The Yogacampus Teacher Training Diploma has become established as one of the UK's top yoga teacher training courses since its inception 12 years ago. Here, we talk to the brains behind the course that has successfully trained over 600 teachers.
Good friends and dedicated members of the teacher training faculty, Cat Brokenshire, Sarah Litton, Sasha Markovic and Liz Lark make up the Yogacampus London Teacher Training Board. We asked each of them what it meant to be part of a programme that honours every path of the centuries old and constantly changing tradition of yoga, and how life on the Board has changed in the last decade since the course was first established.
You are a valued Board member of the Yogacampus Teacher Training Diploma. What do you most enjoy about this role?
My personal and working relationship with the other Board members. Long before Yogacampus Teacher Training diploma was established, we were all colleagues and friends in the yoga world, sharing many experiences, while developing our own individual styles and interpretations of yoga. The mutual respect we hold for each other means we always strive to accommodate different viewpoints from our own, which certainly leads to lively debates. I believe this is a healthy environment in which to review and refine the course structure on an ongoing basis.
Knowing that we are part of a not-for-profit organisation underpins what we do at Yogacampus; allowing us to support the 'giving/giving back' aspect of yoga - karma yoga (yoga of service). Being part of a team that collectively has so much knowledge and experience to bring to the table means we can play to each other’s strengths, thus forming a stronger unit together than individually. The fact that we have known each other for so long, and then worked together since originally designing the course at its inception, brings stability and confidence. It also means that we create a supportive and welded thread for the course, which will transmit to the students.
The four of us have known each other for a very long time, up to 20 years, and we have seen each other’s yoga careers develop and grow. We value and understand each other’s skills and know what it was like to be a beginner even if it was in a different climate. We are all passionate about our teaching and yoga, and it is wonderful to work with people who understand and have been with you on the path. This makes it easier to embrace our differences of opinion and come together on daily decision making. We are a very strong and committed unit and are friends as well as work colleagues.
The connection with wise and varied teachers, in a pool of sharing, evolving knowledge. Witnessing the enthusiasm and freshness of teachers in training is a real privilege, as is their transformation from student to teacher.
The Yogacampus Teacher Training Diploma has been offered since 2003. What changes have you witnessed and experienced in the last 12 years? How have you had to adapt to the ever-changing landscape?
When Yogacampus was set up, there was only a handful of teacher training programmes available in the UK alongside a growing demand for such courses in a burgeoning international yoga scene. So one marked change has been that there is now far more competition, especially with the growth of online marketing and social media. With so much choice out there, a major challenge is how to attract a newer generation of potential trainees who, in a fast-paced culture which encourages short term acquisition and instant results, value the longer term commitment of an 18 month course.
The main changes have been as a result of the burgeoning popularity of yoga, with the ‘branding’ aspect that has resulted from this, and the transition of yoga into the world of the fitness industry, where it is now generally presented as a ‘work out’. It has moved into the mass market, and is big money, which has given birth to new yoga styles such as dynamic, hot, vinyasa flow etc. This means that teachers are being asked not to interrupt this flow in their sessions, to keep the class moving at all times, with the result that many students are unable to keep up, or learn inappropriate or incorrect alignment in poses, and more injuries are occurring as a result.
Yoga has many aspects, the main ones often cited being hatha yoga, jnana yoga, bhakti yoga, raja yoga and karma yoga. Many students of yoga begin with one of these ‘spokes of the wheel of yoga’, and then will gradually move to the other aspects over time ‘to complete the picture’ and fully integrate these aspects into their life and practice. Only practising one ‘spoke’ or aspect can create imbalances, thus it is our duty and intention to offer a course that will give the student a taste of all, a balanced and integrated approach, catering to the uniqueness of each individual, and creating safe, knowledgeable and compassionate teachers.
The popularity of yoga has increased greatly, and there are many teachers and classes out there to choose from. As a result, it can be very difficult for students when they learn to teach as opinions can vary so hugely. So we aim to provide students with a good safe basis from which we encourage them to be creative and intelligent, not teaching what they do not know or understand.
On a personal level, learning the skills to share yoga knowledge to a broadening audience is one way I have had to adapt. In addition to this, every time I teach a session now, I must re - mobilise, prepare myself to share, and hope it will be received well.
In your opinion, what are the most important factors in creating and maintaining a successful and authentic Teacher Training programme?
One key factor, which I think has always been a major strength of Yogacampus, is our non-adherence to any one specific yoga system or personality, which by definition becomes self-limiting. It is essential to operate at a level of co-operation, open-mindedness and compassion that reflects the values of the tradition being presented to students, without compromising efficiency and sound business strategies. By remaining true to these intrinsic principles, we hopefully attract the committed student who is more concerned with enriching their long-term self-development and contributing to the general well-being and health of others, rather than simply acquiring a qualification to further their careers.
To stay true to principles and core values and not to be detrimentally influenced by the way yoga is flowing, but to take the best from new trends to improve and leave the rest. We pride ourselves on offering an authentic teacher training programme that stands us apart from other schools. One of these reasons is our not-for-profit status as mentioned above. Secondly, our focus on teaching step by step, in stages, from the most basic; progressing upwards, to provide a safe and inclusive environment for all. This approach, not following any ‘style’, means that students from all styles of yoga can do our course, and it will enrich and inform their own particular approach. Thirdly, as Board members we are an integral part of the course, between us teaching a large portion of the overall course, and thus we are able to have our fingers on the pulse, and feed this back into our care of students on the course, and how to improve the course if necessary. And last but not least; our course is for all ages, we honour experience and life skills in our teachers and will take students who may be less physically able, if we feel they will ‘make a difference’ in the work they do when graduating.
Instilling or encouraging in students a real love of yoga and the beauty and magic that is the human body - whatever the shape and size. Once a teacher understands the joy of connectivity within themselves and the world around them, then the door is open to the joy of exploration and understanding. Understanding this connectivity is the key to being a good yoga teacher. This allows the students to find their own creativity and to understand that it grows and changes as you do. We are all students and are continually learning.
Authenticity is the key word here. Dedication to our own vision of yoga, how to transmit and share it, tailoring the yoga to individuals, and encouraging their own strengths and unique skills to be utilised and drawn upon in their own teaching. To avoid making 'clones' or 'types' of teachers, but to encourage individual responses and interpretations of yoga, to then find individual ways of teaching. Lastly, I feel it is important not to follow or worry about trends in the yoga world.