Ahead of our advanced teacher training programme, starting this April, we catch up with our faculty members to discuss the varied and complex topic of teaching yoga. In this blog, we speak with Anna Ashby and Jean Hall, who will lead the training, Ruth Westoby, who will lead the philosophy modules, and Richard Rosen, who will lead the pranayama modules, to get their insights.
What is advanced yoga teacher training?
Anna: “I think the word advanced can scare people. I’m actually mixed about calling the training this as it leads people to think it’s about the most difficult poses. While there are more challenging poses explored, the training is about going deeper into the heart and essence of the yoga practices. This includes all yoga practices and aspects such as breath, meditation, scripture and anatomy and how this can permeate through teaching so the breadth of yoga practices can be included and shared beyond posture. And perhaps most important of all, going deeper into the experience that yoga points us towards, living it and sharing it.”
Jean: “It is an invitation to open a door for further and deeper enquiry into the subtle nature of the yoga practice. A key aspect of the advanced teacher training is exploring how we connect to and interpret the lineage and teachings, so that we can as practitioners be in touch with the tradition whilst cultivating more authentic and creative ways to approach our teaching and life in general.”
Previous triyoga ATT graduate: “I was blown away by the ATT course I took with triyoga. We were given access to some of the world’s best teachers in Richard Rosen, Hareesh Wallice and Bill Mahony. The course felt well rounded with an emphasis on philosophy, history of yoga, anatomy and asana practice. My yoga practice feels more connected and my teaching does too. It was so nice to be able to put the teachings into practice over the course of the modules.”
How does it build on 200-hour training?
Anna: “Level 1 is the foundation. In the 300-hour training, you build the house. It’s here where you question and delve deeper and seek to know the answer to the mystery of life through your own experience. It’s here where you challenge yourself to ask: what is this really about, where did it come from, where’s it going and why am I doing it?! In the questioning, comes inner clarity. Inner wisdom burbles up to the surface and it’s then that you really start to teach from your truth. In some ways you get to the end of this training and realise how little you actually know. It’s humbling. And yet, it is the catalyst that drives the arrow to the target and renders the teaching of yoga into a life’s calling.”
Jean: “In the 200 hour training we teach and learn the basic skills, that are the nuts and bolts of teaching. In the ATT, we further develop teaching skills by delving deeper into embodied asana, pranayama and meditation through personal and subtle body awareness, as well as current and experiential anatomy and physiology.
“There is also study of the traditional texts along side western and eastern philosophies and how they can compliment one another. Finding our own unique voice and style of teaching is nurtured through voice-work, chanting, lifestyle and ethics for yoga teachers, reflective practices and applied teaching methodology. All this is delivered by a handpicked and expert team of faculty tutors in conjunction with student led self-enquiry.”
What do you think makes a good yoga teacher?
Anna: “I don’t like to get into the dualities of good and bad. So, I would say an effective teacher, i.e. one who imparts knowledge in a methodical way so another person can understand or experience this knowledge, engages in yoga practices in order to explore the essence of being… the purpose of yoga practices. Based on this exploration, then finds simple and clear language that conveys and transmits a deeply felt experience of this essence. In other words, a successful teacher helps others find a pathway into their own unique and valid sense of self/truth.
“To step into the role of teacher requires openness, questioning and skill in transmitting simple methods that provide a framework for exploring inner experience and challenging behaviours and understandings that limit it. It’s a tremendous responsibility that asks for sensitivity, understanding, humility and the recognition of the value of others experience as an expression of the whole. And, finally to perceive what is needed for different people at different stages of life and experience which involves a great deal of compassion, sensitivity and patience.”
Jean: “For me a ‘good’ teacher is a student too. It is someone who is curious to continue exploring, learning and growing and is generous in sharing the discoveries made along the way.”
Ruth: “A good yoga teacher is one who turns up. Not just in the psycho-spiritual sense of being present with their students and seeing where they are coming from; but also in the mundane, prosaic act of rocking up in the right time and place.”
Richard: “Well, of course, there are some practical needs that lay the foundation. These include extensive training by and long-term apprenticeship with experienced teachers, at least a cursory study of the yoga tradition, with a focus on the Hatha school up to the end of the nineteenth century, a much more detailed understanding of the roots and development of modern yoga (which should include a wide reading of the work of scholars like Mark Singleton, James Mallinson, and Jason Birch among others) and a regular practice that includes asana, pranayama and meditation.
“In addition, a good teacher must have a reasonably complete, self -constructed world view, have a strong desire to selflessly serve others and be ready at all times to put aside her/his plans to provide help to any student in dire straits as soon as reasonably possible. She/he must have good verbal skills so that her/his instructions are clear and precise, teach only what she/he understands, have a ready sense of humour to make the class experience fun and enjoyable, and possess the patience of Job.”
When expanding knowledge, how important is study compared to experience?
Anna: “They are two wings of a bird. Study deepens insight and brings about depth of experience. The two together create a rhythm of learning that allows perception to expand into a felt experience of wholeness.
