Choosing a Yoga Teacher Training

 "Scrubbles" wants to be a Yoga Teacher

"Scrubbles" wants to be a Yoga Teacher

Back in the 90’s, when the electronic music scene was big in the Bay Area, it seemed like everyone wanted to be a DJ. There was even a song, “(I Just Want to Be A) Drummer” that listed all the people who wanted to be a DJ: “....my girlfriend wants to be a DJ, my cat wants to be a DJ, my goldfish wants to be a DJ…” Perhaps it just seemed that way because back then that was my social scene and I was DJing.  Now that I’ve been teaching yoga for nearly 15 years, and managing a studio for a decade, it seems like everyone wants to be a yoga teacher. And a majority of yoga studios are capitalizing on this by offering teacher trainings. Most commonly offered is a 200-hour basic training and many studios offer advanced or specialized trainings, as well.

However, like DJing, the teaching of yoga is not a regulated industry. In other words, any person could call him or herself a yoga teacher and offer public classes or open a studio. But DJing is simply a creative endeavor, while teaching yoga puts the safety and well-being of others in the instructor’s hands. Currently, no degree, certificate, or licensure is legally required to teach yoga. Any person could claim to teach yoga, and it’s shocking to hear of people leading classes while admitting they had no formal training! In an effort to address this issue, the Yoga Alliance, a non-profit founded in 1997, has created industry standards with a process in place to recognize teacher training programs and the people who complete them, but their system is rather flawed. (More on that later…) In the meantime, here are a few things to consider when choosing a yoga training:

Instructors. Obviously you want to learn from experienced instructors, but it’s not just the number of years they have been teaching that indicates experience. Has teaching been their main career path or just something they’ve done “on the side”? Have they taught a class here and there, or have they led several classes a week? Do they have experience teaching diverse populations? Have they been involved in running a studio? Having to audit, hire, and work with other teachers as well as field feedback from students brings a deeper level of experience than just leading your own classes. And most importantly, who were their teachers? How long have they been practicing and with whom? What style(s)? Do they have other complementary training? For example, the lead trainer of a children’s yoga program may have deeper insight to share if he worked in a childcare center or holds a degree in Early Childhood Education.     

Will the training have one or two main teachers or many? Some trainings pride themselves on a faculty made up of many teachers for diverse exposure to multiple styles and points of view. However, this may prevent the trainee from getting a deep understanding of any one topic. As the saying goes, “jack of all trades, master of none.” On the other hand, having just one or two teachers to lead the entire training may not provide enough diversity in knowledge or experience.

Size. When Master Yoda (he was a master yogi in a galaxy far, far away, right?) said, “size matters not,” he was certainly not talking about yoga trainings. A training with too many students may not allow for relationships with the trainers. The larger the teacher-to-student ratio, the less opportunity there is to ask questions and receive ongoing guidance throughout the training and beyond. I have taken trainings that had as many as 40 students to one teacher and as small as two students to one teacher. My best experiences have been in groups that were between five and twelve students -- enough people for great discussion and differing, thought-provoking points of view, but small enough to get to know everyone, including the instructors.

Mentorship. Some trainings provide a structure for trainees to mentor with an experienced instructor as part of the program. One-on-one mentoring gives the trainee a unique opportunity to discuss their path with someone who has a lot of experience; this is the traditional way that yoga has been passed down through the ages. A program may require the trainee to mentor with one of the main instructors or it may be the trainee’s responsibility to find someone and have their relationship approved by the faculty of the training program. Or it may simply be offered as an option for further study beyond the basic requirements to complete the curriculum. If the program does not provide any sort of mentoring, it may not be the best bang for your buck.

 Practicing opening meditation in Lotus Blossom's Mom & Baby module.

Practicing opening meditation in Lotus Blossom's Mom & Baby module.

Practice Teaching. It’s shocking that some programs offer little if any opportunity to teach! After all, that is the whole point of a yoga teacher training -- not to just learn a whole lot of stuff about yoga, but to be able to safely lead others in the practice! A good program has teaching opportunities built in to the actual workshop hours along with infrastructure to step in front of the room and lead a real class. There are all kinds of ways to get teaching practice: free classes led by trainees at the studio where the training takes place, stepping in to lead portions of a mentor’s established class, and community outreach programs, to name a few. A good teacher training will provide opportunities for teaching as well as guidance to get started leading your own classes.

