Online Teacher Training – Is it any good?

Denver Clark, C-IAYT, ERYT-500

In the large picture of yoga, I am just a baby. Having taught Yoga for the last 14 years, my time studying, and learning is a drop in the bucket of the vastness of the ancient wisdom of yoga. And even in this short time, I have witnessed a generous shift in the yoga community from what was previously a western preoccupation with physique to the new frontier of Yoga as a therapeutic healing modality, in the same realm of chiropractic care and acupuncture.

The world is in desperate need of healing and the yoga community is primed and ready to step in and help. In January of 2020, Yoga Alliance of America and the International Yoga Therapy Association were cracking down on fly by night online certifications and exotic training retreats that were much more about ziplining and vacation time than they were about yoga and so many of us were ready for it.

And then – COVID.

Now, we exist in a world where we’ve seen the outreach that online learning and telehealth have provided to underserved, underreached populations of people and we’ve been forced to take a hard look at the view of teaching and experiencing yoga from a distance.

For the last 3 years, the main topic of discussion at conventions and meetings of Yoga Therapy Accredited schools is this:

Online learning is not going anywhere any time soon. So how do we offer quality Yoga instruction and guidance for our students and clients from a distance?

At Heartwood Yoga Institute, the faculty is constantly searching for answers to this question, and this has left us a bit behind other schools as we struggle to offer desired distance learning that meets our high standards of quality in education. Here is what I have learned about learning, teaching, and providing yoga therapy online to clients:

 Live, real time, face to face interaction is necessary. Effective Learning is never only Passive – Prior to my yoga teaching life, I owned a dance studio and have spent my life surrounded by teachers. One thing I have learned is that students must be actively engaged to process and remember information and many studies provide more information on the matter, such as one from the National Library of Medicine published in 2019 which states:

“The process of encoding, storing, and retrieving is enhanced by emotional arousal (Crowley et al., 2019). Arousal will help to construct stronger and larger schemas during initial learning, which makes it easier to retrieve the learned information from long‐term memory (van Kesteren et al., 2012). Active learning methods try to arouse the learner by giving them the opportunity to control the information that is experienced (Markant et al., 2016). In contrast, when new information is taught with a passive learning method, this information is stored with less connections to the existing schemas, and hence retrieval becomes more cumbersome. “

When a school makes it mandatory to show up in person for a portion of learning time, they are offering students a chance to connect emotionally with one another for processing. Their questions can be answered in real time and the container of learning that comes from meeting in a shared space with a common goal can be created, even if it is done through a screen. This requires the teacher and students to be present, with their cameras on, faces visible, sitting alert just as they would in a classroom setting.

It is not the same when watching a recording, or multitasking with other devices or activities such as eating, scrolling your phone etc. The very nature of yoga is a lesson in mindfulness and self-discipline (Tapas, in Sanskrit). Bringing these lessons into the virtual classroom is imperative if we claim to teach true yoga.

When looking for an online teacher training program or yoga teacher, I highly recommend one that utilizes and requires real time, live, face to face interaction throughout the journey to activate the emotional learning portion of your brain.

Repetition begets understanding. Lessons, slides, and lectures that students can re-visit more than once allow them to process information in a new way through repetition. Remember when you learned to tie your shoes? How many hundreds of times does it take to learn a new skill? It’s easy to forget this as we age, especially in the current climate of “instant gratification.” An effective school or teacher will provide opportunities for repetition and it’s important for students to understand this is not busywork or wasting time but rather a planned and studied teaching tool for our brains to contain more information over time.

I am wary of any school that limits how many times a student can revisit their online material or even worse, only allows it to be seen once. I would search for a school that offers repetition throughout the lessons (repeating slides) and allows you to revisit your course for at least 6- 12 months following your training.

Student participation is necessary to learn. To teach is to learn. By sharing information with others and completing assignments such as papers, videos and live teaching of peers the student’s brain must transfer the information they’ve learned and turn it over into a new understanding to teach it to someone else. This is what we call “practicum” in our courses at Heartwood and stretches the students understanding of the material into a new place where they must effectively communicate the information to someone new.

