Veterans Yoga Project Celebrates Becoming a Registered Yoga School
A full teacher training is the goal for many yoga educators. For those who are able to create a 200-hour teacher training, becoming a registered yoga school with the Yoga Alliance is the dream. It signals that the educator places a value on a comprehensive, cohesive program. It also allows teachers who complete the training to become registered yoga teachers – which, for many institutions, is a requirement in order to teach.
Veterans Yoga Project has been offering its 15-hour Mindful Resilience for Trauma Recovery Training for yoga teachers for years. For many of its volunteers, this was their first introduction to the organization. Alongside its cohort program, Veterans Yoga Project was able to provide a necessary toolkit to give yoga back to those who have served.
But there was a call for something more.
Brianna Renner served in the Marines from 1998 until 2003.
“I initially signed on in ’97, on my 17th birthday,” says Renner. “I served as an avionics technician working on the communication and navigation systems on F-18’s, C-130’s, EA-6B’s, and AV-8B’s. I went to school in Pensacola, FL and Cherry Point, NC and was stationed between Miramar, CA and Iwakuni, Japan.”
Her first experience with yoga happened when her mom took her to a yoga class while she was home on leave. However, she wouldn’t practice again for another three years, when she was pregnant with her first daughter.
“I was hooked after that,” says Renner. She would start teaching four years after that, and has been a yoga teacher for a decade.
She attended her first Mindful Resilience Training in 2014 and immediately felt connected to the organization.
“I totally drank the Kool-Aid and was hooked form the first moment,” says Renner. “A lot of things clicked for me that weekend and I just HAD to be involved.”
She started out as a volunteer, doing whatever was needed for Veterans Yoga Project. She would then become VYP’s first official employee, outside of founder Dr. Dan Libby.
“I worked early on as the communication person, newsletter, answering our general inbox, working with yoga studios to set up our trainings, working with participants interested in our trainings and setting up retreats,” says Renner. She also temporarily managed the merchandise store, helped manage the website, set up photo and video shoots for the practice library initiative, and was on the team who helped implement their Customer Relationship Management software.
But the Mindful Resilience Trainings were her first love.
“I traveled the country assisting these trainings until eventually, thanks to Rebecca, I became VYP’s first non-Dan MRT instructor,” says Renner.
It was Renner who recognized the need for a full, 200-hour teacher training.
“About 5 years ago, I was managing our general email in-box which gave me firsthand knowledge of what our veterans were asking for,” says Renner. “We may have received maybe one or two requests for a full yoga teacher training every quarter[…] I recognized that there was a great enough need; if we built one, I was sure it would be beneficial.”
The groundwork for a full teacher training began five years ago. When it was time to create and launch the full teacher training, Renner utilized the help of Rebecca Smith and Anne Quinlan. Smith created the content; Quinlan created the manual.
“I knew early on that I wanted them both involved because of their expertise and knowledge of not only yoga, but our organization,” says Renner.
However, two big things occurred during this time: the Yoga Alliance changed, expanded, and increased its requirements for credentialing – and a global pandemic shifted everyone’s landscape.
“Our proposed schedule maximized the use of online and in-person content: 40 hours and 160 hours respectively,” says Renner. “Due to the current cultural climate, we have navigated fully online. Our participants have been total rock stars in adapting to the change.”
In three short months, Smith had created the content that would serve as the backbone for their training, and twenty veterans would apply to take part in this training.
It was important for the team that the teacher training was comprehensive. They wanted the training to pay its respects to the practice.
“The yoga world is vast and rich with knowledge, history, tradition, yet can also be incredibly divisive. I wanted our training to be steeped in all of the beautiful – and often complicated – facets that make up yoga, which meant bringing on teachers who were themselves, well versed in all these various facets.”Brianna Renner, Director of Programs
Another important aspect was creating a teacher that was for veterans, by veterans. Four of the five teachers have served – Dr. Tim Avery in the Navy, Christian Allaire in the Coast Guard, Jessica Bugbee in the Army, and Brianna Renner in the Marines – with the fifth being founder and executive director, Dr. Dan Libby, and a clinical psychologist who has worked extensively with veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress.
“I am fiercely proud and honored to be a part of this incredibly brilliant team – everyone brings something different to the table which provides a rich – and sometimes colorful – experience for our participants,” says Renner.
After all the materials, teachers, and guidelines were set in place, Veterans Yoga Project was ready to apply.
