Where Did Apprenticeship Go?

I’ve just returned from an extended trip abroad to news of yet another yoga Teacher Training controversy. The time noted teacher Alana Kaivalya is claiming that the organizers of Wanderlust stole her material without compensation. She’s taking them to court.

Whether Kaivalya’s case has merits or not will be left up to a judge and jury to decide, but while I’ve been away I’ve thought long and hard about how to improve yoga teacher trainings in order to keep them in the studio and away from legal wrangling and paralyzing legislation.

Greece, where I vacationed, is a country that still values the importance of apprenticeship. When a master electrician or plumber goes out to fix something an assistant comes along; hauling materials and asking questions. Observing his teacher’s skillful application of technique. This was, of course, critical in ancient times when word of mouth was the only way to teach skills and techniques, such as metal work, wine and breadmaking. It was an essential part of yoga training.

Some yoga teacher trainings now require their students to assist their primary teacher –  but many don’t. And  most of those that require assisting make it a minimal part of the training as opposed to a priority.

Imagine going to a doctor who hadn’t interned.

Almost all important yoga texts suggest that the process of enlightenment starts with the search for a teacher. Someone who can observe you over a period of years, even decades, who helps you decide when you’re ready to teach and who may from time to time send you to other teachers to learn a specialty or delve more deeply into a specific topic.

The current state of teacher trainings where anyone can just pay, read a couple of texts, and learn the “cues” for Surya Namaskar damages the practice and ultimately leads us to more suffering and delusion.

As part of our yoga Teacher Training programs, we need a requirement of apprenticeship before teaching. This requires a shift in language, thinking and economics from both yoga schools and teachers.

Teaching yoga is a much longer term and serious commitment then we are used to in our speed and greed society. And we are just fooling ourselves if we think that the current path we are spiraling down ultimately helps ourselves and our students.

–Brette Popper

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2 comments

  1. Very glad to have come across your thoughtful, concise piece in my newsfeed today. Salute!

  2. I couldn’t agree more, Brette. Teacher trainings are more like an introduction of the ideas and skills. Apprenticeship is where teaching skills are actually learned. I apprenticed my teacher, Genny Kapuler for over 10 years and would have continued to this day if I hadn’t been so overextended with my Yoga students and Center. I still tidy and organize her studio after every class I take. When I assisted her I only missed class when I was sick or out of town. I find it hard to find assistants with that much commitment–although I have some really amazing assistants. I considered it an honor to assist my teacher(s). I never assisted any teacher to fulfill credits or receive a certificate. Apprenticeship is where your teacher really can hone your skills and transmit the art of teaching. But the assistant must be observant, present and ready to receive.

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