5 Reasons Yoga Teacher Training Is Not Just for Wannabe Teachers


With “teacher” right there in the name, it would be reasonable to assume that yoga teacher training (YTT) is just for wannabe teachers. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, many trainees and graduates, maybe even most of them, have no intention of teaching. For the most part, the focus of YTT programs is more on the “yoga” than on the “teacher.” Of course, the training does prepare aspiring teachers to lead their own classes, but it’s also just one of the best ways to deepen your own practice. Yogis turn to YTT for their own personal development when they want to take their practice and study to the next level. Even the most dedicated yogis – who practice regularly, attend frequent workshops, go on retreats, and read and study on their own – will likely feel like they’ve hit a wall at some point. Typical drop-in classes and even two-hour workshops on the weekend can only go so deep, and that’s why YTT is often considered the “next step” for experienced yogis. Some even say it’s what people need to do if they truly want to learn yoga. Regardless of your teaching aspirations (or lack thereof), training is an experience that will push you to dig deep and will challenge you mentally and physically. So even if you’re not sure you want to become a yoga teacher, these five benefits of YTT are reasons you might still want to go through training.


Yoga pose Like anything in life, the only way to advance and improve in yoga is to put time into it. But if you’re like most yogis, life tends to get in the way of your practice. While you might strive to practice regularly, the reality for most of us is that work, family, lack of energy, or general busyness can derail our best intentions…. But when you sign up for YTT, you’re committing to attending all those sessions and classes, so you inevitably become much more consistent. Before my own training, I was constantly striving to practice more, study more, and learn more. But going it alone was difficult, and enrolling in YTT was exactly the push and commitment I needed to get closer to my goals. While some training programs schedule sessions on a series of weekends over several months, an intensive YTT has the added benefit of immersion. The opportunity to spend a full month completely focused on yoga is a truly unique experience, and it brings a consistency to your practice that would be hard to attain on your own. In addition to requiring more regular practice, YTT also provides a structure that isn’t available elsewhere. Training sessions are presented in a logically progressive order, which sets students up to progress throughout the training. Whether it’s relearning individual poses before moving into flows, studying basic poses to see how they build into more advanced ones, or learning simpler philosophies before more complex ones, the structure of YTT is purposeful. Taking drop-in classes and a workshop here or there will never replicate the structure offered in YTT. Similarly, most training programs methodically cover various styles and components of yoga to give students a strong foundation. Learning about different styles of yoga during YTT helps students understand the similarities and differences and how they relate to each other. Taking drop-in classes in different styles would let students compare them, but it won’t provide the background that’s offered in YTT. All Yoga Alliance certified programs also cover practices beyond asana, like meditation, mantra, and pranayama. Regular classes usually only touch lightly on these topics, and unless you live in an area with frequent workshops, YTT might be the only real opportunity to study them. While you could certainly study the topics covered in YTT independently, it’s hard to replicate the accountability, comprehensive curriculum, and immersion that a training program offers.


Philosophy If you’re considering enrolling in YTT, you probably already know that yoga is much more than just a workout. But while many teachers do touch on the history and philosophy of yoga, it’s hard to cover them in much detail… If you only attend drop-in classes, you may never get more than a sprinkling of philosophy here and there. But diving into the history and philosophy of yoga during YTT not only deepens your practice, it also encourages personal growth and pushes you to get to know yourself better. The history of yoga is long and controversial, but most YTT programs give trainees at least a basic foundation in its origins and centuries-long evolution. Philosophy also features prominently in YTT, and usually includes a variety of topics. For example, most programs teach some of the basic tenants of both Buddhism and Hinduism and how they relate to the history and practice of yoga. The subtle body, the yamas and niyamas, and the theories of Ayurveda often feature in training programs as well. To many yogis, these concepts are just familiar-sounding words that might come up in class every once in a while, and YTT is an opportunity to really study them. Students may be surprised by what an enormous topic “the philosophy of yoga” is, and even YTT only teaches the tip of the iceberg. Because there is so much material, not every program teaches the exact same topics, though most include a combination of the ones mentioned here. Regardless of the material covered, YTT is a great starting point for diving into the philosophy of yoga. For serious practitioners, philosophy is so integral to the practice that it’s hard to truly advance without an understanding of it.


