It’s an appealing job to be a yoga instructor. We receive a lot of questions regarding teacher training programs. Most individuals are eagerly seeking a program that checks off boxes in terms of time and finances, but they miss asking really important questions. Even questions about what it might take to become a yoga instructor (see So, I Think I’ll Become a Yoga Instructor). So when someone reaches out, even if they are my own student, I encourage them to do their research. Why would I do that? Aren’t all programs equally the same?
NO WAY. I don’t have a font big enough to express how vastly different teacher training programs can be.
For instance, there are programs that…
- focus on Buddhism, Vedantic yoga, Tantric yoga, Ashtanga yoga, etc.
- focus on a broad scope of yoga.
- will teach you to become an amazing teacher.
- won’t teach you much at all about teaching.
- will have you sit and read all day.
- will have you practice all day.
- are hosted on exotic islands.
- are hosted in a living room.
- take years to complete.
- take two weeks to complete.
- have 50+ people in them.
- have fewer than 10 people in them.
- teach how to lead a ceremony.
- encourage veganism.
The list could go on.
To make it more mind boggling, there is the question of the facilitator(s) themselves. Are they qualified? Are they good at transmitting information or do they lack confidence in their own abilities? Are they a true practitioner themselves?
What to consider:
These, in my opinion, are all questions you should be asking. It may feel overwhelming, but I’ve put together my tried and true suggestions that I give to any prospective trainee.
1. Decide if you want to focus on one style or receive a broad scope. Some folks enter into teacher training wanting to learn more about yoga as a whole. They don’t want to teach. Although Yoga Alliance requires programs to focus on a genre of yoga, some programs still manage to offer a little bit of information about a lot of different styles. One weekend you’re learning about Ashtanga and another you’re learning about AcroYoga. The upside to these programs is that you realize how vast yoga really is and you can speak about many different styles. The downside is that you never get deep enough to really know it (like in your bones).
Suggestion: If you want to teach yoga, decide a style or practice of yoga that you love and choose a niche program. Once you have it in your bones, you can diversify your teaching. If you want a broad overview, find a program that has a strong foundation in tradition and ensure that the facilitator is a great teacher. (see #2)
2. Speak with the lead facilitator. You would think that someone leading a teacher training program would be a good teacher—not always the case. Yoga Alliance does not assess instructors, only their syllabus. Someone that is good at teaching yoga is not necessarily good at teaching someone to teach yoga. So depending on the lead facilitator’s experience, their ability to transmit information, and general confidence, you’re going to get a very different program.
Suggestion: Choose 2-3 programs that you are interested in and speak with each lead facilitator. If they can’t articulate clearly what they’re offering or you don’t feel inspired (period), continue on with your search.
3. Take a class from one of their graduates. Everyone is different, but taking a class from a graduate of the teacher training program will give you insight on what approach you’ll learn and also their level of confidence coming out of a program. Is it a class you’d like to take again?
Suggestion: In addition, ask for a few minutes of their time to pick their brain. Remember, the facilitator of a program has never done their own program. A teacher trainee will be more likely to provide accurate feedback of their experience.
What to avoid:
I’ve been doing this for a long time and at least one of the following constituents tends to influence which program someone chooses. I certainly don’t want to minimize them, but if you can help it, try to avoid the following:
1. Choosing a program based on cost alone. Teacher training is pricey and the age old philosophy applies, “you get what you pay for.” Would you rather be totally enamored with a program that stretched the budget or left feeling “meh” because you went for cost alone. Trust your gut and go with the program you want, even if it stretches the budget.
2. Choosing a program based on schedule alone. Teacher training schedules are tough. I hear it all the time. But consider that each program has a reason for the way it’s laid out and it’s usually one of the following:
- to make it more accessible for folks to participate (think short weekend hours over a long period of time)
- to enhance the experience (think a 1-2 week program in Bali or Costa Rica)
- to optimize learning (think longer weekend hours over a short period of time)
So before deciding based on schedule alone, make sure the schedule aligns with your overall intent of taking a program.
3. Choosing a program based on location. I’m a big fan of an immersion or semi-immersion approach to teacher training, which are typically offered remotely. I’ve taken most of my trainings in this manner and the consecutive long days allow for a deep learning experience. The locations have varied from minimalist retreat centers in the mountains to the serene forests of Hawaii. It sounds glorious, right? I’ll admit that when the conditions are good, it does enhance the experience a little bit. But, in order to accumulate your 200-hours in a short period of time, you are in for some long days. And by the end of the day you are so whooped, all you can do is crawl back to your bungalow. You don’t see much of the nature you paid top dollar for, unless you decide to arrive early or stay later, which then adds more time and money to an already big investment. Choose your program based on its teachings, not its location. Let the location be the bonus.
My last bit of unsolicited advice is to choose a program that will stretch you. Leading a group of adult students can be difficult, especially when you’re testing their boundaries of thinking and movement. If the facilitator(s) don’t have a strong “backbone”, they will aim to please. If I can leave you with anything, find a program that is willing to stretch you. No pun here. “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.” Trust me. You’ll be so much happier for it.
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