I still remember the feeling of accomplishment after graduating my first led yoga teacher training course through Spira Yoga School. We were all smiles, the newly minted yoga teachers, their friends and family who attended the graduation ceremony, and me, the lead trainer who needed a pinch to believe it was all real. Weeks later when I read reviews on Yoga Alliance, I was dumbfounded by one particular graduate who left a slightly lower rating than the others. In the private comments she wrote “I would have liked to see more emphasis on connecting deeper with ourselves through guided meditations and intention setting, and more getting in touch with our Self.” Spira Yoga School never promised guided meditations and intention setting; this graduate never once communicated that they wanted a more metaphysical experience. This was when I learned the importance of setting clear expectations for future trainees.
Adjustments were made to advertisements and the Spira website to clarify what our courses offer and what one can expect. But what about the prospective trainee? What if they don’t know what to look for? What if they don’t recognize what they want from a training? When searching for a yoga teacher training, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and confused by the pages and pages of Google search results and fliers at the coffee shop. Catchy headlines and advertising smoothness can sometimes override our common sense, and suddenly we’re drawn to the image of a yogi practicing on a white sand beach rather than paying attention to what the training has to offer. Or maybe we just don’t know how to evaluate courses or compare options when there are so many to choose from in the first place.
Attending a yoga teacher training requires financial and time commitments, emotional and energetic investments. It’s important to select the training program that best suits you. The difference between the right training course and a disappointing one is immense – you can graduate feeling informed and inspired or you can leave feeling disillusioned and unfulfilled. Based on years of experience in the field, below are a few parameters that I suggest when sifting through yoga teacher training programs to find the best fit for you:
1. Consider What You Expect & Want
If you're unsure of what you want or expect from a yoga training, start a self-inquiry before your online search. What do you love most about your yoga practice? Inversions? Meditation? Fast flows? Long holds? Savasana? What styles of yoga do you like? What excites you about a teacher training program? Studying the human body? Reading philosophy? Learning Sanskrit? Reviewing posture alignment? Do you have time for an intensive course or are you more of a weekend warrior? Are you open to commuting or would you like to stay local, or are you curious about combining your training with some travel? Would you prefer a large training class or a small one? Do you wish to study with just one teacher or would you like to learn from multiple teachers? What’s your preferred learning environment? What’s your learning style?
When you know yourself, you’ll know which program best suites you. You’ll know what to look for when searching, and you’ll know which questions to ask to narrow down your selection. With so many different types of yoga out there, from Bikram to Kundalini to Ashtanga, try them out before you commit to a training in a specific style that doesn't resonate with you. Also, consider your learning style and the amount of time you have to study; some programs are more demanding than others, and you get out what you put in. Sometimes details like the types of yoga taught, training class size, specifics about guest trainers, and the books required for the course are not included on promotional materials and websites. Headshots and bios can’t give an accurate representation of how the trainers are going to conduct their classroom. So, ask questions! No need to feel that you’re a burden, just be polite and ask any and every question that comes to mind. Both you and the yoga school who is offering the training course will benefit because it’s best for both that the right match is made.
2. Look for Clear, Comprehensive Curriculum
Whether you’ve found a yoga teacher or yoga school that resonates with you or not, it is still important to review their course curriculum. Look for clearly articulated teaching methods, comprehensive and thoughtfully designed coursework, and explicitly presented program topics and schedules, as these are a sign of well-organized content. Yoga Alliance is the leading non-profit association in the west that provides standardization for yoga teacher training curriculum. Regardless if you choose a training through one of their Registered Yoga Schools or not, Yoga Alliance's training standards can be a good grading rubric for evaluating other programs. Below are a few subjects/topics to look for in various levels of training courses. For initial yoga teacher training courses (200hr YTT), look for the inclusion of the following subjects:
Technique & Practice of Asana & Pranayama
Asana Alignment & Lineages
Anatomy & Safety
Prop Use & Modifications
Philosophy & History
More advanced training courses (300hr YTT) should continue this work, while going deeper into subjects such as:
Specific needs of various populations
Challenges of teaching multiple levels
Deepening understanding of philosophy and Ayurveda
Thourough analysis of biomechanics and therapeutics of asana
How to teach private lessons, workshops, retreats, etc.
Teaching yoga may look easy, but every teacher knows, it takes tremendous knowledge and skill to teach yoga well. To set yourself up for success, search for programs that offer well-rounded, comprehensive coursework that address all areas that contribute to excellent teaching. And just as stated in #1, ask questions if you have any confusion or need more details about a specific training program.
3. Look Past Brands, Famous Teachers & Exotic Locations
Not to say that nationally recognized yoga studios, famous yoga teachers and destination programs can’t offer terrific yoga teacher training courses, they can! But when you’re back home teaching your first yoga class, none of those things will matter. If becoming a good yoga teacher is your goal, it is important to look for substance in training programs, not just surface perks like fame and notoriety. Don’t get sucked into a personality cult. Do your homework as described in #2 above. You could even ask to speak with recent alums to get a sense of whether the training program is about you becoming a yoga teacher or them inflating their egos.
4. Stay Away from Dogma & Unlicensed Psychotherapy
Beware the proverbial red flags - fundamentalism and psychotherapy. Most yoga teachers are not trained therapists or ordained ministers, and if you find one that’s attempting to indoctrinate or psychoanalyze you, they are overstepping their credentials. If you’re looking for therapy or religion, a yoga teacher training is not the place to find it – another reason to be clear on your intentions and interests in completing a training (see #1).
Although yoga has its roots in early Indian religion, in the west, yoga is offered in a mostly secular manner, accepting all viewpoints and backgrounds to practice if they so desire. Yoga teacher training courses will teach philosophy and religious perspectives, not so you subscribe, but rather so you understand the rich history from which yoga was first developed. Similarly, yoga studios are not boasting the emotional breakthroughs happening in their weekly public classes, nor should yoga teacher training programs promise therapeutic advances through exercises implemented in their courses.
If a training program claims to include psychotherapeutic techniques or a required belief system, you might want to continue your search elsewhere. Not to say that you won’t or can’t have profound personal experiences or a new-found sense of spirituality as a result of attending a training. Just steer clear of courses or teachers who overstep their qualifications.
Remember, there are several quality teacher training programs out there, but to find the right fit for you, know yourself and do your homework. Don’t be shy to ask to speak with an alum or meet the trainers who will be leading the course. After all, you’ll be spending a lot of time with them and making a big commitment to the type of training they are offering.