Never Trust a Yoga Teacher Under 30

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Back in the 1960s Jack Weinberg, one of the founders of the Free Speech Movement, said, “Never trust anyone over 30.” What he meant was that a great gap existed between those over 30 and under 30. The gap was credibility, to use the term of the day.

The expression was both celebrated and ridiculed. Today the Baby Boomers of yesteryear, for many of whom the catchphrase was a rallying cry, have become the way over 30s and are not trusted by anyone, at least not anyone who suspects that My Generation is the most partisan and self-serving generation of modern times.

Yoga practice is built on trust. Whether it’s the study of yoga ethics, or the concepts of introversion and concentration, or the 800-pound gorilla in the corner, which is yoga exercise, trusting in one’s teachers is important.

Having faith in their teachers motivates students to examine themselves and encourages them to grow.

If you can’t trust a yoga teacher, who can you trust?

“It’s the integrity and awareness that the teacher brings to class that is most important,” said Joe Palese, a Georgia-based teacher trainer who conducts workshops both nationally and internationally.

The problem is, there are boatloads of yoga teachers whose qualifications amount to 200 hours of training. In fact, 85% of Yoga Alliance’s more than 40, 000 registered teachers are registered at the 200-hour level.

Joe Palese has seen some of these teachers in action.

“The instructors were cool people and they’d play good music,” he said. “But, students didn’t know they were being taught poorly.”

Yoga can be traced back about 5, 000 years, although some researchers believe it may be 10, 000 years old. The first hatha yoga schools date back about 90 years. A 200-hour Yoga Alliance certified teacher expends an effort equivalent to one hour of study for every 25 years of yoga’s existence, based on the 5, 000 year mark, or about two hours of study for every year of modern hatha yoga’s existence.

That’s like stubbing your little toe on the base of Mt. Everest instead of climbing it.

Is there anyone who would hire a plumber, for example, to install a sink or toilet in his or her home, a plumber who bragged he had 200 hours of training?

Plumbers train at trade schools and community colleges. Their apprenticeships typically span 4 – 5 years. In most states they must have 2 – 5 years of work experience before they can take an exam and obtain a license.

A yoga enthusiast can train for 200 hours, earn their Yoga Alliance Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) title, and open their own studio the next day. They can even offer their own “Teacher Training” program not long after the paint has dried, or after 500 hours of experience, whichever comes first, according to Yoga Alliance Standards. Although YA registration is not a certification, it is a listing of those “who meet our minimum requirements for teaching experience,” explains the organization.

There’s something to be said for setting the bar a little higher, or at least approaching something like elementary school.

The men and women who teach first graders must have a bachelor’s degree from a teacher education program and are typically required to complete a supervised student teaching internship. Then, in order to actually teach their first six-year-old, they need to get a state license.

First grade coursework involves learning to read simple rhymes, beginning to count by 2s and 5s, and science experiments such as how pushing and pulling affects a wooden block. Sometimes a child will throw another child out of a chair to illustrate how forces at work can propel something at rest.

It does not involve complex dispositions of the body on a mat, concentration of energy in one place, or lessons on how to achieve a unified state of mind.

Yet, it seems, anyone can teach yoga, from simple down dog to enlightenment, after training for the equivalent of five full-time weeks. They do not need a license of any kind. No state regulates yoga. The one state that did, Colorado, in May 2015 relaxed its regulations to practically nothing after a storm of yogic protests.

“I get pretty fired up about this,” said Annie Freedom of the Samadhi Center for Yoga and Meditation in Denver. “How can you have people who know nothing about yoga regulating yoga schools?” Which begs the question of why teacher training facilities like the Samadhi Center continue to churn out new 200-hour teachers who know next to nothing about yoga.

“Sadly, ‘Do a headstand if you want to,’ is the norm for beginning yoga teachers now,” said James Brown of the American Yoga School.

