WHY YOU NEED MORE THAN 200 HOURS OF YOGA TEACHER TRAINING
The path to becoming certified as a yoga teacher is pretty straightforward: just sign up for a 200-hour yoga teacher training (YTT) and, assuming you fulfill all the requirements, you’ll be certified to teach by the end. But how did 200 hours become the benchmark for yoga teachers? And more importantly, is it really enough?
The idea that yoga teachers are born from 200 hours of training is a relatively new concept, established in 1999 by Yoga Alliance (YA), the primary governing body for yoga. YA settled on this benchmark with the belief that 200 hours is the minimum amount of time it takes teachers to learn how to keep their students safe.
While 200 hours corresponds to the month-long residency programs that had long existed at ashrams, it is a departure from how yogis traditionally became instructors. Prior to the 1990s, dedicated yogis would spend many years studying and practicing under a teacher or mentor; eventually, that person would determine they were ready to instruct and allow them to take over classes.
The new 200-hour model is much more accessible, but can produce teachers who lack the dedication required under the traditional structure. Today, YA’s standards for teachers are hotly contested, with many arguing that 200 hours of training is nowhere near enough; but even among dissenters, there is no agreement on the appropriate number of hours or the best format for training.
While 200 hours of training will certify you as a teacher, and can certainly land you a teaching position, pursuing further training can be hugely beneficial. Below are just some of the reasons anyone serious about teaching should consider undertaking more than the minimum 200 hours of training.
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FEEDBACK ON TEACHING IS LIMITED IN A 200-HOUR YTT.
During your 200-hour YTT, you probably did some practice teaching and received feedback from the trainers on your cuing, inflection, or demonstrations. But those initial opportunities to get up in front of a group are undoubtedly nerve-wracking; nobody feels comfortable leading a class the first few times. While feedback received during YTT is valuable, it’s based on an experience from when the trainee was brand new, nervous, and uncomfortable.
When trainees eventually graduate from YTT and go on to start teaching classes, they gain experience, develop a style, and become more confident. Once you have a little bit of experience and are over that initial stage fright, it would be incredibly valuable to receive more nuanced feedback on your teaching. But by that point, YTT is behind you, and there are few options to be critiqued.
Enter the 300-hour YTT. Students in an advanced training have likely moved past the nerves they may have been judged on in their 200-hour training, and can receive feedback on the teaching style they’ve developed. Critiques at that stage are what really help teachers improve and develop, and they’re difficult to find outside of an advanced YTT.
200-HOUR TRAINEES DON’T BENEFIT FROM REAL-WORLD EXPERIENCE.
Similarly, students in a 200-hour YTT have no experience to bring to their program – and they shouldn’t, since it’s the foundational training. However, trainees’ questions and contributions during their first YTT are based solely on their own study, stories from experienced teachers, and a little bit of practice teaching within the controlled setting of a training.
As soon as those students graduate and start teaching real-world classes, they immediately have a ton of new experiences, from stumbling over their words to working with injured students to struggling with demonstrations. New teachers often find themselves wishing they still had the support, structure, and community of their YTT to discuss issues they’re facing in the classroom and ask questions informed by their new experience.
Enrolling in an advanced training offers new teachers a rare opportunity to further reflect on and learn from their teaching experiences, and to learn from their fellow trainees’ real-world experience as well.
STUDENTS CAN’T DEVELOP A SPECIALTY IN 200 HOURS.
Two hundred hours may sound like a lot, but YTT covers a huge amount of information – anatomy, alignment, sequencing, philosophy, history, meditation, and more. With the breadth of information that needs to be covered, a 200-hour YTT can really only provide an introduction to most topics.
Once teachers have that foundational training, a 300-hour YTT will allow them to learn more about specific modalities within yoga and to dive deeply into the topics that interest them the most. For example, maybe you want to teach a certain segment of the population (such as pregnant women, children, athletes, or beginners), develop an expertise in yin or restorative yoga, or learn more about Ayurveda or pranayama.
A 200-hour YTT can cover only the most basic fundamentals of these modalities, and there’s not sufficient time to develop much expertise in any of them. Enrolling in an advanced training can offer the opportunity to specialize in one or more areas, which is a way for teachers to help themselves stand out.
RYT-200 TEACHERS DON’T STAND OUT.
The number of people earning their yoga teacher certification has skyrocketed in recent years. Well over 50,000 teachers are currently registered with YA, and nearly 15,000 new teachers registered in 2015 alone. That level of saturation, and growth, means you can easily get lost among the masses of all the 200-hour certified teachers.
While yoga as a practice is also getting more popular – with new studios opening, gyms dedicating more of their group fitness time to yoga, and classes being offered everywhere from parks to breweries to corporate offices – it’s not growing at a rate that can keep up with the flood of new teachers. So many teachers entering the market makes the competition for teaching opportunities even more intense. To land a position, especially that pays well, teachers need to be able to stand out from the pack.
Despite the proliferation of YTT graduates, instructors who’ve earned the 500-hour designation make up a much smaller group. As such, those people stand out as experienced and educated teachers who’ve made a deeper commitment to yoga and to teaching. When studios have to choose between hiring someone with the minimum amount of training and someone with over double that, you can bet the 500-hour designation carries some weight.
Before the recent explosion in yoga’s popularity, teachers with even 200 hours of training were harder to come by and faced less competition. But today, teachers who want to establish themselves and stand out from the crowd should consider taking their training to the next level.
200-HOUR GRADUATES DON’T ALWAYS UNDERSTAND THE BUSINESS OF YOGA.
As mentioned above, 200-hour trainings have a huge amount of information to cover in a variety of areas. While different YTTs emphasize different topics, one area many programs tend to skimp on is the business of yoga.
Discussing making money and talking about yoga as a business is uncomfortable for many people, YTT trainers included. The business of yoga is also the part of YTT that’s least relevant to the many people who enroll in training solely for personal benefit and without intending to become teachers. Combined with a belief that teachers will figure this out as they go, it’s not surprising that many training programs gloss over the business side of things.
But for trainees who do aspire to become teachers, not understanding yoga as business can be an obstacle that holds them back them from getting the chance to teach. But a 300-hour YTT allows trainees to spend more time on each of the topics covered, including business; trainers may also see it as more relevant, since advanced trainings are more likely to attract people who do teach or plan to teach.
The curricula of advanced YTT varies tremendously, and not all programs will heavily emphasize the business of yoga. But most will still cover topics like how payment and taxes are handled, where and how to find teaching positions, how to establish your own classes, and how to market yourself on social media.
For new teachers, understanding how to land a position – and make sure they are treated well and compensated fairly – can feel like a mystery, and many 200-hour graduates struggle to find opportunities to put their new skills to use. An advanced YTT can help trainees get serious about the business side of teaching yoga, and better set them up to actually make a living from it.
Completing a 200-hour YTT is a huge accomplishment and an undertaking that can teach trainees a tremendous amount about yoga and about themselves. Many 200-hour graduates have gone on to become successful and effective teachers without any advanced training.
These days, however, they are probably in the minority. Pursuing a 300-hour YTT or other advanced training offers a unique setting to learn from your experience, deepen your study beyond the basics, and set yourself up to succeed as a yoga teacher.
By Kosta Miachin
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.