Katie Lynch: Do yoga teachers need increasing training in related fields?

Simply put: yes. Yes, there is a need for increased training in the world of yoga, because the focus of yoga that has become the most popular is asana, and asana deals with movements of the human body. And the human body is one complicated and mysterious machine — which is surprisingly easy to break. Now, this doesn’t mean a person can’t teach a good and safe yoga class without further education in related fields, but in order to advance the benefits of yoga by bringing it to a larger population of the world, it would be helpful if the concept of yoga evolved into a more respected and scientific field.

To become a basic teacher of yoga, in America, Yoga Alliance requires teachers to study two hundred hours of yoga before receiving a certification to teach the public, which is a step up from prior the 1990s when no certification was required. In those two hundred hours, a lot of information is packed into the training sessions, which can take anywhere from fourteen days to six-months to complete and students are required to learn techniques and practices (one hundred hours), yoga philosophy (thirty hours), teaching methodology (twenty-five hours), anatomy/physiology (twenty hours) and hands-on-experience (ten hours), with fifteen hours to spread out to whichever category they choose. And, although the training covers some anatomy and physiology, the certification process requires only twenty hours of training in the area of yoga most dealt with in yoga classes: the foundation of human movement. Judging by how complicated the human body is, that is not enough for new teachers to come out of their trainings feeling confident in their knowledge.

Now, to contrast this training with a similar field: physical therapy (which yoga is sometimes used as). It takes a physical therapists (a person who deals with alignment injuries) six to seven years of continual training to receive a certification. I compare physical therapists and yoga teachers because the goal of each is to bring the body into movement with the purpose of healing. Physical therapists give exercises to their clients in order to help strengthen their already injured bodies to restore alignment, much like yoga teachers bring students into poses for optimal ease of alignment. At a minimum, physical therapists learn about anatomy, physiology and biomechanics of the human body, exercise science, clinical trainings, and applied physical therapy. Their knowledge is extensive and with this knowledge comes trust. The medical world respects physical therapists because of their training and their effort to understand the human body.

While physical therapy deals with treating injured individuals and, right now, yoga focuses on prevention of injury, yoga teachers still see many injured people come into their classes for a healing process. If the goal of yoga in the Western world is to heal individuals in mind and body (and soul), how is yoga supposed to be taken seriously if there aren’t more hours of study required? More hours specifically in the areas of anatomy, physiology of the human body and kinesiology.

Without more training, can a yoga teacher really prevent or heal injury if they do not understand how or why the body is moving? Or which bodies are strong enough to move in and out of certain poses? Well, yes, because there are a lot of people who have felt the healing benefits of yoga and there are a lot of good teachers out there. But it would become even more prevalent if all teachers were required to complete a higher level of training and we would see a lot more teachers who consciously heal and a lot less who unconsciously injure. Because along with those stories of yoga-related healings are also stories of yoga-related injuries.

I had a teacher tell me once that “yoga has been around for over five thousand years”, which is where a deep respect for yoga stems from today, and that’s what I expected her to say next… something about how it’s tried-and-true. But she went on to say, “don’t you think we’ve changed a lot since then?” And that’s when my mouth dropped open. Did she really rebel publicly against the yoga world and discredit some of its validity, therefore shattering the façade of perfection? Oh my. Then I realized I loved her and her kinesiology-focused yoga class, because, yes, humans have changed in five thousand years. True, we still have minds, bodies, and souls, but how we interact with the world has changed — mainly, our mechanical behaviors. Thanks to technology, we have become more sedentary, and with inactivity comes unstable joints and weak muscles. Our bodies aren’t ready to handle what some yoga teachers and most commonly taught poses have us twisting into. Because of that we see more injuries pop up in the yoga world, which goes against yoga’s main goal: to heal. There are an increasing number of injuries seen in the areas of the SI joint (the joint involving the sacrum and the hipbones), the lumbar spine, and the shoulder joints. These injuries stem from putting too much pressure/weight onto unstable joints. Now, would these injuries have been prevented if the teachers were trained to detect what an unstable joint looks like? Or, what if the focus of yoga was to stabilize joints first, rather than trying to bring students into deep and complex poses that, eventually, bring strength to the human body, but only if the body is ready? I go so far as to ask, would it be more beneficial for students if part of the existing two hundred hours were used to teach more anatomy and kinesiology rather than yoga philosophy?

As of now, the Yoga Alliance basic requirements are thirty hours of philosophy and twenty hours of anatomy. And while I do think it’s important to keep traditions alive and to understand the origin of yoga, I also think it’s more important to keep humans alive and functioning.

Fortunately, there are some options for yoga teachers to learn more. They can go on to five hundred hour teacher trainings, enroll in fifty-hour courses of yoga-focused kinesiology trainings, or further their education with yoga therapy certifications, which is where you really see the yoga teachers shine and the true healing begin. When teachers decide to further their education on their own, they begin to stand out from the rest because the extra knowledge helps them understand asana and human movements on a deeper level. However, it is not required. And so, we see more teachers with a lack of than we do with continued training, which is unfortunate, because if given the chance, yoga — when taught safely – really does have the power to heal.

So, if you couldn’t tell by now, I am an advocate for more education. Because really, at the end of the day, it all comes down to trust. Who would you trust more with your body (injured or not): a person who learned about the science of the body for twenty hours or for seven years?

I’ll leave you with something to think about: what would happen if yoga teachers were put through the same training as physical therapists? What would our classrooms or students look like then? And, more importantly, how would the Western world of medicine and the health insurance companies look at yoga?

The Complete Yoga Anatomy Coloring Book
Katie Lynch

Illustrated with anatomical drawings for coloring throughout, this innovative coloring book covers physiology of the breath; movements of the joints; workings of the spine, shoulders and pelvis and in-depth muscle information before moving onto Asana Anatomy specifically related to the main standing, seated and inversion postures. Read more


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