500 Hours Don’t Make A Gandhi
Fueled by social media, yoga teacher bragging is on the rise, especially when someone has earned advanced training. These days, it seems everyone who has clocked in 500 hours is a guru with a special style and their own title or unique name. Even Ana Forrest notes expanding egos in her funny YouTube video I’m More Spiritual Than You. (Watch it!)
Like Forrest, I offer my observation with friendly compassion. We all have ego tendencies that need occasional policing. But when I began a serious practice, I unlocked the continual cycle of acquisition followed by starting anew. This healthy beginner’s mind doesn’t come from books or Yoga Alliance protocol. It evolves from struggle and reflection, developed in and out of the studio.
Amy Matthews expressed this idea beautifully in YogaCity NYC. “I believe direct experience is undervalued in the process of learning. As students, we let what we are ‘supposed to be feeling’ over-ride what our own experience is. For me, this is deeply problematic and a profound flaw in the model of teaching currently in play in all kinds of educational settings, from school classrooms to yoga studios,” she said.
She went on to establish how real learning happens at the intersection of maturity, deduction, and reliable sources. Maturity is what most interests me because it seems to be really lacking these days.
Rather than using the YA as my trustworthy authority, I try to place myself under the care of teachers with good eye contact—kind people who don’t ever make me feel beneath them or like they have the authority to push me in directions I don’t want to go. With my nearly 300 hours of YA credentialing and 12 years of teaching, I’ve developed my own measuring stick because I am less drawn to inflated bios, gorgeous pics on Instagram, or other means of self-promotion. Rather, I examine what and who my teachers tend in their day-to-day lives. If they’re in romantic relationships, are they responsible? My observations aren’t scientific, but from my own heartbreaks, I’ve learned to feel certain elements as a better system than expertise alone. For example, if an instructor preaches veganism but berates the staff, I may walk out the door. If the teacher talks about humility and then wants to be treated specially and fussed over, I am definitely out the door.
In Matthews’s work with babies, she discovered what infants really respond to—true presence—not level of scholarship or any other badge of cultural honor. So do adults, even though our current social media tells us to listen to big shots, including many with questionable ethics, over our gut instincts.
There’s no denying many teachers have spent a lot of time and money on their educations. But advanced training can only take instructors so far, especially in regards to student-teacher dynamics.
According to the YA, 500 hours of training includes 60 hours of philosophy, lifestyle, and ethics, which can include safe practices for teacher-students relationships and community. Yet industry standards didn’t keep instructors from overstepping major boundaries, like alleged sexual harassment, freezing employee-benefits, or even rape accusations.
Nothing hurts more than a beloved teacher getting too big for the yamas and niyamas. It’s a sickening sensation.
Here’s my advice: When an admired instructor pontificates about his yogic scholarship, either in person or on his website, take note of your inner landscape.
Maybe this teacher is really excited to bestow knowledge. We yogis are an intellectual lot. But perhaps this leader is so self-absorbed he or she doesn’t consider you at all. Worse, he or she may be creating an intimidating culture of almighty leader vs. weakling, follower vs. victim. That’s where 500 hours don't count for anything.