There are so many yogis drawn to journeying down the yoga teaching career path. But is a 200 hour teaching training really enough to prepare people with the skills required to teach yoga in a safe and authentic way? We asked two of Australia’s best yoga teachers what they think…
I’ve been practicing yoga for 5 years now and I am considering doing a yoga teacher training. In considering courses, I’ve noticed that a lot of teacher training courses can be completed in a surprisingly short amount of time. I’m concerned about not having the knowledge and experience to teach once I’ve completed my first training. Do you think that a 200 hour teacher training is enough to be out there in the world teaching students?
Simon Borg Olivier
Simon is a Co-Director of Yoga Synergy, one of Australia’s oldest and most respected yoga schools. Simon has been teaching since 1982, is a registered physiotherapist, a research scientist and a university lecturer. He has completed a Bachelor of Science in human biology, a research based Master of Science in molecular biology and a Bachelor of Applied Science in Physiotherapy. Simon loves hanging out with his kids, going to festivals and dance parties and swimming in his pool.
Based on my experience as a physiotherapist for 20 years and yoga teacher for 35 years, I believe that a 200 hour teacher training alone will not give someone enough knowledge or experience to safely teach people how to work with the postures, movements, breath-control and mental-control of physical yoga. In many ways, a yoga teacher has to take the role of a doctor, a physiotherapist, a psychologist and possibly an elite athlete all at the same time. All of these professions need years or decades to master and cannot be learnt in a 200 hour teacher training.
It takes a lifelong dedication to really learn yoga for yourself, but teaching physical yoga to normal adults – many of whom have physical, physiological and/or mental issues – is a big responsibility and requires serious discipline and training. When I began teaching, I felt unprepared even though I had already practiced for fifteen years with excellent teachers. Then after teaching for ten years I embarked upon a full-time 4-year physiotherapy degree. That was 25 years ago and I am still learning more every day.
Nevertheless, if a 200 hour teacher training course is run by suitably qualified instructors, it can be a good step in the right direction. The most important things to look for in a teacher training course of any length are:
(i) the trainers have had extensive training in both yoga as well as in applied anatomy and physiology,
(ii) they regularly practice what they preach, and
(iii) they have put this knowledge to use in their lives over an extended period.
A good 200 hour teacher training course has to take into the account the main differences between the natural body and the normal (but unnatural) modern body. Most modern yoga teachers and practitioners do not realise that the majority of modern adults cannot even attempt the main postures of traditional yoga, which were designed to be practiced by the ‘traditional’ or ‘natural’ body’, that has been brought up sitting on the floor cross-legged, squatting on the toilet, and often carrying large weights on their heads. Such bodies are naturally flexible and strong and can easily do the physical aspect of yoga without even feeling any stretch or tension.
Conversely, most modern adults spend between 5-15 hours each day on chairs, which usually leads to stiffness in parts of their hips, shoulders and spine and instability in parts of their knees, shoulders, lower back and neck. This predisposes up to 90% of modern adults to potentially get lower back pain or neck pain if they inappropriately over-stretch or over-tense, which is often what happens normal adults attempt many classical yoga postures.
A good 200 hour teacher training course has to give significant experience and understanding of the techniques of physical yoga and how they can be used to balance the needs of the physical body (anatomy), the energetic body (physiology), and the mental body (psychology). It is not enough to teach about how to create strength and flexibility. A good yoga practice also needs to be stress-free, while improving circulation and increasing energy rather than depleting it, and calming the nervous system rather than overstimulating it. It must also foster a mental state where people desire practice because it feels good, not because of a mentality of ‘no pain, no gain’ or the thought that it will make them improve in some way after they finish their practice. It is therefore essential that the training imparts sufficient knowledge and experience so that the students will be able to adapt and modify physical yoga techniques for the needs of normal (mostly unnatural) people.
An effective 200 hour teacher training course must also encourage the trainees to establish a regular personal practice, which not only teaches them how to practice yoga and helps to inspire others to practice, but also how to teach themselves, which is the prerequisite of being able to teach others.
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Mark Breadner is Australia’s longest serving Yoga Teacher Trainer, with over 20 years of educational experience. Mark has personally trained over 1000 teachers, sharing knowledge and direct experience of the technical and spiritual aspects of yoga. At the top of his field, Mark is recognised as a teacher of teachers and the real deal, using his grounded, down-to-earth approach to bring this ancient knowledge to the everyday.
When looking into doing a 200 hour teacher training we have to understand that yoga is a complete inner science- the yogis dedicated their whole life going inwards to understand how to live the highest possibility. They-men and women, through deep direct experience mapped out a system of radical self-transformation.
We have access to this map, and when you can understand it and you can implement it, then it becomes a profound system of self-exploration and transformation, based on the premise that it is possible for a human being to evolve consciously.
Yoga is essentially a way of re-creating the body, inner energies, emotions and the mind to serve a higher purpose
We are multi-level beings. We are a physical body, a subtle body, a mental/emotional body. Beyond that, we have the wisdom body, the bliss body, and the self. In yoga, if we only work on one level (the physical), then like any system, it won’t work and you don’t get the goodies. You don’t get the desired outcome.
In yoga, we’re trying to align the physical body, the subtle body and the mental/emotional body to all come into alignment, to turn in one direction. This then creates a clear channel to the intelligence, bliss and freedom that lie beyond that. This is when everything changes. It becomes a truly transformational experience for you and the people you come into contact with. As Sadhguru says- “There is a whole technology for transforming the human into the divine. A science aimed at making human beings the rulers of their own fate, the architects of their own destiny”
So is 200 a hour teacher training enough? No, it’s not enough. It’s a starting point, but essentially you’re just dipping your toe in the water. Like anything that you want to build though you have to make sure the foundations are laid out properly- otherwise you are going in the wrong direction.
Today in many ways yoga has been commercialised and trivialised to fitness, flexibility and therapy. It is also by international standards largely unregulated, meaning there are many trainings out there that don’t reflect the understanding and true potential of yoga – hence setting the wrong foundations. You don’t have to believe me, just Google what any “real deal” yogi says about western yoga and you will see.
An important starting place that will serve you well is having a passion for evolving and a commitment to practice. Without consistent practise nothing will change. If you have been practising for 5 years- for most that means “asana”, but even that is largely misunderstood- it is not about flexibility or strength or Instagram likes- there are 84 classical asana with many variations, but the yogis found these 84 poses to channel consciousness and align the body to a higher possibility- some yogis spent their whole lives just mastering one pose.
Beyond that are bandhas (locks), mudras (seals), pranayams (breath), kriyas (internal actions) and meditation. You will see in most classes that meditation is not included or it is breezed over but actually the definition of yoga “is to rise above the modifications of the mind”. It is impossible to teach yoga effectively without understanding the fundamentals of meditation and having a regular personal practise.
When choosing a training, make sure that there is depth of experience in the teachers and that it is aligned to the science of human possibility. Make sure your foundations are laid out well, dip your toes in the water, make a commitment to living your highest possibility and practice.
Yoga is incredibly popular at the present and if understood and taught correctly yoga can be at the tipping point of transformation on the planet. We can build a group of conscious change-makers who will go out and make lasting change for themselves, their communities and the world in ways they didn’t think possible.