WHAT IS YOGA TEACHER TRAINING?
First I’ll let Yoga Alliance, the international standard for yoga teachers, explain what a basic 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) is. According to Yoga Alliance, the training consists of: 100 hours techniques, training, and practice, 25 hours of teaching methodology, 20 hours of anatomy and physiology, 30 hours of yoga philosophy, 10 hours practicing teaching classes, and the remaining 15-20 hours are written assignments, webinars, reading, Internet research, etc. But what does this all mean? I mean, it sounds... legit, on paper, right?
As a fellow yoga practitioner, yoga alliance certified 200-hour yoga teacher, and a forever yoga student, I’ve been asked this question, ‘Is YTT worth it?’ a few times. I’d love to say 100% yes because yoga is wonderful and always worth it, but this just isn’t the case for some people and some training. Let me start by telling you about my own personal experience with how to become a yoga teacher, and what exactly all these hours mean.
MY EXPERIENCE WITH YTT
In 2005 I had just graduated from college and definitely had a passion for yoga. I’ve never been someone that feels exceptionally called to teach or lead, so I still don’t know why I enrolled in a YTT at Yandara Yoga Institute in Baja, Mexico in early 2006. Maybe it was to escape for a bit to an exotic location to dedicate time to me, or to deepen my yoga practice. I’m not sure, looking back at the decision from 13 years ago, but I am sure it wasn’t simply to get a yoga teacher certification. I think this is true for a lot of people enrolling in YTTs, and I’ll go into this later.
Yandara was a transformative experience for many reasons. Our days started off with a sunrise walking and circle meditation on the beach. Next, we went into the yoga shala (studio) and did qigong, a Chinese movement and breathing based exercise to calm the mind and harness your chi, or vital life energy. Then we (I think there were 15-20 of us), ate a vegetarian breakfast and had tea. After eating we headed back to the shala and did the technique training, followed by some other requirement like yoga philosophy or anatomy, depending on the day. Vegetarian lunch and dinner were there somewhere too, and a little downtime to mingle with our fellow yogis. It did feel intensive, getting those 200 hours done in a month. We went to bed in our tents exhausted just after sundown. I look back at those days with mostly pleasant memories and I don’t regret the experience in any way.
We had a phenomenal teacher to lead us in the most important and most time intensive part- the 100 hours of techniques of yoga. He was trained by BKS Iyengar, one of the first yogis to bring yoga postures to the west. Iyengar style yoga is generally very practical and explains the health benefits of poses and how to do them safely. There’s very little new age fluff in Iyengar yoga postures. Our daily lessons were a no-frills breakdown of all the basic yoga poses, almost sometimes diving too deep into the most minute physical details. Iyengar style is like that though, and I appreciated knowing how to do the poses correctly to prevent injury and strengthen and tone the body. I remember building the most elaborate setups with props to get the practitioner into a pose comfortably. We’d use chairs, bolsters, blocks, and blankets galore to make just about any pose accessible to any body. It was pretty cool. Our teacher was a gentleman with an amazing sense of humor, keeping our intense lessons light and playful. This was probably my favorite part of the yoga teacher training, and the part I took away the most knowledge from. It truly changed my own yoga practice because I knew how the poses were meant to feel.
The yoga teaching methodology, anatomy and physiology, and practicing teaching were pretty straightforward. We did these parts with another certified yoga teacher that was a great guy, a true yogi that loved yoga. I think I lucked out with excellent teachers in my training, and for that, I’m so grateful. I also had a group of 15 or so women teacher trainees from around the world by my side that made the whole month long experience really palatable, even on the days where I was just yoga-ed out. Yoga all day every day gets a little... tiresome. These were the really good points of my YTT.
The remaining 40 hours were where things got a little less defined for Yoga Alliance expectations. These hours consisted of yoga philosophy, reading, webinars, videos, out of body experiences... what?! Yea, it got weird sometimes. This is the part of the training that seems kinda up for interpretation, depending on the school you go to. I think it’s good to have some open-ended time to discover and learn, but with yoga, in my experience, this opened the gates to some woo-woo stuff that some of us didn’t feel like we signed up for.
