International Yoga Teacher based in Europe & UK
What is Quality in Yoga Teaching?
How do we qualify who is a High Quality Yoga Teacher?
By Jacinta McBurney
You will find me travelling on the long path of research into Quality in Yoga Teaching!
Simply making that statement will hopefully start your minds churning, as it tends to do for teachers around the globe. And usually then the questions will start to flow like:
How do we even begin to define and quantify quality in teaching?
And how do we identify the expert teachers and gurus in yoga?
Why ask the quality question in the context of yoga teaching at all?
Firstly, because no one else appears to be directly researching this area. There is ample research into the effects and outcomes of the practice of yoga, particularly from the fields of medicine and sport science. And ample research into the fierce debate of what is quality school teaching in mainstream education and schools. But a great dearth of research when both fields are combined.
And secondly, because I believe there are critical questions that need to be asked.
The Yoga Back-Story: Yoga has developed in the west into a multibillion-dollar industry. Many of the modern styles of yoga are found in major cities across the globe. Hence, the training of yoga teachers is a very profitable industry and it seems that anyone with a savvy social media presence can deliver popular teacher trainings. The industry is largely unregulated. A common question I get asked over and over is “…where should I go to do a high quality yoga teacher training course?”
Not so long ago, avid yoga students needed to travel to India to learn the practice and develop a Guru-Kula relationship with one main teacher in order to eventually become a teacher of yoga. Nowadays, anyone with the financial means can commit the time to completing a yoga teacher-training course.
I worked on the Yoga Alliance (YA) Standards Committee in the US for several years and was involved in developing and reviewing the standards that yoga teachers are required to adhere to for membership. YA is the largest yoga teacher registration body in the world, with around 80,000 members. What I discovered was that YA is not required to adhere to any externally imposed or industry-based regulation and therefore the question of rigorous quality assurance goes largely unanswered.
So what are the questions that need to be asked when unpacking the notion of quality?
The qualities of a teacher can perhaps fit into 3 broad areas:
Historically, in the recruitment of school teachers, there was a period of time when potential teachers were selected based on their characteristics and personal attributes. Who they are as a person was seen as more critical than academic outcomes or university enter scores. Of course this makes sense. Who is the person that will shape the minds of future generations? Over the decades, we moved away from this notion and now focus on clear, measurable, achievable outcomes in school teaching. We test both the teachers and the students. Imagine!
What if we apply this early approach to yoga teaching. What if potential yoga teachers were recruited based on life experience, on who they are or who they have evolved to become as a human being? What if we were recruiting the most influential or upstanding citizens in society? Influencers in the true sense of the word? Not just on social media! Where would we recruit them from? How would we categorise and measure who is worthy of becoming a yoga teacher and who is not? Would it be like the process for being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize? Or would it be similar to the recruitment process for Church Ministers in which they identify a type of calling to the priesthood? Should we then check along the way if they have stayed on the path or strayed? Are they upholding an industry driven professional standard? Or have has their so-called professional conduct become somehow contrary to a commonly held belief in how a yoga teacher should act or behave?
Herein, of course, poses a great deal of subjective conjecture! But at the basic level, are teachers taking responsibility and ownership for their actions and reactions? Or are they merely behaving in a reactionary mode, justifying actions on externally based situations and influences?
At this point, I would like to highlight one of the greatest challenges for a researcher. It is called personal “reflexivity” or the way in which my own experience, bias, judgement and perception can and does influence all aspects of the research process. From the acknowledgement of this notion of reflexivity, the researcher can then begin to find ways in which we keep in check and perhaps come back to some of the greatest teachings in the yoga. The teachings of self-inquiry, of self-observation and of self-understanding. Or what I like to think of as the lens through which we view the world, or the way in which we begin to develop clear perception.
As a community of yoga teachers, have we strayed so far from the path which we adopted from ancient teachings in India? And how do we want the future to look? Who do we see as the leaders and influencers in our community? Who are the elders and what direction are they leading us in?
I would like to believe that my path of research into quality in yoga teaching will provide some answers to these and more questions but I suspect it may open the way to many more questions! There is a growing body of research theory into the importance of the questions we pose in education and particularly the outcomes questions. And so I leave you with my original questions: What does quality in Yoga teaching mean and how do we know a quality teacher?
And in the next few years, I am sure there will be many more questions! Many changing lenses and maybe even a few answers along the way.
Find me at my FB page: Jacinta’s Yoga