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"The Importance of Yoga Teachers Continuing Education" Feature Article - LA YOGA Magazine

When I began a career teaching yoga, I knew it would be a lifelong pursuit. I devoured teacher training programs, workshops, assistantships, online studies, and continuing education courses. The further I went, the more clearly I saw how far I had to go. Ongoing yoga teachers continuing education is an essential component of striving for excellence as a teacher.

My 200-hour training inducted me into the field. Then my in-class experience as a teacher allowed me to study students’ bodies, temperaments, and learning styles. Continuing education, under the tutelage of trusted teachers, has challenged me to outgrow old frameworks and press on to new levels of comprehension. My teachers showed me the necessity of holding space for physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual evolution. I have the deepest reverence for my teachers and for the practice itself. That is why I believe that pursuing further knowledge is a non-negotiable aspect of being a credible, ethical, professional yoga teacher.

As professionals, we are refining ourselves in a rapidly evolving industry. Our teachers and our teachers’ teachers pioneered yoga in the West. Those teaching today have the opportunity to shape the profession. Most licensed vocations (including physical therapy, psychology, and the like) require that people complete continuing education to maintain licensure. The emergence of this requirement is an active area of development in our nascent yet growing community. For example, teacher trainer and program director Larry Payne PhD C-IAYT requires graduates from Yoga Therapy Rx™ and Prime of Life Yoga™ to continue their education and accrue credits for their ongoing certifications. Yoga Alliance requires RYTs to complete yoga-related training in order to maintain their registration. Some of these hours must be contact hours, which means that they take place in person with a teacher. Others can be non-contact hours, completed online or remotely.

The Purpose of Continuing Education

As Dr. Larry Payne says, teachers should continue to take classes and trainings in order to maintain high standards. Continuing education serves a number of important purposes. These can include profession-wide conversations around safe teaching, informed practices, and integration of current research in physiology and body mechanics. Ongoing training helps us deepen our understanding of the ancient texts. It is vital for the ethics and integrity of our community, profession, and future. It can also expand our understanding of our role in holding space for students who come to yoga from a variety of experiences, ages, injuries, life conditions, or after experiencing trauma.

Yoga Teachers Continuing Education

When it comes to the historical context for this type of long-term training, Close to Om author Andrea Marcum (global master teacher and former studio owner) explains, “I thought that we just continued our education.” Andrea is a teacher who trained, as she put it, long before there were 200, and 500 hour, or other programs. Andrea has a clear personal philosophy that is often reflected by other long-time teachers, “I’m forever a student. And I think, especially if we are teachers, we have to be.”

Continuing Education and Trauma Sensitivity

One of the ways Andrea is pursuing her personal continuing education is through her enrollment in Hala Khouri’s Trauma-Informed Yoga course. At the time of our discussion, she said, “I’m about to go to Las Vegas to teach a class for lululemon for first responders and employees of the Mandalay Bay Hotel in the aftermath of the shooting. It feels like a heavy assignment. As Hala says, ‘Trauma is all around us’.”

Essential tools for teachers include the use of language, touch, and even perception. Andrea says, “The more we know the language, the more we can speak to the people in the room with maturity, grace, and kindness.” Teaching yoga today necessitates a sensitivity to trauma.

From the Physical to the Spiritual

While in Las Vegas performing for Cirque du Soleil, teacher Ivorie Jenkins finished her first 200-hour teacher training at Vegas Hot. She says, “After that first training, I knew I still needed more, then I found Annie Carpenter. That’s when yoga moved from the physical to the spiritual for me. It moved the level of consciousness higher.”

Ivorie has dedicated herself to pursuing advanced-level training through a host of Annie Carpenter courses, a 300 hour training with Noah Maze, a prenatal training, three-and-a-half months of travel and study in India, and a 10-day Vipassana course. She is currently enrolled in the Loyola Marymount University Yoga Therapy Rx™ program and is committed to completing all four levels to earn her C-IAYT with 1,000 + hours of study.

Photo of Andrea Marcum and Jasmine Rausch by Jeff Skeirik. Clothing by K-Deer. Hair and makeup by Monica Simone. Jewelry by Gogh Jewelry Design. Location Goorus Yoga in Pacific Palisades.

