Picture / Supplied.

Why Yoga Is More than a Pose

It pays to check a yoga practitioner's experience before signing up with them

Yoga, once stereotyped as the domain of the unwashed, is becoming increasingly, and glamorously, mainstream. That’s partly a product of the information age, as people can access images of yogis in inspirational locations and poses worldwide, but also as a response to it — many feel their lives are out of balance as work/life boundaries increasingly become blurred.

Yoga is coming out of the community hall and into gyms as well as fancy, beautifully appointed studios without a whiff of patchouli. Along with this is a boom in the number of yoga teachers, stereotypically tanned and toned young women exiting the plane from Bali, and buff men from Costa Rica, who feel they’ve fulfilled their destiny and disembark ready for their life’s new journey.

With a huge rise in the number of yoga teachers in New Zealand and new studios popping up all the time, Viva asks what it takes to become a yoga teacher.

The worldwide standard under which the majority of teachers receive certification is 200 hours of training with a registered body called the Yoga Alliance. Two hundred hour-trained teachers then have the option to go on to complete 500 hours of training.

Training has become a lucrative business worldwide; it’s not difficult to become a trainer of teachers (which, in itself, sounds alarm bells) and the 200 hours’ training doesn’t appear to be something people fail.

Training in Bali may be a cliche but there’s no denying the pull; students can complete the hours in an intensive manner while undergoing spiritual enlightenment in Ubud, working on their tans and knocking back tropical green smoothies in the process.

But, obviously, you don’t need to go to Bali; many local studios now offer teacher-training programmes. As these studios see it, they are filling the gap not only for teacher-training, but also for mentorship once the 200 hours have been completed.

“If you train overseas and come back without a mentor you’re very restricted in terms of professional growth,” explains Dani Ramaekers, who was certified eight years ago in Melbourne (she now teaches in Auckland at Golden Yogi and The Centre).

All teachers and studio owners Viva spoke to agree completion of 200 hours is merely the start of someone’s yoga journey rather than an invitation to teach, as taking classes carries huge weight and responsibility that only experience can bring.

“Everyone comes to classes for different reasons,” Dani says. “Some are injured, some need flexibility, others are too flexible and others are looking for something [spiritual]. It can take years to take all that on board and provide people with what they need.”

Vincent Bolletta, from the Centre for Contemporary Yoga Studies, admits that anyone with the time and money can become 200 hour-certified teachers.

“The criteria to enter is very small, you just need to have some experience with yoga and, obviously, most people have done classes.”

Vincent also concedes that other than completing 200 hours there’s no grounds for failure. ”But not everyone who completes it will go on to teach, of course.”

He set up teacher-training programmes earlier this year that run alongside year-long mentorships, in response to what he sees as a responsibility to nurture and grow the next generation of teachers.

Similarly, Erin O’Hara from Golden Yogi, points out that their 200-hour teaching programme is set out over eight months.

“You grow so much between each month.” She, too, hopes to initiate a mentorship programme in the near future, having identified a huge gap between newly registered teachers and those with considerable experience.

“Good studios won’t take teachers who have just stepped out of teacher training. And then there are the really, really experienced teachers. There’s a big gap in between.”

Urban Ashram’s Nikki Ralston adds: “these teachers are newly qualified and floundering. They’ve spent a great deal of money to go and do these trainings and as a yoga teacher you’re not going to make that money back quickly. There’s a real gap in upskilling these teachers.”

Of course, not everyone wants to put in the time and many complete their teacher training wanting to recoup their investment and teach immediately. There’s certainly nothing to stop a newly registered teacher from building a profile for themselves and offering classes.

Physiotherapist Stacey Law, from Re:ab, notes that “just because you can do something doesn’t mean you can teach it. It’s not just about demonstrating poses. It’s about connecting with your students and taking them with you.”

However she sees any rise in exercise and physical activity as a good thing.

“You can look at ACC figures showing a rise in yoga-related payouts [$449,000 in 2014 compared to $13,299 in 2005] but that’s not necessarily down to inexperienced teachers. It could just be increased participants.”

She urges teachers to keep on training and students to research and question teachers. “Have your heart open and your bullshit- detector on,” says Nikki Ralston, laughing.

It’s worth noting that not all schools of yoga are registered with the Yoga Alliance. Melodie Batchelor, chairperson of the Iyengar Association of NZ, explains that in the Iyengar system “after five years as a general yoga practitioner and two years of intensive teacher training, an Iyengar yoga teacher must go before a panel of five judges”. The Iyengar exam is notoriously difficult to pass.

“If they pass, then they may teach public classes. If they don’t they must go back to their training.”

The Ashtanga school is similarly dismissive of 200-hour training. Ashtanga teacher certification is provided through their institute in Mysore, India. Its website —which also lists all teachers worldwide who have trained with them — carries a disclaimer saying they are not affiliated with any other programmes.

Auckland Ashtanga teacher Martina Gotz (who is on the list but is quick to point out that for various reasons some excellent teachers may not be, and similarly some average ones may have made it through) suggests that anyone considering teacher training in any school of yoga find a local teacher who inspires them, and with whom they can establish a regular practice for at least two years before seeking their advice on training.

“Experience is huge,” emphasises Erin. “Huge. It’s the discipline of practising every day. That’s how yoga in lineage has come about, how they knew so much about postures and breathing techniques — it was by experiencing them in their own body.”

Erin points out that in this era of information overload, when you can find out most things by typing questions into a computer (“You can even complete teacher-training programmes online!”), people must be patient and sit with their practice over time. “My greatest teacher says knowledge only becomes wisdom when you experience it in your own body.”

“It takes a lot of maturity to be a skilled yoga teacher,” explains Dani. “That’s why the older teachers are really sought-after. They have life experience and that comes to the mat.”

Disclaimer: Rebecca Wadey owns The Centre, a yoga studio in Kingsland. She does not teach yoga.

Share this:
New Zealand Herald

New Zealand Herald

Subscribe to E-Newsletter