Program Objective. Every program has its own style, and you want to choose something that will support your intentions. It’s rather obvious that if you love restorative yoga and are looking to teach it, taking a training that focuses on power yoga will not be the best fit. There are subtle nuances beyond the obvious when it comes to finding a training that will support you on the path you’d like to go down. Many 200-hour teacher trainings are designed more as an opportunity to deepen your practice and get introduced to the idea of teaching, as opposed to giving you solid tools to step right up to the front of the class. If you love yoga, and you’d like to learn more, but are not sure you want to go down the path of teaching, a program of this nature may be a great place to start. Some programs, like Bikram Yoga, teach a specific methodology and expect graduates to stick to their “script.” On the other end of the spectrum are programs that want to give their trainees tools to think critically and find their own yogic path, both personally and professionally. What do the lead trainers expect from their trainees after graduation? What are their main objectives in offering a training program?  

Foundation of Information. Yoga is thousands of years old, and it has evolved tremendously in that time. While our ancient predecessors relied solely on the teachings of their gurus, we are now in a sophisticated age of information. A solid yoga training program will be backed by science and the trainers will have no problem citing their sources. They should encourage critical thinking and invite trainees to question their teachings to arrive at deeper understanding of the material presented. In addition, all trainers should be open to learning new material and making changes in their curriculum if there is evidence to do so. How has their curriculum evolved since they started their training? Do they have ways of reaching out to past trainees to share updated information?

Logistics. Most of us have other commitments in life beyond our yoga practice. The right training program for you needs to fit into your life. If you are working and have a family to take care of, a program that meets evenings and weekends spread out over many months may be a better fit than an intensive week or more. There are other advantages to having a program spread out, as well, like more time to mentally integrate the information, then come back and ask questions. It more closely mirrors the experience of teaching, in the sense that you teach a number of classes each week that are an hour or two long, sprinkled between the rest of your life. Unless you are only planning to teach week-long retreats, an intensive training may not feel the same as your impending teaching experience. On the other hand, taking an intensive training means you can truly focus on the material without distraction and are less likely to miss workshop time. If you do have to miss some of the hours, is there a system in place for making them up?      

Another point to consider are the requirements outside of the scheduled workshop hours. Most programs have a certain number of “non-contact” hours, including observing other classes, reading, projects, and/or papers to write. What are these requirements? Does the program have a deadline for completing coursework? A reputable program will ensure all requirements are fulfilled before handing out a Certificate of Completion.

What’s next. Once you complete your program, where do you go from there? Is there time spent on the business of being a yoga teacher? Does the program offer you assistance in finding teaching opportunities? Is there further contact and support beyond the program?  It may be as simple as connecting through a Facebook group or something more substantial, like a monthly meet-up. Getting started can be a challenge and having support is valuable.

A yoga teacher training program is a big commitment of both time and money- there’s a lot more at stake than dabbling in DJing. While your path may change as a result of the experience, you want to feel like it was worth it. Taking the time to consider the details of the program that interests you and comparing it to others will make you feel confident in your decision. Trainers with integrity will appreciate it, too- it’s a better experience for everyone if you are good fit for each other. With so many programs out there, some merely focused on taking your money, you want to make sure you will earn the skills to make you the best teacher you can be. If you are considering a prenatal yoga training, we are happy to answer all of these questions and more! Please reach out.

Why I Teach Prenatal Yoga

By Hillary Easom

IMG_0518.JPG

My entry into the yoga world happened long before I had kids, and at the time my practice was focused entirely on how I felt in my body – not unusual for a student new to the practice. I found that the postures I practiced helped ease back pain from a rowing injury, and that alone was enough to keep me interested. The discipline required to maintain a daily practice really appealed to me. (I was a rower, remember? Discipline was a “thing” for me.) I stuck with it for a while, following short sequences outlined in a book.

Classes weren’t so readily available back then, and not until I moved to a new city did I start learning from a real, live teacher. Driving home one evening, I noticed a big piece of plywood leaning against the back of a pickup truck. On it was painted “YOGA” and a telephone number. I called, and the next Wednesday evening I attended my first real yoga class, an Iyengar-influenced class in a furniture-free living room, attended by maybe 5 or 6 other students. (One of those eventually ended up becoming my husband…but that’s a story for another day!) The class became a weekly outing, a nice complement to the other athletic endeavors I’d undertaken. But I’m not sure I really “got it” yet – the other stuff that makes yoga really special, different from just any physical workout.

