Category Archives: Teaching

Yoga Teacher Training Licensing Hits New York

Sheriff BadgeWell, it’s happened. The New York state government wants to bring yoga into the fold of regulated industries. Teacher training programs are now considered “vocational training” and the state wants to require its own applications and fees. This would be in addition to the Yoga Alliance applications and fees.

Leslie Kaminoff warned us (in his anatomy class) about this possibility a few months ago: several states have instigated the licensing process for yoga. (Minnesota, Arizona, and Michigan, I believe.) It’s of course a new revenue source for struggling governments (and they’ll be more able to draw yoga “therapists” into the morass of health insurance providers and paperwork).

The letter was a full-out cease-and-desist order, threatening a fine of up to $50,000 for operation of a school without a license. Recipients were instructed to cease operating teacher training instruction until they complied. No matter if you’re halfway through a training, or advertising a new one. Your Yoga Alliance license? Irrelevant. You have to wait for the eight-month-plus process of state licensing to conclude; then you can finish up.

It appears that the state got their list of programs from the Yoga Alliance website, as not all programs were served with the letter (on April 16). Studios in other states could of course preemptively remove their teacher training programs from this website, without losing their Yoga Alliance certification… Also, programs advertised and focused on personal enrichment, not providing actual teacher training certificates for their graduates, would probably be exempt.

One problem is that the state board is pushing a one-size-fits-all vocational training application, while the range and methodology of programs is vast. A license to teach “yoga” is like a license to teach “science” — it’s a huge topic. Even Yoga Alliance has famously broad guidelines. It’s up to the student and studio to clarify their expectations. But the state sees vocational licensing as part of its mission. Exemptions seem unlikely; even if a school offers “only language, religion, and athletics”, the director of the State Education Department insisted that “If the student would expect to learn skills which may be used in an occupation at a later point, whether employed or self employed, then the training needs to be regulated by our bureau.”

If you’re a yoga student, this means your local yoga studio might go under. Teacher trainings are generally the main source of revenue for studios — even $20 classes are no match for New York’s five-digit rents — and additional costs of hundreds or thousands of dollars might be impossible. Especially for smaller studios. So, what to do?

Jo Brill has compiled a resource page including PDFs of both letters, resources for studios, and contact information for the state regulators.

Yoga City NYC has a great article on the topic. (Thanks, J. Brown, for the link.)

Yoga Journal is holding a Business of Yoga Workshop tomorrow and Friday (May 14–15) — I’m sure this topic will come up.

And you can use the hashtag #NYSYogaReg to post or follow the topic on Twitter.

Does anyone know if there’s a senator or congressperson that it would be appropriate to contact?

Yoga Audition at Equinox

If anyone is looking to pick up another teaching gig, there’s an audition at Equinox this Tuesday. They hold auditions every six months or so; each candidate has a few minutes to lead the other candidates through a few poses. So it’s an interesting exercise in preparation versus adaptation: do you adjust your plan based on what the people before you taught, or do you just do your own thing? Details:

The audition will be held Tuesday 3/31 2pm at the Equinox @19th St and Broadway. Please show up between 1:30-2:00pm and sign in at the front desk where you will be asked to show ID. The audition will be held on the 2nd floor Main Studio. Our auditions are held in a round robin format and will be moderated by Sarra Morton, one of our GFM’s. Your audition will last only 2-3 minutes depending on the turnout. We will try to get you all out by 4pm. Mats are provided unless you prefer to bring your own.

We are looking for those instructors who have at least 3 early mornings available (6:30-8am) to pick up regular classes AND BOTH Saturday and Sunday (9-6pm) available. Please do not attend this audition if you are not available for both these times. We have no daytime or evening weekday available classes.

Our auditions are a lot of fun, so no need to be nervous, just come with a smile.

No need to RSVP and please hold all questions till the audition.

You should probably bring your yoga resume too. Good luck.

Great Teachers / Quarterbacks

I got this
I got this

I’ve been meaning to share this New Yorker article for a while. It’s Malcolm Gladwell’s study of the near-impossibility of predicting successful NFL quarterbacks, or school teachers. In both these jobs, the professional environment is so intensely unique that “almost nothing you can learn about candidates before they start predicts how they’ll do once they’re hired.” I thought a few points were really relevant to yoga teachers, too.

A good teacher is more important than a small class.

…the students of a very bad teacher will learn, on average, half a year’s worth of material in one school year. The students in the class of a very good teacher will learn a year and a half’s worth of material. That difference amounts to a year’s worth of learning in a single year… Teacher effects are also much stronger than class-size effects. You’d have to cut the average class almost in half to get the same boost that you’d get if you switched from an average teacher to a teacher in the eighty-fifth percentile.

Obviously yoga teachers don’t have a curriculum they’re trying to get through, but do have a ton of anatomy, kinesiology, and philosophy to get across. And since yoga is a hands-on discipline, a large class can feel very diluted. But some teachers can lead workshops with 50, 100, 200 students that are amazing learning experiences. And some tiny classes can still leave you feeling ignored.

Plans are great; generating enthusiasm is greater.

Among [the qualities of good teacher-student interaction] is “regard for student perspective”; that is, a teacher’s knack for allowing students some flexibility in how they become engaged in the classroom.

