My first yoga teacher is an E-RYT 200. She has been teaching for over a decade and is celebrated within her home community and in the international communities in which she teaches. She has trained hundreds of students and teachers. And she is someone whom I look to consistently for wisdom.
Therefore, I’m often taken aback when I hear people ask (and I’ve heard it asked more than once), “Why doesn’t she do her 500 hour?”
I don’t blame anyone for asking this question. You may have asked it yourself after reading that first paragraph. “If she’s so wonderful and knowledgable, why hasn’t she done her 500 hour?” A question like this is nothing more than a byproduct of our current educational and professional cultures, especially in the world of yoga.
The truth is that my teacher studies relentlessly and has advanced her education unfailingly during her time as a yoga educator. She takes workshops with visiting teachers and studies continuously with her teacher, Rod Stryker, from whom she has learned for years. She has devoted hundreds of hours to a range of topics from tantric philosophy to nutrition to asana sequencing, and the list goes on.
Her studies support a teaching style that is truly inspirational. I once knew a student who hesitated to enroll in her teacher training because she lacked the “500 hour” certification…and to this student’s surprise, she was absolutely transformed by the education she received. Despite the fact that she is well beyond the additional 300 hours that would qualify her for “advanced” certification, her competency is still questioned by some who place value on a “certificate.”
It is interesting to note that many of our living yoga legends are judged for the quality of their offerings rather than any hard and fast certifications. Teachers like Maty Ezraty, or the Jivamukti duo, Sharon Gannon and David Life, built their reputations and followings around their teaching qualities and diligent, long-term studies, and certainly their competency isn’t under scrutiny.
But perhaps it isn’t competency that’s really in question. The real issue at hand may be that yoga finds itself creating systems of education and professionalism that put greater value on the completion of certifications and personal marketability than mastery of knowledge and dedication to study.
These are systems in which people hunger for specific quantities of education, rather than a quality of knowledge that serves the highest intentions of the teacher and his/her students.
Now, I’m not completely down on numbers. When I ask a teacher about their education, I am certainly interested in how much time they have spent studying. What’s more interesting to me, however, is what they have studied, how they have studied, and with whom.
As a vast discipline covering a variety of topics, yoga has traditionally been taught over a lengthy period of time. Teachers have an initial period of study, go out and take their knowledge into the field, and then return to their teacher with questions. It is a constant cycle. In this way, the body of knowledge grows according to the teacher’s experience and personal interests in the field, as does the teacher’s authentic voice.
What’s more, the educational process is beginning to stop, or at least slow drastically, after the completion of the hourly trainings. We are being led to believe that the apex of an education in yoga is reached after 500 hours of general coursework. Now, completing a 500 hour training is no small thing, but I think that’s just the issue: it is seen as a complete education and it creates the misconception that the infinite task of learning yoga is finite.
Although there is some part of the culture that advocates for continuing education, I believe the new generation of yoga teachers are blind to the value of an individualized, higher quality education undertaken over a longer period of time – a lifetime.
What’s been happening instead, is that this movement of teachers has been sacrificing the potential of an ongoing education in favor of professional credibility and security via these larger certificates.
A system that sets quantitative limits on education dampens the spirit of lifelong learning. A spirit that is integral to yoga.
Many of today’s most respected teachers have educations that are measured in years and decades, not hours, and I certainly admire these teachers because they embody the spirit of lifelong practice.
My first teacher is exceptional because she remains undisturbed by the people who question why she doesn’t pursue a 500 hour certification. She remains dedicated to her course of study, and clear in her understanding of why she studies, why she learns from whom she does, and why she has chosen a long-term training that takes years to complete instead of months.
But I know this isn’t the case for everyone. I have observed my own insecurities arise out of fear of not being able to support myself or to not have a professionally competitive edge. It’s only natural to want job security, to want to do your best and pursue your education to its highest potential.
I simply feel that the current educational model does all of us (yoga teachers and our industry as a whole) a disservice because it is a system that advocates educational completion, spawning a professional culture that judges its teachers based on the quantity of their education, rather than its quality.
For these reasons, I have chosen an educational path that honors my unique passions, as well as my deep desire to internalize and practice what I learn. I chose a yoga apprenticeship, and I choose to continue my studies at 90 Monkeys where I have the luxury of a self-directed education and many opportunities to revisit old subjects, and build upon my current knowledge with new topics.
In this way, I feel like I honor myself and the traditions of an ancient practice that means the world to me. Traditional yoga has a model of education that defies the idea that a certain number of hours studying and teaching a subject confers skill.
Rather, skill arrives when we fully acknowledge that we are constantly rising to the level of our own ignorance, and that to become masters of our discipline we need to be constantly learning.
About the Author: Joey Gottlieb rolled out a yoga mat for the first time depressed and nursing a blown hamstring and an inflamed shoulder, and after eight weeks of consistent practice under the eye of some wonderful teachers, he found himself with a peaceful mind, a fully cooperating hamstring, and able to reach above his head.
Since those first weeks of practice, Joey has made an extensive study of yoga as a transformational, guiding practice. He has studied most intensively in the Tantric traditions of yoga, developing a style of therapeutically-minded vinyasa yoga emphasizing personal empowerment and light-heartedness. As the son of two diplomats, he draws on a diverse array of cultural experiences to link his yoga practice to the world at large. He writes for the 90 Monkeys blog and continues to assist his teacher and mentor, Amy Ippoliti, in her public workshops and teacher trainings.