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Trinity Yoga

Is your yoga instructor certified, and what does that mean?

As yoga continues to grow in popularity, I feel the conversation regarding instructor certification, experience and credentialing to be a very important conversation to have.  Especially as more people with health concerns are turning to yoga for relief from their suffering, it’s extremely important for students to understand this topic and know the right questions to ask their instructors before participating in classes.  You wouldn’t trust your body to a physician who hasn’t been to medical school, would you?  So, why would you trust your body to a yoga instructor who hasn’t had the proper training?  If you are healthy, fit, and don’t have any physical limitations it may be okay to work with an instructor that does not have official training.  However, if you have any health concerns like high blood pressure, artificial joints, heart disease, etc. (just to name a few) you would be wise to seek out a professional that has the proper credentialing, training, and experience.  

Why is this so important?  There are no universal agencies set up to provide examinations and certifications for yoga teachers as there are for group fitness instructors and personal trainers.  In the yoga community we prefer this for many reasons.  However, it puts the responsibility on the student to know how to identify a good instructor and onto yoga studios to be morally upright and only allow certified instructors to teach in their studios.

How do you know if your yoga instructor is qualified?  Here is a breakdown of the industry standards, and some questions to ask your instructor so that you know what their training and experience is.

Lets start with training.  There are many different training options for yoga instructors.  There are courses that can be taken online, some are weekend intensives, some week long intensives, some are 3 weeks or longer, others require multiple weekends over a course of many months.  Just like a state University is very different than Yale or Harvard, so too are Yoga Teacher Training programs.  

In my opinion, the best ones are multiple weekends spread out over a period of months.  The time in between training allows the student to assimilate the vast amount of information and also to put into practice what they’ve learned.  However, some people are fans of the multiple week intensives.  These are typically 3 or 4 weeks, with continual training throughout that period.  That’s a lot of information at once!  But, again, some really like to plunge in and not have the distractions of daily life to interfere with the learning process and the personal transformation that happens during a yoga teacher training program.  

Yoga is more than just a physical practice, it is a way of living, and teacher training is a very transformative experience.  As it should be.  How else can an individual successfully guide others through a yoga practice if they haven’t done the work themselves?  That isn’t to say that a teacher should limit the student to the experiences of the instructor, but there should be a very solid understanding of the material backed by personal experience to direct the student.  Ideally, as a teacher, the goal is to guide students beyond their own experience.  To create more teachers and to continually encourage personal growth and transformation.

During a quality yoga teacher training program, there is a lot of personal development that happens.  Strong bonds are formed between fellow students during the process.  There are tears, there is joy, there are breakdowns, there are breakthroughs, there is growth.  These things are hard to experience through just a single weekend, and even harder to experience through an online program.

Then there is credentialing.  Just like the medical industry sets certain standards that all physicians must meet, so too does the yoga industry.  The Yoga Alliance is the gold standard for the yoga community.  They are a global organization that is dedicated to setting standards for teachers, teacher training programs, and they also help protect and promote yoga through many of their efforts.  You can read more about Yoga Alliance on their website:  www.yogaalliance.org.  They also offer a yoga directory so that you can search for Yoga Alliance Registered instructors in your area.

Yoga Alliance sets forth a few different designations to help you understand an instructors level of experience and training.  First, an instructor must have attended a Yoga School registered with Yoga Alliance, and that meets their requirements for teacher training programs.  Next, the instructor has to complete a minimum of 200 hours of training to register with the Yoga Alliance.  The next level of training is an additional 300 hours of training to register at the 500 hour level.  Yoga Alliance also has an experienced teacher designation.  This is for teachers that have a minimum of 1000 hours of teaching experience.  So, if you see RYT 500 after someone’s name, it means they have completed 500 hours of training.  If you see E-RYT 200 after someone’s name, it means they have completed 200 hours of training and has at least 1000 hours of teaching experience.  That is teaching experience post training.  Teachers registered with Yoga Alliance are required to log their teaching hours if they want to add the “E” (for experienced) designation.  RYS is for Registered Yoga School, and has it’s own set of requirements.  Again, you can read more about this on their website.