An online class that presents information alone is simply producing content. A course that requires you to share knowledge in your own words is truly one designed by teachers, for teachers. You’ll get so much more knowledge and a much deeper understanding if you re-teach what you learn to someone new as soon as possible and your brain will retain this information much more easily.

Look for a program that requires you to share what you’re learning and holds you accountable as a teacher with feedback and growth opportunities.

You get what you pay for. To offer true student/teacher live interaction, feedback and notes from a qualified faculty member and the additional time it takes to support students in their online learning journey, a school must make a significant investment of tools and staffing. This cost then gets naturally passed down to the enrolled student to ensure the quality of the programming.

At Heartwood, our online courses include pre-recorded lectures with lifetime access that are professionally edited, printable notes that can be re-printed as many times as needed, online quizzes that are graded by our faculty, live meetings with our most qualified faculty members and 24-7 support when students have questions or concerns throughout the process. In order to offer this in addition to the high quality in person programs we continue to facilitate, we must train and utilize our most qualified staff.

A “cheap” program is different than an “affordable” program. When considering the depth of offerings in the course you are considering, make sure you understand the qualifications of the school and its teachers (just because a school says they can train you as a yoga therapist doesn’t mean they are accredited with the correct organizations) If you think the cost is fair for all the elements included that’s a good sign. If you think the price is “a steal,” you are very likely to walk away missing the quality you desire.

Great schools come with happy graduates. Check out reviews on Google, Yoga Alliance and ask the school for references of graduates they have produced. The best way to judge if a school is for you is to go right to the people who have walked in your shoes. Ask what they have done with their education and what kind of support they have after graduation for job guidance, references, and continuing support.

If online learning was designed to provide us with a global community, then the mark of a good online school is keeping that community connected.

If you’re considering online learning for Yoga, Teacher Training or continuing education in Yoga take your time and find the school that gives you the right feelings of support, community, career longevity and quality. And if you’re interested in certification through Heartwood Yoga Institute, please feel free to reach out to us any time at www.rytcertification.com

Good luck on your Yoga Journey!

The Truth about Yoga Teacher Training for ages 50 Plus

One day, when I was around 55 years old, I decided to pop in and enjoy a morning class with the yoga teacher trainees in Heartwood’s 200-hour program. It was a beautiful winter day in Florida with the sun shining bright, the temperature a perfect 75, and a teacher who had had tipped me off that she intended to deliver a mindful, nature-oriented practice. The class was being held outside to take advantage of the gentle breeze, the blooming flowers, and the peaceful ambience of Heartwood in November. I set my mat up in the back thinking I might pause and take a picture or two for the group to enjoy later. This kind of class was just what I needed today, and what a treat it was going to be to be a student rather than the teacher for that hour.

I was truly enjoying myself, but halfway through the practice, the flow got a bit more dynamic than anticipated and I dropped into child’s pose to take a break. A thought ran through my mind. Wow, I’m certainly glad I took my yoga teacher training at 48, because this is hard. I would have a hard time getting through the demands of a 200 program if I tried getting certified today.

After the practice, as I was sitting in the garden with a cup of tea watching a few students practice teaching sun salutations on the lawn, I began considering my yoga journey and all I have done and continue to do to contribute to the world through yoga. For the first few years after gaining my certification, I taught classes, but soon after, I opened a studio. Within a few years I opened another, then another. I eventually founded Heartwood Yoga Institute and began training teachers and developing what today is a 7-acre yoga facility that offers a profound healing and educational experience for hundreds of people yearly. As my career evolved, my involvement in yoga found its own cadence and purpose and in the last 15 years I have trained literally thousands of yoga teachers at the 200-, 300- and 800-hour yoga therapy level with a continually evolving career that fills me with purpose, meaning, and a respectable income. I’ve touched the lives of many people, both the students I teach directly and the students I teach indirectly as my graduates move on to create yoga communities of their own. I’ve also worked as a yoga therapist and had the honor of impacting the lives of many, many individuals whom fate had the foresight to bring to Heartwood at just the right time for us both.    

