The Value of Yin Yoga Teacher Training
Yin Yoga is unlike some other forms of Hatha yoga in that it is not a copyrighted style and people therefore legally don’t need to do formal training to be licensed to teach this style of yoga. But does this mean it’s safe or okay to teach yin with little knowledge of what yin yoga essentially is?
I myself, didn’t start teaching Yin until after my first Yin training as this was a condition of teaching it at the studio where I wanted to teach it at, which is fair enough as I didn’t feel I knew enough anyway. This training was with Sarah Powers (the yogi who gave Yin its name) in 2014 and very different from the other 3 yin trainings I’ve done with Bernie Clark and Jo Phee, it had a focus on mindfulness and meridians which was a great complement to the other trainings I did. I then trained with Jo Phee in 2017, Bernie Clark in 2018 and again with Jo Phee in 2019. Each of these Yin courses have benefited me greatly.
I spoke to a Bikram teach several years a go who said it wasn’t necessary to do training since it isn’t copyrighted and all she did was read ‘the book’ on it. I was quite surprised at this comment as I don’t think yin is simple to teach and which book was she referring to, there are many? It is also a very different style to teach to Bikram which is a very Yang style of yoga with a set sequence and mandatory dialogue.
I like to attend other teachers Yin classes for my own practice and to see how others teach and to enhance my own teaching skills. In one of these classes I came across a teacher who was a highly trained Ashtanga teacher who didn’t believe it was necessary to do any formal yin training in order to teach yin. This teacher didn’t believe yoga bolsters should be used in yin (as this would make the poses too comfortable and restorative), the only props which were allowed were yoga blocks and tennis balls. There was no mention in this class of the 3 Tattvas (principles) of how yin should be practiced (appropriate depth – stillness – holding for time) and no mention of the muscles needing to be relaxed to allow the yin tissues to be stressed and targeted. The class was mostly in silence, with no mention of where the target area was for each of the poses (where we should be feeling it), alternative options if that pose didn’t suit our anatomy or exacerbated an injury and in among this were some random sun sulatations with Chaturangas. Was it a safe class? No class is ever going to be 100% safe no matter how much training a teacher has done, but I do believe a teacher who educates their students about the 3 principles of Yin Yoga and understand skeletal variation will offer a safer class than one who has not got this knowledge.
This was one aspect of a teacher teaching regular yin classes without training.
On the flip side, I also attended a beautiful yin class at a studio I used to work at with a teacher who had not done any formal training much to my surprise. I really enjoyed this class. This teacher was a huge fan of Bernie Clark and had spent many hours studying his comprehensive website and reading his books, which helped explain her knowledge. Would she benefit from doing formal yin training, I’m sure she would, unfortunately it’s not always feasible to do it immediately.
I have been in the lucky financial position to be able to do over 1000 hours of yoga teacher training in the past 7 years, most people are not in this position especially when that training is in 4 different countries, it costs a lot of money and most of us yoga teachers don’t earn a lot of money to begin with. With this has come criticism of having done too much training, I don’t think it’s possible to do too much training. You just need to give yourself time to absorb what you have learnt and then implement it. All I know is I’ve had these opportunities and I am very grateful for them as I have benefited a great deal from them.
Below are some of the key things I have learnt from my yin training:
The 3 tenents of yin yoga and how important it is to talk about this in the first pose especially when there are newbies in the room.
How and why props (bolsters, blocks, blankets, straps, sand bags, tennis balls, twin balls) are used in yin yoga. Props are used very differently in yin to other styles (especially restorative yoga). We use props for many reasons, including; to increase the stress in the target area; to reduce the stress in the target area; to change the target area; to make a pose available to you that wouldn’t be available without props; to help the muscles relax by providing support; to make a pose safer; and to create length and space;
The importance of calling the poses by their yin names not their yang equivalent. When we call Caterpillar, Pachiomottanasana instead this can often confuse students and they then go into their Yang autopilot and start practicing a yin pose in a yang way which can be dangerous.
Educating students to practice yin in a yin way, and yang in a yang way to stay safe. i.e relaxing muscles as much as they can, not dorsi-flexing their ankles and activating the quads in caterpillar for 3 – 5 minutes. It doesn’t matter if the feet fall outwards or inwards, this is just torsion through the tibia and is natural.
Educating students about what the target area is for the pose and if they can’t feel it after making some modifications, they may just need a different pose.
Educating students that yoga poses are like penicillin, one may be medicine for you, but poison for your neighbour as we are all unique and that there is no such thing as mastering a pose. The poses are meant to be therapeutic not to wreck your ego! Understanding skeletal variation and that there’s no pose that is safe for everyone (even savasana) and that it is important to give students alternative poses.
Compression versus tension, what’s stopping my student’s going further in a pose?
Educating students that if they’re feeling it in the target area and not feeling bad pain, then the pose is correct and it doesn’t matter if they look different to the person next to them.
Cultivating mindfulness, tolerance and patience in the practice through various tools.
Incorporating pranayama (conscious manipulation of the breath) in the yin practice.
Educating students that yin is not better than yang, they complement each other and nothing is pure yin or yang.
How to sequence effectively and in different ways.
How to have a theme for a class.
The importance of the rebound.
How to sequence according to the meridians.
The importance of the meridians and how Yin can remove blockages in them.
How Yin is a form of myofascial release and how to incorporate Myoyin into classes.
Why fascia is important and how to look after it.
What ‘Creep’ is and why it matters in relation to when is the right time to practice yin and how this changes sequencing, especially for a Yang/Yin class.
It’s not safe for everyone to practice saddle pose by placing the bottom between the feet and that some people have to sit on their feet instead as some people have very little internal rotation through the hip joints and sitting this way could be injurious.
How Yin can be beneficial for sciatica and why sleeping swan pose is not always a good pose for this condition.
In summary, in my humble opinion, if you’re going to teach yin on a regular basis, it’s best to do a formal training to serve your students better, once you have this opportunity. This usually involves 40 hours plus of training. It’s also fairer on the teachers who have invested in training and fairer of the studios to use teachers who are yin trained over teachers who are not.
If you don’t have the opportunity immediately, Paul Grilley, Bernie Clark, Sarah Powers, Norman Blair, Biff Mithoefer, Stefanie Arend (currently in German, available in English in August 2019) and Magdalena Mecweld, have all written books on yin which are invaluable for any yin teacher. Paul and Sarah have also produced DVDS through Pranayama Media which are invaluable, Paul Grilley now has an online training through them as well and Bernie Clark has a wonderful website called yinyoga.com which is full of research, videos, information and even a forum and teachers directory.