The Slow Yoga Series, Vol. 6

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Let’s call this one a heads up. All forms of yoga can induce tears of release. Any teacher, any venue, any style; we just never know when something is going break open during our practice. It’s nearly impossible to predict, which is good, because I think it’s better not to have a formula for such things. There are some mysteries of the Universe that need to stay mysterious. This is one of them.

However, Slow Yoga is notorious for deepening the exploration that uncovers the hidden pockets of stuff that unexpectedly come out during yoga. It’s a no-brainer. Slowing down naturally gives us time to discover, time to confront, and time to embrace. This all translates into time to release. If we are practicing Slow Yoga we are not on the slow road to crying on the mat, we’re on the fast track, as ironic as that sounds. It happens. It’s supposed to happen. You’re still not doing it wrong. If it helps, think of it as the crap that we hold inside getting trapped in our soft tissues over time. Yoga is simply working those tissues until the crap trapped inside can be released. Tears may be the mechanism by which they escape. This is good. Set them free.

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This one is born of so many wasted Savasanas. You know what I’m talking about. Laying there in Savasana keyed up, planning, analyzing, waiting, wandering around in our minds, or maybe just overstimulated until the last few moments and poof, Savasana is over and it’s time to to get up. This happens for many reasons but one of the most easily preventable reasons is that we don’t give ourselves time to dial down the intensity of the mental practice before we expect the mind to rest. We don’t give the mind time to transition into Savasana. Cool-down or closing poses prepare the body for Savasana but our minds are generally not given the same latitude. The result is that we spend the majority of Savasana trying to quiet the mind enough to rest, using up all the time we’ve allotted for rest just trying to get there.

This is an easy fix. Reverse the order of the typical close of the practice. You know how we usually go straight from our last pose into lying down flat for Savasana, then at the end of Savasana we roll over, sit up, and then sit for a few moments before our benediction? Do it the other way around. Sit in silence or breathwork or meditation before Savasana. If you still feel the need to do it again afterward, go right ahead but try giving yourself five minutes to calm the mind before laying down. Give the brain a chance to settle. Let the heart rate come down. Let body’s heat come down. Then lay down and actually get something out of your Savasana. By the time you get flat on your back you stand a better of chance actual rest.

And yes, before you ask, this might mean adding five minutes to your typical 60 minute session, which feels weird. Who does yoga for 65 minutes? Or 35 minutes? We like closing on the hour mark, do we not? Yes, we are creatures of habit. We like the satisfaction of something complete and on time. Dare to break that rule. It’s a healthy dose of constructive rebellion. And I’ve already told you, you can’t do this wrong.

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In the yoga world, credentials drive advertising. Otherwise they are meaningless to anyone other than the teacher who paid for them. They are not indicators of qualification. As a student, landing a credentialed teacher does not mean you’re getting better yoga or even a better teacher.  It means you’re getting someone who could afford to pay for additional training with absolutely no guarantee that they were superiorly or even adequately trained.

In the old days yoga students became teachers through mentorship. There were no credentials. These days we become yoga teachers by buying credentials. We sign up for a teacher training course. We pay our money. We show up for the training. Exposure to the course material deems us qualified to graduate from any program we can afford to purchase. We pay for placement on a national registry and then we get our credentials. This allows us to tack some letters onto the end of our names and market ourselves as qualified to teach whatever those letters represent. It doesn’t guarantee that we learned anything. It doesn’t guarantee that we can teach it. It only guarantees us the right to advertise that we’ve done it.

Teachers and schools can advertise programs led by instructors who hold every possible credential available from national credentialing agencies. The instructors may have certifications endowed with impressive-sounding terms such as therapy or therapeutic, master, advanced, registered, certified. There might be a long string of letters after the instructors’ names. The fact that these instructors hold every possible credential may be heavily emphasized in promotional material leading students to believe they are getting the best of the best because so few in the industry have all the credentials.

New students are attracted to Guru All The Credentials based on that marketing. When yoga went mainstream it became a business just like any other, and business is all about getting people in the door. Trainees who see advertisements believe that all the credentials means they are paying for a better yoga education because credentialing works wonders for the traditional business model. It uses the promise of good-better-best to get people in the door. Never mind that credentialed teachers might not be experts or have much experience; they simply don’t have to. As long as they can pony up the fees and show up for training, another certificate is stamped and another credential is awarded. It is not illegal, unethical or misleading; it’s simply the truth. Students are led to believe that purchased credentials are the equivalent of advanced degrees. They are not.

I got my teaching certificate on a one-weekend-per month program. This automatically made me a professional. I paid to join a national registry complete with a starter set of credentials. I got myself insured, branded, marketed, and taught public classes for a few years. Then I decided to open a school with a teacher training program. Everyone in the yoga community preached that in order to be considered legit I had to get my school sanctioned with credentials. I had no hope of attracting students without these credentials. I believed it. I completed the laborious and expensive approval process to prove my new school met the standards of a leading international credentialing agency.

I wrote the required curriculum with nothing but 20 years of personal practice and my 200 hour certificate to qualify as expertise. I recruited instructors with the required qualifications, all of whom graduated from the same program that I did. I digested the requirements, the standards, the stipulations, the loopholes, the exceptions, etc., for myself. Most importantly, I paid the hundreds of dollars in fees. It was easy to see that the heavily credentialed advertisers aren’t doing anything wrong according to the rules of credentialing. Anyone can get all the credentials. You just keep signing up and showing up. It’s that simple. It might take time, a massive amount of paperwork, and it might be expensive, but no one with all the credentials is required to be an expert on any aspect of yoga, including the aspect of teaching yoga.

The teachers from whom I learned the most over the years had no professional credentials at all. Meanwhile, teachers with fancy professional credentials taught me sequences straight out of the previous month’s Yoga Journal article and threw in a mini-massage to keep me coming back. There are brilliant, gifted teachers not willing to pay to be in a Credential Club just as there are some really crappy teachers who look great on paper because they did pay to be in the Credential Club. Other than a marketing boost for the teacher who bears them, yoga credentials are meaningless, especially to the average student.

Love your teachers. Respect your teachers. Learn from them. But as long as yoga continues to operate as a business, keep in mind that as a student you are their target demographic and you are expected to respond to marketing. To credentialing agencies, your teachers are also a target demographic, responding to the marketing messages that they need all those credentials. Everyone is paying someone for an advertised product/service and the advertising is designed to keep us buying. And this is the American way.

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