Probably the worst part of my teacher training in these odd hours was when our school naively invited a man that was either Native American Indian, or wished to be Native American Indian (I can’t remember), to lead us in a truth ceremony. He had a talking feather, which we could each hold and talk about whatever we wanted, share something personal, or not. Some people opened up and revealed difficult moments in their lives, some of us didn’t want to share and passed the feather on. I have some personal tragedies and dark sides, probably like everyone else, but I’ve shared those things with therapists in the past. I didn’t feel the need to rehash it out with ugly crying on that particular day. Anyways, when the feather got back to our ceremony leader, he revealed he used to molest his sister. I felt sorry for him, but also disgusted, like most everyone else in the group. Some fellow yogis walked out and wanted to leave the training altogether. We didn’t feel qualified to witness this kind of truth, and it felt totally inappropriate. The next day we had a meeting with the school leaders, where they let us know they didn’t know this man was what he was. We each had a chance to share how it affected us. I think they handled it as best they could, and I didn’t feel like it was anything malicious on their end. It was just a big mistake.
There were some positive moments during the remaining training hours, like when we could read yoga philosophy books on our own on while lounging on yoga mats in the shaded warm sunshine in the shala, and maybe doze off in a savasana for a bit. We watched What The Bleep Do We Know? on a laptop. For our yoga anatomy lessons, we had this awesome and eccentric old woman come down from the mountains and talk to us about chakras and Ayurveda. She’d show up wearing rainbow colors or a tutu, and preferred us laying in savasana while we listened to her lectures. She really lived and breathed yoga, and was so vibrant and youthful for being in her 80s.
Another weird memory was when I’d needed something in the shala in the evenings after dinner and would find trance music playing while the younger male yoga teacher was cuddling, holding, and massaging some of the other women teacher trainees. It looked very consensual, but I’d walk out feeling uncomfortable and questioning if my discomfort was because I was a prude and not enlightened enough. The two women involved in that were the most liberal of the group, so maybe they could separate their sexuality from the experience and see the soul’s form in the others, or maybe they were just horny LOL. I still don’t know the answers to this one.
On our last day we were to “perform” our last spiritual experience. I say perform because it felt strangely like a performance. First, we put on some trance techno music, I still remember the song because it was pretty cool- Opal. Then everyone danced, which in itself I think would’ve been euphoric enough- dancing for fun makes you feel really good. But that was just to loosen us up for what came next. We were assigned a partner, and randomly one of us was chosen to sit, the other was to breathe. I was the sitter. I’m pretty sure now what we were doing was what’s called holotropic breathwork. Holotropic breathing is basically breathing deeply fast, so you don’t hold air in your lungs, basically like voluntary hyperventilating. With decreased oxygen in your lungs supposedly you can enter altered states of consciousness. My partner sure looked like she was going through something as I watched her cry and laugh at different times.
The craziest part of this breathing exercise was that immediately after was my flight to go home, and it was the same flight as another girl in our group. So while all these people were having mental or physical breakthroughs (due to a legitimate new consciousness or simply from oxygen deprivation, I don’t know), me and this other girl had to say goodbye to everyone, pack our stuff, and get out as quickly as possible. Within the hour we were on a crowded loud bus full of Mexicans, lifetimes away from the sanctuary we just left. It kinda made what we just experienced seem made up, like something only privileged white people had the time and luxury for. Of course, anyone can deprive themselves of oxygen to get high, but it made the experiment seem rather silly when this whole chaotic world was waiting just outside our peaceful yoga fortress. I was actually relieved to go back into the beautiful chaos with people that weren’t like me, I felt overexposed to yoga.
I haven’t mentioned yet the biggest revelation I had during my YTT. I didn’t want to teach yoga anymore, and I wasn’t the only one that felt that way. One girl in the group went home halfway through, said she wasn’t ready to face her demons and didn’t even know if yoga was for her. I think that the amount of yoga packed into such a short amount of time was just too intense for me. It was a bit like entering into a monastery, where you left your world behind to dedicate yourself to God, or Spirit, or whatever you want to call the inner journey. I didn’t know it then, but I wanted yoga to be a part of the beautiful life I created for myself, I didn’t want yoga to be my life. But at that moment, fresh from the training, I wanted to swear off yoga completely because it felt like it had to be all or nothing.
