2019 Immersion & Teacher Training with Abby: Q&A

Dearest yoga students and wannabe teachers:

In case you haven’t heard, all my dreams have come true and I will be leading a foundational Yoga Teacher Training at The People’s Yoga this coming January-June! With an unbridled love and reverence for yoga, a (sometimes obnoxiously) fervent passion for education and teaching, and some really smart friends to help me out, I am SO PUMPED TO TELL YOU ALL ABOUT IT!! Below are some questions I’ve received from students over the last few weeks, and my verbose attempt at answering them. If you have more questions, please let me know (and maybe I’ll even write another post/ answer them in a video – I hear people like videos these days)!

Love,
Abby
abby@thepeoplesyoga.org

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Your program is advertised as a
300-hr Immersion and Teacher Training… Tell me more about this structure. Why the differentiation between “immersion” and “teacher training”?

In my experience, it is useful to separate the study of a discipline (in this case, yoga) from the art of teaching (a discipline in and of itself). If we have not invested substantial time and energy in studying yoga, attempting to teach yoga will prove a great challenge. By focusing first on developing our understanding of and relationship with yoga, we will be better prepared to guide others along the path of self-study.

During the immersion (the first 200 hrs), we will dedicate the majority of our time to: the practice and study of asana; anatomy and physiology, as they relate to yoga asana and alignment; yoga philosophy and history, as they relate to our modern, personal practice. Through a combination of asana, meditation, philosophical readings, discussions, and journaling, we will work together to develop a sustainable, daily yoga practice, that is most helpful and relevant to you.

During the teaching methods segment (the last 100 hrs), we will turn our attention to the art of teaching. Yoga is a practice that is meant to be shared, and to do so requires engagement and connection. In studying the art of teaching, we will place particular emphasis on engaging a diverse body of students, appealing to multiple learning styles, and creating an inclusive learning environment. Students will have the opportunity to practice teaching, not only with their peers, but within local community organizations (their final Karma Yoga Project). Through a combination of class observations, pedagogical readings, discussions, sequencing, and practice teaching, students will develop their teaching philosophy, persona, and voice.

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Aren’t most foundational YTTs only 200 hours? Can’t I just do the first 200 hours?

It’s true that most foundational trainings are 200 hours. It’s also true that some studios will hire anyone who has taken a 200-hr training (or less!). As noted above, however, the first 200 hours of this training will focus primarily on developing your personal practice, understanding of and relationship with yoga. If you are serious about teaching, I implore you: don’t stop after the first 200 hours.

That’s my short answer. Here’s my long-winded one:

There is some confusion as to what credentials a person needs in order to be hired as a yoga teacher. This confusion exists for a few reasons: 1) There is currently no broadly-accepted certification process for yoga teachers (only a “registration” process; more on that below), and 2) Different studios have different standards. Many teachers are “registered with the Yoga Alliance” and display the acronym “RYT” (Registered Yoga Teacher) on their business cards. To be an RYT, a person must have completed a training program that has been approved by the YA. While this might imply a reasonable amount of oversight, the Yoga Alliance offers its stamp of approval to virtually any program that promises to spend a designated number of hours discussing various topics. What the YA doesn’t do is require students to demonstrate their knowledge on those topics – i.e., there are no exams, no capstone projects, no demo classes or student-teaching requirements. As a former school-teacher with a masters degree in education, I hope you’ll pardon me for saying: this is ludicrous! To skip the step of assessing our students’ learning isirresponsible, especially in a field where people’s bodies (not to mention hearts, minds, and spirits!) are directly affected.

This training takes that additional step and requires its students, not simply to study certain topics for a predetermined number of hours, but to show us what they’ve learned. While we have made the conscious choice not to register this training with the Yoga Alliance, we have instead developed our own (significantly more rigorous) learning standards and assessments with the help of many well-respected educators in the Pacific Northwest and California.* Through observation and written reflections, class discussions, presentations, peer teaching and demo classes, you will be held accountable, not just for what you study, but for what you have learned.

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Okay, I get it. You’re an education nerd. But what can I expect, practically, from this training?

