Chapter 6 -Training Yoga Teachers

I love learning new ways. I am naturally curious about how to solve the problems life presents me with—whether they are physical, nutritional, structural, emotional, or spiritual.

The quintessential teacher has always been my muse. And she has caused me to remember experiences that were answers to my questions, and connected me to new knowledge, in case I needed to call on this knowing again in the future to help someone else.

My students appreciated the ways I could reach out and support them. They kept asking me to offer a teacher training so they could learn to teach like me.

As I relate to the world predominantly as a kinesthetic being first, an emotional being second, and a mental being third, I remember how things felt. While I am not particularly good at remembering names or phone numbers, I will always remember the obstacles you face and the areas you hope to resolve with your yoga practice.

Yoga practice, as I knew it was not a mental pursuit but rather an experiential learning based on the clarity and resonance of the teacher.

Yoga Teacher Training Begins

So in 1995 with a slow, awkward start, I began my first teacher-training program, which was only six weekends stretched over two years. The training did not work very well as there was not enough consistency of contact, and my students fell into some bad habits.

Fortunately in 1998 Yoga Alliance came out with the first registration standards, which gave a certain form and context to what a teacher training should cover. I agreed with the requirements set forth, and because teachers from each Yoga discipline—including the Iyengar method—collaborated on them, I was quick to adapt their program and register my training.

The new teacher-training program I offered consisted of nine three-day weekends over 10 months to accommodate the many students who were traveling to Asheville to study. The popularity of yoga was gaining momentum …

Finding My Voice

For me, running a teacher training was all about finding my voice. I was challenged to find a way to communicate to others the insights, rhythm, and connections I understood naturally so they could experience their own success as yoga teachers.

The first seven years of training students to be teachers was a bit rocky. Even though my students were sincere, they simply had not experienced the privilege I had of being shaped by a master, B.K.S. Iyengar. I felt a huge responsibility to live up to the ideals and standards I had subscribed to. I made lots of mistakes.

By the time my seventh teacher training group began, I had worked out a lot of the kinks in my training style and content, which resulted in a draft of my first unpublished book, The Art of Yoga: Teacher Training Manual.

The Quality of a Training

Unlike other teacher training programs that helped establish a personal practice for the participants yet did not offer them teaching skills, my training prepared students well.

My training was not a cookie-cutter course with 5 to 10 different instructors and three weeks to three months of training. Mine was an in-depth mentorship program where misperceptions could be expressed and confusion clarified, so that new teachers could gain understanding and avoid attachment to unhelpful habits.

All of my graduates had a clear sense of what was required to actually teach yoga. They were clear about what they knew and what they didn’t know, and  were given a map to help them navigate the offering of safe and effective yoga classes in their community.

How do I know?

Over the years I have received many kudos from my graduates, as they were happy to share that their classes were the most popular and well attended at their studio. And I still hear this from those yoga teachers I have the honor to personally mentor.

The Wisdom of Opposites

Let me be clear about the challenge I needed to resolve when offering teacher training.
         First: How does a teacher guide a student to find stability and ease in an asana, and what does that sound like?
         Second: How did Iyengar’s teaching successfully reach all 600 people at the Ann Arbor Convention when he could only see the 30+ people in front of him?

These questions took me deeper into my practice.

In yoga sutra II.33 there is a clue. Paraphrasing, it states: “…to develop discrimination one must attend to the qualities of both paksa and pratipaksa, one point of view, and the opposite position.”

So I began observing more closely the rubber band analogy of stretching. A rubber band needs two points to create a stretch: one end stays still and the other moves, or both ends move apart from each other. Because there are two points involved, I called them a “pair of opposites.”

By this time my body was so well trained to do a beautiful pose that I had to slow myself down in order to articulate all the pairs of opposites that came into play to make it so. I observed that each pose had multiple pairs of opposites that were necessary to create the integration of alignment that would result in stability and ease.

Often in teacher training I would have one student read from a list of opposites, then ask those on their mats if they were experiencing the harmony of a good pose. The answer was always—yes. This connection of points is not how instructions are written in yoga books. The connection between points remains hidden until they are revealed by a skillful teacher.

I had discovered one of Guruji’s secrets—

-– timing and oppositions. I passed this secret on to my trainees. While a teacher could physically adjust just a few people in the class, she or he could verbally adjust the whole room with one well-stated action in a pair of opposites.

This became one of the hallmarks of my teacher training that helped my graduates be so successful.

Understanding your pairs of opposites allows you to be more free as a teacher to assist the person in class who really needs your help. I had come full circle, resolving my own teaching dilemma that I faced while teaching and being observed at the 1993 Ann Arbor Convention.

To be Certified or Not to be Certified…

During these years, although I was Iyengar trained, I was not certified to teach teachers according to that method. In the beginning it was easy to follow the Yoga Alliance standards for the “Registration” of yoga teachers by adding a simple disclaimer on my website. The disclaimer stated that my program was not Iyengar certified, and offered a list of steps students could explore to become certified.

As time would have it, things change. The Iyengar-method representatives with Yoga Alliance stepped away, Mr. Iyengar began raising the bar on his own standards for all teachers of his method, and my training program became more popular throughout the Southeast.

While several of my graduates went on to meet the rigorous standards required to become Iyengar-certified instructors, which might have been perceived, in part, as a testament to the training they received in my program, their success drew more scrutiny to my position.

I probably should have stepped away from the Iyengar Association sooner, but I was attached to all the amazing certified teachers and peers on this path, not to mention my deep love and appreciation for Mr. Iyengar himself, and the profound understanding of yoga he had given me.

It was a sad day for me in 2009 when I had to choose: I could either stay a member of the Iyengar Association and relinquish my teacher-training program, or resign my membership and continue the training I had developed, which had become the fulfillment of my Dharma, my mission in life.

I chose my Dharma.

What I learned in my teacher training decade:

  1. That no movement is ever isolated, everything in the body is connected to something else.Connecting the opposites is the path to freedom and stability.
  2. If you can maintain an equal distribution of awareness throughout the body, balancing the opposing lines of energy and action in a pose, you can stay in a pose longer without succumbing to the strain of one part of your body overworking or under-working.
  3. Learning new physical skills, along with the emotional and motivational reflections of svadyaya, self-study, is an ongoing process. Embracing self-compassion and change require commitment, especially when we discover something about ourselves that needs to change or be modified to achieve a better outcome.
  4. Self-esteem is important when learning a new skill, especially when it’s teaching Yoga, as yoga penetrates deeply and produces unavoidable change.

Coming Next: Chapter 7 – The Book!

More About Lillah Schwartz

Read Previous Chapters 1 thru 5 Here.

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