10 Ways to Make Your Teaching Training Program Suck Less

Yoga Detour began as a 200HR program, so I know how hard it is to put together a training that doesn’t leave any gaps. But in a yoga world that continues to change, anyone who hopes to stay ahead better evolve along with it.

What do you think would happen if someone with a professional degree in education stepped into your yoga teacher training program today? Chances are they’d tell you what we’ve all needed to hear for a long time: it’s time to step it up.

In most studios, a teacher training program serves one purpose: profit.
It pays the bills. It keeps the studio in the black (or at least close to it). It’s the bread and butter no one’s willing to give up once they’ve had a taste.

But the shitty thing about bread and butter is that it’s the bare minimum. It’s basic and bland and appeals to the lowest common denominator.

So I’m calling bullshit. Our students deserve better than what we’ve been dishing out for too long. It’s time to level up our game, starting now.

1. Accept that your program isn’t for everyone.

It’s tempting to use all the typical taglines: “A yoga teacher training that’s for EVERYbody…whether you want to deepen your practice or take the first step toward your career as a yoga instructor, this program is for YOU.”

If that’s the message you’re putting out into the world, your people-pleasing tendencies are showing. You don’t really want to have a teacher training program for EVERYBODY, because deep down you know you’re not the teacher for everyone. But somewhere along the line we were led to believe that in order to be a “real” yoga teacher you had to appeal to everybody. 

Do you want to provide the best possible teacher training experience to people who are looking precisely for what it is that YOU have to offer? Or operate from the fear that your training might not fill unless you market to everybody who’s ever stepped on a yoga mat before? Better make the call, because you can’t do both.

Start with these questions:

  1. What’s the point of your training? Identify what makes it unique. This should be a reflection of you/your faculty and the expertise you want to share with others. Don’t be afraid to be specific – narrowing your target market will make your program MORE attractive to those you really want to work with.
  2. Who is this training for? Do you want to teach people who are excited to train with YOU (and your faculty) or is your program happy to take anyone looking for a shiny piece of paper with their name on it.
  3. Who is this training NOT for? Stand behind the fact that there are certain students who aren’t a fit for what you have to offer. And that’s ok. There’s only about a million other trainings out there that would be happy to have them.

When you’re clear about why you’re doing what you’re doing, and who you’re doing it for, it’s WAY easier to write about, talk about and FILL your program with people who can’t wait to sign up for what you’re throwin’ down.

2. Don’t try to do it all.

Teach what you’re exceptional at and hire people to teach the rest—people who are equally exceptional in their areas of expertise.

Build a faculty that reflects the goals of your program. Bring people in from outside the yoga community because even the most senior yoga teachers could stand to learn a thing or three from those who have dedicated their lives to the scientific pursuit of excellence in things like anatomy and physiology, neuroscience, biomechanics and pain science.

Similarly, if you’re going to position Sanskrit, chanting, and yoga philosophy as anchors in your program and you don’t have anyone of South Asian descent on your faculty, think again. It’s become far too easy and acceptable to whitewash these aspects of the practice with westernized (bastardized?) instruction. Do better – hire someone who has direct experience with the culture and traditions that gave rise to yoga as we know it today.

Once you’ve answered those three questions from before, try this:

  1. List everything you want to include in your program – and again, DON’T TRY TO INCLUDE IT ALL. You don’t need to throw everything you’ve ever learned into one program and honestly, your students will be better off if you just focus on the stuff you (and your team) are best at teaching. 
  2. Go through that list and figure out what people will want to learn from YOU specifically. Cross-reference that with what you love teaching the most. Those topics are your sweet spot. Everything else can be delegated.
  3. Look at what’s left on your list and seek out the best of the best to teach those topics. Aim high and think outside the box (ie. can faculty members Skype in or present their sessions online, pre-recorded?). The worst that could happen is you ask someone you really admire to teach in your program and they say “no”. But chances are you’ll land more “yes” responses than you expect.

3. Give Science a Seat at the Head Table

Sending new teachers out into the world who have learned more about chakras and bandhas than about the nervous system does a huge disservice to their future students.

These teachers will be perpetually at a loss for how to really help people.

If you’re training instructors to work with bodies in motion, they should be able to answer each of the following questions confidently and correctly by the time you’re done with them:

  • What’s the difference between the central nervous system and the autonomic nervous system – and why is knowing that important when it comes to supporting your students?
  • Describe the relationship between a student’s flexibility and their nervous system.
  • What does it mean to say that something is “tight for a reason”?
  • What happens neurologically when we stretch our students beyond where they can stretch themselves?
  • How can what we support someone’s parasympathetic response in class?
  • Do you know what a dysregulated nervous system might look like in savasana?

