So maybe you've been teaching yoga for a while now. You offer weekly classes, private trainings, and monthly workshops. You continue to expand your knowledge and skill-set by attending specialty trainings, seminars, and yoga conferences. You love what you do, and you're good at it. You know a lot about yoga, and you want to share what you know in an even more in-depth way than you already do. You'd like to offer what you've learned through practice and study to yogis who are as eager as you are to geek-out on anatomy, alignment, philosophy, Sanskrit, and ayurveda.
Maybe you wonder, should I start my own teacher training?
And maybe you want to pass along all the cool stuff you've learned about teaching yoga too—like hands-on adjustments, skillful cueing, and class sequencing. You want to empower others to find as much joy and fulfillment from teaching yoga as you have. And so maybe you wonder, should I start my own teacher training?
But you might also wonder: What preparatory steps should I take before starting a teacher training? How is teaching teachers different from teaching the general population? What challenges can I expect to face? and How can I make my training beneficial and accessible to students of diverse skill levels and yoga backgrounds?
Recently I had the chance to ask expert teacher trainer (and one of my teachers) Shari Friedrichsen these questions and others. Shari has been teaching teachers for over three decades, is key facilitator of the Himalayan Institute's teacher certification program, and, along with Rolf Sovik, Luke Ketterhagen, and Judy Moulton, offers a five-day advanced certification program—Mastering the Art of 200-Hour Teacher Training—for training teachers to teach 200-hour trainings skillfully and confidently. Read on for her invaluable insights and expert advice for anyone contemplating a 200-hour training of their own.
What are the prerequisites and preparatory steps a teacher should consider before starting their own teacher training?
Shari: Be curious as to how your favorite teachers teach other teachers. What do they do that you love? How do they address injuries and injury prevention? How do they work with people as individuals? Attend as many seminars as possible, both for the general population and for teachers. Gather information, tools for your toolbox. Ask to assist your favorite teacher in classes, seminars, and teacher trainings, whatever they're doing. Learn from them.
Then teach a seminar, for example, on backbends. Then teach another seminar on how to teach backbends. Be systematic in your approach. And ask yourself, What works? What doesn't?
How does teaching teachers differ from teaching the general population?
Shari: Teaching the general population a pose is simpler—get in the pose, enjoy, breathe, come out of the pose, don't hurt yourself. When teaching a teacher how to teach the pose, you have to know to what extent the teacher is familiar with the pose; if they have the language to get someone into and out of the pose safely; if they know what “safely” is; if they know how to be systematic so they don't confuse their students; and if they have the confidence to stand in front of someone and explain something. And if they don't have the confidence, you have to know how to build that confidence in them.
What are some surprising challenges about teaching teachers (or future teachers)?
Shari: [Teacher trainees] are often shocked at how difficult it is to teach a pose, or to teach yoga in general. Their yoga teachers have made it seem easy because of their experience and practice. But for many beginning teachers, opening their mouths and trying to remember how to teach something can be a major challenge.
Trainees often want to give up their personalities to become “the yoga teacher.” A challenging yet important part of training teachers is to give them the skills and the opportunities to use their own voices and personalities when they teach, otherwise it's not their class.
Often, 200-hour teacher trainings are filled with participants from diverse yoga backgrounds and of diverse skill and experience levels. How can teacher trainers gauge where their participants are coming from, and how can they teach in a way that’s beneficial/accessible to everyone?
Shari: It is extremely helpful for teachers who think they might want to teach a training to take as many diverse kinds of yoga as they can. We often stick with one style that we have come to like. This is not helpful as a trainer of teachers or students. It is important that you know what kinds of yoga your students/teachers are familiar with. Are you familiar with these styles? If not, ask, research, or go to classes yourself and learn from them.
What's your goal for training teachers? Is your goal to try to convince people that your style is the best, or to encourage people to continue in the style they love and have found useful, while giving them more information on how to teach a pose in order get the most yoga out of it, no matter the style. When teaching, your job is to teach how to get in and out of poses safely and systematically; to teach what the benefit of each pose is; what poses are the most beneficial for a particular place, time, or person; and why sequencing is important. This will be beneficial no matter what the style.
Where are many teacher trainings lacking? What can teacher trainers do to address this?
Shari: Many teacher trainings lack the underpinnings of yoga, the understanding of the foundational texts—the Yoga Sutra and Bhagavad Gita—and where these texts came from, and how yoga fits into developing consciousness.
To address this, study with a qualified teacher. These texts are ancient and have many translations from the original Sanskrit, which are often misinterpreted or misunderstood. Find a lineage that's been around more than 50 or 100 years. The written Yoga Sutras are over 2,000 years old. The ancient teachings have something unique to offer in their wisdom, but they also need to fit into today's world, to translate to today's needs and sufferings and desires to reclaim our joy and freedom. If a tradition ceases to be relevant, it dies out. Find a living tradition and learn and apply the teachings that have been passed down through the ages.
Another thing that is often lacking is a focus on teaching verbal skills, and helping trainees to increase their confidence. You do that by being systematic, by having people start teaching each other early on in the training. Start with having trainees teach just one other person on the first few days of the training, then gradually increase the number of people they're teaching, one at a time, as they get comfortable. By working with so many other individuals in a way that is not threatening (we encourage mistakes!), one gains in confidence.
Finally, something that's often lacking in many classes and trainings is the ability to know and teach what specific practices will awaken the joy and intelligence and power within individuals. Yoga [can always be] healing and helpful, but knowing specifically how and what is needed to create real transformation is missing. It's like going to an acupuncturist who pokes you with needles randomly, as opposed to one who systematically and wisely places the needles in the most beneficial place and manner. The teachings from the Yoga Sutra are not random and can be followed even in a yoga class, or training, to get the absolute most transformation out of the practice. We offer that [in our trainings].
How have 200-hour trainings changed over the years? How do you see them changing/transforming in the future?
Shari: In the last decade, yoga has become so popular. [That's why] it's important that yoga trainings and teachers keep up with what's happening in the medical world. We have to interface with MDs, chiropractors, physical therapists, etc. We need to stay on the cutting edge of modern medicine, and at the same time teach this ancient science of healing. It is a fascinating and challenging balance.
I see this continuing. It is always interesting to me how modern medicine is slowly discovering the secrets that yogis have known for thousands of years—the gut- brain connection being just one of the “new” discoveries, along with how important your digestive system is to your overall health in general, and the effect that lifestyle has on the heart and most modern diseases. We [yoga professionals] need to work together [with the medical world] to keep these discoveries happening. And then to take it one step further, to discover, and to help others discover, a greater consciousness and joyful life.
Want to learn more?
Visit the Himalayan Institute's website to apply to or learn more about the Mastering the Art of 200-Hour Teacher Training advanced certification program, which is happening November 4-8.
This certification is for anyone who has a 200-hour teaching certificate and wishes to teach a teacher training. It's also for anyone who is already teaching a training but would like to establish a greater philosophical foundation; discover more tools for understanding the depth of asana and how pranayama, asana, and meditation relate; learn more about teaching and practicing yogic meditation techniques; and get materials and support for offering their students an organized, systematic approach to yoga.
To hear more from Shari about the art of teaching teachers, listen to the latest episode of Yoga International's Yoga Talk Podcast: Teaching Teachers.