With a combination of 2-hr early morning sessions (6am-8am, Mon-Fri), 3-hr Friday evening sessions (6pm-9pm), and 8-hr weekend sessions (9am-6pm Sat & Sun, with an hour lunch), the structure of the training allows us to explore different topics in formats befitting those topics:

Weekday morning sessions will be a forum for you to develop your personal practice and relationship with yoga. These sessions will include a combination of guided asana, seated meditation, and journaling, and will build in progressively more freedom throughout the course of the training. (In my experience, very few brains are awake enough at that hour to do a lot of heady discussion/ ingest much new information – so we shall use that time to focus on embodiment, and to create a sustainable practice!)

Friday evenings will be dedicated primarily to discussions. Some will be student-led, Socratic-style seminars relevant to that week’s philosophical readings; others will be led by one of the teachers on faculty and tackle such topics as Ethics in Modern (Western) Yoga, Yoga as Social Justice, Developing Your Teaching Voice, and Creating an Inclusive Learning Environment.

Saturdays and Sundays will be our time to dive deep into Anatomy and Physiology (with Dr. Kara Giaier), and Yoga History & Philosophy (with Meghan Maris) – and don’t worry: it won’t be eight hours of lecture! Both Kara and Meghan are highly skilled educators who recognize the importance of embodied/ kinesthetic learning as well as intellectual grappling, so you can expect a combination of lecture, discussion, and workshop-style asana practices. (And personally, I can’t wait to learn more from these amazing women!)

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Gosh, all this sounds like so much fun! But… what if I’m not very good at yoga? Don’t I have to be good at yoga to teach it, or even study it in-depth??

First, a quick request that we PLEASE THROW OUT THE IDEA THAT ANYONE IS BETTER AT YOGA THAN ANYONE ELSE! There is no such thing as “good at yoga,” and there is definitely no such thing as “bad at yoga”! If you are disciplined in your practice and pursuit of yoga (asana, and beyond!), if you are curious and reflective, if you are willing to admit what you don’t know while committing to continually learn more, you will most likely make an excellent teacher. And if you’re not interested in teaching and just want to start with the first 200 hours, great! Do it!! Goodness knows the world needs more people committed to self-actualization and building peaceful community. Let us start here!!

*This is part of a broader, long-term goal to raise the national standard for yoga educators. The People’s Yoga is excited to pilot this teacher training with established learning standards and assessments!

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An Open Letter to Wanda’s Mother

Dear Wanda’s Mother:

Your daughter was nine weeks old when I met her. Her name was Caramel then, but I quickly decided that was too saccharine (I know, you didn’t choose it), and changed it to Wanda: a name I felt more appropriate for the confident, sociable, and strong young lady that I intended to raise. I hope you approve.

Everything about Wanda was adorable: her floppy ears, her tiny snout, her wiggly body, her wobbly legs that were a bit too long for the dachshund in her, and her calm, grounded presence that belied her chihuahua roots. I had read about chiweenies – that they were prone to barking and nipping, and that they were not good with kids. “[T]hey can be easily irritated by noise and activity,” one website noted, and “[t]hey are… known to not get along with other animals.” Your little girl, however, seemed different: she was quietly inquisitive, delicately sniffing around my living room while the woman from the foster agency and her 10-year-old son watched. She had arrived with another chiweenie friend, Herbie, whom I was also interviewing. Wanda seemed just as happy to play with Herbie as she was to lick the 10-year-old boy’s face. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that I quickly fell in love with her. I’m sure you were in love with her too.

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The first night she slept at our house, she didn’t utter a peep for seven straight hours, and only began to stir when her thimble-sized bladder needed to be emptied. In the month that she’s lived with me, she has met many dogs and people, responding with either a demure interest or slight trepidation, quickly followed by playfulness – never with barking. She isn’t fazed when I grind my coffee beans or when other dogs bark, and she can sleep like a champion through whatever loud beats are pumping at my gym. The dog trainer I work with comments frequently on her mild manners, her curiosity, and her quickness to learn. I try not to mistake any of Wanda’s behaviors as my own personal successes, though it is tempting. (As a side-note, I finally understand some parents’ tendencies to brag about their children: They are great, and I raised them, therefore I am also great!) Wanda is her own woman, as I’m sure you know, and though her brain and heart be but little, they are fierce.