4. Acknowledge that there’s more to breathing than pranayama.

While pranayama sounds sexy and powerful, starting there skips a bunch of steps we should be tackling first.

It blows my mind how many teacher training programs claim to teach “breath-work” even though their graduates can’t answer simple questions like, “How does the diaphragm work?”.

Would those who’ve attended your previous trainings know the difference between breathing through the nose vs. the mouth when it comes to basic chemistry and functionality? Have you taught them that deep breathing is always beneficial? (If so, we need to talk.) Could they explain the connection between breath and the nervous system in a way that even a 5-year old could understand?

Why not expose students to Buteyko breathing, or have them do a research paper that compares the Buteyko approach to Wim Hof’s?

If and when you get around to different forms of pranayama, are you addressing what’s actually going on in the body when we restrict the breath, or breathe rapidly? Will your students understand why certain breathing patterns could be problematic during pregnancy or for people with asthma?

So much of the practice revolves around breath and yet the majority of teachers out there are misinformed and confused when it comes to respiratory science. If your program is going to produce effective movement educators, you’ll have to do better than those who came before you.

5. You don’t need to teach them the names of every muscle.

What matters more: knowing where the semitendinosus is or understanding what the hamstrings do and how to get to them to do that?

There’s nothing wrong with having students learn the names, origin and insertion of different muscles but what if they learned that at home, or in study groups instead? Quiz them on it online. 

Furthermore, let’s stop using class time to draw fascial lines on each other’s bodies. 

To really understand what’s going on under the surface: 

  1. Encourage students to get familiar with what movement looks like under the skin using apps like Visible Body, Complete Anatomy or Muscle and Motion.
  2. Share cadavre lab videos from genius researchers like Gil Hedley to see what institium actually looks like, or what the lungs do each time we take a breath. 
  3. Use experiential learning during in-class time. No one forgets where their hamstrings are after they spend a day learning all the ways to make them cramp up.
  4. Have students observe each other doing shoulder circles or hip circles and observe how every body moves differently. Do it in groups of three so that two observers can compare notes on what they see happening in the third person’s shoulder or hip (or spine or neck or whatever else you notice). They’ll learn pretty quickly that sometimes a thorough assessment takes more than one set of eyes.

Prioritize the skills of assessment and observation over rote memorization. Ensure that your teachers in training understand not only what movement looks like, but also how movement is intentionally created in the body. It’ll do more for their cueing, sequences and overall class structure than any anatomy textbook ever could.

It’s a lot to take in.
Grab the cheatsheet.

6. Make time for focus without calling it meditation.

Most of us are losing touch with what it means to pay attention. We’re living in an overstimulated world. Our attention span is minuscule. Paying attention descends into boredom real quick. And since the majority of us don’t know how to be bored, we move on to the next shiny object and forget whatever it was we were supposed to be paying attention to in the first place.

In the same way that pranayama skips over the important stuff related to breathing, meditation skips over the important stuff related to focus. How can we create opportunities to pay attention…not just to our bodies and our breath, but to what’s being asked of us in the present moment?

Task-based movement – like balancing the end of a stick on the palm of your hand or bouncing a tennis ball in time with a metronome – creates unconventional opportunities for focus and nervous system regulation. Focus-based practices are often more accessible and less intimidating than sitting on the floor, counting inhales and exhales. They provide opportunities for inquiry and observation and while they may not look like seated meditation, they’re definitely a distant (and attractive) cousin.

7. Acknowledge the elephant in the room [who wants to make money].

Sure, not everyone in a teacher training intends to find a full-time gig after graduation. But imagine what a difference it would make for those of us who DO expect to make a living in the yoga community if we knew a thing or two about running a small business?   

When you decide to become a yoga teacher, you’re deciding to become an entrepreneur. What does it look like to start a business? How do you accept payment and remit taxes (and how is that different from paying income tax?)? How do you expense things? Does it require a different bank account?

What about marketing? Successful yoga teachers—the ones whose classes are busy, who can fill workshops and sell-out retreats, and even start their own teacher training programs—are successful brands. They’ve figured out their message and aren’t afraid to talk about it (a lot). They understand how to leverage their website and see social media as a tool for engagement rather than an obligation.

If you don’t think that’s relevant to teacher training, you’re wrong. Because without students to teach, your trainees aren’t going to do much with the training you’ve delivered. If they’re barely making ends meet, chances are they’ll move on and get a different job. You want them to be successful because their success is a reflection of your program. Their growth is your growth – don’t pretend otherwise.

