published Monday, March 31st, 2014

Yogis in training: Becoming a teacher goes way beyond poses (with video)

Yoga with Madia
Madia Swicord, left, helps Lisa Altbach with her form during a power flow yoga class at the downtown Sports Barn.
Madia Swicord, left, helps Lisa Altbach with her form during a power flow yoga class at the downtown Sports Barn.
Photo by Dan Henry.
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    Madia Swicord, right, works with Laura Banks on the proper form during a morning yoga class.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
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    Chattanooga has at least seven full-time yoga studios, including the Chattanooga Yoga School at the downtown Sports Barn where Madia Swicord, third from left, leads a class.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
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    Jackie Thompson, in a headstand, is studying in a yoga teacher training program.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
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Yoga Training Opportunities

Chattanooga Yoga School: 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training, starts April 4. Now taking applications.

Yoga Landing: 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training School, starts April 4. Registration is full, but classes are offered twice a year.

Clearspring Yoga: 500-hour Holistic Yoga Therapy training through Holistic Yoga Therapy Institute; applicants must have completed a 200-hour training, runs April 25-27.

Clearspring Yoga: “Yoga as Medicine: Holistic Healing” training through the Holistic Yoga Therapy Institute, 200- or 500-hour, runs April 25-27.

Hot Yoga Plus: Hot 26 200-hour training offered, future classes now being planned.

Toes Yoga: Upper-level 200-hour training with an emphasis on therapeutic yoga, starts all 2014.

As a lifelong athlete and a fitness instructor for 15 years, Jackie Thompson thought taking her first yoga class would be a breeze.

She was wrong.

“It brought me to my knees,” she says. “It was humbling.”

Still, from that first class the Jasper, Tenn., native was hooked. The practice changed not only her body, but the way she viewed the world. It wasn’t long before she knew she wanted to become a yoga teacher. Thompson, an office supervisor with the Tennessee Department of Health in Jasper, hopes to teach part-time and dreams of opening her own studio once she retires.

Thompson, along with fellow aspiring teachers, will devote nine full weekends over eight months to earn a 200-hour Registered Yoga Teacher certification through the Chattanooga Yoga School. There are four groups offering certified yoga teacher training in the city, and two more are on the horizon.

Taking the leap to become a yoga teacher is a big commitment; the training can be a bit like boot camp. Since most participants work full-time, trainings are often offered on weekends, starting Friday evening and running morning to night Saturday and Sunday.

Courses cover asanas — or yoga postures — different types of yoga practice and its history, anatomy, safety and teaching techniques, among other subjects. Students submit applications, and tuition is usually around $3,000.

To be a Registered Yoga Teacher school, instructors must submit their curriculum for approval to the Yoga Alliance, a national organization that regulates teachers. teachers.

Chattanooga boasts at least seven full-time yoga studios, and more seem to crop up every day. Yoga classes can be found at most fitness centers, dance studios, wellness centers, even the YMCA. Community yoga can be found at churches and community centers. Chattanooga is just behind the yoga trend that exploded nationally in the last couple of decades.

According to Statisticbrain.com, 15 million Americans practiced yoga last year. Yoga Journal reported that more people practice yoga in the state of California than the entire country of India, where the practice originated roughly 5,000 years ago.

And yoga is a big business: Americans spend $10.3 billion a year on yoga classes and equipment, a spike from $5.7 billion in 2008, according to Yoga Journal.

What brings people to yoga teacher training? Most applicants have been practicing yoga for years and want to take their practice to the next level. Many say they have a desire to teach and a calling to spread the message of yoga to a wider community. Some want a complete life and career overhaul, while others just want to make some extra money doing something that they enjoy.

Hollie Beckett, a recent graduate of Chattanooga Yoga School, works at the AIM Center as a benefits specialist. She has applied for two grants to start a nonprofit to provide yoga for the homeless and/or mentally ill. She teaches three classes at BeYoga in Ooltewah.

“I love to practice yoga, but I can’t always afford it,” she says. “I thought, ‘If I can learn how to teach it, then I can learn how to teach it to myself.’ I can teach and do something that I love.”

Sallie Norris Beckes, who teaches at Clearspring Yoga, left a job in the corporate world and started what she calls “a whole new life” as a yoga instructor, teaching five classes a week.

