How "woo"-y is yoga teacher training?
May 22, 2014 4:41 PM   Subscribe

As sort of a follow up to another user's question about yoga teacher training, how much "woo" is involved in these kinds of trainings?

I love yoga and have been practicing on and off for several years, and I feel eager to learn more about it, so a certification seems like a natural next step. But I am also a science nerd and find myself getting annoyed anytime a teacher starts talking about chakras or toxins. I don't want to throw away $3k just to learn pseudoscience--I'd rather focus on anatomy, class sequencing, etc. Does it make sense for someone like me to do a yoga teacher certification?
posted by Librarypt to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
All yoga teacher trainings are different at least partly because all yoga teachers and yoga studios are different. However, whether or not any of the teachers for the programs you are considering end up talking about chakras or toxins, if you can only classify all things in the world as either science or pseudoscience then a teacher training is not for you. You'll only be annoyed. A yoga teacher training is best for someone who has a natural curiosity and desire to learn all about the long tradition of yogic and Indian thought. These are going to be discussed in various ways or other by at least some of your teachers (many trainings are taught by more than one teacher), and fellow students that you would spend a lot of time with. The term "woo" is already a sign that someone is thinking in terms of caricatures, not a good one. Criticism and questioning is fine but not at the cost of an open mind, without which one could not be "critical" in the first place.
posted by Blitz at 5:07 PM on May 22, 2014 [11 favorites]

What is it you like about yoga? Pilates has a lot of the same elements without the spiritual side and pilates teacher training would involve plenty of anatomy and class sequencing, which you could bring back to your yoga practice if you want.
posted by oinopaponton at 5:34 PM on May 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yoga is a traditional practice that's deeply rooted in ancient Indian spiritual philosophy. Chakras, as well as other similar concepts, are an intrinsic part of yoga and mentions of them can be found in the most ancient texts that describe yoga and yogic practices. And, while I don't know in what context you've heard "toxins" mentioned by yoga instructors, the concept of a toxin or impurity as cause for disease is also quite related to traditional yoga where it intersects with Ayurvedic principles. They're all rooted in the same spiritual philosophy.

While you don't have to necessarily integrate all of the spiritual aspects of yoga into your personal physical practice, I think that it's not too much to ask that they be respected as a foundational part of yoga and not just called "woo", especially if you have a desire to become a teacher of the practice. There are lots of other physical exercise practices that don't have the history and spiritual foundation that yoga has. Maybe one of those would be a better fit for you?
posted by quince at 5:43 PM on May 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

Why not focus on more science-based disciplines that touch the same things? Heck, you could invent your own. Crossfit, Physical Therapy, and other similar athleticism fields will give you the knowledge to do/teach nontraditional yoga-y stuff.
posted by rhizome at 6:07 PM on May 22, 2014

If what you're looking to do doesn't have to be strictly physical, you could sign up for training in a complementary medicine practice someplace associated with an academic (accredited) center.
posted by blue suede stockings at 6:55 PM on May 22, 2014

It entirely depends on which training you choose, and how good you are at mental translation.

Some will be more woo than others.

On your end, it will depend on your ability to translate and go, ok, so, in chinese medicine they've got a name for something that's getting translated into english as say, cold wind kidneys, and I know they're not talking literally about the kidneys, but maybe they are talking about an actual syndrome with known symptoms, and the suggestions they have for it, are actually helpful for those symptoms (like, turns out the chinese medicine treatment for symptoms of something that looks a lot like parkinsons, is actually good for parkinsons).

Or another thing that looks woo - For the body, it turns out that focusing on different areas of your body, affects your balance in different ways, even if there isn't something right there.

In general, people will always come up with fad diet, exercise and lifestyle advice, but it turns out when you're averaging out around 2,000 years of it, what you're left with does tend to be pretty non-harmful.
Use a pinch of salt, as you're often left with a lot more cures for worms and things, than we tend to need in the modern age (salt water flushes, not eating meat, etc etc etc).
But hey, yay for living in the modern age!
posted by Elysum at 7:10 PM on May 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I love yoga and have been practicing on and off for several years, and I feel eager to learn more about it, so a certification seems like a natural next step.

I dunno, I would suggest a natural next step to learn more about it is to do a lot of it, really a lot, for more than several years, not off and on, and investigate several of the many forms yoga comes in. You'll be in a better position to decide whether teacher training is for you if you have a more nuanced sense of the various traditions than "woo" and "not woo."

(Source: Not a yoga teacher. I've practiced many different kinds of yoga in the past fifteen years or so and I have opinions about them. I hear what you're saying about pseudoscience, I'm no fan of pseudoscience either, I totally think it's bullshit when people handwave about toxins, and I still think the "woo" characterization is really reductive.)
posted by clavicle at 8:23 PM on May 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I don't think the "woo" thing is offensive or too reductive, but I think I am coming from a very similar place as you are.

What I would do in your situation is to find out who leads the TT classes and take several classes from them beforehand. As you know, teachers run the gamut from dolphin chakra healing to all about anatomy and recent scientific research.

You'll probably run into plenty of toxins and magnets and whatnot anyway, but if the studio/teacher who is leading the teacher training is not inclined toward the woo, the overall experience will probably be more pleasant for you.
posted by fiercecupcake at 6:35 AM on May 23, 2014

Response by poster: if you can only classify all things in the world as either science or pseudoscience then a teacher training is not for you.

Yeah, I never said that. If I didn't have an open mind about this stuff, I wouldn't keep going to yoga classes. I don't think I have explained myself very well. I'm ok with things like "breathe into your hips" because I realize this is just a way of drawing your attention to that area. I love the meditation, relaxation, self-acceptance, and mental focus aspects of yoga in addition to the physical exercise.

That said, it sounds like a teacher training for me might just have some "grin and bear it" moments I would have to get through, and that's ok. My main concern is actually learning something useful vs. spending thousands to learn about, as fiercecupcake put it, toxins and magnets.
posted by Librarypt at 6:59 AM on May 23, 2014

Best answer: I start teacher training in two weeks. I absolutely hate the "woo chakras, inner goddess type bullshit" and so I found a studio where they don't include that in their practice. Call around, find a teacher/studio you like.
posted by Marinara at 7:16 AM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you are taking classes from different teachers, choose the one or two who in your experience are the least "woo" and ask them where they took their training.
posted by vignettist at 7:52 AM on May 23, 2014

Based on my experience as a yoga student over the decades, I have found Iyengar Yoga to have the absolute least amount of 'woo' of all the various yoga disciplines that I have tried. I have heard the same about their teacher training, although I haven't personally experienced it.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 9:08 AM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Definitely find a teacher who is science-minded and is into translating the woo stuff into its more scientific counterparts. There are more and more teachers doing this kind of thing, as lots of sort of woo-dubious people are getting into yoga.

My teacher, for example, is amazing about this. She is really studied in the traditional texts and such, but very good and bringing up the teachings and translating them into more science-centered information. She'll refer to "actual energy" and "engaging physics" as well as "this is energy in the metaphorical sense" and so on. She'll bring in neuroscience when we're meditating or balancing, and connect it to the older teachings as a form of metaphor. So yeah...take classes with different teachers and find one who you gel with.

If you're in portland, feel free to memail me.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:24 AM on May 23, 2014

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