Yoga Teacher Training: How Teaching Begets Learning

This entry was posted on Mar 18, 2013 by Charlotte Bell.

Every once in a while, I reflect on what it means to have practiced yoga for 38 years. It’s honestly hard to fathom. Time is a pretty elastic concept for me, but if I reflect on how old I was when I started—26!—I can’t help but marvel at the lifelong friend yoga has been for all these years. And still, when I contemplate the vastness and depth of all that is yoga, I feel as if I’m a complete novice.

Last fall, I often appear as a guest teacher in trainings in my town. I’ve been asked by students multiple times over the years if I’d ever thought about teaching a yoga teacher training. While I’ve certainly thought about it, the idea is truly daunting to me. Even after so many decades of practice I’m not sure I’m ready. Teaching teachers is sacred work—and a huge responsibility.

Ready or Not

Sometimes when an opportunity keeps knocking, you have to at least have a look. So, because of the sincerity and commitment of those who invited me, I accepted both yoga teacher training opportunities. For months before the first one started, I was beset with nervous agitation and fears of inadequacy every time I thought about the upcoming trainings. Still, I felt it was time for me to stretch, to challenge my own teaching identity, scary as that seems.

I’ve already cotaught three weekend teacher trainings for the Avenues. Despite my nervousness and apprehension, the weekends were wonderful. The crop of trainees is sincere, thoughtful, curious, open and thirsty for knowledge, not just contact hours. Best of all, I’ve learned a lot, both from my teaching colleagues and from the trainees—in just three sessions.

I especially loved co-teaching. In 26 years of teaching, there are wonderful poses, concepts and practices that have been buried and effectively lost from my psyche. Co-teaching helps shake loose some of these long-lost concepts and brings them back to awareness. Seemingly offhand comments by another teacher or questions from trainees brought back all kinds of buried gems. Hmmm … maybe I know a little more than I thought.

Beginner’s Mind

Last night after my regular, weekly Wednesday evening class, a longtime student asked me about the yoga teacher training at the university. I expressed my doubts about my qualifications to her saying, “I felt a whole lot more confident about my skills 25 years ago than I do now.” I meant it. I think this is true of any discipline:  Early on, you don’t know enough to understand how little you actually know. After years of deep looking, you understand that there’s always more. You start to see the vastness and depth of it. You return to “beginner’s mind.” I think this is positive.

I’ve always loved Suzuki Roshi’s quote from his classic book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind:  “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.” If you think you know it all, what’s the point of looking deeper? Not knowing opens up endless possibilities for discovery and exploration. I’m especially grateful to meditation practice for allowing me to be comfortable in “don’t know mind.”

The University of Utah/Westminster College yoga teacher training starts in June. We’re calling it a 300-hour continuing ed opportunity. Yes, those hours will fulfill Yoga Alliance’s requirements for registration with the organization. More important, my teaching colleague, Marlena Lambert, and I hope that the training will be a springboard for more inquiry and learning—for the students and for the two of us!


About Charlotte Bell
Charlotte Bell discovered yoga in 1982 and began teaching in 1986. Charlotte is the author of Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life: A Guide for Everyday Practice and Yoga for Meditators, both published by Rodmell Press. Her third book is titled Hip-Healthy Asana: The Yoga Practitioner’s Guide to Protecting the Hips and Avoiding SI Joint Pain (Shambhala Publications). She writes a monthly column for CATALYST Magazine and serves as editor for Yoga U Online. Charlotte is a founding board member for GreenTREE Yoga, a non-profit that brings yoga to underserved populations. A lifelong musician, Charlotte plays oboe and English horn in the Salt Lake Symphony and folk sextet Red Rock Rondo, whose DVD won two Emmy awards in 2010.

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