Recently, I’ve had several students join Heartwood to repeat their 200-hour training after taking a certification program elsewhere. Repeating a program and paying tuition to a second school is an expensive choice to make, but one they felt was necessary. A few students have also signed up for our advanced 300-hour training, but not without first voicing concerns and expressing worry that their prerequisite foundational education (200-hour training) was inadequate.
“I just didn’t learn anything,” or “I didn’t know enough at the end to teach anyone anything,” they lament. They claim they wasted time and money; sorry they didn’t seek out a more comprehensive program with qualified mentors from the beginning. Often the problem was that they selected a program because it was convenient or inexpensive or they couldn’t resist a hard sell from their local yoga school. They began the journey unaware of just how involved the subject of yoga would turn out to be or what other options they could have pursued. The pandemic provided new provisions to the rules of certification that opened the doorway to many fly-by-night programs flooding the ranks with “certified” yoga teachers who are inadequately prepared to mentor others. These programs, sometimes only consisting of prerecorded content and/or huge numbers of participants with little supervision and little or no actual mentorship, were a disservice to individuals who wanted to learn yoga, but also a disservice to yoga itself. It will take years for the ripple effect of unqualified teachers misrepresenting yoga to subside, if ever.
That said, the more you know about yoga, the more you realize you don’t know, and awareness of how expansive yoga is can be overwhelming. The students who came to me participated in a 200-hour program with best intentions, not expecting to be left with a nagging sensation that there had to be more to the practice than what was offered. This left them feeling inauthentic, but luckily their desire to learn more about yoga was still intact.
I can’t help but admire a student who is repeating their training or coming in with humility admitting they have a bit of catching up to do. Such is the act of someone who cares and wants to be the best yogi and teacher they can be. The student’s willingness to take a step backwards and start over is the best sign I know that a remarkable yogi is in the making, because their journey is not about ego or career goals.
In cases like this I always want to acknowledge the students’ earnest desire to learn, reminding them that moving forward is much more important than looking backwards. No good comes from criticizing or being frustrated with whatever program didn’t prepare you as you had hoped. Yes, it is annoying when people take your money for a quick sell and it can be disheartening to see so many people enter programs, do the work, and come out with a watered down, superficial understanding of the practice. But yoga teaches us that no effort is really wasted, and process is far more important than measurable achievement, so perhaps the long, winding journey they took, which included the cumbersome detour of participation in a less authentic program, will be important to their deeper understanding of yoga in the end.
One thing is for sure: these disappointed students became aware of what yoga isn’t, and that can be valuable information. One of the yoga sutras (1:14 – Sa Tu Dirgha Kala Nairantary Satkarasevito Drdhabhumih) says that yoga takes a long time, over many years, in small incremental doses, (practice with all earnestness) to work. Nowhere in the yoga sutras does it say that in 200 hours you will be enlightened and know everything you need to know. Our arrogance in believing that we will be qualified to lead others and have all the information we might need about yoga after an RYS-200 program, even a wonderfully comprehensive one, is rather silly.
Many people with inadequate training don’t care about the deeper dimensions of yoga as long as they can claim to be certified and can begin the work of teaching or “selling yoga classes.” People don’t know what they don’t know, and sadly, their evolution halts due to false confidence, misinformation, or the assumption that they have achieved their goal of becoming a yoga teacher because they have the credential to prove it. They then pass on this innocent ignorance to their students with claims that all that other stuff they don’t know or teach is unnecessary for practitioners today. They’ve done fine without the additional information and yoga works for them, so their students will do fine too.
Yoga has evolved and developed over thousands of years, and the system of wholeness which is the real yoga is carefully outlined in both the Bhagavad Gita and the yoga sutras. Asana, the physical practice, is only mentioned in 2% of the 196 Patanjali sutra teachings. So, when a program puts postures in a position of such importance, or a teacher claims that classic yoga is outdated and the practice is overdue to evolve and change to better conform to the needs of contemporary society, they are, in effect, claiming that one can omit 98% of yoga’s core to make the practice more palatable for our fast-paced, goal-oriented society. That huge an adjustment isn’t evolution so much as a total reinvention, one where everything that defines authentic yoga is being ignored or tossed out to make the practice appealing to instant gratification-oriented people today. One can argue that old school yoga is exactly what our contemporary practitioners need most, and that our desire to make the practice more commercially appealing and “Westernized” is proof of how desperately we need the personal discipline and patience that classical yoga delivers.
