I have a few friends who are part-time yoga teachers who did not do Ashtanga teacher trainings, and to them I say, good for you. But pretty much nothing of what I’m about to say applies to you.
And perhaps I’ll also preface by saying that my knowledge of other kinds of teacher trainings—Ashtanga trainings included—is purely anecdotal. Although I have trained with other senior Ashtanga instructors (Nancy Gilgoff, David Swenson, Dena Kingsberg, David Williams, Annie Pace), Tim Miller’s trainings have had the greatest impact on me, so that’s all I’m going to talk about here.
Ashtanga does have a certification/authorization system centered in Mysore, but the beautiful thing about Ashtanga is that the best teachers emerge from an ancient and time-honored system, the apprentice teacher. I wish all forms of teaching still used this: A potential candidate emerges from a group of long-time students that the teacher feels would be an excellent teacher as well, and the teacher begins to pass along that knowledge over time, working side-by-side with that student.
The student-teacher not only learns from the master, but also has a set of watchful eyes around that can correct mistakes. The student-teacher, in other words, has the luxury of being able to learn from screwing up. Without that kind of feedback, improving as a teacher is very difficult—teaching should never be done in private, in a vacuum. And from this growth, innovation happens. There is a cooperative, student-master conversation. That’s very different from signing up for a training, absorbing some information, then heading out the door with your certificate. Or just paying to show up to practice for a certain amount of time with the teacher.
Tim’s Encinitas-based trainings seem to try to encapsulate and concentrate the apprentice model. For two weeks, his trainees swoop down on a working shala and soak up all the information they can. This summer, I’ll be in my fourth training with Tim. But it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever teach Third Series. No, what I’m going for is the gravy that spills over from the that ostensible purpose of learning to teach: What is the deeper meaning of this series? How does it fit in to yoga in its wider sense? I’ll get my Third Series Manual when I check in, and off I’ll go.
Tim’s shala remains open to its regular classes during his trainings, and he continues to teach them. This includes Tim’s daily 6 a.m. pranayama practice, which includes the entire Ashtanga pranayama sequence. Once this concludes, the daily classes start, and the trainees either take, observe, or assist in these classes (although we’re only allowed to adjust our fellow trainees). This also includes some late afternoon/early evening classes he teaches after the training sessions, which has led me to dub Tim “the hardest working man in Ashtanga.” It seems like he never leaves.
The middle part of the training day is divided into two parts: Practice and Theory. Trainees go through each pose in order, part by part. Each asana and its possible adjustments and modifications is anatomized, scrutinized, and demystified (including the magical incantation of the counts). If you never intend to teach yoga, this aspect of Tim’s training alone is worth the price of admission. In the moving target of daily practice, so much goes unsaid. Here, it gets said. There are lots of questions, and they get answered. Trainees demonstrate, and this is most useful when the trainee can’t quite make it to the state of the pose. Tim diagnoses why, and looks for a way forward. For each pose, we practice the counting and adjustments on each other. The vibe in the room is warm and full of good humor. Lifetime friendships are made.
The “theory” part of that day involves the deeper underpinnings of Ashtanga, and this is my favorite aspect of Tim’s training. There are stories, chants, singing, philosophy and astrology. Exhausted and with minds blown, trainees disband for the evening (or attend another class) and come back in the morning to start it all over again.
Does any of this teach you how to teach? Will you be a good teacher when you walk out the door? If you weren’t already good when you walked in, probably not. But what you will have is a great bank of knowledge to use in your practice, and in the practice of teaching if you’re into that. Teaching is an art form, so neither study, time, or even experience will bestow that skill on you—certainly a teaching certificate can’t. But Tim’s trainings will help you make the most of the skill you have, whether that be in teaching or on your own mat. And they offer an opportunity to watch a master teach, and teach teaching. But beyond all that, they offer a way to integrate the greater benefits of Ashtanga into your daily life, a priceless and precious gift.
Posted by Bobbie