What a shame it would have been if I had avoided taking that step to formally gain a yoga certification at 48 because I didn’t want to be the “older student” in a course with mostly 30-somethings. What if I had listened to that voice that said I was too old to learn something new, and besides, what really am I going to do with yoga at this stage in life? Worse yet, what if I had waited until I was 54 to consider yoga training? At 48 I was still teaching dance and had energy, flexibility, and stamina. Little did I know what was to come just down the road, both physically and personally. I faced unexpected health challenges in my 50’s. I began having issues with arthritis, had both feet operated on, and was unprepared for the weight gain and other shifts that came with menopause. I had new personal challenges to maneuver, including a financial crash, a devastating divorce, my children leaving home, and the loss of beloved family members. Add a few more years to my maturing self and I had a massive heart attack to add to the mix.  Could I have possibly gotten through a 200-hour yoga teacher training during that decade? Probably not! Did yoga help me accept and move through that decade with grace and positivity. Absolutely! How much harder life would have been without my deeper relationship with yoga, gained thanks to a yoga certification program.

I felt good from the practice, albeit slightly frustrated that I struggled a bit, and I sat there considering my yoga journey, thankful I had done my training when I did, but also realizing that had I avoided taking that step for whatever excuses I made up, it would have been a huge loss to the world. Had I not become a yoga teacher at the ripe old age of 48 (or if I had waited longer) dozens and dozens of people whose lives I have changed would be in a very different place, not the least of which includes my own. Heartwood would not exist, and frankly, many other studios would have failed to manifest since so many of my graduates were inspired by my teaching and as result, opened businesses and forged careers and made waves of their own in the world. In my very own “It’s a Wonderful Life” moment I took stock of the measurable ways my becoming a yoga teacher was central to my service to the world.  I can say with absolute certainty that my involvement with yoga was the best decision I ever made, at any age, and my maturity has never held me back.  In fact, I believe my age and coming to yoga at midlife made my reinvented career a richer experience.        

It was in that moment, feeling my age, a little tired and sore from the yoga practice, but deeply aware of how important my yoga journey had been to both myself and others, that I decided Heartwood needed to offer a yoga teacher training for ages 50 and up. I imagined how many dynamic beautiful souls were out there with wisdom and compassion to share, who might miss the opportunity to embrace the role of yoga teacher due to perceived physical obstacles or doubt standing in the way.  Yoga teacher training shouldn’t be a physical hurdle we must get past. It should be an inspirational, positive beginning of a lifetime love affair with a practice that makes life ever more poignant and meaningful. I knew in that moment Heartwood needed to create a special program for ages 50 and up that took into account some of the challenges YTT presents to those who are not in their prime physically.

I got to work with the Heartwood staff planning Heartwood’s first RYS-200 program geared to mature students and a few months later we offered our first YTT for ages 50+ to seven enthusiastic teacher trainees. In the 8 years since, Heartwood has hosted dozens of successful RYS-200 programs for ages 50 & up in both a weekly program for local students in a course that spans months, and in a 16-day immersion format for students that choose to join us from all over the country and beyond offered twice a year. I can honestly say that some of the strongest and most successful teachers we’ve trained have come from the 50 plus program, including some of our own staff members. The graduates are in their 50’s, 60’s, even 70 and beyond. Some are extremely fit and others successfully complete the program despite MS, Parkinson’s, Autoimmune issues, Injuries, or just the lack of confidence that comes when you haven’t been in school for decades.

