Take the next step in your yoga career with a specialist teacher training.
By Catherine McCormack
When it comes to yoga, learning is infinite. In her many years of teaching, Sunny Richards-Glasser, founder of the Santosha yoga teacher training company, has completed no less than seven different certifications. “My true belief is that as a teacher, you must always be a student,” she says.
Leigh Blashki, vice president of Yoga Australia, agrees that post-graduate education is not only beneficial for a teacher’s own practice, it is vital for career development. “Every professional industry in the world recognises that a person is only as good as their knowledge and experience,” he says. “And while the basic principles of yoga haven’t changed in thousands of years, communication styles change; there’s now a greater emphasis placed on safety, and teachers may want to extend their skills into specialised areas.”
As yoga becomes ever more popular and general classes increasingly competitive, “It makes sense for many teachers to specialise,” says Ana Davis founder of Bliss Baby Yoga, a prenatal and postnatal yoga teacher training organisation. “Of course, I would recommend teachers specialise in an area they are passionate about—unless there is passion and integrity behind what you do, I don’t believe you will ultimately succeed, no matter how big the gap is in the market.”
Specialist teacher trainings can also deepen our understanding of yoga. Mary Hropic, a hatha yoga teacher and registered nurse on the New South Wales south coast, is set to graduate from the International Yoga Teachers Association (IYTA) prenatal training and finds the course has, “Richly broadened my knowledge of yoga, especially working with the koshas [layers of awareness]”, she says. “I never quite understood the concept, but now I have a deep understanding of how they can be related to an individual asana and how they can enrich a yoga teacher’s class plan.”
Embrace your beginner’s mind and set your career on an exciting new path, with our comprehensive guide to specialist teacher trainings.
A fusion of yoga and aerial arts, AntiGravity Yoga classes are held in silk hammocks suspended from the ceiling. Students learn to move with—and within—the soft cocoon of fabric to perform a variety of poses.
“I was initially drawn to AntiGravity Yoga by the hammock,” says Robin Anderson, an Iyengar-trained yoga teacher and co-founder of Silver Leaf Yoga on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. “From what I saw on the Internet, it seemed like a beautiful and versatile new yoga prop.”
In fact, the hammocks take almost all pressure off the spine, making AntiGravity Yoga a wonderful option for students suffering back problems. “The joy of teaching AntiGravity Yoga is knowing that every student can access the incredible feeling of traction and lightness, regardless of ability,” says Iain Wisdom of Brisbane-based AntiGravity Yoga studio Flight Skool—the first studio in Australia to offer teacher training.
The four-day courses are run by AntiGravity’s American founder, Christopher Harrison, who teaches participants his copyrighted moves. To be accepted, you must have previous experience in yoga or another movement-based modality, such as dance, personal training, aerial arts and gymnastics. To become qualified to teach, you must also complete an apprenticeship of 50 hours or more and pass a written exam.
There are nine studios offering AntiGravity around Australia and, “Graduates can teach in a licensed commercial studio or on a one-on-one personal trainer basis,” says Wisdom.
The many benefits of this yoga style include empowering students to trust and enjoy inversions. “I enjoy watching people overcome their fear of going upside down,” says Sydney-based AntiGravity Yoga teacher Holly Coles. “For me, being upside down is an integral part of life and I have experienced so many benefits that I would hate for other people to miss out!”
A relatively new form of yoga, Aqua Yoga classes take place in a pool. They are gentle and very low impact, making them ideal for pregnant women, the elderly and those who suffer medical conditions or physical limitations.
“The buoyancy of water reduces body ‘weight’, which reduces stress on the joints and connective tissues,” explains Cris Chi, director of Yoga Alliance International Australia and New Zealand, and creator of the training program Flow Aqua Yoga. Chi took her own asana practice into the pool after sustaining a serious ankle injury several years ago.
The two-day Flow Aqua Yoga teacher training course equips participants with 40 hatha yoga poses and modifications for use in the water, touches on the history and philosophy of yoga, and takes a glimpse at the chakra system.
“Our goal is threefold,” says Chi. “Teaching instructors to safely apply the proven principles of yoga to a water-based practice, offering yogis an opportunity to enhance and vary their practice, and making yoga accessible to everyone.”
