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Over the years, hundreds of students participated in my yoga teacher training. All of them were joined by a common love of yoga and a desire to deepen their yoga practice or teach. The latter can be more daunting. How to be a good yoga teacher.

Be A Dedicated Student

Yoga teacher walks in the classroom

We believe that effective teaching is rooted in being a dedicated student.  Teaching then becomes an organic extension of your committed practice.

To say it another way: if you aren’t a dedicated student you have no chance of becoming a teacher with depth. Your personal practice is the foundation for the house of your teaching.

Of course this same line of thought also pertains to your personal relationship with yoga.  If you practice on a daily basis your mind and body will seamlessly adapt to a more complete version of yourself.  It will happen naturally.

Regularity is the key. Practicing a little each day, or on a regularly scheduled occasion is more effective than “stop and go.” Consistent practice builds momentum over time and eventually takes on a life of its own.

I suggest that students build a dedicated practice and find delight in it also.

Developing a personal yoga practice is a little bit like growing a tree, at first you have to be very diligent to make sure it gets enough water, nutrients and sunlight.  You may also have to put some kind of barrier around it to prevent it from getting stepped on or eaten by insects. Eventually the tree comes into its own, is able to fend for itself, provides shade, fruit and intrinsic beauty.

Being a dedicated yoga student entails both regular practice and natural curiosity.  As you learn and apply new methods and self reflect on their effect, you discover how to shape your experience of life towards one of less fear and towards more joy.

Create a Strong, Deep, Personal Practice.

Dedication is an attitude. Your personal practice is the laboratory in which to apply the attitude. Personal practice will reveal how to be a good yoga teacher.  Like any craft, the more time you spend with it the further you progress.  If you want to master the violin, you need to practice.  If you want to get better at painting, then practice. The same applies to yoga. The only way to receive the benefit is by regular practice.  In order for the practices to work you have to do them.

How to design a yoga teacher training? A program might have great content but if it is disintegrated, you may be in for a rough ride. The design of a programs could be the difference between feeling lost and finding your life’s path.

You need to assimilate the content you study.  

It takes years of experience to work out the kinks in any training – to integrate yoga theory and practice into a smooth and continuous flow.  Every hour of training is a precious opportunity and you do not want to waste time backtracking or feeling lost. Imagine reading a book in which the chapters were arranged in no particular order?

Imagine reading a book in which the chapters
were arranged in no particular order?

 Some programs take the McDonald’s approach and offer many, many homogenized yoga teacher training sessions a year.  It’s a business.  On the upside, the program will be predictable.  They may even have a nice brochure.  On the downside, the presenters may be hemmed in by too many rules and you lose out on the magic of yoga.   It may still be a good experience but not live up to its full potential.

ven diagram showing the three parts of an integrated yoga teacher training.

A cohesive and integrated training has three components:

  1. The actual content of the training.  Most interviewing students zoom in on this part.  It’s important and there is more you should know.
  2. The quality of the teacher’s knowledge and their ability to present effectively.
  3. The overall architecture of the program (how individual topics fit into the whole).

Denver Yoga Underground takes all of these components into consideration to deliver a cohesive and integrated training.  The architecture supports the students to gradually assimilate the content, and the teachers deliver the content to the student. This combination supports the student’s growth and are essential parts of how to design a yoga teacher training.

women in a yoga training do a twisting postureWhat is the content of a yoga teacher training. This is a foundational question for any training.  It is right up there with what style of yoga do you teach.  I suggest you approach this question with some idea of what you are looking for in a program.  

Are you only interested in the asana?  Classic theory?  Do you want to know the Sanskrit names for the poses? Are you looking for a more contemporary or contemplative approach?

Spend some time with this question and be as specific as possible.  Some programs might say they cover meditation but what does that really look like?  How long do you meditate and for how often? 

If you don’t know what you want out of a program you might end up with ‘buyer’s remorse’. It’s a big investment, have a clear idea of what you want out of the experience before going in.

Have a clear idea of what you want out of the experience before going in.

Denver Yoga Underground is more holistic than most, we focus on yoga as an entire system.  This includes: asana, pranayama, meditation, traditional theory, diet, and lifestyle.  Every aspect of your life will be touched by a dedicated and integrated practice.

We present many yoga practices and principles and you are also a big part of the curriculum. At its core, yoga is a process of self experimentation and self discovery. The content of a yoga teacher training will profoundly shape your ability to see yourself.


