Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Know Before You Go.

You are probably thinking of starting yoga soon…as in as soon as you can.

It could be your New Year’s resolution, or your family telling you that you need to unwind, or your doctor wisely suggesting that yoga’s going to be good for you. I agree. Yoga can be good for you and yours. Teaching yoga for over a decade has been a great opportunity to observe people in action. I can see that those that enjoy their practice the most find a deep intrinsic value in it, not just a work out.

Enjoying your practice, usually, is a combination between the environment, the teacher and your emotional connection with the practice.  How at home you feel at a place and how much you resonate with a teacher will determine how deep you go into the practice.  This will reinforce your emotional connection to your practice and with that in place your commitment will solidify.

What to look for in a place is a matter of taste. Generally, you want to feel comfortable with the environment and the folks you will be sharing the space with.

Your emotional connection to the practice is something that you alone can determine. So, when you think of yoga do you think “healthy”, “happy”, “free”, “peaceful”? What do you think? Usually what you are looking for is an emotional state of some sort. If you just think of yoga as one more thing to do today, your enthusiasm for it will be over before you know it.

Here are ideas on what to watch for in a teacher.
1) Your teacher should understand you. If the teacher forgets to ask your name and about injuries, that’s not a teacher who’s there for you. If after asking you what your injuries and challenges are, that same teacher proceeds to offer you postures that you cannot do with those injuries, than that teacher did not listen to you. Most teachers will ask about injuries, automatically, but do not know how to translate this information into meaningful and safe experience for you. Find a teacher who can.

2) You go to a class and the teacher is doing his/her own practice. That’s the teacher that’s never looking at you, is not paying attention to the class and not adopting the practice to fit the practitioner.  Find a different teacher or offering options.

3) The teacher talks about themselves a lot, or makes everything about them, or insists on you trying what they tell you even when you feel like they are asking too much of you and you are hurting. Find a different teacher.

4) The teacher walks around, never demos a pose (and even drinks her/his coffee) while instructing and generally looks like she/her just stopped by and is not invested in your process. This just happened to me in a yoga class I took in LA. The teacher was walking around in her scarf and a mug of hot tea (or eggnog??)… Find a different teacher.

5) The teacher is constantly experimenting with new postures that may be fun but you are not ready for or he/she is not ready for and unable to explain properly. Along the same lines, the teacher stops in the middle of the class to ask “What do you want to do next?” This may sound like an egalitarian practice designed to empower you, but if you think you can do it yourself, why go to a yoga class? On the other hand, it is a common practice for teachers who have no plan, don’t know what to do and are trying to buy time. Find a new teacher.

Teachers are trained differently and teach differently, so finding your pace, level of challenge and style of practice makes a big difference. Teachers come with different credentials. Here’s what they mean:
RYT = Registered Yoga Teacher. The number following that tells you how many hours of training the teacher has (RYT 200 or RYT 500). E-RYT = Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (E-RYT200, E-RYT500).  E-RYT 500 would be the highest designation a teacher can earn.

You should be hoping that the person teaching you would have at least 200 or even 500 hours of training because even though 200 hours is enough to get a certification, it’s a ridiculously low amount of learning to truly prepare one to teach. The only way one can be a better teacher is by studying more, practicing more and teaching more.

Only a small percentage of teachers have the RYT designation. While this in itself does not mean that a teacher is worthless, it means that the teacher has consciously chosen not to belong to the Yoga Alliance and maintain their certification. In order for a teacher to maintain their certification with the YA, they have to fulfill a certain amount of continuing education hours every year, pay their dues and voluntarily agree to abide by the ethical codes and principles upheld by this professional organization.

Thus, if someone is an RYT, this tells you that the Yoga Alliance is verifying the training this teacher has.  RYT is a trademark and no teacher should use it unless they are a part of the professional organization. Others can say “received 200 hours of training” or something of the sort, but there is no way to really verify that.

On the flip side, an RYT designation does not automatically mean that a teacher is any better than someone else without it. It is very easy to acquire a 200 hour training and many yoga studios offer 200 hour trainings as a means to increase their income. In the world of yoga schools we have schools who’s certifications mean more than other schools. Just like UCLA, CalPoly, Harvard, Stanford etc, rank differently, yoga training programs do to. That’s because the faculty teaching the teachers matters. Some schools have better faculty than others.

Experience and training amounts to a lot, but do remember that some people are natural teachers. Just because someone recently graduated from a program it does not automatically follow that this person is incompetent. Some people go through trainings after decades of serious practices and study. They usually make good teachers. Yes, unfortunately, most who chose to go for their 200 hour certification have very little practice or study prior to taking the training.

If you want to find out who is an RYT go to: and under Directory, Find a Registered Yoga Teachers and check out the most current information.  You can search by zip code and pull up everyone in the area, but don’t be surprised if you only find one or two people in your town even though there are more than a dozen teachers.

Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding. It’s better to test drive a few yoga teachers and see where you feel at home. Use your critical thinking skills. Don’t be afraid to “interview” your teachers to find out if they are consistent, knowledgeable and really care about you.

Good luck and happy yoga.  
Valentina Petrova (E-RYT500) is the owner of HMC Yoga & Wellness SPA in Morro Bay, since 2002. She’s an experienced yoga teacher, Reiki Master, Life & Spiritual Advisor. For group classes, workshop and individual session, visit the web at or call (805)909-1401.