You know that teaching your students how to be great yoga teachers is not enough to help them rise to the top in a crowded market. You can teach them how to be the best yoga teacher in the whole damn world, but if you don’t teach them how to get students into a class they’re going to burn out quickly.

I know, you’re “not in this business to make money” so, in turn, you don’t teach your students about making money. But let’s be honest…you absolutely ARE in this business to make money. At least, that’s one of the reasons. And your ability to make money doing what you do best is why you’re still in this business. Do your students a favor and give them this same chance. 

8. Have the difficult conversations.

Addressing inclusivity and intersectionality isn’t optional. If Yoga Journal can’t get away with racism, you can’t either. 

  • Take a good hard look at your faculty and studio staff. How many different races and nationalities are represented? 
  • How many different body types are reflected? 
  • Is everyone roughly the same age, and able-bodied, or is a diverse cross-section of the community made to feel welcome? 

Are you willing to talk about the mistakes you’ve made in the past, the ways in which you unknowingly participated in cultural appropriation? Is there time dedicated in your curriculum to South Asian faculty members who will present on the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation, and what that looks like in a yoga space? Will your students know where the line is and be willing to call others out when they cross it?

This part isn’t easy. But it’s necessary. It’ll only bolster your integrity and the integrity of those you train.

9. Help them find their voice (and make sure it doesn’t sound like yours).

Provide opportunities for people to talk about who they are, to take up space with their stories and experiences so that when they step onto a mat to teach, they aren’t afraid of their own voice.

Encourage them to talk from a place of expertise about mundane things like how to make a sandwich or change a flat tire. Give them opportunities to practice explaining what already feels like second nature so that, when they’re tasked with cueing movement, it might not feel so monumental or intimidating.

Once you get them teaching postures, give everyone the chance to instruct SEVERAL times so they can make lots of mistakes and go from “terrible” on their first try to “way less terrible – maybe even good” on their second, third and fourth attempts. In an ideal situation, your trainees walk out feeling ready to teach their first class—maybe even excited about it.

When we support and encourage each other to show up as humans first, teachers second, it creates space for imperfection and realness. Let’s stop producing yoga robots and instead nurture the development of truly effective teachers – those who aren’t afraid to show the cracks in their armour.

10. Hold space for ritual and community.

Ritual creates a container for your community—something that opens the doors of your time together and seals them shut again at the end. A way of building the walls around your experience that transcend brick and mortar. What will you do on Day 1 to signify the start of something new? How will you bring things to a close when it’s all said and done, acknowledging the end of one thing but the start of something else?

Rituals don’t have to be complicated to be impactful. Serving tea. Sharing a meal. Introducing dance, or tarot, or open discussion—anything that creates a sense of belonging. These rituals keep us connected to each other while in pursuit of our own education, aware of how we’re part of something bigger than the things we know and the poses we teach. 

Feeling Overwhelmed? Grab the Cheatsheet.

We’ve condensed this article into a downloadable, one-page PDF checklist of the 10 Ways to Make Your Teacher Training Suck Less. Save it to your phone. Hang it on your wall. Refer back to it anytime you need a refresher on how to raise the stakes in yoga and movement education.

Comments

  1. Ellhope

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  2. Jacinta

    Since when did Yoga Teacher Training become Movement Education?
    I was so excited to read your title and intro but am a little confused about where your model originates? Sounds like PT, sports science and business touted as high quality teacher training.
    Think you’re missing the point?
    I think / hope the right intention is there…

    1. Cecily Milne Post author

      Hey Jacinta,
      Sounds a little like you want to make this about what “counts” as yoga. Do yoga teachers not require movement education? Would PT and sports science have nothing contribute to a well-rounded perspective on asana practice? Would those who train to become yoga teachers not benefit from learning more about business and markting? What point exactly do you think is being missed?

  3. Catherine

    I’m inspired by this list! I’m looking for a progressive yoga teacher training program that integrates science. I really want to take yours! I hope to one day learn from you!

    1. Cecily Milne Post author

      We’d love to have you in Detour Method Online Catherine – it’s not a teacher training program but it’s a progressive like nothing else out there!

  4. Tamara Dolloff

    This is a great list!!! So thankful to have teachers like you. Love your teaching!❤️

  5. Tamara Dolloff

    This is so awesome!!! So thankful to have teachers like you. Love your teaching!❤️

  6. Gayle Lawrence

    Wonderful advice and so glad to hear it early on in my career. I am just getting my 200/300 hr training and I am 64, so definitely appreciate #8. Have bookmarked and will return to this often! Thanks!

    1. Cecily Milne Post author

      I’m glad it resonates Gayle. Feel free to get in touch if you return to it with more questions down the road!

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