A lotus that displays all the aspects of a yoga teacher training.Many trainings have five or more teachers, all with a range of expertise and from different backgrounds. The content of the program may be diffused and the methodologies inconsistent.  Students will still get benefit but they will unknowingly miss out on the power of a more concentrated thread of teachings. How many instructors ought to be in a yoga teacher training?

When taught as an integrated system, the power of yoga practice is much greater than the sum of its parts.  If you just want to know about asana, a singular thread of teaching is less important. However, if you want to study yoga as a holistic practice for physical, mental and spiritual well being, a focused approach helps greatly.

If you just want to know about asana,
a singular thread of teaching is less important.

 

Imagine that yoga is like a flower. Each petal represents a different aspect of practice, together the individual petals have a combined magic effect. Recall the serene image of a lotus…. 

Some programs have just a few petals (asana and student teaching).  Other trainings have more petals but they are disjointed, with no common or integrated shape to the program.  It’s a more “grab bag” approach with an amalgamation of teachers who have studied at various places.

Nonetheless, some people naturally feel more drawn to variety and a wide array of teachers may speak to them. It really comes back to what you want in a training – a more broad approach, a more focused approach, or something in between.

In my experience, two to three teachers should be more than enough to present an integrated training.  Anymore than that and it can become diffused.  Ideally, those teachers have studied under a similar master and have a similar philosophy. To go one step further, it helps if the staff has worked together for at least three years, and had time to hone their message and understanding of one another’s content.  

To assess how many instructors ought to be in a yoga teacher training, reflect on what kind of experience you want to have and how deep you want to go.

 As you consider a yoga teacher training and what kind of teacher you aspire to become, I invite you to consider what makes an excellent yoga teacher? Instructors come with varying degrees of knowledge and direct experience.  Some simply make stuff up (think goat or bar yoga) while others are steeped in tradition and personal revelation. 

Many teacher trainers are relatively new to the practices while others have studied their whole lives.  As obvious as it may sound, the depth and history of a lead instructor has a big impact on the final outcome of your training.

The way I see it, teacher trainers ought to be a dedicated student for at least a decade before they offer a YTT.  What’s more I suggest that they have at least 5 years of teaching under their belt.

As a rule of thumb, a teacher should to have 10 times the knowledge as those whom they teach. This may seem like a lot and I think it is a reasonable standard/expectation, particularly if you want to accelerate and deepen growth. In many ways, this is the point of a yoga teacher training.   Teachers with that level of training and experience exist though they are less common.

Consider, where did the teacher study and under whom?

If you read trainers bios they may reference a long list of everyone they studied with. It’s questionable how much time they may have spent with any of these teachers.  Maybe it was just a one time workshop?  Good enough, put them on the list too.

I think that depth is more important than breadth.  Tradition is sometimes shunned as archaic or impractical, which may be partially true. And we should consider that with heritage often comes depth and wisdom.

It is better to dig one deep well than many shallow ones that never strike water. As a loose guideline, I suggest that students and teachers have no more than two primary influences and study with those influences for a decade or longer.

Consider what your standards are and what makes an excellent yoga teacher before you embark on a particular training.

Here we are. Just days away from a new year, and edging a little deeper into this fledgling decade. As a new year’s blessing yoga practice, I invite us to pause for a moment of self reflection.

Even as the tide of turmoil from this past year still swirls around, I invite us to pause, gaze over our shoulders, and let loose a satisfying and well deserved exhalation.

For a moment, allow yourself to step out of the momentum of the past and deeper into the inherent grace of the present.  Take a few more breaths into this New Year’s blessing yoga practice. Go inside, acknowledge our most recent passage, bless it for all that it was, and welcome the year to come.

Wishing you Peace,
Derik

 


Back in the day, there we’re very few yoga teacher trainings to choose from. That has changed drastically over the past 10 years, and now, with the advent of the Corona Virus, you can find many, many trainings online. So, how do you select the best
yoga teacher training?

Best is a very relative term. From a yoga philosophy perspective, “best” is entirely subjective. There is not definitive standard by which we can say one object or concept is superior to another.


Most people would agree that a Tesla
is “better” than an AMC Pacer, however….


Yes, most people would agree that a Tesla is “better” than an AMC Pacer, however it is not 100% agreed upan and the distinction between the two is in the mind of the beholder. (Personally, I have an affinity for the Pacer, a classic in its own right!) This is distinct from a Universal Truth such as “everything changes”. 

Philosophy aside, some yoga trainings will resonate with you more than others, and your subjective like or dislike of a program has merit.  Afterall, YTT is a significant investment and – potentially – has much to offer you in the way of personal and spiritual enrichment.  Not to mention a career life path.

