Yoga Teacher to Yoga Scholar

Why yoga teacher Sara Ivanhoe went back to school

SaraIvanhoe-yoga-degreeMost people who take yoga teacher training, whether it’s a weekend class or an intensive program, have a passionate vision and noble intentions. But however much they are inspired by the spiritual side of yoga and invigorated by the physical aspect, yoga is an ancient and complex study, and the reality is that a weekend training is not enough to even scratch the surface.


In addition, there are very real necessities of life that must be considered by yoga teachers, as by all of us, such as how to pay the rent.


So how does one rise above the crowd and at the same time be true to the most sacred self? One way is by becoming a yoga scholar.


L.A. yoga teacher Sara Ivanhoe went back to school not to help her career, which was already commercially successful. She’s the Yoga Spokesperson for Weight Watchers (most recently the Weight Watchers Yoga Starter Kit), instructor for the Yoga for Dummies and Crunch Yoga series, and collaborated with Russell Simmons on Yoga Live. She’s completed the Yoga Works teacher training and is also certified by Erich Schiffmann in his Freeform Style, and is one of the few teachers certified by the Green Yoga Association to teach Yoga and Ecology. So why on earth did she turn to scholarship?


“I felt that I was at one extreme and wanted to balance myself out,” explained Ivanhoe, who recently got her Master’s Degree at LMU’s Inaugural Yoga Philosophy program. The full two and a half year MA program—first of its kind—is focused solely on yoga.


Sara Ivanhoe
Sara Ivanhoe

“I love how commercially popular yoga has become and I will never say anything bad about yoga’s expansion,” said Ivanhoe. I think it is important to offer yoga in a way that is non-religious and non-threatening, and I trust that the asana speaks for itself. However, because I was focusing on the physical, I felt that I was only teaching an asana practice—not a yoga practice. I knew there was so much more to it.”


Texts for the course include the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Yoga Vasistha, the Maharabhata, the Ramayana, Samkhya Karika, Buddhism and of course the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. There is an anatomy/ physiology component to address healthy and safe asana, but the majority of the work is comparative analysis of the ancient texts. Coursework also includes Buddhism, Jainism and other related traditions, with about 10 hours a week of classwork and another 20 hours of reading. This doesn’t include writing papers (at least two 10–15 pagers per class) as well as studying for exams.


It’s a lot to take on, on top of one’s own practice and a teaching schedule, but as to what is most challenging about the program, for Ivanhoe it was the Sanskrit language. At the graduate level, students are required to read the texts in their original form in order to derive the original meaning.


Ivanhoe had previously read as many as 10 different translations, but reading the original made it clear she’d had no idea what was really being said. “I am finding it engages my brain, like trying to crack the DaVinci code. It is its own practice of yoga, called Jnana. Jnana yoga is the practice of experiencing union through study of scripture.”


A Master’s program isn’t for everyone, and there are many ways to enjoy, share and teach yoga, but for Sara Ivanhoe, it’s taken her much deeper into her practice. Besides, she adds, “After doing asana for 30 years, it was a nice break.”


Yoga photo by David Young-Wolff

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This article is a part of the Transformation Issue – December 2015/January 2016 issue of Whole Life Times.