How to Choose a Yoga Teacher Training

I started doing yoga in 1996. In 2009, I received my 200-hour Yoga Teacher Certificate. In 2010, I finished my 500-hour Certification.

Starting January 2013, I’ll be doing an Advanced Teacher Training with Judith Lasater, study with Donald Moyer at the Yoga Room in Berkeley, and train at the Iyengar Institute of San Francisco.

What I will never forget is something Judith Lasater said to me when I finished my 200-hr training: “Your certificate is the certificate to begin your studies.”

In this long and on-going journey, and I am especially most grateful that I found the Yoga Teacher Training Program at Pacific Yoga in Seattle.

I’m sharing here my process of how I went about finding a Yoga Teacher Training, in hope that it will benefit anyone who’s looking for one, or thinking about embarking on this path.

The Search

When I realized that I wanted to do a yoga teacher training, I searched through all the nooks and crevices of Google; I read all the teacher training ads in all the Yoga magazines with fervent interest; and I talked, talked, talked to anybody and everybody who had anything to do with yoga that I could .

I like too many things and get all confused and hung-up running from one falling star to another till i drop. This is the night, what it does to you. I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.” – Jack Kerouac

The Confusion

It was overwhelming, to say the least, to take it all in and figure it out. In a way, it was easier to decide which college to go to and which major I was going to undertake. Yoga Teacher Training Programs, as it turns out, do not have US. News & World Report rankings.

On top of the usual deciding factors for any educational program–such as cost, time, date, and distance–there were all the unfamiliar yoga style names, and after I read about 20 or 30 of the web sites, the course descriptions all blended together, and sounded more or less the same: a life-affirming journey, a compassionate program (um… I would hope so?), teaching grace and love and humble confidence and everything I could dream of and more.

In other words, even after reading a lot of web sites and brochures, I was *still* swimming in general confusion. In fact, I was even *more* confused, as *more* vocabulary would be introduced to my fuzzy mind along the way. Anusara, Purma, Kripalu, Shakti, Jivamukti, Phoenix Rising, Integral Yoga, Viniyoga, Ananda, Iyengar, Ashtanga, Kundalini… Ok, I’m running out of breath, my head hurts, and what does it all mean?

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And be one traveller, long I stood
and looked down one as far as I could…”
Robert Frost – The Road not Taken

As luck would have it, I stumbled upon Pacific Yoga Teacher Training, and I can’t thank my lucky star enough for having led me there. After a year of intense studies and counting, I have learned to discern a few things, and here are my thoughts on how to choose a quality yoga teacher training.

The Making of a Good Yoga Certification Program

Do they have a syllabus?

“It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.”- Eleanor Roosevelt

In school, teachers would hand out the course syllabi for the semester, showing the dates and the topics to be covered, (and what most of us mainly care about: when the exams are). If you look at a training program and there’s no general outline, that should make you ask how well planned it is.

When our class had our last closing circle, the general consensus from everybody was that we didn’t realize how well put together our program was until we had to put together everything we had learned and taught a class.

The succession and progression throughout the course made sense, intellectually and physically. Everything built on each other, so that our understanding was reinforced and new information could be taken in without too much indigestion and heartburn.
Here’s an example of the curriculum for Advanced Training at The Yoga Room Berkeley.

Do they care about anatomy and safety in asana?

If God wanted me to bend over, he’d have put diamonds on the floor.” – Joan Rivers

Yoga, in its popular incarnation in the West, is mostly concerned with, oh, you know, the Madonna arms and the yoga butt. That’s fine, and since we’re telling people what to do with their arms and legs, it should follow that yoga teachers should know the difference between the lumbar and the sacrum, eccentric contraction vs. concentric contraction, the pectoral girdle and the pelvic girdle, etc. Okay, you get the point.

Anatomy should be a solid part of the training, not a flimsy passing mention. In my training, not only did we have a teacher dedicated to teaching Anatomy (a retired surgeon), but all the other teachers spoke the language of anatomy as well, so we not only studied it on an intellectual level, we felt it in our bodies, in the postures and in the breathing exercises.

“Simply calling out the name of a pose is not teaching” – Theresa Elliott

When a pose is called, do you learn about what happens in the body? Do the shoulder blades move up or down? Does the pubic bone move forward or backward?

For a beginning yoga student, simply saying “Come into Tree Pose and feel the connection between the earth and the heavens” is probably not enough cue for them to figure out where to put their butt and their knees.If and when you become a yoga teacher, someone will walk in your class with a hip replacement, back pain, or pregnant (or… all three!), and they’ll want to look like Madonna, and you’ll have to figure out what to say and do, and I hope you’ll have the anatomical cred to do it.

Do they cover yoga philosophy & Sanskrit?

Once you learn where the sounds come from, you’ll say them with much more meaning” – Kathryn Payne

As someone who didn’t know *anything* about yoga philosophy, I had no idea how important this was, and how integral it is to the whole yoga practice. I may have known that chaturanga meant the thing to do between Down Dog and Up Dog, but beyond that, I wouldn’t have been able to tell if a Sanskrit letter hit me in the head.