People often ask how the yoga program for age 50 and up differs from the Heartwood traditional 200-hour yoga program where all ages participate. To be honest, the syllabus is the same. All yoga teachers, regardless of age, must learn philosophy, anatomy, alignment, methodology, and take a deep dive into the 8 limbs of yoga. Yoga Alliance defines what a teacher must know to prove competency, and considering I’m older myself, I’ll be darned if I’m going to dummy down the program as if age narrows a person’s capacity in the area of yoga. I’m proof it doesn’t! In fact, at Heartwood we have noticed mature students are often more apt to study, practice, and connect because they are less attached to the expectation or attachment to instant gratification that often is a result of being raised in our complex society today with social media, the quicker pace of everything, and what seems to be endless options making focus and commitment to any one thing harder than it once was.

Since most mature students choose to work with others in their age group, and the teachers too must learn to take care of their own bodies as time will inevitably stress their joints, ligaments and bones regardless of how in-shape they may be, we do spend a bit more time on modifications and contraindications to provide safe and effective practices for aging bodies. We skip aggressive practices such as Ashtanga that they are less likely to use when they begin teaching, and opt to add a bonus training of Chair and Assessable yoga to round out their skillset.

But the real difference between the 50 plus program and the traditional 200 program is mostly the community that joins together to study. People who have been on this earth a little longer have shared experiences and a certain wisdom that comes from surviving life’s ups and down. Most everyone in the program has experienced loss, be it a divorce, financial problem, career change or retirement. Most everyone struggles with the complexity of aging, reinventing themselves as time and circumstance forces life in a new direction. They all wrestle with the complexities of aging parents, family dynamics, children leaving home (or not leaving home), career shifts, dealing with spouses, ex-spouses, and personal trauma. They have witnessed friends or family members pass, become caregivers, dealt with disappointment, addiction, or abuse. They have experienced firsthand the health problems that come with age, be it a torn ligament or bursitis in the shoulder, cancer, heart attack, weight gain, or some other challenge. They know without question that nothing is permanent in this life, and yet they sign up for a yoga training because they want to keep growing as an individual and they believe in the promise of endless possibilities still.

All of this makes an older practitioner uniquely qualified to be a truly remarkable yoga teacher. The empathy that comes with having suffered from and survived life’s slings and arrows opens a person to the full potential of yoga. Most importantly, maturity helps a student keep in perspective the limits of the physical practice in the greater scheme, and ego or romantic notions of being hailed the next big instafamous yoga star takes a backseat to earnest personal development and skill building to share this knowledge with others.   

Rarely does the 50 plus crowd care so much about mastering an advanced pose for their next social media post. They are less about documenting the yoga teacher training journey on Instagram and more about applying the teaching to their lives. As they grow stronger, physically, and mentally, they feel deeply inspired and called to help others gracefully maneuver through life’s challenges, the aging process, and shifts in the world. They see yoga not as a vehicle to make a killing in the wellness industry, but as a beautiful and powerful tool for acceptance, insight, and balance. And after years of sacrificing for others, mature students are ready to embrace their right to focus on themselves and to grow spiritually. And one of the greatest things I’ve witnessed in the 50 plus program is the support and acceptance the students show one another as lifetime friendships form, and the students support and empower one another to get past their obstacles and make the later chapters of life remarkable on so many levels.

These results can and should be found in any and all authentic yoga teacher training programs. But for some reasons, awareness and growth comes easier and with more lasting impact in a program where all the students share relatively the same energy, a bit of history, and a broader view of life gained from experience. The RYS-200 Yoga Teacher Training Program for ages 50 Plus at Heartwood is a good reminder that yoga is timeless, and so are we.

Ginny Shaddock is an ERYT-500 Yoga Teacher and IAYT Yoga Therapist and the founder of Heartwood Yoga Institute. Heartwood offers three RYS-200 Yoga Teacher Training Programs a year specifically for ages 50 plus; a 16 day immersion every fall and spring and a one day a week program for local students offered once a year starting in October.

A New Podcast. Heartwood is Taking to the Air!

About a year ago, after a series of morning philosophy lectures, a student turned to me and said, “I wish you had a podcast. I could listen to these conversations forever.” As someone with more on my plate than I have time for already I kind of chuckled and said , “Someday maybe . . .”