In fact, no one even needs a Yoga Alliance anything to teach headstand and inner peace. Anyone can open up shop anywhere, on their own say so, whether they know anything about yoga or not. Many in the yoga business argue that because they are teaching love and compassion they should be exempt from state regulation.

It is basically a free-for-all in the free market, buyer beware.

Self-appointed yogis like Bikram Choudhury claim whatever they want, such as that hot yoga flushes toxins from the body (false), cures cancer (false), and keeps you going all night long in the sack (doubtful after 90 minutes of Bikram “Torture Chamber” Yoga).

“Cootchi, cootchi,” said Bikram Choudhury. “You can have seven orgasms when you are ninety.”

No matter the funny dada-like sense of it, it is coldly calculated, some yoga masters laughing all the way to the bank.

“The class was so bad I can’t even explain it to you,“ wrote Lauren Hanna in ‘Licensing Yoga: Who the F*ck Let You Become a Yoga Teacher?’

“It made no sense. The teacher should be arrested it was that bad.”

She may have meant having to listen to a newly minted 200-hour graduate explain how “hips hold deep-seeded feelings of guilt and resentment” or some other mumbo-jumbo, meanwhile offering up the new age mantra of “channel your inner child” as they try to encourage a fifty-year-old a few months shy of beginner class to do crow or handstand.

There is a reason why William Broad of The New York Times has written articles and a book about how yoga can wreck bodies, from torn cartilage to causing strokes. “There are no agreed-upon sets of facts and poses, rules and procedures, outcomes and benefits,” he said.

There are some in the yoga world who want it that way. “Things are not uniform by tradition,” said Gyandev McCord, the Director of Ananda Yoga in Nevada City, California.

As for rules and procedures, Gyandev McCord believes yoga should be left alone to self-govern itself, saying those “who don’t understand the landscape of yoga aren’t qualified” to regulate it.

Yoga Alliance opposes government regulation of yoga, including teacher training programs, saying it “would simply serve no benefit to the public or yoga community.” They believe regulation of any kind is unnecessary because yoga is “a safe activity, licensure would inevitably reduce consumer choice, government authorities are not qualified, and it may compel teachers to stop offering instruction.”

Although it is certainly laudable of Yoga Alliance to be mindful of the yoga community, it may be equally lamentable that fledgling 200-hour teachers are only able to grasp a little of the big landscape of yoga.

Training of any kind is optional.

“It’s not illegal to teach without training as a teacher,” explained Gyandev McCord. Maybe not, but maybe it should be, given that minimally-educated teachers instructing the uninformed in flow-based yoga to the soundtrack of their rocking iPods may be doing more harm than good.

“It’s an embarrassing charade that looks kind of like something called yoga that one saw in a book once or twice,“ said James Brown of the American Yoga School.

“Teaching any of the yoga poses requires an understanding that comes from deep study and long-term practice.”

But, instead of promoting “deep study” Yoga Alliance has gone the way of Trip Advisor, saying on their website: “Past trainees provide social ratings and comments about their training experience, which may be shown on our public directory.”

Hooray for social media!

Given the way things are, and the way things seem to be going, it may be best to simply not trust any teacher under 30 and instead opt for older seasoned teachers who have gained their experience from even older well-seasoned teachers.

Although it is true that experience is gained by making mistakes, and real knowledge comes from direct experience, which under 30 teachers are doing, it is also true that experience is a brutal teacher. When it comes to rolling out one’s mat it might be better to do so in front of someone who’s already learned all about drawing without an eraser, someone who’s spent more than a few weeks of training getting engaged for a lifetime.

Better to do wheel pose in the hands of someone who’s not re-inventing the wheel.

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34 thoughts on “Never Trust a Yoga Teacher Under 30”

  1. Age has absolutely nothing to do with teaching yoga. I am a 25 year old E-RYT 500 who studies, practices and teaches all the time and I know other teachers who are 50 year old 200 hour teachers who teach maybe once a week and have no interest in furthering their personal studies.