I’m really lucky

This may not make a lot of sense to you if the only exposure to Sanskrit and Yoga Philosophy that you have is, like me, limited to a few names that the instructor called out in class. “Why bother with all that?”, you might even ask.

I suppose I can write paragraphs upon paragraphs of why studying the Yoga Sutras and the Katha Upanishad has been nothing short of life changing for me. But for now, I’ll ask you to trust me on good faith that it matters. And you have to figure out for yourself if that’s true. It’s something that must be studied, questioned, doubted, embodied, and lived.

And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.“- Rainier Maria Rilke

Do they teach Business, Ethics and the Art of Teaching Yoga?

This is a biggie. A “yoga teacher” can be sort of a loaded term, and being a yoga teacher can mean anything and everything. The definition that exists in our own head may be entirely different from others, and it may not be anywhere near the definition that a class full of yoga students may have.

Now that you know how to “do” yoga, how should you structure a class? Which pose should precede which other pose? How do you teach a class on Friday night differently from a class on Monday during lunch? Should we chant “Om”? How do you write a bio? How do you get a job teaching yoga? How much should you charge? How much should you teach? How do you market yourself? And so on and so on.

Just as medical, business, and law students have to learn about the ethics of their business, so should yoga teachers. What is the line between a yoga teacher and his/her students? How should we respond to students who perpetually come late, flirt with other students, or a yoga director that wants you to change your teaching style?

(And by the way, I think yoga teachers should be required to take the Hippocratic Oath.)

“Experts say you should never hit your children in anger. When is a good time? When you’re feeling festive?” – Roseanne Barr

Learn the scales first, then align the chakras

These are some of the things that a yoga teacher training program should touch on. Once you have a solid foundation, then you can choose a style you like. A yoga teacher training program should give you space to grow and come into your own style as a practitioner and a teacher. It should let you find your own voice, because not all yoga teachers talk in a whispery, sing-songy way.

I like to think of a yoga teacher training as learning music theory and learning to play a musical instrument. Once you learn how to read the notes, the chords & symbols, the scales and intervals, then you’ll have the knowledge and confidence to play the Blues, or Jazz, or Classical, or any kind of music you want to sing and dance to.

What is their experience?

Just as you would read reviews on everything from restaurants and books, look up the teacher’s background, and their teacher’s background, and their teacher’s teacher’s background if you fancy that. So much of yoga is born from a teacher’s experience–practicing it and teaching it–and you will benefit from a teacher with many years under their belt.

(This really goes without saying, but I thought I ought to mention it because there are so many studios with yoga teacher training programs out there, and certainly more and more on the way–it’s a great source of revenue for yoga studios.)

The Yoga Industry does not have a process similar to the Board for certifying lawyers. The only thing closest to that is The Yoga Alliance, a governing body establishing standards and certifying yoga schools and teachers. This is not to say that the Yoga Alliance is necessarily the *best* authoritative place to find a qualified school. You will in time discover the muddy waters of yoga certification and politics, but let’s not go there for now.

(If you go the Yoga Alliance route, you can check that your teachers are registered with the Yoga Alliance as E-RYTs, which means they have significant teaching experience of at least 2 years and 1,000 hours for an E-RYT 200, and at least 4 years and 2,000 hours for an E-RYT 500. E-RYTs are qualified to train teachers at the corresponding level. RYTs 500 and E-RYTs are qualified to conduct Continuing Education training.)

How big is the class, and how long is the training?

In the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali, I.14 states the principle of a practice (abhyasa) consisting of
+ dirgha kala – a loooong time
+ nairantaira – continuous and with no interruption
+ satkara – devotion, or dedication (you know, doing it when you really don’t feel like doing it)

Many times during our program, at least several of us confessed that we weren’t “getting it”, whatever it was for us. We weren’t doing all the pranayama exercises, and we were intimidated by all the foreign anatomy terms, and we didn’t even have time to make it to a regular yoga class.

Our teachers reassured us over and over that, this takes time. My 200-hour program ran for nine months, meeting about every three weeks on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. My 500-hour ran for a year. The time in between was meant to let it all soak in. Just like with anything new, you have to allow it time to steep.

My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the hell she is.” – Ellen DeGeneres

This is why I am partial to programs that meet consistently over a year or two, rather than a one-month or two-month intensive on a tropical island or remote mountain somewhere.

There was also a cap on the number of students in my class. My 200-hour program had 24 students. My 500-hour program had 16. We had a lot of 1:1 personal attention, and I didn’t feel like just another body being shuffled in and out.

Bestest of luck to you. And if there’s anything you’d like to add or comment on, please let me know so this guide continues to be more useful.

May we be protected together
May we be nourished together
May we work together with great vigor
May our study be enlightening
May there be no hatred between us
OM Peace Peace Peace

– Yoga Student and Teacher Prayer

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