While everyone is seemingly jumping on the “how yoga can wreck your body” bandwagon, CNN took the opportunity to add to those rumors by running a piece over the weekend about “Who should be allowed to teach yoga?” Of course, it talked about the potential for injury during our downward dogs and handstands, but it mainly highlighted another controversial subject in the yoga community: the fact that there are no regulations or standard qualifications for who can teach us double pigeon. But, unlike the fiercely-debated New York Times article (which I wholeheartedly oppose, this one sparked some genuine concerns I’ve had for a while with yoga.
In addition to the theory that yoga can supposedly cause “serious injuries like nerve damage, torn cartilage, and strokes, among others,” yoga was touted as a “free-for-all” with “no hierarchy of officials or organization to ensure purity and adhere to agreed-upon sets of facts and poses, rules and procedures, outcomes and benefits.”
And that is correct. There is no official organization which oversees yoga and how it’s taught. Sure, there is the Yoga Alliance which seeks to advise would-be teachers on getting a 200- or 500-hour training, but it’s not regulated or mandated, and it’s safe to assume that some yoga studios don’t adhere to this. Is that out of greed, ignorance, laziness or ego? Possibly. But it’s also due to the fact that many yogis don’t protest because they believe yoga is a practice which cannot be regulated.
Gyandev McCord, who has taught yoga for 25 years, told CNN:
Yoga comes from India. Things are not uniform by tradition.
Adding that “It’s not illegal to teach without training as a teacher.”
And Leslie Kaminoff, co-founder of the Breathing Project, a nonprofit that provides continuing education to yoga practitioners, added:
Yoga is about freedom. The market place is the ultimate quality control.
All of which fits the basic “personality” of yoga, if you will, but it leaves a lot of room for error.
Like many yogis, I have had some truly awesome yoga teachers over the years–and some truly awful ones too. In thinking about it, the thing that made the good ones good was their personality, not poses they could get themselves into or their often unnatural-looking flexibility.
The good yoga teachers, I have learned, are the ones who have a wealth of knowledge combined with attentiveness, energy, sensitivity and awareness. They have learned precisely how the body works and how it moves. They know proper alignment and positioning. They can spot a tight hip flexor and tell you how and why this could impede your ability to get into half pigeon (and they will get you a nice green block during this pose). They will not force you or guilt you into going deeper in a pose, simply because they believe deeper is better (it’s not). And they will move throughout the room, not just calling out poses like a drill sergeant, but with mindfulness and awareness of how the students are responding. Oh, and they won’t ever throw in statements of comparison, weight-loss or use the class to discuss their own personal problems.
That’s what makes a great yoga teacher, in my mind. And those are all things that must be taught and learned through experience.
I have had yoga teachers who have taken a one-week “yoga bootcamp” and came back believing they were ready to teach. Um, one week? I don’t think so. Sure, maybe they had memorized the sequence of poses and maybe they could nail every single one of them because they are the super-bendy type, but you know what? They were not good teachers. They had not truly learned about the physiology and psychology that go into teaching, and they probably couldn’t have spotted a potentially dangerous misalignment (which could wreck your body). I even had a teacher once who didn’t know the names of the muscle groups and more than once asked the class, “What’s this one called again?”
So should all yoga teachers be required to get the same 200- or 500-hour training? Maybe not the same training, but there should be some mandates in place so all teachers have an equal level of basic education. After all, yoga is about so much more than moving from pose to pose. It requires trust, focus, awareness of our bodies, and open-mind to the possibilities. All of which only comes with a knowledgeable, well-trained teacher.