Yoga classrooms are full of willing participants — after all, they showed up for class voluntarily — but it’s another thing to get or keep them fully engaged. Let’s face it: we often go to class because we think we should, bring our own internal narratives, let our minds wander, or just get bored. And if we’re not focused, we’re not really doing yoga. It’s a mind-body practice, not just body. So, as an asana teacher, I think it’s better to follow your gut feelings on the needs of the class that day, or moment, than to nail students to your plan. It’s such a subtle sensitivity to know when to pick up the pace, or throw in a Child’s Pose, or gently lay a hand, to keep that mind-body union going.

Feedback is golden.

Of all the teacher elements analyzed by the Virginia group, feedback—a direct, personal response by a teacher to a specific statement by a student—seems to be most closely linked to academic success…

Then there was the superstar… Two and a half minutes into the lesson—the length of time it took that subpar teacher to turn on the computer—he had already laid out the problem, checked in with nearly every student in the class, and was back at the blackboard, to take the lesson a step further.

Feedback is candy, a main motive for coming to class. We could all get more orderly, detailed information by reading books and following DVDs, but nothing comes close to the “aha!” moment of a great adjustment. Like, “Oh, THAT’S vertical.” And I think that people crave a human touch. So I can’t tell you how frustrated I get when I am in a group class, seeing other students spacing out in all sorts of dysfunctional or even dangerous alignments, and the teacher just stays up front demonstrating poses. In my experience, when I kept wanting to demo, it meant I wasn’t keeping up my own practice. You want a teacher who practices AT LEAST five times a week — they can feel the poses in their own bodies just by seeing you do them, and then are free to work the room much more. Yes, group classes are by default low on feedback, but I do think that a teacher is responsible for keeping an eye on the class, literally. Unless they are great in what the researchers called “with-it-ness” — the quality of having eyes in the back of your head. Or like, a third one in your forehead.

Certifications are not everything.

Test scores, graduate degrees, and certifications—as much as they appear related to teaching prowess—turn out to be about as useful in predicting success as having a quarterback throw footballs into a bunch of garbage cans. [Referring to quarterback Tim Couch, who had perfect accuracy, but flopped in the NFL.]

…[Studies] suggest that we shouldn’t be raising standards. We should be lowering them, because there is no point in raising standards if standards don’t track with what we care about. Teaching should be open to anyone with a pulse and a college degree—and teachers should be judged after they have started their jobs, not before.

…given the enormous differences between the top and the bottom of the profession, you’d probably have to try out four candidates to find one good teacher.

I am all for Yoga Alliance and their certification system — my yoga teacher training was one of the most valuable experiences of my life — but it only really tells you “this person has reviewed the basics.” Apparently a lot of senior teachers in California don’t even go through their certification process. I heard a homeopathic doctor / yoga teacher say, “I dissected cadavers, went to med school, now I have to get your little stamp on anatomy?” There are a lot of different ways that people can get the wisdom to become a good teacher, and there are a lot of certificate programs that are not much more than puppy mills.

I think the responsibility really rests with studios to vet and keep checking on their teachers. I wish there were more qualitative check-ins, not just “do they draw a lot of students?” — cause classes often fill up because of their convenience, not their supreme quality. Maybe it’s a supply-and-demand thing — there just aren’t enough good teachers out there — but there were 15,000 registered yoga teachers in NYC as of 2006, so I think it’s just hard to find the gems.

Hope this will enliven any Super Bowl viewing you might be doing today! For more information on the characteristics of good teachers, look up Bob Pianta’s CLASS evaluation system.

The Threats of Twisting

Dont make me do it!
Don't make me do it!

If you’ve had low back pain, you know how incapacitating it can be. One wrong step, and some mysterious stranger stabs a knife between your vertebrae. If you haven’t, and you’re practicing yoga, please read this article from My Yoga Online:

The Threats of Twisting

The one thing I would add is an insight from Leslie Kaminoff (again): the lower back does not twist. Really. There’s only 5º of rotation possible in the lumbar spine. It just follows the direction of the sacrum. We can get a feeling of twist there, by engaging the abdominal muscles and feeling them wrap around the spine, but most of our twisting happens in the thoracic and cervical spine. So T11-T12 is a common place for injury, since it’s the first really rotating spinal joint. Make sure you’re spreading your twist throughout the spine.

Be a Better Yoga Teacher

Last week, near the end of Leslie’s Yoga Anatomy class, Amy Matthews dropped by to check in. We were right in the middle of a Q&A about a super-sensitive client, and how to work with someone who is very anxious and/or out-of-touch with their body. Amy and Leslie ended up having a really interesting discussion on how to work with individuals. Here are their tips:

  1. First of all, determine to what extent a client is able to even notice changes or pick up signals inside their own body. If they’re unable to feel or articulate inner sensations, help them tune in first. Suggest words like hard, soft, hot, cold, light, heavy that they might be feeling.
  2. Contrast the new pattern you’re teaching them with their old pattern(s), going back and forth until they notice the difference.
  3. Don’t assume that “opening up” is always better — this is a current trend in our culture. Sometimes there are reasons to stay bottled up. Meet them where they want to meet.
  4. If they are really edgy, try restorative poses where it’s just them and gravity, no “adjustments” or corrections.
  5. Change how they’re doing what they’re already doing, instead of trying to change what they’re doing. It’s less stress and “work” for them.
  6. Similarly, instead of “yes, but…” try saying “yes, and…” Reinforce and adapt their own practice, whatever it might be.
  7. Use vocabulary they are accustomed to.
  8. Learn how to transmit information in a way that the individual can grasp it. This is the difference between an instructor and a teacher. If you can’t communicate, you’re not the right teacher for them.