Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Yoga enthusiasts becoming teachers

Challenging 6-month curriculum ends in June

Express Staff Writer

Yoga instructors Pilar Tumolo, left, and Kathie Caccia developed a six-month-long, in-depth yoga curriculum at the Hailey Yoga Center in Alturus Plaza. In June, 25 students will graduate from the classes as registered yoga teachers. About half the students plan to teach yoga following graduation. Photo by David N. Seelig

The ancient practice of yoga has surely caught on in America, with classes available in most places.

Yoga has been defined as "traditional physical, mental, and spiritual disciplines, originating in ancient India, whose goal is the attainment of a state of perfect spiritual insight and tranquility."

But what does it take to become a certified yoga instructor?

Hailey Yoga Center teachers Kathie Caccia and Pilar Tumolo have almost four decades of combined experience as yoga practitioners. They have traveled widely to learn from noted yoga teachers around the country, and have brought their experience back to Hailey. About six months ago, they recruited 28 students for an intensive 200-hour yoga teacher-training and in-depth studies program at the Hailey Yoga Center, bringing several noted teachers to town to share their knowledge with local students.

The studies have included classes on anatomy, philosophy, mythology, Sanskrit, ethics, chanting and the asanas, or physical postures associated with the ancient Hindu spiritual practice of yoga.

Richard Rosen taught a class on history and philosophy. Martin Kirk taught about yoga-specific anatomy. Eddie Modestini and Nicki Doane gave instruction in asanas. Manorama taught the basics of Sanskrit, an ancient language of India used in yoga instruction, and provided information on mantras, sounds, or words that are used by yogis to transform consciousness.

"It's been mind-blowing. I'm loving it," said Isaac Moore, a 33-year-old Navy veteran who now serves in the Army Reserves. He came from Seattle about a year and half ago and works at Java café in Hailey.

Moore had been taking yoga classes for a few years and was engaged in military training at Gowen Field in Boise when he noticed that some of the Army's new warm-up and recovery drills looked familiar.

"I said, 'Hey, those are yoga poses.' The Army doesn't call it yoga and they don't do it like you would in a yoga studio. It's seen as a deep stretching exercise to prevent injuries."

Moore said some of his military friends suggested he take the yoga-teacher training in Hailey and report back on it.

So he enrolled.

"Now I realize that yoga is so much bigger and deeper than I ever thought," he said. "It's been very enlightening. It grabs my attention and holds it. Meditation has helped out a lot. Experiencing philosophy from the yoga viewpoint has opened my eyes up and I want to share it with people."

Moore said he hopes to begin teaching yoga soon at the All Things Sacred gallery in Ketchum, but he may also have some students at Gowen Field, where he trains as an Army specialist at least once each month.

"My lieutenant is asking now, 'Are you going to teach it to us?'" he said.

In addition to reading and writing assignments, the yoga teachers-in-training have also undertaken many hours of studio and at-home asana practice, in preparation for final tests next month. Their graduation could mark the official beginning of a new yoga school in the valley.

The last time a class of yoga teachers was certified within the Wood River Valley was six years ago at the now-defunct Sacred Cow Yoga Studio in Ketchum.

Caccia said some people went through personal changes during the training over the past six months, perhaps because of the intellectual, emotional and physical challenges associated with deep yoga practices.

"We expected this," she said. "It is not uncommon for yoga to stir the pot because you are looking at your beliefs and behaviors. There are sometimes emotional changes."

Beth Baker grew up in the Wood River Valley and began practicing yoga in New York City 13 years ago while in college.

"It helped to center me," she said.

Now back in her hometown with a 1-year-old son, Baker finally found the time to take a teacher training.

"Its been great to be able to do this for the last six months with a group of people wanting the same thing and supporting one another. We have made a real community," she said.

"The great thing about yoga is that it is a constant learning experience. Every time you step onto your mat, it's different. Your daily practice changes. Your body changes. You have to really listen and be aware. It's not only about your body, but also about your state of mind."

Baker said she would like to start teaching, but has no specific plans to do so.

"There are a lot of us, so we will see what happens," she said. "Kathie and Pilar have been huge influences. They are amazing teachers and amazing people. It's been a great opportunity to soak up their knowledge and learn from them."

Successful students will graduate on June 30 as registered yoga teachers, according to standards established by the Yoga Alliance, an international professional organization providing support services and yoga teacher certification.

Yoga Alliance certification bestows upon teachers a level of prestige within the ever-expanding universe of yoga studies in America. It also allows for teachers to be more readily insured.

About half the Hailey Yoga Center students have plans to teach in the Wood River Valley or elsewhere.

Heidi Scherntanner already teaches yoga at High Altitude Fitness in Ketchum. She expects to graduate from her second 200-hour teacher training in June.

Kelly Weston will also complete the program next month, but has no plans to teach. His interests migrated to yoga from the practice of the Japanese martial art of aikido.

"It's a lot better for my body at my age," he said.

Caccia and Tumolo have plans to bring back some of the teacher training instructors for intensive workshops this summer.

They said they would also like to continue with another six-month teacher training next winter.

"Our vision is to provide a school for deeper yoga training," Tumolo said.

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