The Art of Teaching: Can YTTs Really Teach You How to “Hold Space”?

Plus, five things every yoga teacher training should offer.
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Rasa Yoga teacher and teacher trainer Greta Hill leads a lesson to a classroom of yogis studying to be instructors at Bala Yoga in Seattle, WA.

Rasa Yoga teacher and teacher trainer Greta Hill leads a lesson to a classroom of yogis studying to be instructors at Bala Yoga in Seattle, WA.

Live Be Yoga ambassadors Lauren Cohen and Brandon Spratt are on a road trip across the country to sit down with master teachers, host free local classes, and so much more—all to illuminate the conversations pulsing through the yoga community today. 

There are more yoga teacher training offerings available today than ever before. Studios, independent teachers, and corporate entities are offering the prized 200-hour and 500-hour YTTs that can, at times, feel like just another credential to check off the list. Finish your 200 hours of training, get your Yoga Alliance certificate, and, just like that, call yourself a yoga teacher.

Throughout our time in Seattle, the conversations we had centered on teacher education, specifically, what makes a “quality” teacher training and why sound education is vital for yoga teachers today. 

At Bala Yoga, we sat down with Rasa Yoga teacher and trainer, Greta Hill—who has apprenticed with Sianna Sherman, led teacher trainings for 11 years, and taught for more than 20—to get her perspective on what it really means to “hold space” and which characteristics aspiring yoga teachers should look for in a training.

“Teachers must make sure they're cultivating their own practice to develop the capacity to really show up for students,” says Greta, pointing out that a 200-hour training is just the beginning of a lifelong journey into yoga and an apprenticeship—with oneself.

After all, the very essence of yoga comes down to ongoing practice and studentship. This is the foundation for the art of holding space, something every teacher must do skillfully if they wish to truly be of service.

The question is: Can this practice of “holding space” be taught in a teacher training environment, and if so, how?

“As teachers, we must learn to see and truly listen to our students,” says Greta. In her eyes, holding space comes down to the teacher’s ability to be present with what arises as it arises and to stay steady without trying to fix the person or situation. “As the teacher, you have to have a field of energy that you can hold that won’t cause you to be triggered,” she adds.

Cultivating this level of maturity requires doing the real inner work on one’s self. Remember that age-old phrase: Show up for yourself before you show up for others.

Holding space is not something that can be explicitly taught in the ways that hands-on assisting or sequencing techniques can. There isn't a specific blueprint to follow or aren't any boxes to check off a list that prove mastery. Rather, the art of holding space can be modeled by the teachers leading the trainings and can be cultivated more implicitly through ongoing Svadhyaya (self-study).

That way, students of yoga become students of themselves and, as Greta suggests, commit to knowing themselves by doing the real work and embarking on the inward journey. Only then can one truly share the practice from an embodied place. 

This process of self-study allows us to stay grounded and centered in the midst of challenging situations, Greta says. From here, we can more readily and powerfully be present for the students we are blessed to serve.

As someone known for teaching teachers, Greta takes her responsibility as a yoga educator very seriously. She is deeply committed to training leaders—people who are willing and able to stand up for themselves, for others, and for the planet at large. Although holding space is a skill to nurture over time, there are some ways to determine whether a foundational teacher training is putting you on the right path. Greta shared with us a few key things to look for in a 200-hour training.

What to Look for in a 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training

1. A well-rounded curriculum

Make sure the training will encompass all of the basics of asana, including biomechanics, sequencing techniques, hands-on assisting, and modifications for different bodies and abilities. The training should also provide an exploration of the deeper layers of mantra, meditation, pranayama, and philosophy in a way that applies to modern, everyday life. “In this way, the teacher becomes a vessel of embodied wisdom and potentially has more to offer students than just poses," says Greta.

2. Teachers that resonate with you

Be sure the teacher(s) leading the training are people you are inspired to learn from. Do your research, and be sure the curriculum offered is in alignment with your own goals and interests.

 3. A focus on leadership & social justice

The training should help teachers explore how to create more inclusive space. “Teachers must be accountable for what’s happening in the world," Greta says. "We can use yoga as a way to touch our own sacred activism.”

4. Different voices

While most trainings will have one primary teacher trainer, it can be nice to offer some variety in terms of teachers, styles, and skillsets. This can help students in training explore different ways to find their own voice while still absorbing the knowledge passed down to them.

5. Ongoing mentorship  

The training should offer opportunities to get experience teaching and receive ongoing feedback, which is especially important for newer teachers. The training should help teachers learn how to plan intelligent, thoughtful classes in their own unique way, while continuing to receive coaching and mentorship from someone more experienced. 

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