    1. How many hours have you spent in the presence of your teacher or an approved senior student? How many tens of thousands of hours have you spent in studying and practice?

    2. I’m 50+ with RYT 200. I teach 5 days a week and I continue to learn everyday. I’m signed up for a prenatal teacher training and an adjustments workshop and I’m always learning something new in my personal practice of Ashtanga/Mysore. In teacher training, I was taught to teach what you know. Maybe what I currently know is not everything, but it is something and worth sharing.

    3. The author talked about not trusting anyone over 30 in the 60’s and 70’s as a metaphor.. not literally. The gist of the article is that anyone can plunk down a few thousand and get a certificate to teach yoga AND do teacher training. If you’re 25 and have done yoga since age 15 … good for you… but there are nuances about every day life that come into yoga practice from the real world that a 25 year old does not have. Sorry .. I am not being “ageist” but you were a young teenager during the financial crisis of 2008 … only 11 during the 911 tragedies. My yoga teacher has 30 years of practice and teaching. She’s also had a lifetime of experiences that work their way into her practice that frankly a 25 year old would not have.. kids, loss, birth, death, marriages , divorces… yes this is the physical realm but it makes a difference how people relate. 25 is young.. and there is no way I would choose a 25 year old for a teacher training … maybe for a vinyasa class here or there… But.. this is just my opinion.

      1. As a 50+ teacher, having taught for almost 30 yrs, I totally agree. I cringe when I think about how and what I was teaching 30 years ago. But over the years as i studied, trained, practised and taught… while raising 3 sons, buring parents, divorcing, dealing with frightening financial woes all the while taking yoga further and further off my mat and my teaching grew and changed. Youth may have better looking ab’s, but experience that comes with age is priceless. ~c

  2. Wow what an ageist, small minded post. As a 30 year old who’s practiced yoga for 10 years and Buddhist meditation for 8 years and worked as a social worker for many years. It is very dangerous to think that with age automatically comes wisdom. I have encountered many wise souls under the age of 30 and many very narrow minded people over the age of 30. Judging a teacher on their skills and knowledge, rather than elitist might be a better way of judging a teacher, but what do I know I’ve only been on this planet for 30 years.

    1. Despite the story’s title, it’s not about being under or over 30, or anything like that. It’s about yoga teacher training, and its requirements, contrasted to, for example, the requirements for teaching 6-year-olds.

  3. Age is irrelevant to the lifetimes of wisdom one can embody….and regulation of yoga is a finite act of a practice that is beyond infinite. The Christ died at 33. Siddhartha awakened well before 40… Yogananda…need I say more. Let’s get our thinking caps on and write about something worth reading. The Yoga Alliance is a joke…

    1. Age was just the peg I was hanging my hat on. It was not the point. As for writng something worth reading, if you have a suggestion, I’m all ears. I do sometimes interview people who do interesting things in the yoga world for one of my monthly stories. If you’re up for that, let me know.

      1. Then you shouldn’t have titled your article that way. Is concerning and makes people skeptical about young yoga teachers, who can be very good teachers despite being less than 30.

    2. The Christ never died, Jesus did. One is an energy, the other is a man. A 30 year old can’t understand the complexities of a 50 year old’s body.
      Think before you speak,

  4. Yoga teacher training is how Yoga studios keep their doors open and Yoga teachers pay their bills. Point. Blank. Period. People can talk about them until they are blue in the face. As long as Yoga studios and teachers can make a crap ton of money off of them, they are going to continue. Why can they make a lot of money? Because the average person attending class at a Yoga Studio is there for a work out and to feel good and they don’t care who does it for them. Second, because the “yoga lifestyle” has been romanticized which causes people who don’t know crap about yoga to sign up for training. I don’t have the answer. Articles like this are not going to change anything because the people who do the trainings are A. Not going to read them B. Just feel attacked and get defensive C. Already know all of this but the money is too good to stop. P.S. Most people fall into the third category. Same reason strippers keep stripping and drug dealers keep selling. They would prefer to do something else. They just don’t know anything else that gives them the same amount of money.

