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  • Writer's pictureSpira

How goal oriented, degree-achievement based learning limits curiosity and joy.

Hanging out for the love of learning – oh yeah, we also just completed 200-hours!

I remember back in my university years when I was a fresh immigrant to this country I was surprised by the tenacity and goal-driven nature of my comrades in school. My parents are professors, and I would often come home and talk about this feeling that I had, this feeling that I can only describe as living among zombies. Most students had blinders on like horses, limiting the vision to moving forward to the goal. I did not have a set goal, but I was jazzed to be learning, I still am. One of my favorite pastimes is listening to lectures through The Great Courses or auditing, attending lectures at the whatever university is around me. My joy and curiosity was shared by some students, but most young folks were so nervous about getting the right degree, getting the right job, that they forgot to enjoy this bliss that we call University with endless libraries and a wide variety of subjects. One of my friends was so driven to finish that she did not recognize that she hated the subject of her goal, thus went into a profession that she despised every day, had to go back to school to figure out what she likes…

I recognize the need for goal setting, but we also need mindful awareness, joy of learning, and visions outside of our scope. (mindful awareness exercises along with yoga can help with this, but I will save how to balance journey with goal setting for another blog.) For now let’s go back to degree oriented goal settings.

We need degrees, we do need somehow to make sure that when we apply for work, we know what we are doing. But the emotional rat-race, the expectation of becoming something limits human curiosity. When we are afraid to fall behind the race for degrees, the race for work, we cannot enjoy the process. This may be a price that we are willing to pay for a law degree or a medical degree, but it is entirely unnecessary and even harmful for yoga; a philosophy that is based on journey and self-study.

Traditionally yoga was handed down through teachers who spent many years with students. Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, Desikachar all spent many many years with Krishnamacharya before they became teachers through their own understanding of yoga. As yoga blossomed in the west so did the number of teachers and different interpretations of yoga. Even as recently as 15-10 years ago students including myself, would sample multiple trainings with various teachers out of curiosity. The idea was that yoga is a lifelong path, and yoga practitioners would learn for a long time before teaching and crystallizing a preferred practice. Yoga is a life philosophy, we all studied solely for the joy of learning. I am sensing a huge shift today. For example, I have students who expressed interested in my training, but they did not want to take it since, “already took a 200-hour training”. Yoga Alliance classifications changed how we look at trainings.

Yoga Alliance means well, I do believe that, and on the positive side, if you wish to work in a gym where they don’t know much about yoga, at least YA provided a platform of basic qualifications. They are also starting to offer more and more “perks” to members and who does not like perks. But their way of classification inadvertently has, I believe, harmed yoga a lot more than aided. Desikachar in the Heart of Yoga quotes “Because yoga is not fixed. Yoga is a creation. I know the way that you teach will be different from the way I teach, and the way I teach is different from the way my father taught….” I have taken many trainings that would nowadays all qualify under the 200-hour umbrella, though they were very different because the teachers were different. All trainings offer something new, something different. Spira’s 200-hour training with many books and melting of Eastern and Western philosophy over the course of nine months is drastically different from a two months long intensive and mostly physical training. We must call both 200-HR Teacher Training according to Yoga Alliance, but outside of this title, I don’t think we have much in common.

Our brain trips us up. There is a Buddhist saying that once you label a tree as an “Oak,” you will stop seeing its uniqueness, we will merely classify the tree under oak and stop looking. This is precisely what happened to Teacher Trainings. Before yoga alliance, we had no classifications so we would read about the teacher, the curriculum and we would decide if we were interested. Since each training was unique there was nothing stopping up from looking further into other trainings to see if they would offer something new and interesting.

