When my partner and I got our puppy, Mocha, we needed to train him. Out of convenience I started following the advice of a few YouTube dog “experts.” What I quickly learned: The “experts” weren’t so much experts at puppy training. Rather, they were experts at looking and sounding knowledgeable on social media. One wasn’t even a certified dog trainer.
It’s no surprise then that the majority of their advice turned out to be greatly unhelpful. We were becoming nothing but treat dispensers to Mocha rather than building a trusting relationship with him.
After realizing our mistake, we sought out a local dog training team who had decades of experience and knowledge in animal behavior. These individuals had put time and effort into learning about dog behaviors and personalities. Over their careers, they had worked with every kind of personality and behavioral problem imaginable, and had gathered deep wisdom and viable solutions to correct them.
After just one in-person session, Mocha was transformed. Rather than relying on treats and bribes, Mocha started making eye contact with me before he made decisions like crossing the threshold of the front door or chewing on a shoe. He went from being terrified to even put on a collar to walking beside me calmly on his leash. Best of all, he went from whimpering and barking from separation anxiety in his pen, to sitting patiently, independent, amusing himself with toys.
The changes were miraculous and I left fully empowered with the tools I needed to raise a calm dog with mutual trust and respect. Which made me reflect on how similar experiences show up in the yoga world.
Immediate vs. slow learning
When I was first trying to train Mocha, I was chasing what my teacher Douglas Brooks, PhD calls “suddenistic learning.” This kind of learning promises quick fixes—and it can be exciting. Suddenistic learning can entice algorithms (for example, when you make a confident Instagram reel on a topic you just learned), and be full of breakthrough realizations.
But there are negatives, too.
Say you attend an intensive 200-hr yoga teacher training. You believe yourself to be an authority in the field as a result. But while you’ve learned a lot in a short period of time, you might not have absorbed all of the content because information you learn quickly can slip away just as fast.
Some other examples of suddenistic learning and how it can backfire:
- Googling about a historic event and posting about it on social media without questioning the source—an easy way to spread misinformation.
- Hearing one person’s viewpoint and holding it as gospel. When this happens, you limit yourself from your own critical thinking.
- Using a dharma talk to lecture others righteously on a “truth” with no real evidence. Watch out: You might create more division rather than discourse and tolerance.
The dangers of suddenistic learning in yoga
Often, people seek the same kind of unconscientious learning and soap-boxing when it comes to yoga. Someone might take a workshop on the goddess Tripura Sundari and then organize a workshop on the same topic a week later without first letting the teachings assimilate. This results in an offering based on cursory knowledge rather than wisdom, which comes across as less heartfelt, authentic, or genuine.
Someone might take a workshop and hear an interesting way of teaching alignment, get super enthusiastic about it, and then regurgitate what they thought they heard without comprehending the reason behind the instruction. This can lead to an erroneous understanding which could cause harm in the form of injury to the students.
A better way to learn
In the tradition of my teacher, we gather wisdom and learn in a gradualistic way: little by little, again and again (“shanaih shanaih, punar punah”). Learning and practice is grounded. It takes time, requires repetition, diligence, perseverance, and a whole lot of patience. Over time, you embody growth and wisdom that can be shared with others.
The best example of this has been my own journey studying and teaching yoga. Yoga is vast, and as such, it’s taken decades to absorb even a fraction of its immensity. After all these years, I’m still learning, but I’m always amazed when I teach some of the trickier teachings without my notes from a place of lived experience.
The age of social media has dumbed down yoga into pictures and soundbites. Society has become increasingly illiterate as fewer and fewer take the time to read or to study. Why bother when scrolling is so much easier? But reading, studying, contemplating, and questioning are critical if we are to learn anything of true value and do our best work in the world.
How to find a yoga teacher with depth
If you are learning yoga and want the fast, flashy knowledge that will sit on the surface, there are plenty of teachers who will serve that up. But if you crave competence, merit, and depth in yoga that will stick with you, consider these questions when picking a teacher:
- Has this person taken seriously the study of yoga, pranayama, philosophy, or meditation?
- What are their credentials?
- Did/do they have a mentor?
- Does this person embody their yoga practice?
- Can they help me with real-life problems based on wisdom they have cultivated?
- Is this person speaking from enthusiasm? Or experience? Or expertise? Or education?
What kind of learning do you model?
If you are a yoga teacher, adopting a more gradual teaching approach may have infinite benefits for your students.
- Are you teaching ideas/poses right after you learn them, or are you taking time to let them assimilate? If not, try taking a pause to contemplate, discuss with a loved one, or do repeated practice on your mat before sharing.
- Do you teach from lived experience? If not, take a yoga teaching and journal on how it relates to your life or talk it out with a caring friend.
- Do you present an accurate representation of yourself and your teachings on social media? If not, try spending some time writing captions that are more vulnerable or transparent about how life really is for your rather than write about solely positive or “fluffy” spiritual stuff.
- Do your class themes feel authentic to you? If not, try journaling more on how class themes relate to your life, things you’ve learned about yourself through the practice or through being with other yoga friends.
- Do you feel like you “own” or “rent” your knowledge? Hint: If you feel like you are renting it, chances are you haven’t yet imbibed it as your own. Keep contemplating, journalling, and being in conversation with others who like to talk too!
As for Mocha, he’s still doing great and our connection deepens every day. As he’s gotten into adolescent snags, our trainers are just a phone call away reminding us of the principles and lessons and I review the videos of them teaching often. Having their support gives me great comfort as we see Mocha through the storms of growing up and being a dog in a human home.
Thanks to my gradual yoga studies, I feel ready to keep learning, for as long as it takes to understand who he is and how I can be his best pet mama.
About the Author
Amy Ippoliti is a yoga teacher, author, and earth activist known for her genuine style of teaching, intelligent sequencing, compelling and clear instruction, and engaging sense of humor. In 2012 she co-founded Vesselify (formerly 90Monkeys), an online and in-person professional development school that has enhanced the skills of yoga teachers and studios in 65+ countries internationally. In 2016 she co-authored the book, The Art and Business of Teaching Yoga, which has become a staple in yoga teacher trainings around the globe. Learn more at amyippoliti.com.