Social media also allows us to be wowed purely by the shapes people make on the mat. Someone effortlessly pressing up into a handstand is inspiring and we follow that person for more of the same. It helps us to visualize our future self, an integral part of motivation.
Pressing up into a handstand does not make you a skilled teacher, regardless of how many followers you have.
Communicating the process you followed, contextualizing this one pose in the greater field of yoga, and doing so without overwhelming your student, does. This is usually covered in a decent yoga teacher training, so I recommend checking out the credentials of any certified yoga instructor you choose, to see if they align with your values.
For example, I strongly believe in consistently contextualizing modern yoga within its ancient roots.
This avoids further appropriation and colonization of a practice that harks from the Indian subcontinent and is far greater than the “fitness” image often attached to yoga. To adhere to this value, I choose (and recommend) teachers who do the same, and who have some link to yoga’s roots. My own training at Akashay Yoga Academy placed a huge emphasis on maintaining the authenticity of our message of yoga as teachers. The teachers themselves studied for years under some of the greatest teachers India has produced.
How important are yoga certifications and training?
Yoga certification is a contentious and dividing topic.
Currently, most teachers will, at minimum, complete a 200 hr training approved by Yoga Alliance, the current governing body to which you can register yourself upon completing an approved training.
A 200 hr training is the current requirement to teach as a registered yoga teacher. Ask any yoga teacher and they will likely tell you that this is not enough, by a long stretch. Such yoga teacher training programs provide solid foundations on how to teach, but by no means are they sufficient when it comes to producing confident, proficient, and discerning teachers.
This is where subsequent yoga education and years of experience come in. Upon completing a 200 hr training, teachers registered through Yoga Alliance are required to complete a minimum of 45 hours of teaching and 45 hours of training (continuing education) every three years in order to maintain their “Registered Yoga Teacher” status. In the grand scheme of things, this is arguably quite small.
In terms of years of experience, it is important to keep in mind that most training programs require at least 6 months of consistent yoga practice as a pre-requisite to taking a training. Considering the level of awareness a teacher must maintain during a class, students might be forgiven for thinking that someone with less than a year’s experience in yoga practice might not be the right fit.
That said, most of the teachers I have encountered only decided to take a training after years of personal practice experience.
A note about Yoga Alliance
Personally, I have little issue with Yoga Alliance. I think it is a great support network for new teachers to find and complete new trainings, and to keep a record of their teaching hours. As a student, I am reassured that at least some governing body exists that teachers have the option of registering with.
However, registering through Yoga Alliance is not mandatory. It basically provides confirmation that you have trained with a Yoga Alliance-approved school, whose programs will have been vetted by the body.
Yoga Alliance is also a modern Western invention superimposed upon an ancient Eastern practice. This practice was passed down for thousands of years without any governing body intervening. Indeed, Pattabhi Jois only began dishing out “certifications” upon request of a Western student whom he’d approved to teach Ashtanga.
COVID-19 influenced yoga certifications monumentally. Prior to 2020, online certifications were largely unheard of, and it was near impossible to be registered through Yoga Alliance with an online training under your belt. Brett Larkin was perhaps the only teacher in the West to ignore Yoga Alliance’s requirements and has produced high-quality teachers through her online training for decades. These days, online trainings are now the norm.
So, I completely understand why some teachers vehemently oppose the existence of something like Yoga Alliance determining who gets to give and receive somewhat arbitrary credentials. In my opinion, it is fantastic as a networking and support service. Beyond that, I wonder if its existence helps or hinders the appropriation of yoga in the West. As a student, I have found that certifications often mean very little. Teacher integrity is not solidified with a piece of paper. Instead, it is carved out through years of personal practice and reflection.
What makes a yoga teacher influential on YouTube?
When looking for a decent teacher on YouTube, there are a few things I recommend you keep in mind as you’re getting started. These are related to the channel itself, and the teacher’s communication skills.
The best yoga teachers have the best YouTube channels
By this, I don’t mean the most amount of followers. I mean that the channel is organized into playlists that reflect student needs, not teacher desires, and has enough to keep you going for a few weeks.
- Are their classes organized into playlists that are labeled by time length, time of day, and target physical or emotional desired result? (For example, “30-minute classes”, “Morning classes”, “Yoga to ease lower back pain” or “Yoga for a calm mind”.
- Are their classes uploaded with some consistency (you can check the time stamps)? This shows that the teacher is listening to their audience’s requests and tweaking classes to suit your needs, keeping content fresh and up-to-date.
The best yoga teachers have the best communication skills
I am not referring to humor here, though that does help. Some things to consider include:
- Do their cues make sense to you? Do they land on your body in a way that you can quickly interpret and take action on? Or, are they using ethereal, “fluffy” language that is wildly open for interpretation? To illustrate, many times I’ve heard teachers use the cue “shine your chest forward” which makes no sense to me. Instead, something more specific like “gently pull the shoulders back while engaging the core” is far less confusing. It is important to remember that not all people watching the videos speak English as their first language, so teachers who use specificity are likely to be considering the perspective of the student in more detail.
- Do they include some digestible tidbits regarding anatomy, physiology, and yoga philosophy? This doesn’t all have to be included in one class, but essentially, are you learning something new other than making shapes with your body? Is the teacher contextualizing the practice in the greater field of yoga, or is it purely a “fitness-based” approach?
- Do they include some Sanskrit? Sanskrit is important as it is the language of yoga. Pose names, techniques, and concepts should occasionally (at least) be given in Sanskrit. For example, one of my teachers, Lesley Fightmaster, always gave the Sanskrit names for common yoga poses like downward dog (adhomukasvanasana). This was not done to show off, but to keep reorienting the student into the greater context of yoga.