Dental Assistants, Hair Stylists, Yoga Teachers, and Software
By Kristine Kaoverii Weber | July 2, 2021
I’m sitting in the office of my son’s dentist, in a bar-stool-height chair they have strategically placed in the corner to keep parents from helicoptering over their work. The dental assistant is navigating my son’s molars.
To fill the empty space I ask her – how long did it take you to become a dental assistant?
“I had to go to school for a year, and then I had to do 3,000 hours of internship, which is about another year and a half,” she replies.
Wow, that’s significant training. What about dental hygienists?
“Well, it’s a lot more work if you want to become a hygienist. For that, you need a minimum of 2 years training, and some people even get bachelor’s or master’s degrees, plus you have to do the hours.”
🤔 Taking care of teeth is some serious business.
Another time, sitting in a hair salon, my head sprouting aluminum foils and beginning to look like a space porcupine, I ask my English hair stylist, Gregory, the same question.
“Well, I trained in London,“ he frowns. “It’s quite different there. You don’t just go to cosmetology school; you spend many years as an apprentice.”
“Which is why you’re so good,” I interject with a grin.
His smile reflects appreciation and experienced knowing – plus a dash of disdain.
“Well, in North Carolina, you need 1500 hours of training – but most people really don’t start to learn until they get out in the salon.”
“Wait a minute,” I’m confused, “Did you say 1500 hours? That’s a year and a half of school full time.” Much more than I expected.
“Yes. Pathetic really,” his “t’s” get sharper as he quips, “Especially if you want to be any good at all.”
😮 Hair is also a serious business.
So, you need at least a year of school to be able to check someone’s teeth, a year and a half to cut their hair (but you won’t be very good), plus you need to intern or apprecentice.
All of this is making me rather embarrassed in comparison to yoga standards.
Lately, I’m seeing a lot of social media complaints about the death of teaching yoga. YouTube is killing us with free classes and studios are offering $9.99 unlimited online memberships. I can understand the concern. But maybe, rather than blaming tech, we should take a look at yoga’s professional standards?
200 hours of training is complete bollocks (I’m sure Gregory would agree).
You are not allowed to clean someone’s teeth or cut someone’s hair with 200 hours of training (at least not in North Carolina) – but somehow, the yoga industry thinks 200 hours is just fine.
Back in the late 90s, when Yoga Alliance was forming, people who wanted to teach typically spent a month studying in an ashram (which was how I did my first training in 1995).
A month of intensive study translates to about 200 hours of training – and so, a standard was born.
YA has tried to remedy this, but they consider themselves a registry, not a member organization. They exist to protect the public from poor teaching, not to serve their membership. And whenever they try to upgrade their standards they get so much pushback that they back off (this happened recently as they rolled back the requirement that you need to be an eRYT500 to lead RYT200 trainings.)
By some estimates, in the U.S., as many as 500,000 people have been trained at the 200 hour level. Some of these folks never teach yoga. Others stop studying and start teaching the minute they finish. I know people who started teacher training programs within months of finishing their 200 hour training.
Some newly trained 200 hour teachers have a lot going for them – they may be former gymnasts or dancers, some are quite charismatic.
However, charisma is no substitute for good yoga teaching – sure it helps with marketing, but, eventually, it wears thin. It can never replace excellent, seasoned, studied, experienced skills. Plus the kind of folks you really want to work with can see through all that stuff anyway.
The reality is that there are no shortcuts to good yoga teaching. It requires not only good training, but a commitment to lifelong study.
We trust our dental assistants and our hair stylists to be trained, to do a good job, so why don’t we hold yoga teachers to these standards?
The Who and the What
Other big questions around what’s happening to the yoga industry include: What are people teaching in their yoga classes and who are they teaching?
The curriculum for many yoga teacher training programs is centered around postures for fitness and geared towards teaching yoga for people who already engage in fitness activities like Pilates, Zumba, or HIIT classes. And, if all you can teach is a script that you learned in your 200 hour training, then of course a bot can replace you. Anthony Vennare, a fitness industry trend watcher, has gone so far as to argue that software is eating fitness.