Yoga Teaching and Continuing Education are Lifelong Paths

Like Andrea, she believes yoga teaching is a lifelong path. Ivorie reflects, “There is always a chant that I’ve never heard or a part of the body to learn more about. The more you know, the more you know that you don’t know. Distill all the knowledge and let it sit with you, then watch what you’re learning as you relay it to your students to see if it’s actually working.”

One of the studios where Ivorie teaches is the Tantris Center for Yogic Science, which offers an innovative Continuing Education Program. The teachers gather for a few hours every week to discuss yogic texts and topics, listen to speakers, or learn from in-house masters. “It is nice to have a studio facilitate the continuing education for their teachers,” says Ivorie.

Biomechanics and Continuing Education

Yoga Physics founder and continuing education provider Alex Crow emphasizes the importance of continuing education both for a sensitivity to safety and an integration of a modern understanding of biomechanics.

“After [the first] 200 hours, despite having many years of information-seeking textual and physical practice, I knew that teaching other people with the skill I would expect from myself wasn’t going to happen with only that initial training.”

Alex was a longtime Ashtanga yoga practitioner. After experiencing a laundry list of injuries, she began further investigation into anatomy and sequencing. “I knew there was something missing in the yoga application of certain pieces of information. That missing gap was creating these outcomes that were outside of what people signed up for. As soon as I realized that certain components of the asana practice were not functioning in a sustainable way or in a way that minimized injury, I decided to spend time researching in the medical realm.”

She dug into kinesiology and biomechanics. That journey took her to her current work. She describes that work to “debunk and deconstruct much of what is taught currently [in yoga] so it can be rebuilt in a more sustainable way.” Structural differences among bodies are noteworthy even when the variables are slight. Yet, those differences were not always taken into account where she was practicing. How a student’s “perception of pain or the concept of how the nervous system regulates itself up and down, and how that affects range of motion” were not conversations she heard in her yoga classes.

When it comes to education, Run Forward

“I think it’s terribly narrow to have such reverence for certain things as if they are finite moments in time that we must keep exactly as they were, because that negates that this is always evolving. To not evolve something is to be quite blind. The best teachers want [evolution] to happen.” Alex says, “The [elder yogis] didn’t have a lot of this knowledge when the postures were created. They didn’t have MRI machines. We do now and can take that information and change the way the things are done.” As Alex suggests to the community at large, “Run forward.”

In her own pursuit of running forward, Jules Mitchell says that she took “practically every workshop from every teacher,” yet she still had unanswered questions. “I believed each principle, and would turn around and teach them.” She found that the information she received from one training was contradictory to the next, so she researched hundreds of articles in the fields of orthopedic and sports science professionals.

Jules says, “I realized that I was asking the wrong questions.” The more appropriate the questions became, the more she could reconcile conflicting principles. From there, she could figure out the best approach for each body. “Not every yoga teacher needs to have a master’s degree in biomechanics. Not every style requires it. Part of continuing your education is to pick a path and focus on something.”

Continuing Education Online and On Demand

“I think continuing education is essential. It is your responsibility to stay informed as things evolve. If you’re not finding ways to stay curious and excited, it’s easy to get bored—and be boring. Bottom line,” says teacher’s teacher Annie Carpenter.

Even with 40 years of practice, study, and teaching, Annie’s bottom line involves consistently propelling her education forward. In addition to in-person classes, Annie has recently gone online both as a student and a teacher. She’s studying Buddhism via an online course by Tricycle Magazine. Annie’s developed her own online continuing education unit with her SmartFlow training through Yogaglo.

“I had resisted online training. As a teacher, I have been fed by questions and trying to figure out what people need in the learning process. Certainly, there needs to be interaction. There needs to be community. But I travel a lot, and when I’m on the road it’s nice to have something that is continuing my education.”

There is also value to repetition; the format of online courses can allow you to experience material over and over again. This is important because as Annie says, learning is also about revisiting the same rich material over years and decades. “What do you learn the fifth time around? What do you learn the hundredth time around? My job as a teacher is to keep that interesting, even when the content seems to be already known.”

