- June 17, 2017
We are in an interesting time, when being a yoga teacher, personal trainer or freelance fitness coach is actually an option for full time employment. There are a few things that are really interesting to me about this. First off, pretty much anyone can become a yoga teacher or personal trainer, this is good and bad at the same time. Many of us (myself included) started off with some very basic training, which lead to further exploration and education. But before the further education happened, I had years of classes to teach, hundreds of students, a few private clients and definitely people with injuries and limitations to work with. I didn’t have the education I really needed to properly practice myself and serve my students, but I taught classes to get the experience I needed. I injured myself in the process, which if we are being really honest, is more common than people may think.
The thing is, yoga, going to the gym, pilates, and fitness all really work, when they are practiced well, and we can have a hugely positive impact on our students.
I was having a conversation with my mom a couple months ago and it dawned on me that as yoga, movement or fitness teachers we have the ability to reach hundreds and thousands of students. Like it or not, people actually listen to what teachers say, and the reality is they probably come to our classes more often than they do anything else. I said something to her along the lines of, isn’t it ironic that as teachers we see people so consistently, but we are required to have such little education.
Physiotherapists (right now) have to be in school for six years before they are allowed to work with clients, medical practitioners have even longer, osteopaths are on a similar journey, and even massage therapists are in programs that last between two and four years. These are people who are trained to work with bodies, and given the vast complexity of the human body, they receive years of education. Yoga teachers typically have to be enrolled in a teachers course for six to ten months, personal trainers can get it done in even less.
I’m not here to debate how the movement industry needs higher standards, rather, to point out one ironic fact. When people see a physiotherapist they typically go for a couple of months, depending on their injuries. When we see our doctors, its usually for a twenty minute sit down every year. On the flip side, people go to yoga, fitness, Zumba, pilates, and movement classes multiple times every week, meaning as teachers of these disciplines, we end up banking hours every week with our students. We have the least amount of education, with what could potentially be the highest frequency of interaction and participation. This is why when yoga or fitness classes work, they change people’s lives. This also can be worrisome because so many of us lack the fundamental knowledge we need to provide really solid instruction, especially for students who are working with pain, injury, trauma, stress, and everything else that comes up in our classes.
Our students listen to what we say, so the first thing we can do is be mindful of the advice we give, especially if we don’t have a really good reason for our answer. Giving advice is something that feels so natural as a human being, if a friend comes to me with a problem, my first instinct is to give them an idea that might help. Being careful and mindful with advice can mean a couple of things. On the one hand it can mean really just listening to what our students have to say, without feeling like we have to fix them. Allowing someone to have their experience without laying something over top of it can actually be helpful for both parties. On the other hand, referencing another practitioner is a great way to give advice that can be quite productive. I frequently recommend that my students go have a chat with our local physiotherapist, chiropractor, personal trainer or massage therapist. Having a network only strengthens the teachings we all have to offer, because even though we don’t have years of university education, we do have something valuable to share.
As teachers who want to continue the learning process it is essential to be well versed with other modalities and practitioners. Some of us have thousands of dollars in our education budgets, while other struggle to make ends-meat. Regardless of our financial status, if we have some time set aside there are many things we can do to improve on our knowledge.
There are so many fantastic books available that are full of information that we need as teachers who guide people through physical movement. And I don’t just mean read fifty books that say essentially the same thing. There is a difference between reading fifty yoga books, and ten yoga books, plus five on strength, two on stress, two on anatomy, two on massage, three on trauma, you probably get my point. For so many years I was an avid student, reading yoga book after yoga book, only later realizing I had been consuming a very similar opinion on movement over and over again, not really getting anywhere new. Reading outside of our close circles can be a good first step especially for a teacher on a limited budget. If you are a personal trainer, read a book on mindfulness, if you are a yoga teacher, pick up something on bodybuilding. There is always something good to learn.
Making friends with another type of practitioner is another great way to diversify the ways we teach. I have a friend and colleague who is a physiotherapist and we are consistently in communication about new research and teaching methods. We have a Facebook thread full of articles that we pass back and forth. She also comes to my classes, and we actually talk about how our approaches are similar and/or different. She sends me clients and I send her my students. As a young teacher I was always nervous when other body-professionals would show up to my classes, but what I understand now is if I’m teaching legit content that I know is safe and effective, other practitioners will see that and embrace my approach. The problem is, for so many years I taught content that was not bio-mechanically high quality, and I think this is where many people linger for years. Critical thinking and really asking yourself why you teach and say the things you do might answer some of these hard questions.
There are so many other ways in which we can enhance our own skills as teachers and movement professionals. There are really good courses that are available in both yoga and fitness, sometimes the hardest part is sifting through all of them and isolating the quality from the quantity. Podcasts are another way to always be brushing up on the latest and greatest research. My current favourite podcast is Waking Up with Sam Harris, his guests are high level and I typically trust his references. These days even google searching is a simple and easy way to look up research. So when a students comes in with an injury you have never heard before, go home and google the crap out of it, find out the basics of the condition rather than pretending you never heard them tell you. Of course we aren’t trained to give people advice on their medical conditions, but if they affect the way movement happens, its really good to know the basics. Over time these small encounters really add up, and before you know it you have met ten people with the same issue, who have had success with movement.
If we are dedicating our lives to helping people move and feel better I think we have to take responsibility for our own learning and growth. At this time, no governing body is going to tell us what we need to know, and its on us to stay informed. We don’t need to be perfectionists to be constantly learning, but in my opinion we do need to remember that we are influencing the people we teach, and if we want to set them up for success, we should set ourselves up as well.