“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Benjamin Franklin
There’s been a lot of debate lately about whether a 200 hour teacher training program is adequate to properly train new yoga teachers. This comes in part from the proliferation of yoga centers offering basic trainings using standards set up by Yoga Alliance along with a dramatic increase in the number people becoming certified. Are these basic trainings enough to prepare people to teach yoga?
In general, the answer is probably not: first, it’s much more common for students to take the training with a lot less yoga experience than in years past and second, learning and training to teach yoga well takes a lot of time (well beyond the minimum standards set by the industry). Jason Crandell and I discussed this issue when he was addressing Nandi Yoga’s training program last summer and we both agreed – 200 hours is simply not enough.
Yoga teachers traditionally spent many years studying with a guru before being approved to teach. But the market is vastly different now – potential teachers have many more choices on where to train and most programs do not require proficiency in the practice beforehand. For those wanting to teach, it’s tempting to get started as soon as possible. But take the time to do your homework and ask yourself two questions: first, am I really ready and prepared to do undertake a training successfully, and second, does this training give me what I need to become a successful teacher.
Your personal practice is the most important key to your ability to lead others in yoga as a new teacher. For the most part, you will teach what you have learned on your mat. You need to understand the effects the various aspects of yoga (including asana, pranayama, and meditation) on you personally before you can start to explore how they may affect and transform others. Without this experience, the training is more theoretical and will give you limited insight.
It’s hard to measure what this means in terms of time – someone who has practiced once a week for 10 years may have a much more limited understanding than one who has practiced every day for a year. In addition, one’s background can greatly impact how quickly one can pick up the material; those who have a background in dance or sports may already have developed a sense of proprioception and be keenly aware quickly of the physical aspects of the practice early on.
If you are taking a training to teach (versus deepening your practice), do your homework before committing to a program. The standards set by Yoga Alliance are pretty broad and teaching centers have a lot of latitude in how they address core subjects and what they focus on. If you find a training that appeals to you, talk to people who have graduated from the program to understand how advanced the trainees were with their personal practice at the start of training and how prepared they felt upon graduation to teach so you can get a better sense of whether you are ready to jump in. I’ve loved and benefitted from the three big trainings I’ve completed but only one really focused on teaching skills; I don’t think the other two would have truly prepared me to teach well as a new teacher despite learning a lot of really interesting things about yoga.
The next step is to develop a plan for how you will continue to hone your skills upon completion. Ideally your 200 hour training will support these longer term plans, whether it’s an internship, opportunities to sub classes or marketing on their website. If you are planning on training out of town, talk to local studios or places you may want to teach when you return to understand what they are looking for in teachers and what experience they’ve had working with graduates of the training.
At Nandi Yoga, our graduates go straight into an internship right after graduation, assisting in regular classes each week, teaching community classes and attending sessions to learn hands on adjustments – this is where our graduates really hone their skills and get great experience teaching students (versus fellow trainees).
Learning how to teach well takes time and a lot of practice. But you want to start your teaching career with the right foundation: a solid yoga practice at the start, a training that gives you the tools to lead students in sustainable, engaging and mindful class, and a game plan on how you can continue to develop your skills to become a truly great yoga teacher.