I train teachers - yoga practitioners who aspire to be yoga teachers and yoga teachers who seek continuing education. I first did this in Rhode Island when I asked a few dedicated students to assist me in my classes at my studio. Apprenticing with an experienced teacher is a classic way to learn how to be a teacher.
When I moved to North Carolina in 2003 I trained aspiring teachers in a formal way, joining a prominent yoga studio to become a co-director of a 300 hours training program. Unlike my experiences in NYC, San Francisco and Boston, I was in a new environment that was not predominantly composed of Iyengar practitioners like me. The local NC community had many teachers and several styles of practice and I decided to open up to the validity that there is more than one way to practice and teach Yoga.
That's where it started - in Greensboro NC - when I began to hear the phrase "gym yoga" as a description of the difference between "real yoga" in studios and yoga classes offered in a gym. Most of the complaints and gossip came from the teachers who taught in a gym or fled from teaching in a gym.
In 2011, after returning to Huntsville, I met several students who were looking for teacher training and I responded by designing a program that emphasizes the traditional Eight Limbs. These students are seeking something that is authentic, a way of practicing that has complexity and depth, and is nourishing on all levels - physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual. Because there are very few yoga studios here (I believe there are only 4 in the Valley), many of these seekers have studied yoga in the local gyms at some point.
One concern of mine is the fact that once the teachers are trained and they look for a place to teach, many will be drawn to the gyms because this is where the students are and encounter predictable limitations. I am not imagining this - they are telling me that they are concerned and a bit perplexed about it.
It's true that "gym yoga" is dominant in the Tennessee Valley and in some circles much maligned. Mulling on this, tonight I had an epiphany or two ... BKS Iyengar taught in gyms in Poona, Mumbai, London and Ann Arbor and I never heard him say anything negative about it. In fact, I can report that I studied with him directly in Ann Arbor Michigan in at least 3 different gym settings at the university during an intensive there. If teaching in gyms was good enough for him, why are so many teachers complaining?
I, myself, teach regularly in gyms - one of my specialties is teaching yoga courses in colleges. These college credit courses have always been situated in a gym. I've done this since 1989 and while not always ideal, somehow I manage to give yoga instruction there.
So, now that I've written this ... I am a gym yoga teacher ... why am I OK with it and how do I make it work for the students and me? I'll answer this in a future post.
In the meantime, please note that I also teach in a "real" yoga studio downtown and conduct Yoga Dharma training courses in my private home studio.
I remember my yearnings to connect with a spiritual practice many decades ago. Being a physically active person, a dancer, I desired a practice that included my body as a key component of the quest. I wanted to be a participant on equal footing with the natural and dynamic forces I saw all around me. I aspired to discover and trust a path that would be nourishing for a lifetime.
After some dabbling I found Yoga to be the marga, the path for me. That was forty-five years ago.
It offers everything that I require. Physical movement, philosophical study, contemplation and community. It challenges me and it comforts me. It inspires me to 'try try again' as well as accept how I feel today without fear of failure.
The statisticians have noted that millions of people world-wide practice yoga. Twenty million? More? I don't know how these numbers are calculated. When I began my studies only a few Bohemian spirits openly admitted to practicing the postures. Yes, things have changed significantly.
As a practitioner who offers classes and workshops and mentors aspiring teachers, I feel a personal commitment to share the living traditions of yoga.
These traditions, the ones I learned from my Indian teachers directly and indirectly, have fulfilled me and continue to inspire me everyday ... for decades.