Yoga Alliance also requires registered instructors to meet certain continuing education requirements in order to maintain their status.  Which is another indicator of a quality instructor.  Good instructors continually work to increase their education.  Typically this is done through reading, attending workshops, additional teacher training courses, and attending yoga classes taught by other yoga instructors.  Yoga is a process, and in order to continue to grow we must continue to learn.  Whether teacher or student.

Certain styles of yoga have their own certification criteria and do not participate in the Yoga Alliance.  This does not make them any less authentic, nor does it mean the instructor isn’t well trained.  But, again, not all training programs are created equal.  This is why it’s important to ask your instructor if you are unsure.  A good instructor will be happy to answer any questions you may have.  If they aren’t, then you might want to think twice about working with them.

I also think that it’s important to note that yoga in today’s society is faced with very different circumstances than it was historically.  In ancient India, where yoga originated, you would learn directly from a Guru.  Reputation would decide who was a Guru and who was not.  There weren’t any teacher training programs, yoga studios, or credentialing organizations.  And in order to learn, you had to do the work the Guru asked of you.  It was a spiritual path, and not for the faint of heart.  Now, yoga has become much more physical.  It’s benefits are still numerous, but it’s a very different practice than it used to be.  If it’s just the physical aspect you’re looking for, then maybe just any teacher will suffice.  But, if you want to truly work on yourself and embrace the entire practice of yoga, I would recommend you find a certified and experienced instructor.

A few final thoughts…Just because someone is certified does not necessarily make them a “good” instructor.  Likewise, just because someone is not certified doesn’t mean they are a “bad” instructor.  The best thing you can do to ensure that you are in good hands is to ask questions.  

Ask your instructor about their training, their experience, and their personal philosophies (do they live what they teach?).  Ask them if they have worked with people with physical ailments (if this applies to you) and if they know how to help you modify the practice to suit your needs.  Ask them how they continue to learn and educate themselves.  Ask them about their personal practice, they should definitely have a strong one!  (Also note that ethical yoga studios list openly on their websites teacher information including their experience and training.)

One aspect of yoga is learning to listen to your intuition.  That little voice within speaks loud and clear when you know how to listen to it.  If you aren’t confident you are getting quality instruction, keep looking.  Your personal growth and physical wellbeing deserve it!

Trinity Yoga

What is Kundalini Yoga?

I’ve been working toward a blog for many months now, and as I finally sat down to type my first post, I was presented with the problem of what to write about first.  So, I decided, why not start at the beginning?  What is Kundalini Yoga?

I get asked this question often.  Most people know what yoga is, even if they haven’t tried it.  And many are aware of it’s myriad of benefits.  However, there are so many different types of yoga it can get pretty confusing to understand the intricacies of each one.  And then there is Kundalini Yoga.  It sounds so exotic!  How do you even pronounce it?  Koondah what?  (BTW, it is pronounced Koon-duh-lini.  Sounds like a pasta, no?)  

Describing Kundalini Yoga, and giving it the full justice that it so deserves, is not as easy as you might think.  Anyone who has tried Kundalini Yoga will tell you there is a lot going on.  In the beginning, it can seem a bit overwhelming.  But, it always leaves you feeling exhilarated and wanting more.  And each person has their own special relationship with the practice, making it even more varied in the descriptions you find on the internet and in literature.  Here, I will do my best to illustrate what Kundalini Yoga is to me.

Let’s start by reviewing what yoga is.  Yoga means union.  It is a method of living, not just a practice you do on your mat or in a studio, that allows the mind, body, and soul to unite.  When that happens, we can know our true nature and merge with that which is greater than ourselves.  This allows us to live our lives to the fullest, to know real joy and happiness, and to nourish ourselves in all ways.  Physically, mentally and spiritually.  

