One afternoon, about 25 years ago, I got a phone call from the owner of a yoga studio in Malibu where I regularly attended classes. He asked me if I wanted to sub a class. I alerted him to the fact that I was a massage therapist not a teacher, and had never taught anything in my life – in fact, I was extremely uncomfortable in front of a lot of people. He reassured me that I would be okay and that I had a very good practice and seemed to know all the poses, so I reluctantly said yes. When the day came I was able to lead the class, not teach the class. In lieu of actual instructions, I added my favorite music (Seal, Crazy) in order to fill in some space. I also made sure to give everyone a good neck rub hoping they would return if not for yoga then at least for another neck rub!!
In retrospect, that phone call changed my life in so many positive ways. Many doors opened up, each with their own challenges and possibilities. The first door was at YogaWorks. Realizing that I had to work on my craft, I started taking classes there and when my two favorite senior teachers Erich Schiffmann and Rod Stryker offered a training, I without hesitation signed up. Not only did I desperately need to learn how to teach, but I wanted to deepen my practice.
In 1992, the only option at Yogaworks as far as trainings was a 6 weekend training twice a year. Short indeed (half the length of current trainings) but sweet; no anatomy, no prenatal, less sequencing, less teaching, less philosophy and a very short exam (yeah!). I loved it. 6 months later, Maty Ezraty (the founder of Yogaworks) and Chuck Miller attended my class in Malibu, and after giving me some very painful yet constructive feedback, they gave me three early morning classes at Yogaworks. In 1992, I became part of the Yogaworks family!
For many years at Yogaworks there were only a couple of trainings a year and just a handful of trainers. I never dreamed that I would ever be able to lead one, but 7 years into teaching I was asked to assist a training with Maty Ezraty and Lisa Walford. Back then, we didn’t even think to ask for compensation; it was simply an honor and of course a serious time commitment. I was amazed at how the training had evolved and grown from 6 weekends to 9. The curriculum had improved and I was learning more philosophy, sequencing, and also some anatomy. After assisting two trainings, Lisa Walford took me under her patient and compassionate wings and together we taught a training. Yes, another door opened. It was exciting, humbling, and overwhelming!
In 2015, Yogaworks Teacher Trainings are taught in 19 countries totaling around 90 trainings per year nationally and internationally. The weekend format is taught over 12 weekends, and there are 65 trainers. The curriculum continues to evolve, expand, and improve with the collective collaboration of senior teachers. There are 5 manuals, 4 books, extensive homework, an in-class exam and a take-home exam. Assistants are compensated, mentored, and appreciated. In addition to the 200 hour training, students can continue with a 300 hour training where they develop more refined teaching skills through an apprenticeship with a senior teacher.
It is true that there are an abundance of yoga trainings and perhaps an excess of yoga teachers. It is true that yoga has become an industry and therefore part of a big machine that can sometimes challenge the integrity and purpose of yoga. But as I look back, I am reminded of how that first training changed my life. Not only did it make me a better teacher and student, but it especially made me a kinder person, more openminded, and tolerant. The training opened and widened the doorway to my Inner Self.
As a Yogaworks teacher trainer, I have the opportunity to inspire and nurture those same qualities in my students. With every training I teach, I am reminded of how much more there is to learn and it keeps me humble. I am forever a student and I am deeply thankful for all my teachers, my fellow colleagues, the founders of Yogaworks, and especially Lisa Walford who is the fountainhead of integrity.
Find out more about 25 years of YogaWorks Teacher Training history here
Birgitte Kristen is a YogaWorks teacher, YogaWorks teacher trainer, and MyYogaWorks online yoga instructor. Birgitte’s yoga classes offer a mindful, methodical, and meditative approach to yoga where she encourages students to slow down and to listen to their bodies, to respect and honor themselves. Check out Birgitte’s website, take her classes online on MyYogaWorks or in studio at YogaWorks Santa Monica, or connect with her on Facebook.