In Birthlight’s two-part, five-day Aqua Yoga diploma course—designed by internationally recognised teacher Francoise Barbira Freedman—the focus is on Aquanatal Yoga, with participants schooled in postures suitable for all stages of pregnancy including the birth.
“Aquanatal Yoga is in my view the most effective form of childbirth preparation,” says Freedman. “Pelvic movements and pelvic floor exercises in water using yoga principles create elasticity for childbirth and greatly facilitate the return to healthy pelvic floor tone afterwards.”
Amanda Gawthrope, a UK-based Aqua Yoga teacher, was inspired to undertake the Birthlight training after personally experiencing a class. “I remember feeling so relaxed and stretched afterwards,” she says. “I love the way women’s faces change by the end of a class—you can physically see that most have a more open and comfortable look about them.”
Ayurveda is a holistic health care system born in the time of the Vedas. Considered one of the world’s oldest healing sciences, Ayurveda works on the principle that within each individual are three basic energy types (doshas). Treatments, such as herbal remedies, massage, pranayama, yoga and body cleanses, seek to restore imbalance in the doshas.
Meta Doherty, a Perth-based yoga teacher and Ayurvedic consultant, discovered the system after 20 years of asana and had a profound realisation. “Having first studied yoga in the tradition of Krishnamacharya, I noticed that his approach customised recommendations to each student individually,” she says.
“I realised his was an Ayurvedic approach.”
After completing Yoga Trinity’s 50-hour Ayurveda and Yoga Therapy workshop, Danielle Mondahl, who teaches at Yoga NRG on the Sunshine Coast, says, “I finally understood that my natural way of teaching was quite kapha (the dosha responsible for the structure of the body) and that I hadn’t known the way to bring more fire, ether or air to my classes,” she says. “With my new understanding, I am able to customise classes to suit the students who show up. I can adjust for the season, the weather or the mood.”
Ruth Campbell, a hatha-trained yoga teacher from Pine Rivers Yoga in Brisbane, uses her knowledge of Ayurveda to offer students alternative practices to asana. “This is particularly useful in teaching special groups, such as the elderly,” she says.
Most certificate-level training programs to become an Ayurveda consultant run for around 35 weeks and teach participants how to assess a client’s constitutional body type and health status, and provide advice as well as therapeutic remedies. Ayurvedic philosophy, anatomy and physiology, alongside massage techniques and nutrition are also on the curriculum.
Further study options include a diploma or advanced diploma (around two years) to become an Ayurvedic practitioner. Look for providers who offer a Nationally Recognised Training qualification, meaning the course can count towards a Bachelor of Health Science.
PRENATAL & POSTNATAL YOGA
With Australia in the middle of its biggest baby boom in history, there is a real demand for well-trained prenatal and postnatal yoga teachers. More than just modified asana classes, pregnancy yoga can empower women and help them prepare for birth physically, mentally and emotionally. “There is nothing more important than birthing the next generation with wisdom, compassion and empowerment,” says Janice Clarfield, founder and director of Urban Yoga, which offers teacher trainings around the world. “How women gestate and birth is utterly formative for each human life.”
Ana Davis of Bliss Baby Yoga, says, “Training as a pre- or postnatal yoga teacher obviously gives you the practical tools so that you can work safely and confidently with mothers and mothers-to-be. That’s a big reason people give for doing our trainings, but many say it also colours their approach to their own practice and teaching.
“A big focus is embodying the yogic yama [moral principle] of ahimsa [non-harm], and this teaches them to not only be compassionate towards students, but also more compassionate towards themselves.”
Teacher trainings also provide participants with a good grounding in therapeutic techniques such as Yoga Nidra, visualisation, partner work and chanting.
Currently there is no national standard for prenatal yoga, and trainings can vary in length and format. Some are a mix of on-site and correspondence study, others are intensive workshops over a few days, and then there are those that are purely online. With student safety a key issue, the training you choose should provide in-depth learning about the contraindications and health issues that can arise during pregnancy.
