Tag Archives: teacher training

Reclaiming your body – yoga’s healing power for trauma

Photo: cover art of book on yoga and trauma
This book should be required reading for all yoga teachers.

I’ve been reading and thinking about a book that surprised me by its fresh perspective on yoga practice and yoga teaching. The book is Overcoming Trauma through Yoga: Reclaiming Your Body by David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper, PhD (Boston: North Atlantic Books, 2012). The book should be required reading for anyone who plans to teach yoga, even if they are not going to specialize in yoga therapy or deal specifically with populations that undergone high levels of trauma (war veterans, sexual abuse victims, battered wives, etc.). 

The credentials behind the book are impressive as well. It has two forwards, one by Peter A. Levine, PhD, author of  Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma and a leading advocate for a somatic approach to healing trauma, and a second one by Stephen Cope, the head of the Kripalu Institute for Extraordinary Living and an author of yoga-inspired books. The introduction is by Bessel A. van der Kolk, MD, the founder and medical director of the Trauma Center  and one of the intellectual thinkers behind this approach to treating trauma through yoga. The lasting physical and psychological consequences of trauma is a growing field of investigation, theory and application. Certainly, the mangled bodies of veterans from two decades of American wars abroad and related stress have forced greater attention on this issue.  But trauma is also present in child and sexual abuse, which are both widely prevalent in our society. Trauma can also be the result of neglect, of lack of human affection at the most formative stages of life.

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Five reasons to think twice about enlisting in yoga teacher training

Assist in the transition into wheel at Thrive Yoga
Assist in the transition into wheel at Thrive Yoga

Recently I checked the class schedule at Thrive Yoga and realized that the original cast of teachers, except for Susan Bowen, the founder and owner, is no longer teaching there. Some current teachers were students on day one (along with me). That gave me pause.

I don’t know the reasons for the turnover. I know several have returned to their “real-life” professions or decided not to give up their free time to teach yoga. In addition, Susan has decided to use instructors that have gone through the Thrive Yoga teacher training program. Rockville is a suburban enclave with a handful of yoga studios spread out across the landscape while Washington, DC, or even Bethesda have more density in students and studios. Students also seem to churn through Thrive, with a few becoming the core constituency of the studio. Since I have not surveyed other studios, I don’t know if this flux of teachers and students is just how yoga works in the States.

But this realization made me examine the strange contraption called yoga teacher training (YTT), which seems to have become the main vehicle for propagating yoga across the American landscape. Just flip through Yoga Journal‘s print advertising or the local listing for teacher training, and you will see a mind-boggling array of options. What are we supposed to make of this proliferation?

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Many are called, few are chosen

Every major yoga center in the DC area has at least a 200-hour teacher training program, and some even go up to 500 hours.

The Washington Post D.C. yoga lovers train to become teachers:

Even considering the growth of yoga across the country, few places are as consumed with yoga as the Washington region. The North American Studio Alliance, a trade group of sorts that is better known as NAMASTA, estimates that the number of yoga professionals has grown by more than 200 percent here in the past five years.

Photo: two yoginis get deeper into a pose
At Desiree Rumbaugh's workshop at Thrive Yoga in March -- Marylou McNamara (pushing on the legs of the other yogini) is one of my favorite teachers

Granted, not all the people who’ve taken training want to become yoga teachers. Instead, they use the courses as a kind of yoga immersion to dig deeper into the discipline and understand the cultural and spiritual framework, as well as the physical implications of yoga poses. Others are thinking of just teaching in the evenings or weekends as extra cash or for the sense of fulfillment.

A local yoga studio owner told me once that there are many yoga instructors in the DC job market, but few good ones, those who can be more than drill sergeants, who can set the right tone in class and sustain it for 60-90 minutes. Others get frustrated that their students can’t handle the poses (the false goal of perfect alignment) and the pace and just alienate the clients. At most studios, you have a core of teachers plus a constantly rotating cast of “try-outs.”

I’ve seen how much effort my own daughter puts into her yoga classes, and the pay is not that good when you consider travel, prep time and insurance costs. The best time slots for classes are given to the veteran teachers who have earned a following and can put mats in the studio. But there are new options opening up, such as teaching in corporate offices, in schools, in senior centers, in public health programs, so I may be underestimating the demand for freshly graduated yoga instructors.

At different times, I’ve thought about taking teacher training, but it requires a major commitment of time, energy and money. Right now I am just commited to my 40-day challenge to get me back into the flow. The City Paper comments on the fluffiness of the Post story.