Yoga is not a religion, exercise, or means of entertainment. Yoga is a system to open one’s heart and mind to bring us back to wholeness and connect with our spirituality. The yoga sutras teach us how to explore our way of thinking and interacting with the world to get past our obstacles, which are defined as Kleshas: ego, attachment, diversions, fears, and ignorance. The pursuit of pleasure and desire for quick satisfaction can be powerful motivation for wanting to make yoga more palatable and contemporary. Teachers who have not taken time to contemplate and understand the teachings lead the charge in professing how and why old school yoga studies are obsolete, which contributes to a classic case of the blind leading the blind.
Let me point out that I see the value of making the practice palatable and fun, for that is a great way to bring new practitioners to the altar of yoga. But when spiritual entertainment is the goal, rather than the means to invite people to move beyond initial entertainment to awaken one’s spiritual core, then the potential of yoga falls short.
“1.1 -Atha Yoganusasanam” means now the exposition of yoga is being made.
This, the first sutra, reminds us that every day, every hour, every moment we must begin again, leaving behind our attachments, our assumptions, what we think we know, our conditioning and our expectations. We must nurture our beginner’s mind and be open to new personal insight and deeper understanding as we explore our own interpretation of the teachings as they relate to our ever-expanding life experience. Yoga has withstood thousands of years of people either honoring or questioning the teachings as well as the practice. It has been a mainstay spiritual endeavor not just for Vedic cultures and our contemporary society, but for many, many generations in between, in India and on different continents.
Some say, “people change and so too must yoga,” but most historians and philosophers will point out that people really don’t change. The environment we live in may change, but we are all, at the core, still creatures of instinct, conditioning, and karma, motivated by a drive to be loved, to love and to live our purpose. Contemporary practitioners aren’t the only ones who’ve been impatient with the teachings. Mankind has always balked at the hard work involved with true spiritual growth. There is even a sutra referencing this, (2.1 Tapah Svadhyayesvara Pranidhanani Kriya Yogah) that warns us that purification is going to be difficult and painful, so this path is not for the lazy or weak of heart.
Yoga’s classic teachings help us connect to our best nature, teaching us step by step how to awaken the witness and see life more honestly. Self-love, healing, compassion, and tolerance is an inevitable result. These outcomes are what everyone is trying to sell today, so perhaps instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, we should all go back to Yoga’s roots and start our yoga education over from the beginning, just as those brave students have done by registering for our 200-hour YTT program, despite the fact that they have a piece of paper claiming they are certified from an online program already.
What would be easier, of course, would be for students to do research before taking an RYS-200 program to be sure that all 8 limbs will be addressed with equal importance and a sense of the sacred. One on one interaction with a teacher is not just nice, but vital. The discussions, questions and answers, and connections formed through personal interaction with a mentor is the only way to develop a heart knowing, rather than an intellectual understanding. The sutra (1:26 Sa Purvesam Api guruh Kalenanavacchedat) tells us we all need a teacher or guru for guidance, and the role of this teacher is to build our relationship with the ultimate teacher; the transcendent essence within us.
At Heartwood, we try to make graduations from our 200-hour program special, as we believe completing the program is a wonderful, personal achievement. But being certified is not the crowning glory of yoga education. Formal training, be it a 200, 300 or yoga therapy program, is just the doorway into a lifetime of more poignant, insightful understanding about life, self and yoga.
Yoga is so much more than physical practices we can memorize and then regurgitate to others, and any quality program will make that ultimately clear. So, if your yoga education so far hasn’t gone deep enough, chalk it up to a karmic test of your fortitude as a student. Put ego aside, proceed with humility and beginner’s mind, and do what it takes to get on the right path.