27 Dec Continuous professional development as a yoga teacher & the need to keep learning your craft

On-going professional development is a must for all teachers, whatever the subject shared in education, and it is especially important in the teaching of yoga. Education methodology and ethical practices are constantly subject to research and revision, and yoga – although many thousands of years old, and with a rich tradition of teachings – is an ever-evolving art and science with cross-disciplinary connections.

Never before has there been so much new research information available to students and teachers as there is today to support and stimulate the personal experience and enquiry of each individual practitioner’s yoga journey. Integrating the latest findings in yoga and related research (such as in the fields of connective tissue, neuro-plasticity, dissection, posture, trauma and myofascial continuities, to name just a few) inevitably requires staying abreast of the research and it’s teaching.

Any teacher-training course is a first step on a long and fascinating path, which lasts a lifetime, just as each individual yoga student’s lifelong journey of discovery, discipline and development. To be most informed and effective as teachers it is our duty unto the students who invest their time and money to attend our classes, workshops or retreats, to keep relearning our craft. With a subject so vast and varied as yoga, and with millions of unique bodies and beings to share yoga with, it will take each of us a lifetime of on-going study to attain the knowledge and experience enabling us to offer appropriate teachings to each of these individuals, especially in the group class format. Moreover, yoga’s therapeutic applications, which most teachers eventually find to be the most rewarding experience for themselves and their students, can take many years of diligent study to obtain the skills for.

From our earliest classes taught we will be presented with numerous students requiring appropriate modifications and alternatives for an inclusive and effective experience in our classes, and this area alone requires regular ongoing study and practice. The common ailments and injuries which accompany students to your classes often require different and skillful responses from the teacher, and no initial teacher training course can cover all of these possibilities; only experience and on-going learning will enable authentic confidence and healing results.

Increasingly I recognise both the keen interest of the student in, and the benefit to their wellbeing through, yoga’s application in anatomically sound and informed teaching. While the late and great BKS Iyengar, and a few others, are known for their tremendous focus on anatomically informed teaching, not all approaches to asana in particular and yoga in general are infused with such critical information and guidance. Teachers who have not been duly educated in anatomy and physiology will quite possibly be less ‘safe’ and effective in the physical application of yoga’s teachings.

Yet on-going training, refinement and revision of foundational training is not only required in the anatomical field. On-going study of the psychology, physiology, philosophy and spirituality of yoga are equally necessary for safe, informed and effective teaching. As our personal practice, experience and understanding increase, we mature as human beings, as teachers and as therapeutically orientated practitioners.

Often we need to repeat trainings to embody and imbibe theory into practical understanding and application, rather than simply keep on adding new layers of information. Practical application is ultimately the key element of the craft of teaching yoga, and everybody needs support and guidance to this end. The ancient yogis insisted on the need for a teacher or ‘guru’ to guide one’s journey, and while this may well be appropriate for many, it is the education of our ‘inner teacher’ that is of most importance. This, as all above, requires a lifetime of study and experience if our journey is to be an authentic reflection of the subject we have chosen to teach.

Continuous professional development also keeps us in contact with other like-minded teachers and sources of information, can help us move out of the inevitable ‘ruts’ and ‘routines’ and keeps us aware of where our current understandings might be outdated and possibly no longer relevant. We can gain new perspectives, a fresh lens to ‘see’ our students and revitalised self-confidence, passion and purpose for the very process of teaching itself, let alone for the vast spectrum of teachings that collectively are the unity that is yoga.

I belief that Vyasa expressed all this in the teaching he inserted into his translation of the Yoga Sutra at III.6 (yogena yogo jnatavyo…. etc):

Only through yoga, yoga is known

Only through yoga, yoga progresses

One who is patient with yoga and

maintains continuous study and practice

Enjoys the fruits for a long time

Simon Low is the Principal of The Yoga Academy, co-founder & the original director of yoga at Triyoga in London

by Simon Low