Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Trending now: Yoga

I must admit that when I receive an email from a potential student who says they've never done yoga before I'm a bit skeptical. Really? How did you manage that?

It seems yoga is everywhere these days. From iPhone apps to yoga pants as the latest must-have fashion attire for teens, yoga is almost unavoidable. Even the Huffington Post and the New York Times have special sections dedicated to all things yoga.

Now, if that weren't enough, I read recently that J.C. Penny's is going to begin offering yoga classes in some of their stores. Obviously, it's with the intent of luring in shoppers. Other yoga specific retailers, like Lululemon, have already made use of this idea. For Lululemon and its like it makes sense, but J.C. Penny's? I'm not so sure.

Yet, the presence of such classes and the fact that you can buy a yoga mat at the grocery store, shows that yoga has moved out the realm of counter-cultural hippie practice, to a high-end, celebrity-inspired craze, and now yoga for the masses.

As a person that tends to shun fads and pop-culture to the point of I won't do something because everyone else is, I wonder how long yoga can maintain this level of popularity before it fizzles out? Maybe when Walmart starts offering classes too we'll have our answer.

More importantly, what is the benefit of yoga as a fad? I suppose it gets people to try it who might not otherwise do so. When something is as popular as yoga it is much more accessible than when it is esoteric.

For those of you old enough, remember when the first cell phones came out? If you saw someone use one you assumed they were either very rich or very important. As one comedian joked, "Who are you going to call on that thing? The president?" Now everyone has a cell phone and it's no big deal. The same could be said of yoga. The mystique has been pealed back and we realize it's not so scary after all.

Still, it worries me a bit that yoga is so trendy because its quality can begin to be eroded by the rush to capitalize on its popularity. With so many yoga class options available it's necessary to use discernment to choose a class that is right for you.

Not all yoga is the same and not all yoga is good yoga. I've taken free classes that have taught me things that I've incorporated into my own teaching and paid lots of money for others that have made me cringe with disbelief. It takes a good deal of experience and knowledge to avoid potential injuries and frustrations that can come from practicing yoga improperly.

I'm not one of those yoga-purists who complains that the westernization of yoga has corrupted it. In fact, I think westernization of yoga has been good for it to a certain extent. As I said before, yoga is now much more accessible and available to the public than it was even when I first started 15 years ago. And this modernization has moved yoga away from some of the more overtly religious components of it and back to a more health and wellness focus that everyone can benefit from.

Another benefit of westernization is that there is a greater level of expertise among teachers now. When I first started teaching ten years ago, very little was required in the way of training. If you had even a small amount of training you were set. Now, most places require a minimum of 200 hours of training just to teach basic yoga classes and 500 hours for more advanced or specialized classes.

However, this training requirement has been shifted from total hours allowed from multiple schools and sources to 200 hours from just one school. This means less freedom for teachers to explore various training courses at different schools and instead commit their time (and money) to just one. I've noticed this also seems to mean fewer shorter courses for continuing education in favor of these longer complete courses.

Obviously there are pros and cons to both.

I myself am a piecemeal-teacher in that my trainings are from different schools and even from different two different styles. While the hours total up, under the new system they don't count. (Although, since I've been teaching this long I'm grandfathered in.)

As I've evolved as a teacher over these past ten years, my understanding of what it takes to teach yoga has changed. I feel I've benefited from taking trainings from many different teachers and studios rather than just one. It's given me a broader perspective of what yoga is and how it should be practiced. Besides, the training doesn't necessarily make the teacher, it just creates a foundation.

I can honestly say when I taught my first class, I didn't really know what I was doing. But over time, I gained wisdom that can only come from experience. No amount of training can really prepare you for your first class when your students look expectantly on you to guide them safely through their practice.Only putting that training into practice over and over will do that.

Just as it's important for teachers to be properly trained, it's important for students to choose their yoga wisely. When you find the class or classes that work best for you, you'll do more than just jump on the bandwagon, you'll buck the trend and stick with it.

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