I think I unofficially “quit” yoga upon returning home from my YTT. I didn’t know how to approach it, didn’t know how I could fit it into my life, and I felt less qualified to be a teacher than ever before. Maybe this was part of the yoga journey, I don’t know, but I had to take a step back and reevaluate why I practiced it. I was also very young, just 23 years old. It took about two years before I warmed up to yoga again. We needed to break up so I could make yoga my own. Around this time I also started making and selling yoga clothing, and I rediscovered my love for yoga as I slowly integrated it into my everyday life. Maybe some of the weirder experiences I had at my YTT made my undeveloped mind think I had to be an eccentric yoga person to be a yoga teacher. I wanted to still be a householder, or someone that finds enlightenment and fulfillment in being a normal human with a job and a family, I didn’t want to exit the world to find inner peace. I practiced yoga at home mostly, went to the occasional class, and even taught a few classes!
Yet, I didn’t feel that calling to be a yoga teacher. Some people are just born teachers, I don’t think I’m one of them. I think my YTT taught me A LOT about yoga poses and how to do them correctly and safely, which I’m SO grateful for and wouldn’t trade for anything. My own practice is humbled and propped with blocks and straps, and I’d always rather do a pose with good form rather than go for it for the sake of getting it done. I think there’s so much to gain from the simplest postures, and getting yourself or others into them to experience their benefits is way more important than trying to do the big photographable poses like handstands and arm balances. I did feel valuable in sharing my knowledge of yoga with others, but I’d always rather create some clothing or art instead, so my teaching fell away from me as my yoga clothing line grew.
IS YTT WORTH IT?
From what I’ve heard from other yoga teacher trainees is that a lot of us don’t end up teaching yoga after YTT. The reasons are: changed mind/don’t want to teach anymore, can’t get a job teaching anywhere, or can get a job but make next to nothing with a yoga teacher salary. As of December 2015, 52,746 teachers and over 18,000 yoga schools were registered with the Alliance, and there are two people interested in becoming a yoga teacher for every one teacher in the U.S. (Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance 2016). So for people like me, YTT ends up being an expensive way to supplement and enhance your personal practice; or if you decide to still teach, there are too many yoga teachers and not enough jobs. Yoga studios pretty much always have a tight budget, especially if they’re independent and not a chain. It's hard to pay a teacher much when only a handful of students show up for a class and the studio has to pay overhead in addition to the teacher. Unless you’re a yoga celebrity on some level, its really hard, if not impossible, to make an income to support yourself on yoga teaching alone. And you can definitely forget about any kind of health insurance or retirement plan. With yoga teaching, you’ll be an independent contractor and unfortunately, that doesn’t come with many benefits.
HOW CAN WE MAKE YOGA TEACHING MORE PROFITABLE?
This question almost feels sacrilegious, doesn’t it? Yet, yoga is a service, like anything else, where someone has been trained and put in the experience to understand a practice to share it with others. We don’t seem to question the cost of personal trainers, Pilates teachers, life coaches, spin classes. But when spirituality and religion are added to the mix, it feels a little yucky to inquire about how to maximize profits. Yoga is still this undefinable activity that has evolved on its own into its own being, so we’re all moving into unknown territory together, figuring things out as we go along.
I don’t know if we can remove the idea that more money = exploiting yoga. We all know yoga is a billion dollar industry that’s growing every year, but still, we get annoyed when a yoga class costs more than $25. We’ll pay $100 for yoga pants made overseas for slave salaries, and expect our yoga teachers to get paid that same measly rate too. We feel upset when we see a favorite yoga influencer promoting products and ads on their Instagram page to make money. When business and capitalism are put into our precious yoga, it tends to feel like we’re going off track with the ‘why’ we do yoga in the first place.
At the risk of going down a yoga philosophy rabbit hole, I’ll just say there aren’t a whole lot of answers, at least I don’t have many. I’ve experienced classes with some incredible yoga teachers, people that are wise sages, and I leave class feeling like I’ve been reborn. But I can’t pay more than $20 or so for a class either. It’s unfair, I get an exercise and therapy session rolled into one, but I can’t go unless it’s affordable. Wouldn’t it be cool if yoga teachers could be subsidized? Because of their public service and dedication to the common good of society the government could pay them a base salary and supply benefits? I probably sound like a socialist, but did you know the government already subsidizes weapons and war? Why can’t it subsidize peace? