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 Dilemma of Poor Yoga Training

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.  

How to Learn the Yoga Sutras

In my early years as a Western born and bred yoga teacher, I felt somewhat intimidated by what I viewed as the mystical, unfamiliar, Indian philosophy element of yoga. I sincerely wanted to understand the teachings and so I read a multitude of books, sat through lectures, and pursued the spiritual view of yoga with best intent. Still, my understanding was surface level at best. I believed Eastern philosophy was a “big subject” and therefore assumed someone more advanced than I was necessary to capture and explain the wisdom, and so I hired others who claimed to have a grasp on the concepts to teach the philosophy portion of yoga teacher training at my school. The problem was, while I hired several different individuals to cover this competency, there still wasn’t clarification for me or my students, and we were often left more confused than when we began. These philosophy teachers did indeed explain the meaning of certain concepts, such as the Yamas and Niyamas, but something was definitely missing. Memorization and definitions just failed to transfer the feeling of spirituality that I believed would be a part of deeper knowledge. I knew the teachings were meant to aid transformation and spiritual development, but the way they were being presented continued to portray the meaning in a theoretical way rather than something more sacred. Yes, the conversations about the Yamas and Niyamas were impactful, but I couldn’t help but be aware that our humanity kept us slipping backwards when we weren’t in that yoga frame of mind. The philosophy teachers I employed delivered a cohesive lecture on how a yogi should interact with the world, but I would occasionally look at their Facebook posts and couldn’t help but wonder if they knew this stuff so well, why they didn’t seem to “live” the philosophy in ways that honored one’s true potential as a yogi.  

I have always believed that sometimes, if you want something done right, you just may have to do it yourself. So, I determined that if I wanted this subject taught differently, I would have to be the philosophy teacher at Heartwood. The fact that I was still quite unsure of how all the information integrated was a moot point. I would figure it out, not just for my benefit, but for all the students yet to come. So, I plunged into yoga philosophy for a period of five years or so before I felt even the initial inklings of competency. I continued to teach what I knew, but I also knew I needed to know more.  I read books, listened to famous gurus, and took online classes with schools I admired and trusted. I gained an academic view from college level courses that combined historical & cultural explanations with intended meaning and tried to combine that with spiritual approaches that included meditating on the teachings and humbly listening to older, more experienced teachers with authentic ties to Indian culture in some odd hope that just being in a guru’s presence would bring insight because being Indian makes a teacher more authentic. (Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.)

All this seeking certainly gave me information to share. I knew the yoga sutras by number, could share the story and themes of the Bhagavad Gita, and had broken down the important concepts of the 13 primary Upanishads. But what forced me to deepen my understanding was less my studies and more a result of teaching yoga philosophy to others. To teach is to learn and each time I sat with a circle of students, their inquiries forced me to question the meaning and intention of each sutra. As I struggled to find the words to explain what was really a felt sense of meaning, I progressively deepened my relationship with a worldview that provided a new understanding of life, the mind, and our place in the world. Devotion to the teachings doesn’t come from blind faith or being enamored with the idea of Eastern studies. That is more infatuation with Indian concepts. I found real life application and questioning the yoga sutras, only to find their wisdom impossible to deny, set the stage for embracing them earnestly.

Still, I found it impossible to transfer a sense of the sacred to newer yoga students in the 40 hours allocated to philosophy and history in a yoga teacher training course. I did my best to set a great foundation for my students and many have proclaimed that the philosophy portions of YTT have changed their worlds. But I also was aware that my lectures, however well-intentioned and heartfelt, had only opened the doorway to each individual’s relationship with these teachings. The possibility that my mostly-American yoga students would walk through that yoga door and go on their own intimate journey with the teachings seemed remote. People are just too busy in modern society to wander into the forest for 14 years to meditate and contemplate the teachings as they did in ancient times. In the modern world, our short attention span and determination to have measurable outcomes to validate our investment of time and energy into anything has us wanting to quickly mark a subject as complete so we can move on to learning more stuff.

How could I possibly teach my yoga students, (all of whom I respect and believe to be well intentioned seekers) to do more than sit and listen to my lectures as one more necessary endeavor or “assignment” they had to do to become certified so they could lead others along the path? How could I awaken their humility, so they understood that what they believe they had grasped wasn’t true knowledge, but only intellectual understanding? Were my students worthy of teaching others if their relationship with the yoga sutras was little more than memorizing the meaning to package up and pass the information on, just as they planned to apply the information about alignment or sequencing to future classes?

I don’t mean to sound sarcastic, but I know what a barrier the practical mindset creates for new yogis. I commonly get asked, “How do I use this when I’m teaching?” as if all the information they receive in YTT is designed to be utilitarian in their career. I thought the same way when I was a newer yoga teacher, dreaming of a fulfilling career helping others as I aspired to share the amazing practice that I loved.