I have heard many people say that dogs are reflections of their owners, and to some degree, I believe this is true. Your species is incredibly perceptive of our human energy and stress levels, and if we are not careful, we can certainly imbue them (you) with some of our own neuroses. But sometimes, even the most caring, careful owners can raise yippy, nippy pups, just as sometimes, even the kindest, most patient parents can raise children who rebel, and rebel hard. No matter how much safety and love we offer, there are many things of which we are not in control; this is especially true of the babies we adopt.

 

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In Bessel van der Kolk’s book The Body Keeps the Score (perhaps you’ve read it?), he references a study that examines rats’ relationships with their mothers, and how these relationships affect development. The conclusion was unsurprising, and the implications clear: “The rat pups that are intensively licked by their mothers are braver and produce lower levels of stress hormones under stress than rats whose mothers are less attentive. They also recover more quickly – an equanimity that lasts throughout their lives” (154). A similar conclusion was reached in another study with rhesus monkeys, and again, in a study with humans: “Monkeys with [deficient serotonin transmitters] that were raised by an adequate mother behaved normally and had no deficit in their serotonin metabolism… humans with [the same deficit] had higher rates of depression than those [without the deficit] but… this was true only if they also had a childhood history of abuse or neglect” (156). In short, attention and affection from a loving parent yield greater equanimity and resilience, regardless of genetic makeup (and regardless of species). I don’t know when Wanda was taken away from you, her first mother, but I can only assume that by the time she was, she had already received adequate licks and copious snuggles. Thank you for that.

When I was in graduate school for adolescence education, we spoke frequently about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and generally agreed that, in order for our students to learn, they first had to feel rested, nourished, safe, and supported. This was easier for those students who received this support from their parents or guardians; it was more difficult, though not impossible, for those who relied on their teachers or school counselors. Since I am not Wanda’s biological mother, I don’t have the advantage of having known her her whole life; I won’t be licking her coat like you did, or picking her up by the scruff of her neck, or even sleeping next to her every night. But I will pet and cuddle her as much as she allows,introduce her to as many loving humans and dogs as I can, and remind her in plain English that I love and appreciate her and how much she is learning. I guess that’s the cool thing about your species: you’re part dog, part human; you can understand both languages if we let you, and if we communicate clearly.

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I will leave you with one final anecdote: Last week, as I was telling my counselor about the stresses of dog-parenthood (I’m sure you know that it’s not always easy!), she showed me a picture of a bumper sticker: “Proud parent of a great kid who is sometimes an asshole and that’s OK!” I laughed and immediately felt soothed. I am doing my best, she reminded me. I am researching and learning about dog development, putting in time and effort and love. Wanda’s successes deserve to be celebrated as her successes, and when she fails, she needs to know that I still love her, so that she can continue to feel safe with me. Safety is essential; love must be unconditional. For Wanda, for you, and for me.

Thank you, Mama Wanda, for providing our little gal with so many licks, and so much affection in her formative weeks. I will do my best to continue helping her feel safe, supported, and well-loved in all the human ways I know how. 

Love from one mama to another,
Abby

On Leaving Teaching to Pursue Teaching

This past June, one of my 10th grade English students gave her final presentation on the similarities between Siddhartha’s journey in Siddhartha, and Mark’s journey in Lost in Place. Her thesis proposed that “dissatisfaction is essential to enlightenment,” and explored the idea that, as long as we are alive, we will never be completely satisfied – but that does not mean we should stop searching.

As I listened, I could not help but nod vigorously and murmur “Mmhm!” as she spoke, feeling like she was speaking directly to and about me. For all the fortune I had – two jobs I was passionate about, a loving family, good health, a bounty of friends – I felt dissatisfied. everything-is-changeableAs a result of this dissatisfaction, I had decided, only days earlier, that I would not be returning to teaching the following year. Hearing my student speak was simultaneously validating and heartbreaking. Her presentation was so thoughtful, and the class, so respectful and impressed by her work. It was hard not to feel proud that I had helped them develop into the students they were that day, and equally hard not to feel sad that I would soon be leaving them. Was I really going to quit this job in search of more happiness as a yoga teacher? But perhaps, I told myself, it was all just a necessary step in my searching. Perhaps I should listen to my student’s advice and not feel ashamed of my discontent.