The application process to become a Yoga Alliance registered yoga school is a rigorous one, especially with Yoga Alliance’s new guidelines and requirements, which went into effect February 28, 2020. Thankfully, Smith had experience in the application process and was able to get the ball rolling.
“We structured our content to mirror the new core curriculum,” says Renner. “The application process was moving through each of the 4 main categories – Techniques, Training, Practice / Anatomy & Physiology / Yoga Humanities / Professional Essentials – their 12 subcategories, and 49 learning objectives and clearly defining exactly WHAT we were teaching, HOW we were teaching it, HOW we were going to evaluate skills acquired, and provide clear examples of each.”
On top of that, their manual had to be submitted for review, alongside certificates and several other documents that would serve as guidelines for the students. After submission, Veterans Yoga Project had a six-week review process, in which they were contacted with items to rework or edit.
“In all, the entire application process took nearly 50 hours,” says Renner.
As daunting and rigorous as the application process was, the payoff was worth it. Veterans Yoga Project has now demonstrated that it adheres to the high standards set by the Yoga Alliance.
“There is a base line of criteria that new teachers are expected to know and demonstrate knowledge of upon graduation,” says Renner. “For our aspiring teachers, this means that if they are interested in looking at a school who adheres to those standards, we are now eligible to be considered!”
With the training now considered a 200-hour, Yoga Alliance credentialed course, the twenty veterans who signed up to take the training had a chance to take part in something that could make them, among many other things, eligible to become a registered yoga teacher.
While the program had to move to a fully online format due to the global pandemic, the students were enamored with the training.
Joshua, one of the teachers in training, was first introduced to yoga through the Boston’s VA’s residential rehabilitation in-patient program.
“The delivery wasn’t always perfect,” says Joshua. “Still, the connection available to the current moment was abundant.”
He would later get his first 200-hour teacher training at Eastern Massachusetts Hot Yoga, followed by his 15-hour MRT training through Veterans Yoga Project, before signing on for the yoga teacher training.
“I was amazed at the approach and efficacy the instructors had at making yogic ideas consumable for a population,” says Joshua of the teacher training program, known as Mindful Resilience Yoga Teacher Training, or MRYTT. “I have a tremendous amount of gratitude for the teachers of this MRYTT, Veteran Yoga Project as a whole, and their donors.”
George was called to Veterans Yoga Project because he wanted to give back to fellow veterans.
“I believe it was my desire to give back to those veterans that have sacrificed more than I did,” says George. “I was very much attracted to be of service to those with trauma and physical disabilities and see what my experience in life as well as in yoga could contribute to the well-being of those veterans.”
MRYTT was George’s first yoga teacher training, and, within it, he found community, alongside learning and growth.
“Without doubt it is the camaraderie I have experienced with my fellow students as well as with the yoga instructors,” says George, when reflecting on his favorite moment from the training. “It brings back wonderful memories on how to learn and work in a ‘real’ team environment which I experienced in the Submarine Service. ‘One for all and all for one.’”
George is also currently enrolled in a 500-hour teacher training, which he feels has helped solidify just how comprehensive and incredible MRYTT is.
“Having been enrolled in another yoga teacher training program, with a reputable and experienced instructor, it is easy for me to observe that the VYP yoga instructors are above and beyond, par excellence instructors, highly motivated, totally dedicated, very knowledgeable in the extensive field of yoga, anatomy, and Ayurveda,” says George. “VYP teachers are very compassionate human beings. My yoga teaching will benefit immensely from their skills in teaching, mentoring and coaching.”
One of the first things that struck Renner when she began yoga was how much it was like the military.
“This practice, we all do together, steeped heavy in history and tradition with people who understand this similar language of yoga, was soothing to my soul,” says Renner. “I missed dearly the camaraderie of the military and these yoga classes behaved in a very similar way.”
But, by the same token, yoga became a chance for her to be her – outside of her duties as a mother, or wife, or any other societal role.
“It was just me, and my mat. There’s something incredibly freeing about that,” says Renner. “Yoga is a personal practice – it means something different to everyone… No two bodies are alike, and unlike the military, seeing the individual in the group is a true gift.”
The Veterans Yoga Project’s Mindful Resilience Teacher Training is now one more thing that VYP can offer to the help educate the community, alongside its Mindful Resilience Training for Trauma Recovery and the 7-week Mindful Resilience for Compassion Fatigue cohort program. It is one more step in the evolution and growth of this incredible organization, spearheaded by its dedicated members who can speak personally to the efficacy of yoga.