Valerie Jeremijenko, the founder of Yama Yoga Studios in Doha, Qatar, shared her experiences of teacher training, mentoring and support.
Valerie traveled to India in 1991 to study under Pattabhi Jois, and then moved to the USA, connecting with many yogis on the West Coast. She subsequently made the leap to Doha, Qatar fifteen years ago, where she’s been a yoga pioneer. Now Valerie owns two busy Yama Yoga Studios, which she combines with a demanding role as the Assistant Dean of Student Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University, Qatar.
Tell us a bit more about the teacher training that you do, where it takes place, and what sort of topics you cover in training.
I have been running a teacher training program in Doha for ten years so I’ve been able to develop some really interesting and unique perspectives for the program. I work in education and student affairs at university level so I draw from that professional experience in addition to my 25 year commitment to yoga. The community doesn’t need more teachers who are just like me so I developed a program with an emphasis on the individuality of the teachers.
We’re one of the only yoga studios in Doha and there’s a wide array of people – disadvantaged, elderly, busy executives – who need specific things. We have the whole range that you would encounter in other places, but it’s condensed here. I’m really focused on helping teachers find their authenticity, to find their own voice. Then I help them develop their programs to serve the needs of the community. The training also helps with the development and marketing aspects of their programs. You have to find the right demographic if you’re going to be successful.
What are the main principles that you can share that will really help yoga teachers to find that authenticity?
Our teacher training program is year long and the students come three times a week for 2-3 hour classes in addition to homework, presentations, and their own personal exploration as part of the program. We also bring in a variety of workshops to help the students find their own voice because each will resonate with different teachers in different ways. So, in each given teacher training program, they are exposed to at least six or seven international guests as part of the program. It’s a gradual process. It’s not just one thing that helps you develop an authentic voice, but I do think you have to immerse yourself in the experience and expose yourself as widely as possible to find out what is going to really work for you, then discover ways to start communicating that to students.
I attend every workshop that we give here and I travel the world going to workshops and trainings. I also pursue online trainings in anatomy and philosophy. You change through yoga – how you are at the beginning of your yoga career is going to be radically different throughout your life. Some of my students have hardcore practices and followers and then when they have children they explored the birth practices for postnatal recovery and family yoga. Your authentic voice is going to change at different times in your life and in your career as a yoga teacher.
How does the mentoring work and what kind of support do you give?
I live in a highly transient environment and my students work with us for a year or two and then they go on. I continue to work with them over time in their program development, their own teacher trainings, and as they open their own businesses. We have also been able to create a venue through our Bulgarian school where everyone can come together again as advanced teachers and work through the module format. Some come for ten days or twenty days and continue their training through various assignments.
What are your tips around how teachers can market their offerings? As a studio owner, how should teachers approach studios they want to teach at?
At Yama Yoga I support all of the teachers in gaining a space to teach. So, everyone within the first year has significant opportunities to not only develop a program, but to try it out. We work together on developing marketing.
As general advice for all teachers, you have to be seen as often as possible in as many places as possible. You interact in person by being at the studios where you want to be teaching – and not by being the star student in the room, but by talking to other students, helping the studio out, substituting if the chance arises and really creating your own presence within the studio that you’re going to be marketing your offering to.
From there you have a face value and you can transfer that outside the studio and into social media. Social media is extremely important, but I do believe you start it with face-to-face interactions and social media becomes an expansion of that. Remembering people’s names, remembering their issues, and connecting with them in a personal way. As yoga teachers, we have a very special role to play in supporting our students. By understanding that role and by connecting with people where their need is, I think that’s the first place we start with marketing.
How does your advanced teacher training programme in Bulgaria work and how does it benefits teachers who already developed their teaching skills and teaching practice?
One of the challenges we face when we become teachers is juggling teaching and business with our personal practice. One of the things that we do in Bulgaria is give teachers who are struggling with all of these things a place to come together to work on our practices again, sharing current research, and business ideas. For new teachers, it’s a struggle getting in the door of any studio, but then it’s a struggle to maintain the authenticity of your practice and teaching with the whole business side of things. In the beginning I worked with a mentor for eight years who helped me every step of the way.
New teachers regularly ask us how they’re supposed to get to teach studio classes when the competition is so huge. Sending CVs / resumes and praying to the universe is definitely not an effective strategy! In fact, we would advise not to send CVs. Go to classes at the studios, get to know the people who work there (with a smile and kind word, not with the attitude of looking for a job), get to know the other teachers, offer to volunteer some help (Fierce Grace studio owner Michele Pernetta told us that hardly anyone offers to clean mats for an hour but everyone wants a job, so that’s one way to stand out from the crowd), get onto the emergency cover lists (usually administered by each teacher themselves) and at some point if you’re offered the Tuesday morning 6am slot then take it with both hands! Sounds like hard work? It is…!
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