Today there are many styles of yoga.  Ashtanga, Hatha, Anusara, Kripalu, Bhakti, and the list goes on.  Most are considered Hatha yogas, or variations of Hatha.  Hatha is the yoga of the physical body.  It’s primary purpose is to prepare the body for extended meditation.  Bhakti yoga is the yoga of devotion.  Laya yoga the yoga of sound.  Some styles of yoga are based on very ancient and traditional methods.  Others are a modern interpretation blended with ancient techniques.  The beauty of so many different methods is that there is something for everyone.  Some are more physically demanding than others, some more meditative, some focus purely on deep relaxation to release stress. 

And then, there is Kundalini Yoga.  Kundalini Yoga is sometimes referred to as the yoga of all yogas, the yoga of awareness, or the warriors’ yoga.  Kundalini Yoga combines elements from all the traditional styles of yoga.  It is a culmination of master techniques.  Because of this, most people experience profound results quickly with a Kundalini Yoga practice.  

A bit of history…In ancient times, you couldn’t just walk into a yoga studio or pick up a DVD and learn yoga.  You had to find a guru.  And then prove that you were worthy of receiving the teachings of yoga from this guru.  Then, the guru would mentor you.  It was typically a long and methodical process to bring the student to enlightenment.  To learn Kundalini Yoga, you would have to master many types of yoga before being taught it’s methods. 

Today, thanks to the great master of Kundalini Yoga, Yogi Bhajan who first openly taught Kundalini Yoga in the U.S., we can all learn these teachings and reap their benefits.  You do not have to be a master or even have tried other styles of yoga to learn Kundalini Yoga.  You do not have to be flexible, strong, or fit.  You just have to be willing to work on yourself.  Kundalini Yoga is not just about working our physical bodies, it is a method of inner transformation and self growth.

Kundalini Yoga involves physical postures (asanas), breath work (pranayama), relaxation, meditation, hand positions (mudras), words of power (mantras), and body locks (bhandas).  In short, Kundalini Yoga has it all.  It works on the mind, the body and the soul.  It works on the glands and nervous system.  It works to build strength of body and character, so that stress makes us stronger.  It builds flexibility of the body and mind, so that we can be open to new opportunities.  It allows us to live the life we were meant to live.  To be happy, healthy and whole.

So, what does a typical Kundalini Yoga class look like?  Each class begins with a mantra.  Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo.  This mantra means, "I call on my higher self to help me do my best".  In Kundalini Yoga the belief is that all the wisdom and knowledge that we need lies within.  All we need to do is learn how to “tune in” to the inner wisdom and listen to what it has to say.  This is the purpose of the mantra.  To “tune in” to our own inner greatness.  

Next, we begin with a breath exercise.  Breath exercises do many things, but primarily they unite the groups' energy and slow our minds so that we can be present for the practice ahead.  Breath work is typically followed by warm ups.  It’s important to properly warm up the spine and open the solar plexus before practicing Kundalini Yoga.  Then, we do a Kriya.  Kriya’s are sets of exercises done in a specific order to work synergistically together.  They are taught as they were taught by Yogi Bhajan.  In this way, Kundalini Yoga is a very traditional yoga and adheres tightly to ancient techniques.  However, there are so many kriyas that no two classes are alike, offering lots of variety.  Lastly, a class will conclude with a deep relaxation.  A deep relaxation is very important.  It is when balance and healing happens.  When all the work you put into your practice has a chance to work for you.  To integrate into the body and mind.  To end, typically there is a meditation.  There are literally thousands of meditations in Kundalini Yoga.  So, again, something for everyone.  Sometimes the meditations will involve singing a mantra, sometimes it’s a breath meditation, or a silent meditation.  Sometimes meditations include all of the above.

So, in short, what is Kundalini Yoga?  Kundalini Yoga is soul training!  It is a method to cultivate your very best self and shine that light every day, in everything that you do.  It will open doors for you in life.  It will change everything for the better.  

My personal experience with Kundalini Yoga is it is best known through experience.  So, if you are at all intrigued, give it a try and see for yourself just how magical Kundalini Yoga can be!  

Peace, Light & Blessings!