Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What the doctorate can learn from yoga teacher training

This weekend, I did so many down dogs for so long that today I can hardly lift my arms parallel to the floor and draw them to touch in front of my body. It was a yoga teacher training (YTT) weekend. It strikes me that YTT is both very much like, and very much unlike, the doctorate.

Many people join yoga teacher training programs for the same reason they start doctorates: they are skilled and enthusiastic students of the discipline in question, and want to "go deeper" or "take the next step." They may admire their primary teachers and start to imagine what life at the front of the room might be like.

But the academy and the kula diverge at the point of advanced study. In my doctorate, I received a lot of training in how to be an even better student of my discipline: how to do advanced research, how to gain field coverage, what books to read and buy. And this is true of my YTT as well: my physical asana study has gained a new intensity and depth. However, in my YTT, I'm receiving explicit and sustained instruction in how to be a yoga teacher, and a yoga professional. I didn't get either of those things, or in nearly such depth, in my doctorate.

For example, in my YTT, we learn what kind of language is most effective for helping beginners move their bodies into the shapes we want. How to modulate our voices to create a rhythm in class, how to use enthusiasm to create energy. How to create a safe and effective sequence and lesson plan. What it means to ask students to look at our bodies, about sexualization and transference and asking someone you trust to tell you if your pants are see through. How studios operate, how to market ourselves and get work as teachers, what the going rates are. What techniques can help students with injured bodies, with round bodies, with aged or otherwise non-normative bodies.

Here in the academy, we talk a lot, currently, about 'professionalization' of the PhD--by this we seem to mean, "teaching students skills they can use in jobs that are not professor jobs." This implies that the doctorate is already teaching students the skills of being a professor, and professionalization means everything-but-professor training. But we're not training people to be professors now, nor have we ever, really. Because as far as I can tell, the doctorate is just an advanced-practice workshop of studentship. Are we incorporating pedagogy training into the core of the degree? Training students how to craft a successful article submission, conference presentation, or job letter? Offering strategies for teaching non-majors, or non-native language speakers, or non-traditional students, or service courses? Outlining the political skills of grantsmanship, or curricular overhaul, or program review?

Mostly, no.

My YTT has advanced practice and pedagogy and ethics and business and see-through-pants-ness woven through it to tightly that there's no real boundary between something purely "professional" and something purely, well, "pure." Professionalization is still a dirty word, though, in the academy, and the boundary between the pure pursuits of studentship and the more prosaic or workaday labour or skills or economic aspects is rigidly, emphatically, sometimes even self-righteously enforced. We might ask ourselves why.


  1. Great article Aimée! As someone in academia I can relate to the whole idea of how a Doctorate makes you a better student, but not necessarily a better prof.

  2. Thank you for writing this! I'm a certified teacher in the dance style I teach and perform, and I have a PhD. I've definitely noticed some parallels (and divergences) in how professional skills are taught in these arenas, so I appreciate you developing these ideas.

  3. Thank you, Gwen and Jeana -- I'm glad the post resonates with you. I find it fascinating how work in different disciplines can really shed light on what we do and value in our main discipline that we might not have seen but for the contrast ....


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