Of course it will eat yoga too if all we offer are scripted fitness classes. Yoga teachers need to make themselves as unique and invaluable as hair stylists – I don’t want just anyone to do my hair – I want Gregory, because I think he’s the best.
So, most teacher training programs are teaching skills that less than 1 out of 10 people in the U.S. are interested in. And if you really drill down into that number, it’s probably more like 1 in 100 people who want fitness oriented, elite-athlete yoga postures – which means that for the fitness-oriented, elite-athlete yoga teacher, the future of the profession is certainly grim.
But more than 90% of the population could benefit from slow, mindful, personalized, safe yoga. And this is where there’s huge potential. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard yoga teachers say that when they got out into the real world, they realized they needed very different skills than what they learned in their training program.
If you are struggling to teach, I suggest that you look for students in places (both online and in person) that cater to the 90 percent of the population that aren’t interested in elite athleticism but do need ways to manage their stress, feel better in their bodies, reduce pain, and find a deeper sense of meaning and purpose – the internet can’t do all that.
These folks want yoga that meets their needs – accessible, personal, not painful or unattainable, health and wellness (rather than elite athlete) focused, time saving, affordable, etc.
If you are worried that your yoga teaching career is being killed by free digital yoga, I offer these three suggestions:
- Keep Studying
Studying and practicing yoga are how you get better at teaching yoga. Svādhyāya doesn’t just mean studying yourself, it also means studying the tradition. Keep exploring. Study related topics too, whatever you’re interested in – psychology, neuroscience, biomechanics, etc. The reality is that 200 hours is a surface scratch, yoga is a lifetime study and there are no shortcuts. My favorite marketing expert, Seth Godin, frequently says that all marketing boils down to one thing – offering the best product or service.
That being said, please know that just because there is always more to learn, insecurity and self-doubt will neither serve you nor your students. If you are a thoughtful, inquisitive, dedicated person (and I will assume that you are because you read my blog 😉), and you are not teaching anything risky, or out of reach, then you are well equipped to help many people and get paid doing it.
So many yoga teachers tell me that they feel like imposters or that they are not smart enough, or flexible enough, or seasoned enough.
Your work matters! You are offering something special, helpful, and meaningful. Your knowledge base is good and growing. Just because there is always more to learn doesn’t mean you are inadequate. Give yourself some credit. (And, BTW a sprinkle of self-doubt is so much more authentic, appealing, and appropriate than calling yourself a “master” teacher because you can nail a one-armed handstand.)
- Find Your Peeps
Every yoga teacher has something special to offer – you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, you just have to be committed to learning and confident that what helped you to transform personally can also help others. Focus on that niche and look for the people you want to work with by finding them where they hang out – in person or online.
I have trained many teachers who have become very successful in working in addiction recovery and with senior populations.
Others help people improve their posture, other specialize in back care, others help mental health professionals manage their stress, others help doctors with self-care. I could go on and on…
The point is that these teachers have found their passion and worked it. They are all thriving. They are not in danger of being gobbled up by YouTube because they have personal relationships with their students (read more about that here).
- Give it Away
I’m serious. Give your knowledge away for free – in person or online. The caveat here is to only give it away when you have a plan. All that free popular yoga on YouTube is backed up by savvy marketing. It has to be, if seva (service) sucks the life out of you, it’s not sustainable.
Remember that if you offer something for free, at the same time, offer something that folks can pay you for too – people feel good about paying for what they value. If you don’t need the money, then offer them a chance to donate to a favorite charity.
Here’s something else that’s really important to remember: everything you do in terms of your yoga business needs to connect with everything else that you do. Never take on anything that doesn’t fit in with your bigger, master plan.
The more you give away (within this carefully considered context), the more you help people get to know you, build their trust, and recognize that you are a dedicated, sincere, devoted, good-hearted person with something valuable to offer. Something that is, when it comes right down to it, even more important than what their dental assistant or hair stylist does.
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