I was lucky. The dissatisfaction I felt over the hired teachers’ outcomes and a nagging need “to know” forced me on a personal journey of yoga philosophy far beyond what I ever had use for as a teacher or YTT trainer.  I became a believer in the deeper dimensions of yoga beyond the intellect, and the quest to know became a personal practice rather than part of my career skillset. As I came to rest in the teachings and develop a richer, profound heart knowing, I began wrestling with the problem of how to teach philosophy in a way that encourages students to channel their energies and tackle the obstacles standing in the way in respect to our shorter attention spans and the belief that we must have measurable utility for anything we bother to devote time to.

Encouraging students to sit with the teachings was of foremost importance. So, I began gifting my students with a beautiful journal from India, encouraging my students to meditate on the sutras not only through sitting in stillness, but through writing. I created dozens of journaling prompts which I hoped would instigate an internal conversation with self, allowing the writer to apply the concepts of the yoga sutras to their own life experience. I next added a broken bowl project ceremony to my training where students would hopefully reflect on their lives in the breaking of a bowl, and then create art from reconstructing the shattered pieces. This was followed by intention setting (which in my YTT is always a review of the yoga philosophy teachings as they can be applied to bringing us back to wholeness) so the broken bowl art project served as a symbolic opportunity to see the sutras’ value in the complex story of our own lives.

But the technique I have loved most of all has been a project I designed for my advanced 300 students: to begin a yoga sutra art journal. While very few of them finish the project to its full potential (my art journal took over three years to complete and I’ve recently begun revisiting each page and adding to it, so my journal will never be done) my students must do at least 10 pages to graduate, which invites them to spend a bit more time with at least ten of the individual sutras as a sampling of what it is to “sit with” a teaching and be absorbed with finding the meaning for a longer period. The art journal is a way of teaching process, not production.

Art journaling is the process of layering. You begin by putting gesso on a page to make paper into a canvas. When that dries, you cover the page with color or inks. That too must dry before you add additional paint with stencils, leaves or other textured items, such as mandalas or other designs. This layer must dry before you can add markers, text, Sanskrit, pictures, or anything else. I won’t get into the details and techniques of art journaling here but to say that to complete a page in your art journal requires revisiting the page 8 or more times if you are not just rushing through the process without thought. And each time the artist returns to a page, they read and consider the meaning of the sutra to contemplate how they might visually capture the essence on the page. This quiet work, striving to capture the meaning of the sutra as per your own interpretation, is a meditation of its own.  And with each page demanding continued thought and time, it invites the artist to sit with the teaching much longer than they might without the project to keep them engaged. Even the small joy that comes from watching the visual interpretation take shape becomes inspiration to keep with the page – and as result, the sutra.

Students do have to get past any issues they have with attachment – such as the avoidance syndrome that comes from not feeling good at art or wanting perfection on the page. Detaching from any desire to create beautiful art is important if they want to actually get lost in discovery and honoring the sutra. I myself am often intimidated by art and don’t feel gifted when it comes to painting or drawing, and yet, I’ve learned that creativity can be a tantric endeavor, and working on my sutra journal isn’t about art at all and is actually about sitting with the teachings and using creativity to see the sutra in a new way. My finished art journal sparks reflection and meditation and I use it as a teaching tool as well, often putting the colorful visual pages on an altar to create ambiance and spark curiosity for sutra discussions.

Creating a yoga sutra art journal is a big commitment, and not for everyone. Doing so takes time and materials and most of all, patience. But for those who respond to a more entertaining, engaging act of study, this project can be a powerful instrument for learning and developing a deep relationship with the wisdom of yoga. Just as mantras or mudras and other forms of tantra can be an instrument for “crossing over” to deeper dimensions of spirituality, so too can the yoga sutra art journal take you to a new level of understanding.

Ginny Shaddock is the owner and spiritual teacher at Heartwood Yoga Institute. She is an ERYT-500 Yoga Teacher and C-IAYT Yoga Therapist.

5 Inclusive Trauma informed Language Swaps for Yoga Teachers

Denver Clark, CIAYT, ERYT-500

Photo by Yan Krukov on Pexels.com

Yoga is promoted as a space for healing and growth. But what happens if a student comes for a healing experience and leaves feeling even more uncomfortable or triggered? Of course, it is never the intention of a Yoga teacher to exclude others but often we aren’t completely aware of the simple things we can change about our delivery that make yoga even more influential for our students.  One very easy way to be more conscious and inclusive is though our language.