I continued practicing on and off for the next few years, in the US and in India. I wanted to learn more, but we never know what we don’t know until the discovery happens. The layers of yoga were beginning to peel away for me, but something was blocking me from getting to the core. Maybe I just wasn’t ready.

Early in 2005 I became pregnant with my son. That Mother’s Day, my own mom sent me a certificate for a local yoga studio so that I could start taking prenatal yoga classes. What a gift! This, for me, was the turning point.

Once again I found the discipline to engage in a regular practice, attending classes when I could and practicing with prenatal yoga DVDs on the days that I couldn’t. My body felt whole – strong, open, full of ease, bursting with life. And I found a sense of contentment (santosha) beyond compare. Everything just seemed right. My physical body (annamaya kosha) was connected to my energy body (pranamaya kosha). In each practice, I found that it became easier to move beyond busy thoughts (cittavrtti; manomaya kosha) to discover my own inner wisdom and maternal instinct (vijnanamaya kosha), and I felt closer to a state of inner bliss (anandamaya kosha) than ever before. At the time, I didn’t understand or recognize what was happening, but I knew that prenatal yoga had changed my life and that someday I wanted to be able to share this experience with other women.

A few years into motherhood, needing something empowering for myself, I entered into my first yoga teacher training, always with the intention of teaching pregnant women. My practice grew, my understanding and love of yoga grew deeper than I could have imagined, and I began to recognize that this was not a job but a calling.

In Zen Buddhism, the ensō is a circle that represents teaching, strength and enlightenment. An ensō is a balance of simplicity and complexity in its design -- sometimes open, signifying that there is something more to achieve, and other times closed, representing perfection (perhaps even in the existence of imperfection). Ensō signifies a moment in which the mind allows the body and the spirit to create. Not surprisingly, I find the ensō to be a pertinent symbol for pregnancy, birth and the practice of prenatal yoga. When mothers are able to move beyond their conscious thoughts, their body and spirit join together to create a child and to bring that baby into the world.

Motherhood itself is like a blooming lotus. During pregnancy, a woman cannot imagine the changes – both positive ones and challenges – that lie ahead. As each petal unfolds, she is presented with new obstacles and also new blessings. Each season’s blossoms have a different texture and a different tone, but each is beautiful in its own way.

When we teach prenatal and postnatal yoga, we help women discover their inner strength, their ability to stay calm and grounded even in the toughest moments. We encourage students to find the beauty in the mundane, the petal among the weeds. We give women permission to dig deeper when it makes sense, to be vulnerable when healing is needed, and to be who they are for real, regardless of anyone else’s expectations or pressures. It is our job to educate, and it is our job to hold the space, allowing every woman to define herself as a mother.

As a teacher, I am awestruck at how quickly a transformation can occur when a student allows herself to be present and to listen to her own inner voice. I am humbled by being able to help women on their motherhood journeys. And I am ever grateful for the opportunity to do this important work.

Quality Teachers are the Cornerstone of a Successful Prenatal Yoga Program

By Jeanna Lurie

Wearing the hat of Program Manager at Blossom for the last decade has given me a unique perspective on creating and maintaining a quality, well-known prenatal yoga program in Silicon Valley.  The job requires me to receive feedback from clientele, analyze attendance patterns, audit teachers with diverse backgrounds, and stay on top of trends in the industry. I’ve learned that studio atmosphere- fostering a warm, welcoming community, in addition to aesthetics- is important. A full schedule with diverse offerings to meet the needs of the busy Silicon Valley lifestyle tops the list, as well. And, not surprisingly, the number one element in a booming prenatal yoga program is quality teachers.

IMG_0004.jpg

So what makes a quality prenatal yoga teacher? First and foremost, a warm personality that puts mothers at ease when they walk through the door. Market research has shown that taking that first step into a yoga studio is intimidating for many beginners, and many women try yoga for the first time when they become pregnant. When the teacher greets them, introduces them to the practice, and demonstrates that they are in a safe place, mothers are able to focus on their practice. At Blossom, it’s pretty clear that many of our clientele deeply connect with our prenatal yoga instructors. We often receive birth stories in our inbox that express gratitude to a particular teacher and new moms drop in looking to introduce their babies to their teachers.