Safety is equally important in postnatal yoga classes. “There are many postnatal problems teachers should be aware of when teaching postnatal women,” says Melissa Knapp, owner of specialist Sydney studio Yoganic, which offers Birthlight teacher trainings. “For example, a weak pelvic floor, loose or achy joints, low energy or fatigue, lower back pain, depression and wound healing from a caesarean section. Postnatal yoga should focus on closing the body rather than opening the body, as we do in general yoga classes.”
While you don’t have to have been pregnant to be a prenatal or postnatal teacher, educators do suggest the training best suits those who have a nurturing and compassionate nature, and a positive understanding of the naturalness of birth. “You don’t have to be a mother, but you need to know how to mother and have the capacity to see yourself as pregnant,” says Suzanne Swan director of Brisbane-based Yogababy.
It’s the fastest-growing field of yoga and an ideal study option for teachers looking to delve more deeply into the healing abilities of yoga, and work one-on-one with students. “Yoga Therapy addresses the specific health needs of an individual, treating the individual not the condition,” says Jennifer Schrader, president of the Australian Association of Yoga Therapists (AAYT), Australia’s peak representative organisation for Yoga Therapy.
In her own practice, Schrader works with people in wheelchairs, and those suffering post-traumatic stress and anxiety disorders. “Yoga therapists address how the condition affects the individual physically, energetically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually,” she says.
For acceptance into most AAYT-recognised certificate and diploma Yoga Therapy programs (which are about 12 months), you’ll need to have completed a recognised teacher training qualification, a minimum of 500 hours teaching and demonstrate a commitment to your own yoga practice. Trainings are intensive and cover anatomy and physiology, professional practice and applied Yoga Therapy.
“In order to be recognised by the medical and general community as a valid and useful healthcare modality, yoga therapists need to have the high levels of training and skills that you’d expect in any other healthcare provider,” explains Schrader.
Cari Havican, a yoga teacher, naturopath and remedial massage therapist in the New South Wales Hunter region, undertook the Australian Institute of Yoga Therapy’s (AIYT) Graduate Certificate in Yoga Therapy, “to ensure I was teaching appropriate practices for the various health conditions I saw at classes and in my private tuition sessions”, she says.
Now training with Ganesh Mohan from Svastha Yoga Therapy, Havican says that, while outcomes are individual, most clients, “find a deeper sense of stillness and peace, which helps them to cope with their health or injury condition while they continue with their medical team’s treatment plan”.
Within the field of Yoga Therapy there are also specialised workshops, such as Annette Loudon’s two-day Yoga and Breast Cancer training. Ruth Miller, an Adelaide-based Karuna yoga teacher, was drawn to the workshop after feeling ill-equipped to teach yoga to a friend who was diagnosed with aggressive stage four breast cancer. “I am now aware of the specific practices that can help cancer patients both physically and mentally with the effects of the different treatments and with the many issues which arise emotionally,” she says.
PARTNER YOGA & ACROYOGA
Sherrelle Dolphin, a Queensland-based yoga teacher who runs regular flowing partner classes, believes, “For optimum health and happiness we need human touch. Partner yoga classes offer the space for nourishing skin-to-skin contact, as well as gaining a fuller stretch and a deeper sense of relaxation,” she says.
With roots in the ancient practice of Tantra, partner yoga brings two or more people together on the mat to perform a series of asanas. With the emphasis on touch as much as it is on breath and asana, this dynamic style of yoga can deepen relationships and help students experience profound love and trust.
It can also sharpen a teacher’s skill at offering adjustments and help build connections at a studio. “Incorporating some partner yoga or assisted postures into your regular classes can deepen the community that you are creating within your studio or class setting,” says Dolphin. “Some people will continue to come to yoga just for that loving touch during class.”
Courses in partner yoga generally run for three to five days, and cover poses and sequences, acrobatics and flying yoga, and adjustments.
A similar discipline is AcroYoga, an acrobatics-style practice that includes partner or small group work and Thai massage. “AcroYoga heightens and doubles everything because we always work in groups or pairs,” says Stacey Elmes, one of Australia’s five certified AcroYoga teachers. “What is usually a private internal journey, becomes a shared experience with others on the AcroYoga teacher training course. The benefit of that is you instantly have an entire loving network around you to help you evolve to a new level of consciousness.”
