Physical Therapist Chris Lieb recently argued in an article for Yoga U Online that there’s an insurgence of one particularly faulty mindset in physical training:
“A mindset has emerged over the years where specific muscles are viewed as the culprits for all physical deconditioning or dysfunction. Want a six-pack? Work those abs. Having difficulty walking? You must need gluteus medius strengthening. Back pain? Activate those glutes. Shoulder pain? Must be a weak rotator cuff.
I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. When it comes to movement impairments, it’s commonplace nowadays to point to a specific muscle as either the scapegoat or the savior. This isn’t to say that the muscles identified aren’t involved in the mechanism of injury or aesthetic discontent. What it is saying is that the entire extent of the problem often doesn’t lie just within those muscles.”
This muscle-by-muscle targeting that “is so last year” should be replaced by integrated training, in which the coordination of the whole body is considered in an effort even to strengthen or address a particular muscle group:
“On the other end of the spectrum is movement training, which utilizes a deconstruction of functional or athletic movement as a guide for assessment and programming. Here, the movement professional helps the client develop strategies to move as efficiently as possible by developing task-specific qualities like mobility, stability, strength, power, and endurance. This educational process is a combination of both art and science and incorporates all body systems together. Better movement can’t simply be prescribed; instead, it is an ongoing path that we all must travel. …
On this path, the movement professional is responsible for teaching, coaching, motivating, and supporting the client. This process must be highly specific based on each individual client’s movement needs – not their muscle deficiencies.
Progressions and regressions are chosen in order to put the client in a better position to control and kinesthetically understand the optimal movement technique. Training movements are selected based on their transfer to each client’s unique movement goals. Likewise, exercise volume and load are added to well-controlled and well-comprehended movement patterns, not to specific muscles. The entire approach will, of course, be guided by an understanding of the underlying science of movement. Having a firm grasp on the anatomy, physiology, geometry, physics, and even the biochemistry of movement allows for the creation of highly individualized programming.” – Chris Lieb for Yoga U Online
You may recognize that yoga asana is, of course, whole-body movement training. With the consideration given to the breath and moving the body in many or all directions, most any type of asana class will have you covered in this regard. The structure is there in the shapes and sequencing we learn in yoga teacher training.
But are most yoga teachers also being trained with a depth of knowledge that lets them adapt what they’ve been taught to suit any student who enters their classroom?
In a recent conversation with Judith Hanson Lasater, Yoga U Online’s Eva Norlyk Smith asks are “the original standards for yoga teaching, i.e. the 200-hour basic yoga training, … sufficient to give teachers the knowledge and skills they need to deal with the kind of challenges that yoga teachers are facing today”?
“Judith Hanson Lasater: Yes, there are so many factors to be taken into account when teaching yoga. I think we need to look towards creating perhaps the equivalent of a Bachelor of Science degree in this training at some point in the future. Understanding anatomy and knowing that the thigh bone is called a femur is not enough, teachers increasingly need to understand how the body works: What is the normal range of motion of the hip joint? What are the normal movements of the shoulder joint? What would I see in someone who didn’t have that? What would those symptoms look like and what should I do in a case like that?
So there’s understanding the anatomical and kinesiological foundations. And then there’s a huge piece of the student-teacher relationship: How do I deal with a student who won’t limit themselves and throws themselves into everything? How do I deal with a student who doesn’t want to try anything new? How do I speak to a student in a way that both inspires and perhaps invites them to step a little bit out of their comfort zone, while doing it in such a way that they feel safe choosing that themselves? This is a really big distinction.” – Yoga U Online
As Lasater points out, 200 hours or even 500 hours of training can’t cover all the details and all the situations. Even with the standard shifting to BA in Yoga Teaching as she proposes (and which I support), we need to focus on training teachers principles instead of specifics. Yoga teachers should be able to extrapolate from principles they’ve fully grasped what to do with specific cases they’ve never seen before.
All teachers need to be practiced in deductive reasoning so they can put their training to use in the field and build a deeper database of knowledge. Of course, to support this kind of asana teacher, yoga teacher training needs to include building-block principles that include the structures of the human body, how they function in movement, and how to adapt asana to fit in line with healthy movement patterns that will support a strong, mobile body for decades.
This level of training would likely make many YTT certification programs more academically rigorous. And in so doing could also make the entry level training programs less attractive for students who are not yet sure they want to teach, but first just want to deepen their practice. Diminished returns in these 200-hour programs could certainly threaten the fiscal well being of many studios, but rather than take the muddy path of ineffectively teaching to two different purposes at once, we should forge new paths. Intensive courses of yoga study for going deeper in one’s practice, and true teacher preparation for pursuing a career in teaching yoga.
Studios can also set a higher standard by requiring teachers to have more than the initial course of training, so that the 200 hour level by default becomes a stepping stone to teaching yoga, rather than the certification standard that it is now.
Of course, many great teachers only have a 200-hour certificate, but it is hard to argue that anyone is fully prepared to teach a broad swath of students after only 200 hours of education. Rather most teachers have continued their education through reading, workshops, being curious, and realizing they don’t have sufficient information to answer all that their students throw at them!
And that’s the kicker: most asana teachers would love to help their students use their asana practice to retrain inefficient movement patterns, to adopt an easier stride, to glide through everyday movements with comfort and stability. We think they should all be able to teach integrated functional movement patterns that lead to inherent sthira and sukha.
What do you think: as yoga continues to grow in popularity, and more and more students become “certified to teach”, should we change our standards? Is a model that leaves so many teachers figuring out some of the most basic movement fundamentals along the way really the best we can do?
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