A strong understanding of the art and science of yoga and how it applies to the expectant yogi is critical as well. This point may seem obvious, but many don’t understand that yoga is more than just a set of physical postures. An exceptional prenatal yoga instructor understands the eight limbs of yoga and can weave them into her teachings in a way that is relatable to mothers-to-be. This allows her students to go beyond the physical practice to prepare emotionally, physically, and spiritually for their births and the journey of parenting that follows.

And while yoga is not just a physical practice, most moms come to prenatal yoga to deal with the many common discomforts of pregnancy. Prenatal yoga instructors must understand the physical experience and anatomy of pregnancy and provide options for addressing the sensations they bring. This includes a deep understanding of the pelvic floor, offering practices and guidance to provide stability to this area that concerns most new moms. (Hint: the answer is NOT kegels!)  

The community provided by an high-caliber prenatal yoga class naturally invites discussion about all things pregnancy, birth, and early parenting, whether during the class or afterwards. Prenatal yoga teachers must have knowledge regarding maternity care options in their area, the common protocols of labor and delivery, connections to complementary practitioners for appropriate referrals, and know where to find answers to the many questions that arise during and after class. Furthermore, she needs to know how to address these issues without judgment and facilitate a conversation that is respectful of all views, as birth-related topics can often be sensitive or emotionally triggering. It’s easy to make a mistake in this department, and a top-rate instructor humbly apologizes when necessary and learns from the mistake.

When I hire a new yoga instructor at Blossom, these are the qualities I am looking for. The ongoing need for well-trained teachers is one of the reasons Hillary and I started Lotus Blossom Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training, encompassing all of the elements necessary to foster a yogi into a teacher with these essential qualities. Many of Lotus Blossom’s graduates, feeling completely confident to lead a pre (or post) natal class after completing the program, have gone on to teach at Blossom- mothers in our community frequently express how much they love practicing with them!  

Bīja: Planting The Seed

Bija graphic.jpg

By Hillary Easom

Four years ago, Jeanna and I decided to plant the seed that 9 months later would become Lotus Blossom Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training. (What an auspicious gestation period!)

The Sanskrit word bīja translates, literally, as “seed,” and metaphorically it represents the origin of things. The term bīja is also used to describe seed syllables such as AUM (ૐ), a seed mantra representing the connection between creation, preservation and destruction -- the three phases of life. AUM is often believed to be the sound of creation.

Our bīja appeared in the form of a book -- or, more accurately, a few pages of a book that we tried to start writing years ago. (Stay tuned: We will finish it one of these days!) Stuck on the book, we started to explore the reasons why we wanted to write it in the first place and recognized that we really wanted to compile all that we had learned as both students and teachers of prenatal yoga. With over 30 years of combined experience in pregnancy, birth, and yoga, we hoped to assimilate our knowledge into a comprehensive guide for teachers and students of perinatal yoga. And yes, like you, we recognized that wrapping that all up into one neat little package was a daunting task!

We took that bīja and started to plant roots that would grow into our Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training, a living and breathing program that continues to change as the perinatal yoga world evolves. Our program contains all of the key elements of a thriving plant:

  • ROOTS: History of Prenatal Yoga; Applying Classical Yoga Philosophy to Modern Perinatal Yoga
  • STEM: Anatomy and Physiology of Pregnancy and Postpartum; Sequencing a Perinatal Class
  • LIMBS: Incorporating the 8 Limbs of Yoga into a Perinatal Class; Psychology; Modifications; Optimal Fetal Positioning; Alleviating Discomforts
  • BLOSSOMS: Finding Your Own Voice; Empowering and Inclusive Language; Healthy Pelvic Floor; Understanding Evidence-Based Maternity Care; Nutrition
  • SEEDS: Managing a Successful Perinatal Yoga Business; One-on-One Mentoring to help students branch out and become successful perinatal yoga teachers using their own individual voice and style

Our goal is to provide a comprehensive program that give students the tools to create and build a successful perinatal yoga business, and to have the confidence to do so immediately upon graduating the program. As such, we include a considerable amount of time for practice teaching with critique. Birth professionals looking to incorporate yoga into their current work can opt to take just the classroom portion of the program; a minimum of 1 year yoga experience is required. Yoga teachers seeking Yoga Alliance R-PYT (Registered Prenatal Yoga Teacher) designation should hold at least a 200-hour certification.

That bīja we planted four years ago was, in fact, our dharma. To date, we have graduated three cohorts of teachers, many of whom are actively teaching prenatal and postnatal yoga all around the west coast. Our garden continues to grow! We hope you’ll join us in spreading the benefits of perinatal yoga.