After I posted this note, I read Carol Horton’s blog entry entitled In Praise of the Local Yoga Teacher. She makes a lot of relevant points about yoga teaching in America and closed by paying homage to the no-big-name teachers who lead extraordinary classes in run-of-the-mill studios:  “Who really want to share the best of what they’ve experienced through their own asana practice with others. Who know that they don’t understand what this gift means, but know that they care about sharing it. Thank you.”

First quarter 2011 yoga events

Some big names are coming to the DC area in the first three months of 2011. For more details (schedule, costs, requirements), go to the website of the hosting yoga studio. I don’t mean to downplay other workshops and events that are taking place during the first quarter, but when high-profile instructors pass through the DC area, it’s worthwhile to spotlight them. You will notice that March 10-14 is shaping up to be week-long overdose of quality yoga. I will update this list as more information becomes available.


  • StudioDC Yoga Center: The Pursuit of Happy Hips: Theory and Vinyasa (3 hours) and Superflow Surf Yoga : A transformative + unique movement practice (2 Hours) with Eoin Finn,  Saturday, January 22



Although I was not planning to mention events beyond March, I wanted to highlight two events: StudioDC Yoga Center – Forrest Yoga Master Classes with Ana Forest, May 18-19 and Willow Street Yoga – Yoga of Fulfillment: Yoga & the Path of Destiny with Rod Stryker, April 9-13, which is an yoga immersion course.

Ol’ School comes to Thrive Yoga

Photo: Alan Finger gives a lecture on ISHTA Yoga
Alan Finger explains key concepts in ISHTA Yoga

Susan Bowen has announced the start-up of teacher training at Thrive Yoga. ISHTA Yoga founder and pioneer, Alan Finger, will be leading the four-month process. Alan knows a lot because he was born into a yoga-inspired family, knew original thinkers and grappled with translating these concepts into the U.S. culture as a business and as a philosophy. He co-founded yoga studios, like the Yoga Works studio in LA and the Yoga Zone studios in NYC, which later became the Be Studios.

The training will start in late March, mostly on weekends, and last until June. At 2:00 on January 20 at Thrive Yoga, Alan and Susan will present an overview of the program. Alan is actually based on New York City so he will be commuting a lot next year. I might add that you can take the course without wanting to become a teacher; it’s an intensive gateway into a deeper understanding of yoga.

ISHTA is an acronym for the Integrated Science of Hatha, Tantra and Ayurveda, and also a Sanskrit word meaning that which resonates with an individual’s spirit, according to Alan’s website. With Katrina Repka, he wrote Chakra Yoga: Balancing Energy for Physical, Spiritual, and Mental Well-being (Shambhala, 2005), which synthesizes his long evolution as a practitioner, teacher and thinker. There are also a bunch of Yoga Zone videos available that feature Alan.

Who says Sanskrit is a dead language?

Sanskrit is a language that was not taught in my high school. Its vocabulary has not slipped into the street chat that is the beachhead for any new lexicon, although the increasing popularity of yoga may change that in the future. But in the meantime, anyone wanting to know how pronounce their favorite pose can turn to the Online Sanskrit Pronunciation Guide. This service is provided by Tilak Pyle, and I see my daughter Stephanie using it all the time for her teacher training studies at Flow Yoga. This is not a tutorial for learning Sanskrit, but is does take some of the mystery out of the nomenclature.

Teacher training

My daughter, Stephanie, has signed up for teacher training at Flow Yoga this fall. She starts classes in September, but is already reading the assigned literature. She is really excited about the opportunity to dive deep into yoga. It will represent a big investment, $2,700. It will be 200 hours of hard work over six months. It takes a lot of courage and discipline to head in this direction. Just think, in December 2004, I was dragging her to her first yoga classes.

Her full-time job is with the Teamsters, in their organizing department, but it’s hard to tell at this stage whether it’s a long-term career. She has found a real home for her practice at Flow Yoga. Over the past six months, she has been on a “work for classes” arrangement with Debra, the owner, helping at the front desk and doing other tasks. She says that she really enjoys working with the staff, teachers and customers drawn to Flow.

She recently had mononucleosis and has yet to regain all her strength. She is a beginner who has not mastered all the poses so she will have to grow in a lot of different directions at the same time. She would probably admit that yoga has played a big part in getting her to eat healthier and stronger. Once she finishes, she’d like to start teaching on a part-time basis. She became a vegetarian awhile ago.