Next month starts the assessment season in Iyengar yoga. There are still less than 1,000 certified Iyengar teachers in the US. This low number reflects how difficult it is to get though the whole assessment process. Since I am not as keen in my practice as others, it took me four years once I began my apprenticeship.
Getting certified in this style requires one to be a student in the Iyengar for at least 3 years. Then, the student has to find a mentoring teacher and a recommending teacher that are at least Junior Intermediate level. One then has to apprentice with those teachers for at least two years and not mix styles.
There is a syllabus of poses one has to adhere to. The Introductory I syllabus has 32 poses that initially look mockingly simple compared to other styles. But they are not. In the apprenticeship, one has to learn everything there is to know about those poses and how to teach them to somebody who just walked in the door without every attending a yoga class in their life. You cannot get away with instructions like “feel your breath as you fold forward…” You have to instruct how to get into the pose classically from the base up.
After a year of apprenticeship, there is the first assessment. This does not mean you are certified. Passing this means that you are now eligible for certification. It is a two day assessment.
The first day there is a demonstrated practice where you are observed by senior teachers. An official just says the name of the pose in Sanskrit, and the assessors watch what you do. You are rated on the quality of your practice. If you are injured or cannot do a pose, you have to show how your are working in the pose to your capacity. After the demonstrated practice is a demonstrated pranayama practice which is observed in a similar way. There is also a one hour written exam which covers the required readings from the syllabus.
The second day is the teaching skills portion. IYNAUS has recently revised this for the Introductory I from 40 minutes to 30 minutes. When I took the assessment, I had to teach 6 poses in 40 minutes from my syllabus that were given after day one. The only sure pose will be Salamba Sarvangasana (supported all body pose, or shoulder stand).
If that is passed, you have two years to complete the Introductory II portion. Passing this means you will be certified as an Iyengar Yoga Instructor. The Intro II syllabus has 42 poses with Salamba Sirsasana (supported head pose, or headstand) being the one sure thing on the teaching skills portion. The intro II is the same two day format with a 40 minute teaching skills portion.
For those who are approaching this daunting task, here are a few things that helped me survive…
1) Teach to what is in front of you, not what you are thinking in your head. In such a high stress situation, you have to remain focused. It is best to focus on watching your students and instructing them based on what you see, rather than trying to rely on your “script.” It is actually very grounding to tell someone to move a certain way, and having them do it.
2) Do a “props drill.” On days when you are too exhausted to practice, go through your syllabus and just arrange the props as quickly as possible for each of the poses. Some officials read quickly in the demonstrated practice and that does not give you much time to set up. By continuing these drills, it helps you set up without going through a mental brick wall.
3) Research your venue site, and notice the shape of the room and the types of props they use. Some studios have vast wall space, some use only wooden blocks, some use only Pune blankets, some have weird chairs, get to know the peculiarities and practice with those props.
4) Get to your venue site early, and take some classes at the studio if allowed. This will give you a good idea of how to use the space for certain poses and get to know the props better. The more familiar you are with the surroundings, the more comfortable you will feel during assessment.
5) Most importantly, try to get enough rest each night before the assessment. This may be an impossible task, but sleep is very important for your level of performance. It is better to sleep than to cram.
Best wishes to all candidates!