Last September, I began an experimental journey: I was hired to teach freshman and sophomore English in a suburb of Portland, OR. It was there that I would spend the next 10 months pouring my heart and soul into creating stimulating curricula, and loving the crap out of my 120 students. Developing reading lists, designing unit plans, finessing my class website, communicating with students and their families, giving pump-up speeches to students who were floundering or distraught, and reminding teenagers to value each other and themselves – what a wonderful, fun, and noble way to spend one’s time! And for the first three weeks, it was magical. 

After three weeks, however, I realized that working nearly 70 hours a week and not sleeping was unsustainable. Even more demoralizing was my realization that, even by working 70 hours a week and not sleeping, I would never feel completely organized or prepared. I would have moments of hope, but no sooner would I celebrate those moments than I would receive an email from a parent, reminding me that her daughter needed me to fill out those recommendation forms ASAP, or from a fellow English teacher, reminding me that our data was due tomorrow!! – data that I had not yet collected. When I was with my students, I felt at home, like I was really rocking it. But each day, after the bell rang and the kids scurried away, I was left alone to wrestle with my to-do lists. The worst part was that I loved virtually everything I was doing, individually; I simply did not have time to do all of it by the time it needed to be done. The job was fabulous, but the lifestyle that accompanied it was preposterous.

Richard Freeman published a video called Yoga Ruins Your Life. The premise is that once you start practicing yoga, you become so entranced by its offerings that you then become crossroads-treesintolerant of all things not-yoga: uncomfortable shoes, poorly designed chairs, pants that don’t stretch. I myself have blamed yoga for my disdain for alarm clocks, my aversion to deadlines, and my indigence toward modern society. I have cried to my mother about how stressed out our culture is, how out of balance our lives are, and how unfair it is that those who defy traditional career paths are seen as naive or weak – and then I blame yoga for making me feel these things, sort-of-jokingly, and sort-of-not.

Of course, the great irony is that yoga, when practiced effectively, is supposed to help us become more tolerant, more resilient, and more content with the way things are. To become grumpy that life is not as tranquil as a yoga studio is to miss the point entirely. But to become complacent, to make no changes to our lives outside of the yoga studio is to miss another point. We can make changes, to both our situations and our attitudes, if we feel dissatisfied; we can also learn to live happily within the framework of the way things are. Deciding when and what to change is perhaps the most difficult part.

When I decided not to teach English this school year, I was aware that I was, to some degree, avoiding stress rather than learning to deal with it more effectively. I was also aware that something needed to change. Could that something have been my attitude? Sure. But changing my situation seemed easier this time. (Maybe it always is?)

There is a part of me that feels guilty and sad for running away from something beautiful simply because it was “too stressful.” But there is a bigger part of me that is delighted about running toward something equally beautiful, something that happens to be not-as-stressful. I am teaching more yoga than I have ever taught before, and rather than feel exhausted by it, I feel perpetually thrilled. Six days a week, I get to encourage human beings to become more in touch with their bodies, to observe and appreciate who they are and what they have, and to embrace the world with a more loving and patient heart. Surely this is just as important as teaching teenagers to read, write, and think critically and creatively?

In talking with my sister last week about our career paths and struggles, she reminded me that, “it’s not about making the biggest impact; it’s about where you’re at your best.” Even though I was passionate and caring and competent enough as anthe-purpose-of-practice English teacher to make a positive impact, I did not feel I was at my best. I was grouchy when I got home, and I neglected my personal relationships and my health. It is possible that I will teach high school English again next year, or ten years from now, and that I will gain the resilience needed to be at my best in that environment. But this year, I will strive to be at my best in a different place. Thank you, sister Corrie, for this reminder, and for granting me this permission. And thank you, yoga: contrary to what I may have told you earlier, you did not ruin my life; you help me to be at my best, and to love myself and the world even when I’m not.