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Q&A with Devarshi

Devarshi Steven Hartman, Dean of the Kripalu School of Yoga, sat down with Editorial Director Grace Welker to take a sneak peek at the new 500-hour teacher training module.

Grace You’ve taught hundreds of teachers over the years, in both 200- and 500-hour trainings. What kind of yoga teacher is attracted to Kripalu trainings?

Devarshi They really get that as teachers, they are here to empower others. They want to teach from the heart, to share their knowledge and serve their students. There’s a wide range of ages and yoga interests; what’s the same is that they are all passionate about yoga.

Grace You and Priti are teaching a new module in the 500-hour training called Advanced Techniques for Teaching and Assisting Asanas. It sounds great. I like the focus on gradient approaches to teaching. Tell us something about this.

Devarshi We want our teachers to have the confidence to teach people who are more advanced and people with physical limitations. The real-world of teaching yoga is that most group classes are multileveled. From gyms to yoga studios to offices, it may be one person’s first time and another may drop in and be a teacher of 15 years. This is where Kripalu Yoga offers just what today’s yoga teachers need. For 30 years, Kripalu has been offering daily classes at the center twice a day to people from all backgrounds in yoga. We know how to lead successful mixed-level classes.

Grace What is one of the secrets?

Devarshi Don’t teach to the lowest common denominator. A lot of teachers wind up focusing on the slowest person or the weakest person. That’s not fair—or interesting—for everyone else. Teach to the range, offer modifications for the ones who need it, challenges for others. We want everyone in a yoga class to have a great experience of yoga, and a fabulous body experience.

Our methodology is inquiry-based, which means that a person’s teacher is their own body, their own experience of the asana, the way their breath moves, how micromovements change the pose. It’s an empowering approach. The Kripalu approach to yoga awakens people to their own yoga. It doesn’t focus on the “right” way to do something.

Grace What are some of the asanas that you study in this module?

Devarshi We practice foundational postures as well as more challenging ones, such as One-Arm Plank and Chaturanga. But it’s not only about advanced asanas, it’s also about advanced techniques.

Grace Can you say more about what that means?

Devarshi Take Eagle pose. It’s not a very challenging pose, but it’s challenging for a lot of people. We suggest using warm-ups, pratapana, such as Chair pose, to prepare muscle groups, develop strength, and begin to access movement. Or try working with the wrapped foot on a block next to the flat foot. Even better, lie on your back and try the pose. Does the foot wrap now? Try drawing the knees toward the chest—this really helps people find range of motion and confidence. These techniques are among the tools of an advanced teacher. But I prefer to talk about mastery or deep yoga. Deep yoga emerges from practice and study. In the module, we also explore the core teaching of yoga from Swami Kripalu, who was a very deep—and happy—yogi.

Grace What does the teaching combination of you and Priti bring?

Devarshi We’re a dynamic force! We’ve known each other more than 26 years and have been teaching together for the last six. We bring more than 20 years of experience teaching one-on-one yoga. It’s different than teaching classes. The knowledge is very deep, intimate, and unique to the individual. We also each bring our own experience with a personal yoga practice. We know how it can change over time. Let’s face it: if you do Triangle pose every day for 30 years, you’re going to want some variety. Where can I open? How can I deepen the pose? What if I introduce a different breath?

Most of us want some kind of challenge. We want to explore what an edge is. Get curious about what’s happening. It’s really not what you’re doing that counts, but how you’re doing it.

Grace Any final thoughts?

Devarshi It’s a really rich module. There’s a lot of assisting, both giving and receiving. We study the sutras, the koshas, the six movements of the spine, and anatomy and physiology in relationship to asana and to individuals. Teachers will gain confidence and a greater repertoire of practical, hands-on skills for teaching—and connect with their personal source of inspiration and knowing.

Note For more information, visit the Kripalu School of Yoga.

Devarshi Steven Hartman is Dean of the Kripalu School of Yoga. A former longtime Kripalu resident, he has been a yoga student, teacher, and bodyworker for 30 years.

Grace Welker, MEd, is a writer and yoga teacher who currently serves as Editorial Director for Kripalu.