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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Guided Self-Practice Begins: FALL 2016

Just over one year ago, I took a yoga class that significantly changed how I taught yoga. It was Saturday, the fourth morning of a five-day training with Jason Crandell, and I was as exhausted as I was energized (almost). The first three days had been a delightfully peaceful and sarcastic explosion of practicing, questioning, and discussing; Jason was as hilarious and thoughtful as I had hoped he would be, and I was thrilled to bring many of his ideas, assists, and methods home to The People’s Yoga, where I did the majority of my teaching.

I had entered the training hungry for a refreshed passion for teaching, as I was beginning to feel stale. For three years, I had taught primarily vinyasa classes, used more or less the same cues, and offered more or less the same assists. Sometimes I would grow so weary of what I felt were the same sequences that I would shift the order of things or incorporate new poses – not because those shifts or incorporations made the most sense, necessarily, but because they were different from the usual. And sometimes I would focus so much energy on trying to make a class “different from the usual” that I would confuse myself, forgetting what I had cued my students to do on the first side, or where I wanted them to go next. I knew that probably wasn’t a good sign, but I kept doing it because I didn’t want to bore my students. So at a certain point in my training with Jason, I expressed this as a concern:

“I feel sometimes like I’m becoming boring. I feel like I teach the same sequences all the time, and then if I try to deviate, things get weird or confusing. How do I keep things fresh without making things too complicated?”

Jason’s response was simple: “Don’t worry about having vastly different sequences. Just make the class focused. People like when things are predictable.”

And then Saturday morning came. It was still early, and several people were still milling around the studio, unrolling their mats. Jason welcomed us briefly, then told us to begin by finding “any position that feels comfortable.” For me, a morning-monster, this keep it simplemeant being as close to asleep as I could get: flat on my back with my eyes closed. After a few minutes, he asked us to “start moving in the direction of cat-cow”; I obeyed, and was already starting to feel a bit more awake. A few moments later he asked that we, “at [our] own pace, start working toward sun salutations.” A few minutes into this, he encouraged us to “keep doing what [we were] doing, and incorporate some shoulder openers.” He then informed us that we had been practicing for ten minutes. There was a light collective chuckle from us teachers, as we all thought the same thing: Only ten minutes?! How do I already feel so different?

This continued for a full hour: Jason would toss out a category of poses (standing, external hip openers, balancing, heart openers, etc.) and give us an update on time (“You’ve been at this for 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes, 60 minutes…”). We would continue moving at our own pace, breathing at our own pace, and occasionally peeking at our neighbors, copying any poses that looked alluring. And although our sequences differed, there were two things we had in common:

  1. Everyone moved slowly.
  2. No one did anything fancy.

When we debriefed after this “guided self-practice,” Jason confirmed that, wherever he went, whomever he taught, the results were the same. The phrase, “your own pace” invariably translated to “slow.” And usually, the phrase, “whatever feels good” manifested as a simple, straightforward movement or shape. Sure, a handstand or scorpion might feel good every now and then, and a few extra chaturangas might help make us feel strong, but the majority of our practices are, when left to our own devices, simple and slow.

sun salutation imgLike most revelations, this seemed at the time groundbreaking, then painfully obvious. Yoga is not meant to be confusing or stressful, so why make it so? This does not mean we should not add variety to our practice (or life!), but perhaps it should remind us that there is much joy to be found in the simple, straightforward act of moving and breathing, trusting that, if we truly listen to our bodies, we will know what to do.

This fall, I will begin teaching a brand new class at The People’s Yoga SE: Guided Self-Practice (or, as I like to call it, “Yoursore” – the yoga nerds get it!) Inspired by Jason Crandell, I will lead class by offering simple sequences (sun salutations A and B) and categories (standing poses, backbends, hip openers) to incorporate, as well as personalized cues and adjustments. Each class will also have a theme or focus to integrate (arm balances, hamstring awareness, shoulder mobility, spinal alignment, etc.), should you wish to give your practice more structure.

While I generally dislike the word “advanced” when applied to yoga, I will categorize this class as advanced – but I will add a caveat: “Advanced” yoga practitioners are not necessarily those who can silently kick up into a handstand, easily touch their palms to the ground in a forward fold, or gracefully tie their legs into a knot; “advanced” is not about the kind of poses a person can embody, but instead about the honesty with which one listens to oneself. Will it be helpful to know the names of many common yoga poses if you are to take this class? Yes. Do you need to be able to physically do all these poses? No. I, for one, cannot (nor will I ever be able to) press up into a wheel. I cannot tuck (nor do I have any interest in tucking) my leg behind my head. And in pigeon, my hips are nowhere near the ground. We all have different bodies with different limiting factors. This class is a forum for students to explore and celebrate their unique capabilities. It is a place for curious and dedicated yoga practitioners to build stronger connections between their bodies and minds, and, yes, their hearts too. I thank Jason for providing me with this wonderful experience, and I cannot wait to share it with others.*

*Please note: This class was originally scheduled to start on Wednesday, June 15, but has been postponed; it is now scheduled to begin this fall! In the meantime, please do come to my Wednesday 4:00pm Vinyasa class starting on June 15! 🙂