THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO CHOOSING THE PERFECT YOGA TEACHER TRAINING COURSE
Congratulations on making the decision to embark on a course of yoga teacher training! Your practice and understanding of yoga will reach an entirely new level, and doors will open to areas you may have never dreamed possible. The practice of yoga is life changing, and when you begin to teach it and share it with others, your practice will take on a different meaning and will fulfill you in new ways.
Your next step is to decide which yoga teacher training program is the best for you. Just as yoga styles, classes and instructors vary, so do teacher training courses. Programs vary not only in duration, cost and location, but in their curriculums, leadership and type of instruction. You are about to make a substantial commitment of time, energy, and money. A little due diligence will go a long way to ensure you get the most benefit from the program which bests suits your needs.
Before you go any further, consider the following: why are you interested in yoga teacher training? The answer may seem obvious to you, you may not know the answer exactly, or the answer may change over time. Whatever the case may be, a good first step is to get clear about what brought you to this point and what you’re most hoping to learn in your course of study. A little soul-searching to develop an awareness of your expectations will help you narrow your search and will eliminate those programs that will undoubtedly dissatisfy you. Not everyone who enrolls in teacher training ends up a yoga instructor. For some, that’s by design, and unfortunately for others, they did not complete a program that aligned with their teaching goals.
Is your end goal to become a yoga instructor?
If your goal is to teach yoga, there are specific considerations to factor in. Do the studios in your area require teachers to be certified through a specific program? Some yoga studios only hire instructors with a particular training, from a certain lineage, or with a certification from their own in-house training programs. Other studios may require that your teacher training program be verified by a national governing body, such as Yoga Alliance, which certifies most yoga teacher training programs for those who wish to be employed in the United States. Some studios may require that you complete a minimum 200, 300 or even 500-hour teacher training program prior to employment. If employment as an instructor is your end goal, do some homework on what exactly will be required from you to make this happen in your location.
If teaching is a priority for you, you should also be aware that many training programs will teach you a lot about yoga, but won’t necessarily teach you how to best communicate that knowledge to others. This may be ok if you have experience as a teacher in other areas of your life. However, if you are expecting that actual teaching instruction and theory be part of your training, make sure it is. Some teacher training programs devote a good portion of class time to practice teaching. This allows you to teach in front of a group and receive critical feedback on your presentation. These assessments of you as an instructor are highly valuable. Courses may include educational theory, and instruction on how to structure, theme and design a yoga class. You’ll not only learn a lot about yoga, but you’ll receive practical instruction on how to integrate this knowledge into your own classes. Teaching-focused programs may also spend more time on breaking down the anatomy of each pose, as well as how to teach modifications to a wide variety of populations. This is of high value to those with a strong desire to teach. You will graduate prepared to hit the ground running as a confident leader of a yoga class.
Perhaps teaching is not your end goal? There are plenty of yoga practitioners who enjoy yoga teacher training not because they ultimately want to become an instructor, but because they’d like to deepen their understanding of their personal yoga practice and spend a significant amount of focused time learning more about a beloved style or lineage. This is a perfectly valid reason to enroll in a yoga teacher training! In fact, some programs forego practice teaching and class design altogether to allow for more time spent on yoga theory, history, and philosophy. Some programs focus less on the anatomy of the poses and more on the mythology of each pose. Whether or not you end up teaching, the following advice can help you narrow the options as to which training program is the right fit for you.
Are you interested in a particular style of yoga?
If you’ve decided to embark on a course of teacher training because of your affinity for a particular style of yoga, you’ll want to find a teacher training program which reflects that style. If your background and practice are in Ashtanga, for example, a teacher training program based in Hatha might not be exactly what you’re seeking.
Are you interested in a certain niche area of yoga?
Are you interested in learning Sanskrit, how to teach pranayama (breathing) exercises, or working with the chakras or subtle body energies? These are not subjects which all courses touch on. Inquire as to the type of yoga the program focuses on and be sure to ask the instructors what their background and lineage is. The more you know about the training of those who are training you, the more likely you are to settle on the correct match.
If the studio in which you currently practice offers teacher training, or if the teachers you currently follow offer their own programs, those could be good options for you. If you have a teacher with a particular style you are drawn to, ask them where they completed their training, you’ll most likely enjoy following the same teacher training programs your favorite instructors completed. That said, enrolling in a yoga teacher training can also be a very good opportunity to get outside your home studio and try something new.