Of course, all it takes is an idea or intention for set off the spark of creation, or so that is yoga’s theory about how all things come into being. This led to many conversations with the staff that ended with “and one of these days we really should get around to . . .”

During Covid we were inundated with the task of developing online programs and the thought of adding one more project to our aspirations was quickly filed in the “future” basket. But recently, we found we had not only caught up to our to-do list but had time and space to begin considering what would be the most helpful and supportive way to move forward and support our students while also expanding our relationship with teaching. And the podcast idea came up again.

Now, in theory I was all for our starting a podcast. In reality, the concept was quite intimidating. I am not technology savvy, and while I had no difficulty making extensive lists of subject matter I’l love to cover in a Podcast, the actual steps I’d have to take to learn how to record, edit, publish, get listed on various platforms etc. was overwhelming. Podcasting is a new generation thing, and I am a baby-boomer who still has trouble figuring out my I-phone.

But I am, if nothing else, a good student who loves learning new things. So I took a course on how to Podcast. For a month or so, I worked with my online mentor, fascinated and excited at embarking on a new form of communication to do the thing I love most – teach.

So here it is, the New Heartwood Podcast, Yoga Perspectives. Denver and I, as directors of Heartwood, are the primary hosts, but many people will be invited to join us – people who have information, insight, and inspiration to share. We are lucky to have such a vibrant community of authentic yogis visiting Heartwood often for trainings or yoga experiences, and much of the content of our podcast is inspired by heartfelt questions, shared insight, and the recognition of a lack of understanding when our industry shifts. The podcast is valuable to anyone who wants to learn the deeper dimensions of yoga; however, our slant will be towards material for yoga teachers since our work circles around supporting and educating instructors and mentors.

In the first month of podcasting, I enjoyed a few remarkable interviews with students we have trained, but who I knew had their own wisdom and experience to share as yoga teachers. For example, Jim Dant is a Baptist Minister and after a fascinating conversation we shared where he explained the remarkable similarities between the yoga sutras he was studying with us and his Christian teachings I asked him if he’d like to be featured in our podcast. His insight and references are powerful and clear up many assumptions that often interfere with Westerners fully embracing yoga’s teachings. Cody Mcneeley, another graduate of Heartwood, is developing a program for LGBTQ youth, a subject that explores not just the meaning of yoga for LGBTQ, but the challenges this community faces and why they are attracted to yoga as a path to healing, and he joined me to explain why it is important for a yoga teacher to develop awareness and how and why to create safe spaces for this community.

Our podcasts are exploring issues such as how a Yoga teacher can and should set boundaries, Whether or not joining Yoga Alliance is important to one’s career and involvement in the industry, The perils of Spiritual Materialism (or immaturity) and how a yoga teacher can remain true to the teachings while also establishing a sustainable business (Yoga teaching and money). With a list 5 pages long of subjects we can’t wait to discuss, I see our podcast covering a great deal of ground in a way that sparks thought, action and brings clarity to yoga teachers who long to grow and deepen their authenticity as well as their practice.

We hope everyone will give Yoga Perspectives a listen. Subscribe so you never miss a post. Like us and send us your thoughts or suggestions for future broadcasts. The more people who join the conversation the broader awareness develops not just for the listener, but for everyone he or she teaches as well.

You can find Yoga Perspectives on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, Podcast Addict and several other forums. We hope you will join us!

14 – The Five Koshas and Yoga Therapy Yoga Perspectives

In this episode, Denver Clark, ERYT-500 and IAYT Yoga Therapist, discusses the five Koshas and how they can be integrated into yoga classes and yoga therapy sessions. She offers theory and practice insight as well as exercises that can be integrated with asana to increase a student's awareness and open channels of understanding. 
  1. 14 – The Five Koshas and Yoga Therapy
  2. 013: Ahimsa and the Gunas
  3. 012: How to Learn the Yoga Sutras
  4. 011 – Yoga is not diet culture
  5. 010 – Setting Boundaries