Jimmy Urciuoli, who works as a bartender at night and teaches two yoga classes a week, says, “I wanted to share the light that had beamed so strongly in my life from practicing yoga.” He would like to work with people who suffer from addiction and abuse.

Some graduates incorporate their yoga training into their existing careers.

Christine Yeagley teaches a class for people with chronic pain at Toes Yoga on Brainerd Road. A physical therapy assistant student, Yeagley hopes to incorporate yoga into her physical therapy practice. John Agree, a musician, hopes to teach yoga classes to the soundtrack of relaxing yoga music he composes himself.

Training regimens

Yoga Landing’s training includes 13 required texts and a rotating group of several instructors. Students have traveled from Atlanta, Birmingham and North Carolina to attend the school, which is organized by Jessica Jollie, who owns Yoga Landing in Warehouse Row downtown.

Jollie worked as a school counselor and was certified as a licensed clinical social worker before she opened her studio. She has been practicing yoga since she was a teenager and, as a broke college student at Appalachian State University, she slept in her car while going through teacher training in nearby Asheville, N.C. She looks for that same passion and devotion in the applicants to the training she leads.

“The consistent piece I see is that they have a thirst to know more, to go deeper,” she says. “And the knowledge and respect that yoga is a big world.”

Chattanooga Yoga School, which operates out of the Sports Barn downtown, includes a public speaking portion in its curriculum to prepare students to start teaching as soon — if not before — they graduate. Madia Swicord, who organizes the school with Jessica Ewart, says most participants already know how to do yoga, but they need to learn how to teach it.

“We cut out the 20 hours of yoga practice that a lot of schools have,” Swicord says.“They’re not here to practice yoga. We have them teaching each other the first night of the training.” Swicord opened one of the first yoga studios in town, on the then-transitioning Southside neighborhood, and runs a private studio offering bodywork, holistic therapy and private yoga sessions. She says her strong intuition helps her tune in to the physical and emotional energy in her yoga classes, a skill she tries to pass on to her students.

Hot Yoga Plus, formerly North Shore Yoga, is in the 2 North Shore shopping center. Its classes take place in rooms heated up to 90 degrees for sweaty power yoga classes. The studio has offered 200-hour training that includes four weekends, 15 hours of assisting a practicing teacher in a class and 65 hours of class instruction.

“The training gave us tons of hands-on experience, and time to teach,” says Julie Drexler, who went through training at Hot Yoga Plus and taught a donation-based class at Tennessee Bouldering Authority last year. “I was nervous about finding the ‘yoga voice’ that sounded right. [The teachers] have a skill for training teachers to be themselves, not some weird version of themselves.”

Clearspring Yoga on the North Shore was the first yoga studio in town and the first to offer training. It offers both 200-hour and 500-hour training. Students at any level can drop in for a weekend session, about 20 to 30 hours at a time, and the hours accumulate toward certification. The shorter allotments help manage the high cost of training. Clearspring just started a program that allows groups to Skype sessions in other cities.

Toes Yoga, which opened in November on Brainerd Road, plans to offer a 200-hour training with an emphasis on therapeutic yoga for people with injuries and other physical challenges like Parkinson’s disease or arthritis.

Business of yoga

Though the original intent of the practice of yoga was to renounce worldly desires and live in the moment, a yoga teacher must make living, especially when they have invested time and energy into the training. Both Chattanooga Yoga School and Yoga Landing’s trainings incorporate a “business of yoga” section in their curriculums.

Since most yoga teachers are self-employed, Chattanooga Yoga School goes over filing as an independent contractor, business expenses and tax write-offs. Both schools teach students about marketing themselves as teachers, networking and building a web presence; Chattanooga Yoga School trainees have a mandatory homework assignment to build a website marketing themselves.

Cobbling together a full schedule of classes can not only be exhausting, but less than profitable for new yoga teachers. Between traveling to different studios, prepping for class, managing a hectic schedule and marketing, the hourly pay per classes can end up dwindling to close to nothing.

“To just be able to eat and live,” says Blaire Foster, manager at Hot Yoga Plus, “a yoga teacher would have to teach about 12 classes a week, which is exhausting.”

Yoga school organizers agree that, although money is a necessity, trusting a passion for the practice will bring money to follow.

“In the end, we’re just trying to bring yoga to a broader community,” says Swicord.

Contact Anna Lockhart at alockhart@timesfreepress.com or 757-6578.

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