Consider a destination teacher training program. Plenty who embark on a course of yoga teacher training successfully complete 200 hours of study or more while holding down a full time job and attending to their day to day responsibilities. Online yoga teacher training courses, or those offered on nights and on weekends are specifically designed for this purpose. It goes without saying that yoga teacher training is a huge commitment of your time and energy. A destination training can be a great way to devote one hundred percent of your focus to the training program itself, and can also be a wonderful way to spend a vacation. Destination trainings allow you to be fully immersed in your yoga, as well as a new culture and new place. Some yogis choose to travel for their training not only to avoid the distractions of home, but to train in a place that is tied to the history of the yoga lineage, or to follow a particular teacher.
If you choose a destination teacher training program, do not forgo the steps above. Just because you’re learning in paradise doesn’t mean that the program will meet all your additional requirements, and it can be far too easy to allow an exotic location to overshadow what’s really important, which is the quality of the instruction and the content of the curriculum. List out the areas which are most important to you, such as practice teaching, class design, anatomy, philosophy and lineage, and inquire as to how much time the program focuses in each area.
Once you’ve listed the major components of the program which will best suit you, it’s time to start comparing your options and costs. Any yoga teacher training over 200 hours can be a considerable financial investment. If your teacher training program is studio based, ask if they offer discounts for members or class pass holders. Not only do members often save on teacher training, but the studio may require all teacher trainees to attend a minimum number of classes during their training. These classes are often, but not always, included in the cost of your teacher training, so purchasing a membership might be a good buy.
Find out if the school or studio offers an early registration, or “early bird” discount. Registering early is a benefit not only for you, but for the studio as well, so most yoga schools incentive this. If no discounts are available, costs can sometimes be mitigated with a payment plan, allowing you to spread out your financial investment over time. Be sure to find out if additional materials are required, and if so, are they included? Required reading, handbooks and manuals, or yoga props, bolsters and blocks, can add up to a significant additional cost! Ask about cancellation or suspension policies. What happens if you are unable to complete your program due to illness or injury? If you’ve planned a destination training, purchase travel insurance and familiarize yourself with all relevant cancelation policies.
At this point you may have the perfect yoga teacher training course in mind! If you’re still deciding, go back through your lists of must-haves and narrow down your options to two or three. If possible, meet the instructors, talk to them, take a yoga class from them. Remember, 100 hours or more is a long time to spend with someone. Do you like the program’s leadership team? Do they seem well organized? Do you enjoy their classes? Most importantly, do they seem to have the knowledge you are seeking? Look past fancy websites, beautiful Instagram shots and exotic destinations. None of these things are the qualifiers of an excellent teacher. Ask yourself if this person, or group or school is the appropriate match for you. Sometimes, even after all the logical analysis, you have to simply trust your instincts. You might fall in love with one program or teacher for reasons you can’t quite explain. Or perhaps after researching, you’ll find you simply don’t vibe in person with a school that looked great on paper.
Let’s recap what we’ve covered so far with a checklist you can use to narrow your choices:
- What speaks to me most about yoga teacher training?
- Do I want to teach? Or is it something else?
- What is my preferred style of yoga?
- Is there a niche area I’m interested in such as mythology, Sanskrit or pranayama?
- Do I have a favorite instructor or studio?
- Am I interested in a destination training, or something close to home
- What costs are involved and what’s within my budget?
- Who is doing the instruction and do I feel comfortable with them?
Once you’ve made your decision and you’re on your way with your yoga teacher training, approach your chosen program with an open mind and an open heart. Ultimately, it’s not the school or instructor you choose that makes the most difference, but how you approach the teachings as a student. As with all new things, it may not be exactly what you expected, and that can be a good thing! You will learn much more about yoga, and most importantly, about yourself.
Teacher Training can be an intense journey as it requires physical, emotional and spiritual effort over a duration of 4 weeks, 6 weeks or more. Be patient, and take things one day at a time. Simultaneously, soak up as much information as you can and make good use of your time with your instructors. Complete your assigned homework, ask questions to clarify anything you don’t fully understand. The journey may take you to an unplanned destination. If you do become a teacher, most will tell you the real lessons begin when you start teaching others. While your yoga teacher training program may have ended, you will have embarked on a lifelong journey of continued learning.
About our Author
Kosta Miachin is the creator of VIKASA Yoga method – a unique, challenging and effective approach to yoga. He is also the founder of VIKASA Yoga Academy.