Several established yoga teachers in the Seattle area say they're more concerned about the safety of students than the practice wavering...

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Several established yoga teachers in the Seattle area say they’re more concerned about the safety of students than the practice wavering from its spiritual and philosophical roots.

The yoga fitness trend has created a flurry of hopeful instructors who want to finish their training as fast as they can. Some receive barely 30 hours of training before hitting the mats to teach.

“The quality of what you see overall is not very good,” said Richard Schachtel, founder and director of The Center for Yoga in the Ravenna area.

Schachtel, who has been practicing yoga for 30 years and teaching for 25, said yoga is like learning a foreign language, and it needs to be continually built upon. He said instructors at his studio need to complete a minimum of 1,400 hours of training.

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Yoga tips for beginners

Do your research beforehand. Know the different types of yoga and which one will be best for you. If in doubt, do a Web search for yoga glossaries.

When inquiring about classes, ask what type of training the instructors have had, with whom they have studied and how long they have been practicing. Think twice about instructors who have had only a weekend course or fewer than 200 hours of training, experts say.

If inquiring at a studio, ask when it was established. Those that have been around longer tend to practice a more traditional method of yoga while those that have opened in the past few years could have a more trendy feel.

Ask if you can observe a class beforehand or meet with the teacher. In fact, the studio should request that you be there at least 15 minutes before your first class so the teacher can meet with you about your health status.

Ask about class size and levels of yoga. A class larger than 25 should have an assistant to the instructor who helps correct students’ forms, experts say.

“It takes a long-term commitment, as if one was going to get a doctoral degree,” he said.

Schachtel and other local teachers said their concern for safety has grown because they’re seeing more people with injuries sustained while practicing with inexperienced teachers.

Even though professionals such as massage therapists are required by law to be licensed, there is no certification required of yoga teachers or other fitness trainers. Acceptable standards of training or certification greatly vary and are often up to the individual gym or studio to decide.

“I think there are a lot of people opening studios to make a profit,” said Laura Culberg, co-owner of The SweatBox in Capitol Hill, who said it’s frustrating to see some put money before safety. She said a number of students who come to her bikram yoga studio from trendy “hot yoga” classes haven’t learned the proper forms. Some, she said, are experiencing joint pain.

However, Linda Burch, who founded Hot Yoga of Kirkland in 2004, said she’s been practicing her form of yoga since 1998 and has never had an injury. She said her mantra to her students is, “no one knows your body like you know your body” and that she encourages them to be in tune with their limitations and maintain a dialogue.

Although a rise in the number of injuries can be attributed to the sheer growth in the number of people practicing yoga, the lack of standards required of yoga teachers is also a factor, said Sandra Van Oosten, executive director of Yoga Alliance. In 1999, the organization established the national Yoga Teachers’ Registry to recognize instructors and teaching programs that have met its minimum training standards. For teachers, one requirement is at least 200 hours of training.

Victoria Harrington, co-owner and manager of Sound Mind & Body gyms in Seattle, said she thinks there is a surplus of qualified instructors in the area. Her gyms offer more than 30 yoga classes a week. She believes a lack of cross-training with weights and aerobic exercise increases the risk of injury rather than too many unqualified teachers.

Kristen Elfendahl, manager of Yoga Centers in Bellevue, said the mainstreaming of yoga has had a twofold effect: While it has helped break down stereotypes and increased the study of yoga’s health benefits, it has also replaced the trust between a teacher and student with the need for students to become informed consumers.

“It’s a symptom of the world we live in now,” Elfendahl said. She urged both beginning and seasoned practitioners to find out what kind of training their instructors have had, how long they have been teaching and if they continue their own practice outside of teaching.

Adil Palkhivala, a nationally regarded yoga teacher and founder of Yoga Centers, said, “The excellent teacher always focuses on the whole of yoga, but they form less than one percent of the teachers.”

Vanessa Renée Casavant: vcasavant@seattletimes.com