My two year old son and I cruised down an urban Los Angeles street today after attending his super fun, Waldorf-inspired art class. He stopped short to gaze through the window of a dance studio where he saw kids on yoga mats. Initially pleased to see the local studio was offering yoga, I peeked in with a smile. My smile soon faded as I watched the nine students struggle to keep up with the teacher’s pace. The students and teacher were all lined up in one row, facing the mirrors. The students directly adjacent to the teacher had a decent view, but the little guys on the ends were pretty clueless about what was happening. I watched the teacher go into a deep hip opener, lowering her head toward the floor. She didn’t see the kids who were fumbling with no clue where to put their feet and hands. She didn’t see the potentially injurious misalignment of knees. She didn’t see them at all, because she was doing her own practice.
Was this teacher “certified” to teach kids? Perhaps. Qualified? Maybe. Effective? Unfortunately not.
Yes, of course, it’s possible this was an isolated incident of a teacher trying out a new method. The five minutes I witnessed may have been altogether different than her usual work with kids. My point here, though, is to bring attention to what does, and does not, generally constitute an effective youth yoga teacher.
What to look for in a youth yoga teacher:
1. Experience: A good teacher will have both yoga and child/teen education experience. Education experience can range from the classroom to the summer camp. Look for someone who has worked with youth your child’s age in some capacity. Possibilities include social worker, teacher, camp counselor, youth group facilitator, instructor from another field (dance, music, etc), sports coach, theatre director or parent. Many talented teachers enter the field with no prior experience teaching youth, but devote themselves to mentoring and assisting masterful youth yoga teachers. This is a good sign you’ve found someone dedicated to developing their skills.
2. Training: Seek out a teacher who has both adult yoga teacher training and specialized training in teaching youth. Adult yoga trainings focus on the nuances and complexities of teaching yoga safely. Most youth yoga trainings only cover the basics and are designed to help qualified adult yoga teachers modify the practices. Focus on length and quality of training over certification. It is not uncommon for teachers to label themselves “certified” after attending as little as 10 hours of training! A comprehensive youth yoga training will provide a minimum of 40 hours. Don’t be shy about asking teachers to share their training experience. If they are qualified, they will have no problem letting you know.
3. Rapport: No amount of experience or training can replace the efficacy of a teacher who knows how to relate with youth. Look for a teacher who truly sees and hears her students, both figuratively and literally. In the case of the teacher mentioned in the intro, a simple adjustment of gathering her students in a circle or facing them could do wonders for developing a stronger connection to her students’ experiences. You will see an effective teacher communicating with your child at eye level, spending time listening to your teen and making an effort to communicate the benefits of yoga beyond the mat.
As parents and child advocates, most of us would be thrilled to see our children fully engaged in a yoga program that provides life long skills for healthy living. We can heighten this possibility by doing a little homework when seeking out a yoga teacher for our children. The only guaranteed way of ensuring a teacher is effective is to actually observe them in action. Great teachers will welcome you with confidence, although they may have firm rules about how many parents are allowed per session.
The things is: an ineffective teacher can do harm. Yoga practice presents many potential benefits, but there are risks, as well. These risks are greatly minimized with an experienced, effective teacher.
Yoga teachers: what else would you add to this short list? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below to support parents.
*Great news is that any yoga teacher truly committed to teaching kids and teens can develop the necessary skills. If you are a yoga teacher seeking enhanced skills, check out this article on elephant journal for a few solid tips.