We all know that Yoga Alliance 200, 300, 500-hour trainings are not created the same. Yes, they may go over some of the similar topics that’s how they got classified by yoga alliance. I think there are valuable lessons in all trainings: a 3 weeks intensive in Costa Rica, a one or two months intensive via weekends, or my training a 9 month extended course where you get to read books between meetings, all offer something new. They all have something amazingly unique about them, yes they are all 200-hour trainings, but just like in Costa Rica within 3 weeks you could not read 7 books and study mindful self-awareness in detail, I cannot teach you the emotional experience of an immersion program on a sunny beach. They each teach something unique, something that will enrich you differently as a teacher.

Then there is the economic reality. We have an overproduction of teachers with 200-hour certificate who think they are done. They got the certificate so they should teach now. We have at least 20 studios just in a Seattle area offering trainings. Some of the studios offer it more than once a year. Let’s assume the class size to be 15 on average. Even if I am calculating with very conservative numbers, we are still creating very least 300 new teachers per year! I am pretty sure that the actual numbers are much higher. Are there 300 new positions open every year? Jobs depend on the fundamental laws of the economy even if they are amazingjobs where you feel that you been transformed and can move mountains. I guarantee that supply and demand will still affect your chances. Not that we should not be excited, just know the reality of the situation.

Quality of teaching also suffered, I spent 2 years mentoring and who knows how many hours training before I started teaching. Desikachar spent 20-30 years with his father before he began to teach his own students. I hate to be so rude, but a trained monkey can remember a sequence and call it out, that is not teaching… 200-hours can’t make you magically into a teacher, especially not if you took a short intensive course on the beach. Yes, the emotional lessons of intense work and relaxation on the beach are important and good, but not enough to make anybody a teacher.

This brings me to my final questions;

  1. How can students look beyond the title and remain curious about learning even if there are no job opportunities?

  2. How can experienced teachers such as myself create new curriculums and remain on a yogic path in our current culture that forces us more and more to play by guidelines that fit the corporate world?

  3. In other words: Is it possible to turn yoga back to lifelong learning instead of certificate chasing? Can we foster curiosity and learning instead of achievement?

  4. Can we put yoga back into yoga?

I think we can. We have to put the emphasis back on the uniqueness of what each training has to offer, not on Yoga Alliance classifications. I started calling my “teacher training” “Self Enrichment – Teacher Training.” I decided to market it as self-enrichment because I think that is what yoga trainings are, that is what they used to be before “teacher trainings” came along. This not only sets different expectations for those who wish to teach (not limiting the mind to the end result of a certificate), this also opens doors to students who wish to deepen their practice but would never want to teach.

Yoga Alliance category based, achievement-based structure will not only limit creativity and self-expression of yoga, it will kill the essence of what yoga is about. Yoga is a lifelong path of physical, mental, and emotional learning with many teachers and lessons along the way. A certificate should never be the goal so why do we keep emphasizing it???

I invite you to learn more, to ask more questions, to practice more, to read more. Spira’s trainings are lovely way to enhance your life, deepen your understanding of yoga and philosophy. Yes, we have all the bells and whistles of a licensed institution. We offer Yoga Alliance 200 and 300-hour certificate, Yoga Alliance Continuing Education Credits, heck we are one of the few schools in Seattle that is licensed as Washington State Vocational School. But please don’t come to chase our certificates, come to learn – Let’s practice yoga! :- )

As far as how we could put the joy back to University learning so that professors are not hammered for A’s and expected to deliver a degree, but conversing about the joy of the particular subject and enhancing knowledge, the answer I believe is, yes you will be surprised; yoga and mindfulness meditation. We must cultivate not just task oriented learning, but also inner wisdom and awareness to increase our capacity to make better choices. We would not only have a society that is better educated, with more well-rounded education, but we would also have a society with more joy.

Read a review from a previous 200-hour student who took teacher training because of the joy of learning. She entered teacher training knowing that she does not want to teach, but she grateful for the things she leaned.

Since for now, I am stuck in a system of categories, I have to provide these classifications for our trainings. I cannot change the world, at least not by writing a single blog…

Thank you,

Dora – owner of Spira Power Yoga and teacher of 200-hour series…


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