Back to the initial question, how do you select the best yoga teacher training for you?

The first step is to identify what you want in a program.  Some programs just focus on the postures and are ignorant of the traditional roots of yoga or actively reject those teachings in favor of their brand message. No Om Yoga is a clear example of this.

Other trainings, will embrace the rich heritage of yoga and present it as a holistic system. Denver Yoga Underground falls into the latter category.

Start with self inquiry. Ask what you ultimately want at the completion of the program? I recommend you explore this and other questions with a free-write journal exercise. Move the pen for 5 to 10 minutes.

Some questions to get you started:

  1. In a perfect scenario, how would things be different at the end of the training?
  2. Reflect upon teachers who inspired you. What was it about their demior or the content the presented, that was most enriching. Be as specific as possible.
  3. Are you more interested in personal growth or actually teaching?

Over the next few months I will continue to post thoughtful questions and reflections to help guide you on your path to select the best yoga teacher training.

 

There are many ways to communicate as an instructor.  In this segment we will explore Figurative Language when teaching yoga. Figurative language is more sensual than it is literal, it invites the student to see and feel their body and mind as a poetic process.  This language invites us to soften the analytical mind with metaphor, imagery and even wisdom.  Figurative language invites the muse to guide the heart, mind and tongue.

It encourages students to see the practice and themselves through a unique lens; a specific color: such as red, yellow, or perhaps green.  Each color has a unique feeling-tone.  This specific color invokes a kind of felt-atmosphere or bhavana in Sanskrit. Different kinds of music carry a particular bhavana and have their own enchantment.

In contrast, Subjective Language is more neutral.  It does not have a particular agenda other than to be aware of what is happening in the immediate moment.  It’s the difference between observing the sunset and being the sunset.

It’s the difference between observing the sunset and being the sunset.

There is a definite place for Figurative Language when teaching yoga. It needs to be authentic.  It is important that Figurative Language be authentic.  Silly analogies or forced metaphors will not suffice.  This language is the voice of creative inspiration that cracks open a layer of insight in the student – a ray of light in a darkened sky. Or simple helps them feel held and more in touch with their imagination.

Generally, figurative language is used sparingly, and makes up about 10% of instruction.

Some may struggle to find their authentic creative voice, and to project it into the room, particularly as a new teacher. However, you do not have to start with a literary masterpiece on the first day. 

Here are a few suggestions to help you begin:
    • Teach depth rather than breadth.  Gear your class towards ONE simple principle, or theme and explore it in detail.
    • Ask provocative and rhetorical questions.
    • Share readings with heart

    • Use metaphor artfully
    • Make use of poignant silence
    • A well timed joke. Laughter brightens joy
    • Teach yoga philosophy in the most simple way possible without diminishing its intent and meaning. Be respectful.

    • Use synonyms to emphasize a particular point. How many ways can you describe a similar action in a posture?
    • Maintain a regular yoga practice and speak from experience
  • Integrate one or two of these principles at a time

 

This is the 4th part of an ongoing series that explores the different kinds of language a teacher uses to shape their classes.  In this segment, we look at invitational language when teaching yoga.

Invitational language is a subset of subjective language.  Subjective language asks the student to self reflect (or observe themselves) from a neutral perspective.  “Be aware of how you are breathing” as a simple example. Invitational Language invites students to become aware of their particular needs and gives them free will to act upon them.

Both subjective and invitational instructions ask students to reflect on their experience and sense of self.  This awareness teaches people to be less reactive and more empowered.

This awareness teaches people to be less reactive and more empowered.

Invitational Language is often used in “trauma sensitive” yoga classes. It has been proven to be effective for people for whom agency over their lives was forcefully taken; such as a car accident, combat, or growing up in an abusive household.

In many ways, “Invitational Language” is the antithesis of Directive Language, which emphasizes specific alignment cues and implies a “right way” to do the pose. Invitational Language, freely presents possible variations and encourages students to make choices for themselves.

There are many different ways to best communicate with students, depending upon one’s ability as a teacher and the needs of the students.  And there is an optimal place to use invitational language when teaching yoga. Gradually, a yoga student becomes a seasoned teacher, and learn when to use the appropriate style of language to best meet the needs of students. (You can find out more about our yoga teacher training here).

Examples of Invitational Language:

  • “If you feel like it……”
  • “When you are ready.”
  • “If you want to…”
  • “I invite you to try and _________”
  • “As an alternative, you can bend your knees”
  • “You don’t have to do any of these postures, you have free will”
  • Give people the option to participate or not