradition in India, and methods and physical geometry found in the work of Neils Bukh. Bukh was responsible for creating "Primary Gymnastics", writing a book/practice manual in 1924 outlining his methods. Some of these postural shapes and flows show up years later in the work of T. Krishnamacharya, the teacher of both B.K.S. Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois - teachers that taught the world alignment-based and flow-based forms of yoga, respectively.

Primary Gymnastics - Neils Bukh

T. Krishnamacharya with yoga students (Primary Series is the first sequence of Ashtanga Yoga)

If yoga practice is anything, it is an evolving practice. But the experience of experimentation and inquiry into sensations, possibilities and therapeutic shapes is all but absent within a context of group classes. Top down yoga teaching assumes a lot: a standard of skeletal anatomy, unproven long-term effects of sustained stretching, and prescribed practices. What I'm saying is that yoga practice seems to work best when done on your own, which begs the question "do we need more teachers?"

A 2016 Yoga in America study found that for every working yoga teacher, there were two more in training and a further two interested in taking teacher training. Almost all yoga studios now have their own in-house training, for a ytt it is as important a revenue stream to a yoga studio as a liquor license is to a restaurant. But does a heads-through-the-door model of teaching transmit the essence what can be quite a subtle and contemplative practice?

I don't think it does. I know that the financial side of our world pushes growth, for there are always more costs than one assumes, and our neurotransmitters like the stimulus of "more" as well. If yoga were to be taught as one learns a musical instrument: one-on-one with homework done alone in your room, the yoga studio would be just big enough for two and as popular as your local after-school music shoppe where kids used to learn to terrorize their parents with the violin.

I'm not a traditionalist in any way, and I tend to look for evidence rather than accept doctrine. There are aspects of meditation and concerted movement that unlock parts of me, at least for a time, that may have remained closed without some form of inquiry. That's where formal practice can help - it can help you to look deeper by telling you what you might find. You might find something very different than what was suggested - but you found something you may not have developed the concentration to appreciate otherwise. You might have been taught classical piano and realized you like Bebop.

If it were possible to put aside the financial incentives for teacher training - both for the teacher and the student - the more profound motivations for teaching and learning would be laid bare. If one engages in conversation, music, writing or yoga simply because it...can't be helped, then you might say you do it because you love it. After over 20 years of teaching, that's where I want to be again. I've always loved practicing yoga, talking about it, watching people assemble the tools they can use to build their own practice. I think I'll continue, but the model will be different.

Stay tuned.

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