“Study and contemplation form a traditional and important part of yoga practices. By refining the intellect through reflection on that which underlies all of life, the capacity to discern truth from non-truth develops. This type of intellectual rigour informs practice. At the same time, it’s just as important to switch off mental engagement and plumb the depths of felt experience. To open up to the language of the body and breath adds dimension into the complexity of what it means to be human. It all furthers the investigation in the nature of being.”
Jean: “The two really go hand in hand… isn’t it Einstein who said that true knowledge is experience and everything else is just information? We have fuller and better understanding of something when we have actually felt and experienced it for our self rather than having read about it or been told it. And this why a somatic approach is so important and empowering as it is based on discovery through our own direct perception and experience.”
Ruth: “Study and experience are endlessly nestled one within the other. Practices such as āsana, prāṇāyāma and sitting are opportunities to somatically embody and experiment with ideas and traditions. For me this is complemented – and made more deliciously complex – with more formal modes of study whether they be reading, listening or discussing.
“Without diving into the richness and depth of the Indian tradition and its modern metamorphosis our practices may be mere athletics, lacking potential spiritual and intellectual integrity. A yoga teacher training course is an opportunity to formalise the expansion of knowledge that keen students will be pushing at every day.”
Richard: “Study what? Experience what? Study and experience are only useful for expanding worldly knowledge. What’s far more important than either of these is self-knowledge, which can’t be ‘expanded’, it can only be revealed. As far as yoga is concerned, study and knowledge are severely limiting factors, no matter how much one studies and experiences, without self-awareness. Even the idea of ‘expanding’ knowledge is an obstacle, since it implies a goal, and any goal can only be based on what’s known. Yoga can’t have a ‘goal’, yoga is a complete revolution that takes one beyond the known into the depths of the unknown, which has no end.
“More often than not, self-knowing requires giving up study and experience totally, to start all over from square one with the conviction: I know nothing. There’s no need for meditation techniques, Sanskrit mantras, visualisations, any of the usual tricks of the trade. The only mantra needed is the question asked of oneself in plain English, the language of the divine Shakespeare and Blake and Yeats: who am I?”
What is the essence and philosophy of your teaching?
Anna: “There are three aspects here which are important to me. One is pointing people back to their own experience in order to engage in robust self-enquiry that ultimately senses into the essence of being. Second, practising and teaching with the intent to bring about integrated awareness – the kind which realises interconnection, is deeply felt and reflects an ecology of being. Thirdly, integrating the varied and diverse teachings of the yoga tradition into a modern vocabulary and practices that help in everyday living. I feel if these teachings aren’t effectively integrated into modern practice from a basis of sound scholarship, then the purpose of the practice becomes diluted or changed into something that can reinforce egoism – the opposite of the goal of practice.
“When I consider my own practice and relationship to the yoga, I see it as a life dedicated to understanding who or what I am in relationship to the whole, and in that search engaging in multi-faceted practices that reinforce the underlying fabric of unity. The knowledge that comes from this type of enquiry has profoundly changed the foundation of my life, the way that I wish to l live, and it is this that I’m interested in sharing.”
Jean: “The overriding endeavour in my teaching, as in my own practice, is to befriend who we are so we may open to the simple enjoyment of being in our body in a way that taps into our ease, strength and innate wisdom through breath-centred movement and the yoga teachings. By allowing time and space within class to quieten and deeply listen within, the body’s knowing can be heard, felt and valued to guide us into a more open and expansive way of being.”
Ruth: “In the study and teaching of yoga’s history and philosophy I try to present each tradition within its specific context, to feel into how an insider of that tradition might use those teachings, and then to step out and compare traditions with one another. We can use the study of history and philosophy as a practice of mental agility: seeing from different perspectives, owning and articulating our particular perspective (often at a distance of space, time, language, culture, sex), softening the hard edges of opinion, and examining the elements of continuity or radical change in contemporary practices and beliefs.”
Richard: “All is consciousness, or to be more precise, all is the outward expression of a vast unknowable consciousness that underlies and permeates all that exists. The universe then is a mirror in which this consciousness gazes curiously at itself and asks: who am I? There’s of course a paradox here, because this consciousness already knows the answer. Nonetheless, being eternally curious about itself, and being able to do whatever it wants to do, it hides part of itself from itself, “pretends” it doesn’t know that part of itself has been hidden and goes looking for itself in and through itself.
“There is neither god nor soul, nor is there ‘enlightenment’. Those individuals who believe they are ‘enlightened’ have simply ‘graduated’ (or mutated) to the next grade level, with many more grades to go. Each of us is an agent of this consciousness – as William Blake reminded us, I don’t look with my eyes, I look through them. No matter who we are, where we live, and what we do, we’re all asking the same question that the consciousness asks of itself. Some day in the impossibly distant future, the last living creature will answer the question and the universe will no longer serve any purpose because all then will be known. It will simply wink out of existence… to make room for the next one.”