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Yoga teacher training and qualification
With the number of yoga teachers (and students) increasing rapidly, the issue of teachers qualification is more than ever a hot issue. In this article we'll look at what sort of training is involved to produce qualified yoga teachers.
Iyengar yoga teachers
The Authority in Iyengar yoga is BKS Iyengar himself, but of course, because of the number of practitioners of this style of yoga, not all Iyengar teachers have trained with him (although most senior teachers have).
However, the Iyengar yoga associations have been around in many countries for a long time, and have set up, under the guidance of Mr Iyengar, good teacher training courses as well as detailed guidelines and syllabi for training and certifying teachers. For example, in the UK, would-be Iyengar teachers have first to study yoga with an Iyengar teacher for a minimum of 3 years before they can enroll for a 2 year teacher training course preparing them to the Introductory teaching certificate. Before they get this certificate, they will also be assessed twice on their asana practice and on their teaching skills. A further 3 years of studies (and 3 more assessments) are necessary to get to the next level, the Junior Intermediate certificate, and another 5 more years to get to the Senior intermediate. The Advanced certificates are only delivered in Pune, and very few people get that far.
Iyengar teacher trainers have to hold at least a Junior intermediate certificate for two years, and have to be approved as teacher trainers by their peers.
So, while not all certified Iyengar teachers have studied with BKS Iyengar, they all have been trained to specific standards set by him, and have all been assessed by very experienced teachers on their teaching and practice. This high level of teacher training is largely responsible for the success of Iyengar yoga in the West.
This being said, not everyone who claims to teach Iyengar yoga is a certified Iyengar teacher, and this should be checked out! Certified Iyengar teachers hold a teacher diploma from the Ramamani Iyengar Institute in Pune (although they might never have been there), and should be able to produce it on request.
Ashtanga vinyasa yoga teachers
The authority on Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is Sri K Pattabhi Jois in Mysore. Unlike the situation with Iyengar yoga, there is no Ashtanga counterpart to the numerous Iyengar associations around the world. The only official qualification is provided by Shri K Pattabhi Jois himself and is a certificate to teach. To get this certificate, one is required to study with Shri K Pattabhi Jois directly for a number of years and to complete the Primary, Intermediate and Advanced Series. As anyone who has seen the advanced series can imagine, this is a very high standard, and thus there are few such Certified Teachers in the world. In addition, a number of direct students of Pattahabi Jois have been given his blessing to share the Primary Series with others and are known as "authorised" teachers. Both the certified and the authorised teachers are obliged to teach Ashtanga yoga in the traditional method, which consists of daily "self-practice" classes as taught at the Astanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore. A complete uptodate list of certified and "authorised" teachers can be found on the "official" Ashtanga site.
As not all aspiring teachers are able to study in Mysore (for several visits, a minimum of 3 months at a time), an alternative is to study with a certified Ashtanga teacher, either through regular classes (if one is lucky enough to live near such a teacher) or through regularly attending workshops. In fact, a number of certified teachers are running teacher training (although, because the official line is that only Patthabi Jois can authorised someone to teach his system, they are not usually called "teacher training" and do not lead to any formal qualification). However, all certified teachers are very experienced practitioners, who have studied extensively with Pattabhi Jois, and have in depth knowledge of the Ashtanga system which guarrantees that they are providing quality tuition in the Traditional Method of ashtanga. Because of the popularity of Ashtanga, a number of non certified teachers have also started to provided ashtanga teacher training. The credentials of these teachers should obviously be checked thoroughly. Some of these courses now lead to a Alliance Certificate.
Because it is so difficult to attain a formal qualification, many people disregard the system by which one would become certified and simply set themselves up as an "Ashtanga teacher", and run "Ashtanga classes" without a qualification, and sometimes without proper understanding of the correct method. Thus, more than with any other system of yoga, it is important before enrolling in an Ashtanga class to check the teacher's credentials.
It should be noted that many 'Ashtanga classes' do not follow the Traditional Mysore Method. This indeed is not be an issue for new students, but they should be aware that they may be attending a class that does not meet with the standards set by Shri K Pattabhi Jois and his Certified Students.
Other teacher training organisations
There are too many yoga organisations involved in training teachers to list them all here. The best known in the British isles are Viniyoga Britain, the British Wheel of yoga, the Yoga Therapy and Training Centre in Northern Ireland, the Irish Yoga Association and the European Union of Yoga. Viniyoga Britain teachers have to attend a two years foundation course, before enrolling for a four year teacher training course. The British Wheel of yoga and the European Union of Yoga are "umbrella groups" who approve teacher training courses that meet their standards. Generally, these standards are a minimum requirement of three years training and a requirement that one should have practised yoga for some time before enrolling for a teacher training course. The Irish Yoga Association is now affiliated to the European Union of Yoga and runs a four years teacher training course to their standards.
The Yoga Alliance, an American association of yoga teachers established in 1998, maintains a Yoga Teachers' Registry. Yoga Alliance also registers yoga schools whose teacher training programs (200 hours and 500 hours training courses) meet their standards. These standards are fairy lax (some of the 200 hours training course are less than a month long), but unfortunately are increasingly becoming the norm in yoga teacher training as would be yoga teachers want to get certified as quickly as possible.
For the record, the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta centres run a number of intensive residential four weeks "teacher training" courses in various parts of the world. These courses involve a lot of chanting, karma yoga and lectures on yoga philosophy. The asana part of the course is very basic, only covering 12 asanas and one type of sun salutation. Successful participants get a diploma and often describe themselves as hatha yoga teachers.
Kind thanks to John Scott and Patricia Booth for their contributions to this article