In addition to learning about the philosophies, part of going deeper into yoga is studying the sources of those ideas: the yogic texts. They provide context for the philosophies behind yoga, shed light on the evolution of the practice, and remind practitioners of its original purposes. Short of university classes in Religious Studies or South Asian History, YTT is probably the best opportunity to do this reading. Of course, you could always read yogic texts on your own and independently research them online. But that’s a big and complicated undertaking, and honestly, a pretty dry one, too. There are so many texts that have relevance to yoga, and no YTT can possibly cover them all. In fact, many are books I was vaguely familiar with from history or literature classes, but it wasn’t until my own YTT that I understood their importance to yoga. Training programs might at least touch on some combination of the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Mahabharata, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and the Bhagavad Gita, to name a few, and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is almost always introduced. Of course, no YTT (that I know of) is going to require students to read a 200,000-verse Sanskrit epic, but many assign short passages or even summaries of the texts. Some programs also assign readings from more modern texts, like Light on Yoga or The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice. Just as valuable as the reading, YTT might require students to discuss texts with fellow trainees and to hear experienced teachers’ interpretations. The traditional yogic texts are ancient and hard to understand, and even more modern ones can benefit from added explanation and context. Learning about these texts from a teacher who has studied them extensively is a huge advantage, and there aren’t many opportunities to do that outside of YTT. While training might provide only a cursory introduction to the vast amount of material that’s pertinent to yoga, it gives students an idea of what they’re most interested in and a foundation to pursue further reading on their own.


peacock pose I’d be remiss if I didn’t also emphasize the physical practice of yoga. After all, asana is what drew almost all of us in, and it’s admittedly where most of us want to progress. While YTT emphasizes a host of other topics like those described above, a large portion of any training program is, of course, on asana. As with other topics, YTT offers far more comprehensive information, and presents it more methodically, than is available in other settings. Studying poses in YTT helps trainees make significant advances in their physical practice, regardless of whether they want to become an instructor. Every YTT program teaches anatomy, going beyond learning the names of muscles and bones or the difference between a tendon and a ligament (although that’s covered, too). The anatomy taught in YTT emphasizes concepts that are relevant to yoga, like how the body moves and how anatomical structures relate to the alignment of poses. When you understand basic anatomy, it’s easier to understand the purposes and benefits of different poses and how to practice them safely. All YTT programs also cover the proper alignment of major poses. While teachers in regular classes certainly instruct students on alignment, they don’t have the time to “workshop” every pose and discuss the position of each body part. YTT is a unique opportunity to really break poses down, starting with the most basic ones. Over the course of training, students also gain an understanding of the relationships between different poses, which helps them build upon basic poses and makes attaining more advanced ones much easier. The depth in which YTT covers alignment is difficult to find elsewhere, and getting individual feedback is much more constructive than just reading about the principles. In fact, it’s common for trainees to realize during YTT that they’d been practicing a pose incorrectly for years and never realized it. YTT programs also cover transitions and sequencing, which helps trainees learn to develop their own classes. While that might seem relevant only to wannabe teachers, it gives all students the tools to develop a home practice, which can feel daunting otherwise. Covering these topics also helps students better understand their regular classes and get more out of them. Teachers don’t typically talk much about transitions and sequencing during class, so YTT is one of the only opportunities to learn these concepts. As discussed above, many of the concepts covered in YTT go beyond asana. But even yogis who are primarily interested in advancing in their physical practice will benefit tremendously from YTT.


graduation When asked about the most meaningful part of their training experience, many YTT grads point to the people they shared it with. In everyday life, it can be hard to find and connect with people who share your interests in yoga, wellness, and spirituality. But when you enroll in YTT, you’re dropped right in the middle of a group of students as hungry for knowledge as you are. Participating in YTT means spending 200 hours with your fellow trainees, and in an immersive program, it actually means living for a solid month with this group of people. Beyond spending time together, trainees go through a life-changing, soul-stirring experience as a group. YTT pushes you to reflect on your values, question your beliefs, and develop spiritually, and sharing such a personal experience easily creates a bond in the group. Plus, everyone has different backgrounds and experiences to share, and you can learn so much from other students in your training. Lastly, YTT is also an opportunity to develop relationships with your instructors. While you may have favorite teachers at your local studio or ones whose classes you regularly attend, it can be difficult to really form a relationship with them. But YTT gives you unfettered access to your training leaders and creates a setting where you’re able to ask questions, get individual attention, and learn more about their own experience than is possible in regular classes. Even if you don’t develop a strong bond with your YTT trainers, it gives you close access to people who can be role models… Learning about how they tick can inspire and motivate you in your own practice. When it comes down to it, YTT is more about studying yoga than it is about teaching, and that’s exactly why it’s beneficial for any yogi who wants to deepen their practice, regardless of teaching aspirations. Sure, you could study many of the topics covered in YTT on your own. But nothing compares to the structure and depth that comes with a training program, or the opportunity to experience it as part of a community.