Elmes undertook her teacher training in California with AcroYoga founders Jenny Sauer-Klein and Jason Nemer. There are regular workshops and immersions in Australia that qualify students to partake in the teacher training course in California or Greece with Sauer-Klein and Nemer. But you must be a student of the practice first, so get the ball rolling with a class or one of AcroYoga Australia’s workshops.
THAI YOGA MASSAGE
With roots in yoga and Ayurveda, Thai Yoga Massage is a dynamic, full-body treatment that uses a combination of asana-like stretches, trigger point therapy, deep tissue massage and meditation to help unblock energy channels, and promote flow and freedom in the body.
Most teacher trainings run for three to five days and cover the foundations of Thai Yoga Massage—awareness, body mechanics, movement and massage—as well as sequencing, acupressure, energy work and meditation. Practitioners learn to move students through a flowing sequence of asana-style poses that are chosen to complement their energy and constitution. Advanced Thai Massage courses further investigate the concept and application of sip sen (traditional energy lines).
“Thai Yoga Massage is a great opportunity for yoga teachers to offer private sessions and build a therapeutic yoga practice,” says Heather Agnew from Yoga Trinity, which offers a range of teacher trainings. “But there are also many great benefits in using it within a class environment: bringing assisted stretches, massage and energy work to general classes gives students a wonderful hands-on treatment, some personal attention and also offers a unique class experience.”
Dr Shari Read, a Buddhist psychotherapist and vinyasa flow yoga teacher from Bodhi Tree Yoga & Wellness in Canberra, says “Thai Yoga Massage offers me another tool to share metta and joy with people, another way to help ease their suffering.”
Read’s training also helped her feel more confident giving her students adjustments. “It’s very helpful to feel how other people’s bodies move in response to your touch. Or in terms of their range of movement, levels of comfort with being touched, and how this might translate into prana,” she says. “Learning to touch and be touched is an essential part of [the teaching] process, particularly if we are going to be guiding other people in the use of their bodies.”
BABY, KIDS, TEEN & FAMILY YOGA
Baby yoga classes are a unique opportunity for mothers to bond with their child, learn massage and loving touch, and get some much-needed relaxation. Unlike postnatal classes (where the baby is left out of the yoga), baby yoga—also called mum and bubs yoga—incorporates the little one into the practice.
Most prenatal and postnatal trainings incorporate baby yoga in their syllabus, and Birthlight offers a diploma, with short modules undertaken over a four-month period. The course covers infant development and psychology, Indian baby massage and specific yoga sequences to alleviate common health complaints.
“For baby yoga it is important to learn about the developmental phases of a baby and how to modify the movements for babies of different age groups,” says Yoganic’s Melissa Knapp.
Those interested in teaching this style need to have or develop, “Adaptability, non-attachment, creativity, the willingness to have fun and a love of babies,” she adds. “And you have to be able to relax—babies are unpredictable, so it’s important for teachers to plan well, but be able to improvise and adapt to changing situations.”
Teaching yoga to children and teens can also be a very rewarding experience. Loraine Rushton, founder of Zenergy Yoga in Sydney, says, “Children face many more challenges nowadays and yoga can help them, not only on a physical level, but also on a mental and emotional level, too. This is where yoga’s profound impact lies—it targets the whole child and works on all levels.”
Specialist trainings cover asana, exercises, meditations and stories that can help kids enjoy and engage with yoga. Most are short, intensive workshops held over three days. Yoga Therapy for kids teacher training courses are also available, and these address the special needs of children with physical and mental health issues.
Family yoga includes parents in the mix, and trainings in this specialisation give teachers the skills to create dynamic, engaging and fun yoga classes that are suitable for a range of ages. Jasmine Healy-Pagan, a certified Prana Flow yoga teacher, has been teaching family yoga in Townsville for the past two years. She bases her monthly class around a particular theme and loves seeing, “Families play and laugh together, connect in creative ways and simply enjoy some unique time to explore the fun and freedom that comes with yoga”, she says.
Catherine McCormack is a freelance writer and Ashtanga yoga practitioner based in Sydney.