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Is everyone in NYC becoming a meditation teacher?


Photos: The Path
Photos: The Path
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Becoming a meditation instructor is a notoriously long journey—one that traditionally involves years of study, invite-only apprenticeships with master teachers, months of silent retreats, ashram living, and more.

But as meditation’s popularity soars, with mindfulness-centric studios opening from coast to coast and events drawing concert-sized crowds, the instructor route is changing as well. The Path, which hosts weekly group meditation classes in cool locations around New York City, is prepping to roll out its first-ever teacher training, which will take just three months to complete.

What does this mean? For starters, get ready to run into a lot more meditation teachers—at dinner parties, in your friend group, in your building. Just as integrative nutrition schools and yoga teacher trainings created a surge of holistic health coaches and serious yogis, this new, quick accreditation (100 hours vs. multiple years of study) could produce more mindfulness professionals per capita than the city has ever seen.

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Why—and why now?

Founder Dina Kaplan says she’s been planning to offer teacher training since The Path first launched in October 2014, when she started receiving requests from students for a deeper course of study.

“It’s hard to find a program that offers really substantive teacher training, but is also accessible to people that have a job,” says Kaplan, who notes that The Path’s inaugural group of teachers-to-be includes therapists, doctors, yoga instructors, and other professionals who work full-time. At the end of the 100-hour program, students will be certified to teach mindfulness and loving kindness meditation through the esteemed Nalanda Institute for Contemplative Science.

“Our approach is to welcome the explosion of interest and take a middle way.”

“The teacher trainings I’ve seen have either been too long or too short. There are some programs that can be done in a month or less…but this is very deep knowledge, and it takes time to integrate that knowledge into your mind.”

Adds Joseph Loizzo, MD, founder and director of the Nalanda Institute: “Our approach is to welcome the explosion of interest and take a middle way—by offering an intensive, rigorous, level-one training as part of an ongoing contemplative education.”

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Photo: Carly Fekete/The Path
Photo: Carly Fekete/The Path

MTT: The new YTT?

The Path’s curriculum is structured in a similar way to many yoga teacher trainings—it’s broken down into four Saturday retreats (each of which is five hours long) and 13 shorter weeknight workshops. Developed by staff from the Nalanda Institute—including Dr. Loizzo (a Columbia-trained Buddhist scholar and Harvard-educated psychiatrist)—the course covers everything from science to history and philosophy, all rooted in the practices of mindfulness and loving kindness.

Why these two disciplines, in particular? “It felt right to teach mindfulness because it’s profoundly life changing for people and so widely tested,” says Kaplan. “But I’d feel remiss if we didn’t include loving kindness in this program, since it’s more important than ever, especially for people who are based in New York City. Our fast-paced lives can feel so overwhelming, and one of the best ways we can handle anxiety is through teaching and practicing loving kindness.”

“Right now, the mindfulness world is the Wild West…anyone can take a weekend workshop and say they teach mindfulness.”

The $2,200 program, which qualifies for Yoga Alliance credit, also includes ample instruction on how to teach, and time to practice doing it. (After all, you need to know how to handle that person who always ends up snoring, right?)

Kaplan stresses that this is a foundation course—you won’t emerge from the program an enlightened master—but she adds that The Path will eventually offer higher-level trainings for those who wish to continue their journeys. “We’re giving you a really beautiful step up on your knowledge and teaching skills,” she says.

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The Path2

But are shorter trainings legit?

Meditation is a discipline with centuries of history and tradition behind it, so any attempt to change the order of things is naturally going to come with a bit of skepticism. After all, the process of becoming recognized as a teacher usually takes years; can all of that wisdom and experience really be distilled into just a few months (or even a few days, as is the case with some programs)?

“A lot of things come up in meditation… Part of the reason why it’s good for you is that it’s clearing stuff out,” says Tal Rabinowitz, founder of Los Angeles meditation studio The Den. “You want a teacher who knows how to handle that.”

Diana Winston, director of mindfulness education at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center and co-author of  Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness, concurs. “Right now, the mindfulness world is the Wild West,” she says. “Since the field is exploding, we’re seeing more and more new programs… anyone can take a weekend workshop and say they teach mindfulness.”

For that reason, Winston is developing a national accreditation board for mindfulness schools and teachers, which will be launching within the next six months. “We’re trying to create standards and professionalize the field,” she says. Planned requirements include: at least 200 hours of training with an accredited organization (the same amount that’s required to become a registered yoga instructor) and higher standards for admittance into teacher training programs (at least four years of a personal practice and some silent retreat experience).

“We feel very strongly that you have to have years of practice in the field of mindfulness before you can teach others,” she says. “It’s not only a skill, but it’s a way of being. So it’s got to be integrated and embodied before you can begin to teach it.” 

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A quickly changing landscape

Although there are still only a handful of condensed meditation teacher training programs out there, Winston says she’s “open and curious” to see how new formats, like the one being offered by The Path, evolve. There’s no question that the field is on the brink of massive change—and if you’re a longtime yogi who’s watched that practice evolve over the last 20 years, it may look familiar.

“The world is changing, and meditation is changing,” says Rabinowitz. “I think people are intrigued with meditation teacher training, and it’s going to become like yoga teacher training—a lot of people will do it not because they want to teach, but because they want to learn more. [Shorter trainings] are a chance for people to dig deeper.”

And the more heavily meditated our population, the better the state of our world—who can argue against that?

Why is a meditation pillow the place to be these days? Here’s why more young people than ever are turning to the practice. Plus there’s the science, which has found meditation to help with everything from easing pain to giving your skin a boost. And if you’re wondering what you might get out of a program like The Path’s, consider this writer’s experience with yoga teacher training