So you want to do a yoga teacher training.
Now, maybe you don’t even want to be a teacher, but you’ve got that gnawing, deep-gut feeling of "I need to know more!" Or maybe you're on the other end of the spectrum; perhaps you already know that yoga is your life’s work and you yearn to be the next globe-trotting Kino MacGregor.
Either way, choosing your first 200-hour teacher training is a thrilling first step toward following your passion. So, how do you choose?
Step 1: Get clear about your intention.
Your intention will determine what kind of training is right for you.
Are you seeking a transformational life experience? Sky’s the limit. Choose a TT in Bali, Thailand, or anywhere you've always wanted to visit, and have a total adventure. Set aside a couple weeks in order to travel afterward, and have yourself a total adventure! And if there is a particular teacher that jazzes your soul, go seek them out!
The best way to get a job at a studio is to first be an enthusiastic and dedicated member of that community.
Do you want to teach professionally? Figure out where you ultimately want to teach, and do your teacher training there. Larger studios (Yoga Works, Core Power, YYoga) often require that teachers take their own teacher trainings before coming on board, so why waste time studying someplace else? The best way to get a job at a studio is to first be an enthusiastic and dedicated member of that community. Tip: Ask the studio how many of their own graduates teach for them.
Do you want to deepen your connection to your local community? Great! Do the yoga TT down the street. You will make new friends, get to know your local teachers, and support your local studio. Teacher trainings are an important source of revenue for small studios, and your participation will help to foster the spread of yoga in your own community. Teacher training is also a wonderful opportunity to nurture relationships; what better way to strengthen your ties with like-minded people in your hometown?
Are you a passionate learner who wants the best education around? If your aspiration is to get the best yoga education that you can, then it’s time to do some research. Each teacher training program will have a different lineage, lens, and focus, so you have to find your personal best match. What inspires you most: asana, meditation, philosophy? If you know what you want to learn about, great! Search for trainings that focus on your passion.
Step 2: Get the skinny on your program.
Not all teacher training programs are created equal. With every new teacher and their dog hanging out their shingle as a teacher trainer, there’s a market glut of training and not a lot of quality control. Here are the questions to ask to see if you’re going to get your money’s worth:
"Are you registered with Yoga Alliance?"
Okay, okay, I understand that Yoga Alliance does not truly regulate quality yet. There are excellent trainings that are registered, and terrible trainings that are registered. But it does set a bar, howsoever low. And to YA’s credit, they are becoming increasingly stringent in their requirements and now post student reviews of teacher trainings on their site. Tip: Student testimonials can be suspect. Testimonials are often gathered on the last day of training when everyone is full of graduation excitement and brimming with love. In other words, one student’s enthusiastic testimonial may not provide you with an objective snapshot of the program’s efficacy. Ask to speak to some graduates about their experience one on one for a fuller picture. Some effective questions to ask: How did you spend most of your time during the training? What are the top skills you learned in the training? Did you feel ready to teach when you graduated?
"What lineage do you teach from?"
If they answer, “Well, Lindsey here studied power yoga with Andrew over in Hartford…” then you might want to stop the conversation. The trainers should be able to give you a clear indication of their lineage. For example, they should know if the training is inspired by Iyengar, Ashtanga, Kripalu, or the Integral yoga tradition (to name a few). India should be in there somewhere. We are currently only one generation removed from the exportation of yoga to North America. If a training can’t source its practices and techniques back to a lineage from India, then it is probably missing the heart of the practice.
"What are the learning objectives for your course?"
Here’s a good stumper. Many trainings out there are taught by lovely yogis who don’t have a clue about education. They don’t realize that teaching yoga and teaching people to teach yoga are two different animals. Oftentimes, wonderful yoga teachers don’t have the skills to structure, organize, and teach an educational course. If the trainer doesn’t know what you’re talking about when you mention things like “conditions and criteria for learning objectives,” then you’re probably looking at a course that doesn’t have much of an educational backbone. However, this could be an excellent “life experience/love the teacher/have an adventure” course.
"What kind of teachers are you creating?"
The trainers should have a mission statement for their school, and know specifically what kind of skills they want their trainers to develop. For example, some schools will prioritize creating teachers who can facilitate a breath-centered, meditative, and calming practice. Other trainings will create trainers who deliver a powerful and transformational asana practice. At YYoga, for example, we are dedicated to creating anatomically astute teachers who deliver a congruent and safe physical practice for all levels of students.
The trainers should have a mission statement for their school, and know specifically what kind of skills they want their trainers to develop.
"What’s a typical day of training like?"
You want to hear about a day that is varied and includes different learning activities as well as practice teaching. There should be some sort of planned organization. “Day Three is Ayurveda Day” or “We feel it out based on what the students need” are not good signs.
Other good questions do ask:
How do we learn sequencing?
What pranayama practices are taught?
What are the philosophical texts that you use?
How many hours of practice are there each day?
How many trainers teach the course, who are they, and what is their experience?
And of course, you want to make sure you like the actual teacher trainers. So Google-stalk them to your heart’s content, take their classes (online or in person), and make sure you get a good feeling before you decide to spend a month (or longer) with them.
Step 3: Ask "Which course structure is right for me?"
There are 200-hour courses (think of this like college) and 300-hour courses (this is like grad school). When you take both from registered schools, then you are eligible to register as a 500-hour certified teacher. If schools advertise as a 500-hour training, it simply means you’re getting the 200 and 300 rolled into one. Currently, unless you are working in a very competitive area (like New York City or Los Angeles), most studios will only require you to have a 200-hour certification to begin teaching at their studio. However, while the 200-hour certification is generally the minimum, most studios prefer to hire teachers who are passionate about their continuing education.
Some programs are “intensives” that last roughly a month. Some take place over six months on the weekends. Which one is better? It totally depends on you. If you’ve got a year-round, five-days-a-week job, chances are that a weekend course is going to fit into your life more easily (and the bonus there is that you have more time to integrate your learning). If you get summers off, then taking an intensive can be a wonderful immersion. Truly, both schedules have advantages and disadvantages, so it’s really personal choice.
Dive in, enjoy, and recognize that this is only the beginning of your journey!
Final thoughts: If you find yourself traveling down the yoga path, chances are that your first 200-hour will be exactly that: the first of several. Dive in, enjoy, and recognize that this is only the beginning of your journey! So many more layers and experiences await! And be careful, my friends, because I warn you, yoga trainings can be wonderfully addictive.