Continuing Education from the Comfort of Home

“I’m a lifelong seeker of knowledge,” says Amy Wheeler. Amy began her yoga studies in the 1990s; she has a PhD in psychology, taught kinesiology at Cal State San Bernardino for 21 years, is a longtime yoga therapist, and is a member of the board of directors of IAYT (International Association of Yoga Therapists). "I have always done continuing education.” Amy sees it as a means of self-care. Learning can be a sweet experience when it happens in the comfort of your own home. “As yoga teachers, we drive around enough and we’re away from home so much, it is nice to find top-level teachers that are doing this online. I completed a course on my deck sitting with my dog while looking out at the fall leaves. There was soup on the stove, and I was doing laundry while getting a world-class education from a Tantric philosopher.”

In addition to pursuing courses online as a student, Amy also offers fee-based as well as free trainings via the internet as a provider. “Yoga teachers often spend as much learning yoga as we do making money. I gave a free one-hour Facebook Live talk “How Yoga Therapy Works,” and already 2,500 people have watched it. I want to encourage all of us in the field that are offering continuing education to do it at an affordable price when possible and/or for free as an offering to our community.”

Online: To go or not to go

Online study can be a great option for people in a variety of situations. One of the benefits is that it can make it easier to keep up studies while traveling. Remote study also provides options for people who have limited or no access to trainings in their home community. On-demand trainings allow people with busy schedules to fit education in when and where they can create space. While the flexibility is one of the benefits of this method of study, there are also pitfalls and challenges. These include the temptation to multi-task while watching something online, or limited interaction from teachers checking in on the progression of a student’s understanding of concepts and practical application. These challenges can be reduced through creating optimal home conditions for focus, finding a practice partner, and looking for programs that offer additional in-person community engagement and student accountability.

Social Media Fluency as a Topic of Study

When it comes to being a yoga professional in the 21st century, some relevant topics may come from places other than the yogic texts. For continuing education junkie and yoga teacher Bianca Pratt, studying social media, branding, and monetization are also parts of her professional growth. “We are in a social media world,” says Bianca. “If you don’t participate, you’re going to get left behind. I have worked at studios with mandatory social media presence, and we [as teachers] had to meet weekly quotas.” Some studios, she explained, even check on teachers’ accounts. The ability to skillfully navigate social media can contribute to teachers building classes, keeping their regular slots, developing multiple streams of income, and finding opportunities on larger stages.

How to Choose Teachers and Trainings

Jasmine Rausch is a certified yoga therapist through the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) and a graduate of the Yoga Therapy Rx™ Program at Loyola Marymount University. She says, “Like most, I began teaching soon after completing my initial teacher training. I noticed that most (if not all) of the students I was working with were coming in with a variety of challenges and questions.” She developed the foundational knowledge she needed through advanced training as a yoga therapist and through ongoing education.

When it comes to finding the teachers to guide you through the process of lifelong learning, Jasmine says, “I believe mentors and teachers can come from anywhere. In yoga, the importance of the teacher/student relationship cannot be minimized. The direct transmission of knowledge from teacher to student allows this ancient practice to thrive with consistency and without misinterpretation. It is this strong tradition that enables the core of the practice to be preserved, while simultaneously progressing. Whom you study with will directly influence your teaching, and knowing your lineage is important.”

Being a student is more than simply sitting in a class. Jasmine points out, “Being a student also includes how we integrate the teachings into our everyday lives.”

Considerations for Pursuit of Continuing Education

Jasmine offers the following pieces of advice when it comes to pursuing continuing education:

1. Study with someone you resonate with, who speaks your language. This can help establish connection, respect, and deep trust. 2. Do your research. There are so many teachers, workshops, and programs out there that it can be challenging to find the right fit. Scope out the programs or teachers and reach out to them directly. Speak to other students and teachers. Ask yourself, does this person or program align with your goals and needs? 3. Trust your intuition. Yoga is an intuitive practice just as much as a physical practice. Listen to your heart.

Do Your Work

As someone committed to my own excellence as a teacher, I’ve chosen my most rewarding trainings after exploring topics and looking for mentors who offer skills I lack. I have taken trainings from teachers with whom I have longtime relationships, as well as teachers I have found online and then researched their backgrounds. Continuing my education has allowed me to ask the questions necessary to pursue the path of mastery. It has also deepened my reverence for the craft of teaching and reinforced the humility to keep studying. Whatever the form, continuing education is an integral part of uplifting our community, industry, and profession. As one of my Yoga Therapy Rx teachers Dr. Eden Goldman said, “Study and do your work, because when you graduate, you are going to be my peer … and I want to be proud of you.”

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