// Going Pro: yoga aspires to new heights

Sarah Berry talks to some leading lights in the world of Australian yoga and comes away with the message that through
regulation the profession can ensure higher standards of yoga instruction and teacher qualification.

The fitness industry led the charge. Now there is a movement for yoga in Australia to follow suit with an approved VET (Vocational and Education Training) qualification.

The wheels have been set in motion, says yoga veteran John Ogilvie, with the introduction of the VETAB (Vocational Education and Training Board)-approved Certificate IV in Yoga Teaching. Ogilvie runs the Byron Yoga Centre, of one of Australia's most established yoga schools. 'The Certificate IV which we offer at Byron Yoga Centre is based on this nationally approved, government-created course. Getting more schools on board following this curriculum is a really important step in bettering the profession and quality of teaching as a whole' he says.

Within Australia, yoga is currently self-regulated, with recommended guidelines in place and many teacher training courses registered with the YTAA (Yoga Teachers Association of Australia). However, adhering to set protocols is not compulsory and there is no shortage of teachers who have completed non-YTAA approved courses.

According to Ogilvie, the YTAA does a great job, but it has limited resources with which to monitor and maintain safe industry standards across the board; 'Currently, there are teacher training courses operated by yoga teachers who only completed their own training six months prior. There are also far too many graduates who might have theoretical knowledge, but who have never taught a single posture. It isn't enough just to be able to 'do' the postures, we need to know how to teach them safely to others, especially beginners' he says.

Raising the bar

Before the VETAB Certificate III and Certificate IV in Fitness was adopted (in the late 1990s), problems arose from people training others who weren't properly trained themselves and who didn't have the appropriate background and knowledge. Once adopted, it was a painful process for some very skilled trainers with decades of experience to get themselves certified, but the fitness industry is now much stronger and healthier as a result of having this government recognised VET qualification. Ogilvie believes that bringing similar standards to the yoga profession is important for the same reasons – ensuring a minimum standard of training is maintained and providing a recognised qualification to all teachers.

As one of the fastest growing forms of exercise in Australia (the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed, in 2003, that yoga had overtaken Aussie Rules Football in popularity), the importance of instructors being correctly trained is paramount.

'Most people's first introduction to yoga is through their local gym or health centre' says fitness educator and head of development for Byron Yoga Centre, Liz Dene; 'And when you consider the fact that gyms attract a hugely diverse mix of people, with wide-ranging abilities and injuries, you really want to ensure the teacher knows what they're doing and how to help people modify postures as necessary.'

With the new Certificate IV, aspiring teachers can be confident in the quality and relevance of the teaching they'll receive, and fitness facilities and yoga studio employers can trust that they are engaging thoroughly trained instructors.

'The process of becoming a RTO (Registered Training Organisation) to teach a Certificate IV is rigorous', Ogilvie says; 'The school is reviewed by a panel of experts, whose purpose is to ensure that our instructions can be adaptable to various styles of yoga, but have a very strong focus on postural alignment, safe adjustments, correct practices and OH&S. This course is setting a whole new standard for the profession.'

Dene agrees; 'VETAB changed the fitness industry. Now, the Cert IV is upgrading the quality of yoga courses available, which is really exciting. This is particularly important as yoga becomes more and more mainstream. It's long been recognised that yoga reduces stress levels and helps to improve balance, range of motion and performance. But, some still consider it 'airy fairy'. The Cert IV is peer-reviewed by experts in various fields which gives it that scientific backing and endorsement.'

In addition to providing students with a comprehensive and high-calibre understanding of yoga pillars, including asana, philosophy, meditation and pranyama, the Certificate IV equips them with the necessary practical skills to take their learning out into the real world.

'Trainees also get their first aid certificate, and learn marketing and business skills, so that they can run effectively as a contractor or run their own studio' Ogilvie notes; 'This helps new teachers optimise the time they invest and understand the hidden costs so their income adequately meets expenses. Our vision is to help prepare people adequately so that we can bring the joy of yoga to everyone.'

As one of only a handful of schools in Australia accredited to teach the Certificate IV, Byron Yoga Centre is at the forefront of these significant developments within the profession.

'Yoga is here to stay', Dene says; 'And as people become more aware of the holistic benefits – that it works to calm their whole nervous system, helps their breathing and is complementary to other forms of exercise – we are seeing yoga take peak time-slots in gyms and health clubs all over the country. So, we're thrilled that our courses are at the cutting-edge of improving industry standards.'

Byron Yoga Centre's next Certificate IV starts on 25 July. For further information, visit www.byronyoga.com

Sarah Berry 
Sarah is a yoga teacher based in Sydney, NSW. She is also a freelance writer whose features have been published in magazines such as Cosmopolitan, The Australian Women's Weekly and Australian Creative. She also regularly writes for blogs, websites and portfolios. For more information, email sarahzberry@gmail.com