As a teacher, I feel that it’s most important to communicate with my students to learn what helps them feel more included in my class so I can continue to anticipate future student’s needs and make my classes even more therapeutic. Here are some common phrases you may hear in a yoga class that I’ve changed in my practice since becoming a teacher over 12 years ago:

#1 – “Come to a seated position…”

Remove Commanding Language – Instead, try invitational language

It’s common for Yoga teachers to speak like fitness instructors. For example, “Let’s come to seated…. I want you to raise your arms…..” This can make the class feel like a mandatory experience and place students in a position where they feel a lack of choice or agency over their practice. As we heal from trauma, it’s important that we find moments where we feel in control of our environment and the yoga class is a perfect space to give people choices back in their lives. Especially during a time when we may not have many choices elsewhere. Here are some examples of invitational language:

      “When you are ready, you can raise your arms..”

      “One option is to look upward…”

      “You might decide to sit back into chair pose here…”

      “You can bend your front knee on an exhale…”

#2 “The full expression of the pose is…”  

Instead of stepping up each option – Try giving 2-3 choices, popcorn style

David Emmerson, one of the leaders in Trauma informed Yoga work calls this the “ABC approach.” It’s easy for teachers to fall into the trap of making postures harder and harder: “This is the pose, but if you want more….. if you want the full expression….” This kind of language can make students feel like they are less capable in their practice or that they are “bad” at yoga. Similarly, teachers may present the “fullest expression” of a posture and then step back to “If you can’t do this, then grab a strap…” Giving students 2 or 3 options in a random order allows students to make a choice based on how they feel instead of what they think they should be able to do. Yoga is personal, not goal oriented and not every student should be doing the traditional version of every posture. This exploratory approach reminds students that yoga is about listening and responding to your body in the moment and that it’s ok to change your mind or your practice as your body changes. Try replacing the word “modification” with “version.” Here are some examples of how you might do this:

      “One option is to raise the front arm in warrior two, if this is uncomfortable today you could decide to place your hand on your hip and another choice might be to tuck that arm behind your back…”

#3 – “Don’t practice this if you’re….”

Instead of contraindication rules, try education. You don’t know the whole story

To protect our students, it can be easy to assume that the element we know about their health is the most important. But there is so much more to the story that we don’t know. If we speak in absolutes such as “always” and “never” because we read in a book or learned in a workshop that something is contraindicated, we may be unknowingly holding our students back from things they are fully capable of and ready for.

It’s a great idea to educate your students about the possible complications of a posture or pranayama practice, for example “menstruation may be a contraindication to inversions.” However, explaining the energetic and physical reasons why this might be a contraindication (“Apana vayu energy is trying to eliminate tissue during menstruation and we may find that inversions are uncomfortable or make us lightheaded during this time…”) gives my student the power to choose. An empowering practice is a healing one and after all, that is the point of Yoga – to learn how to listen to my own body and be responsible for my own health and happiness.

#4 – “That looks beautiful..”

Instead, make yoga about how things feel instead of how they look

When we comment on the way postures look, we are reinforcing a possibly harmful idea that yoga has to look a certain way to be correct – and many students may internalize this as “I have to look a certain way to be correct.” The gift of yoga asana (the physical practice) is interoception – the ability to be aware of my body and it’s internal changes. Focusing on how a posture feels allows my student to know that whatever state they are in is acceptable and there’s no goal on the outside. Because yoga happens on the inside. We can change this habit by removing phrases like “beautiful” or “looks nice” and replacing those with comments such as “feel the strength in your legs.” Or “notice how this posture makes you feel.” This also gives my student agency over their own body and reminds them of how capable they are and that they are in control of themselves at all times, which is tremendously healing when recovering from trauma.

#5 – “You’ll feel this in your…”

Instead of telling our students what to feel, try inviting them to “notice”

One of the most powerful words in trauma informed and inclusive yoga might be “notice.” When we tell our students where or what to feel, we run the risk of placing them in a situation where they feel less than if they don’t feel that sensation. We also direct them to believe that feeling that sensation is good, when it may not be for them. Inviting students to notice what they feel, wherever they feel it is another practice in interoception and helps them build awareness of the subtle changes in their bodies so that they can be aware in the future off the mat if something is amiss. It also allows them to have a unique experience rather than a curated one that may be unfit for their body or mind. Anatomically, not every person will ever feel a pose the same way but that doesn’t mean they aren’t receiving a benefit from the pose somewhere else. I will often say something like “you may feel a sensation in the backs of your legs, but if you don’t that’s okay too. Everyone carries tension in different areas. Just allow yourself to notice what you feel here…”

Most importantly – Ask your students for feedback.

Our students are our teachers. By asking them for open feedback we are allowing ourselves to become uncomfortable and on the other side of discomfort it always growth. Teachers are human and we make mistakes. It’s what we do once we are aware of those mistakes that matters most. I hope that as a community, we all continue to educate ourselves, to inquire, to acknowledge when we make a mistake and to learn from it. Then, we are truly practicing yoga in addition to sharing it with others. Happy Teaching!

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