    1. This comment is amazing. You totally covered a few of my thoughts. In agreement with last comment and the author’s commentary. I’ve been teaching yoga for around 9 years. Started in my twenties and am now in my mid-thirties. While I don’t think you can lump all crappy teachers together by age and I know that wasn’t the point of the article, I can attest that I am a better teacher at 30 plus….but it’s due to experience. Like most people, I started teaching for me, bc it looked like fun and I could do lots of poses, and wanted to show off in front of a class and make playlists. I’m convinced that at least one of those is a goal of most new yoga teachers/enthusiasts. …also wearing fun yoga pants to work. The whole lifestyle is glamorized but there is nothing glamourous about it. Early mornings, weekends, sweaty bodies, low pay….need I say more?

      If anyone sticks with teaching yoga more than a few years it’s because they genuinely love the practice and want to share it with others. Best job ever in my opinion….complaints aside.

  5. I’m at a loss for why you used a picture of BKS Iyengar for this article, but neglected to mention his name, much less how the Iyengar method of training and credentialing teachers is so far more rigorous and advanced than the Yoga Alliance. For people looking for experienced, knowledgable teachers, I recommend finding a studio that specializes in teaching using Mr. Iyengar’s approach.

    1. I used the picture of BKS Iyengar because he’s a recognized public figure, even today, and he also, for my purposes, looks like he is over 30. I didn’t bring Iyengar Yoga into the story because it wasn’t germaine, at least not to me.

  6. How do you reach this conclusion that: “Yoga can be traced back about 5, 000 years, although some researchers believe it may be 10, 000 years old.” What do you even mean by “yoga” in this statement? The first mention of “yoga” in the ṛgveda is about joining the prayers of priests to the god being prayed to. That seems very much removed from the “yoga” your article is talking about.

  7. 5000 years? More-or-less. Here it is.

    The earliest extant systematic account of yoga and a bridge from the earlier Vedic uses of the term is found in the Hindu Katha Upanisad (Ku), a scripture dating from about the third century BCE[…] [I]t describes the hierarchy of mind-body constituents—the senses, mind, intellect, etc.—that comprise the foundational categories of Sāmkhya philosophy, whose metaphysical system grounds the yoga of the Yogasutras, Bhagavad Gita, and other texts and schools.

    ‘Yoga, Brief History of an Idea’, David Gordon White, Princeton University Press.

  8. Why is B.K.S. Iyengar’s face towering over this blog post? He has nothing to do with this post.

      1. Apology for saying this… out of respect for his work, you should think about removing his picture from this article. It’s got nothing to do with him.

      2. It is unethical to use his photo when the post has nothing to do with him or his tradition.

  9. I am blown away at the fact that this article has any positive feedback. To tell any prospective Yoga student who is unfortunate enough to read this that they are better off going to a class with a teacher over 30 is absolutely agist and just false. I know may 40+ teachers who are brand new just starting out and others in there 20s who have dedicated almost a decade of their life already to Yoga and take great responsibility in what they do. Also fact check: a fresh 200hr teacher cannot just open a Yoga Teacher training – recheck your research. Yes we have a problem with pushing out Yoga Teachers left and right. 200hr isnt enough, but good news – the dedicated ones usually take great responsibility and dedication to make sure they are providing quality and leading by example. Age – irrelevant

  10. The title is just to catch the eyes, age has been never a bar for the quality of techings, yoga is a self disciplining and dedication to teach what you practice in your every day life then you can never go wrong because you have done all your trail and errors now what you have the the refind knowledge. My teacher thought me 3 C that means on the path of yoga there is no compition, no comparison and no copy. As long as a yoga teacher follow These 3 C, can’t go wrong. Namaste

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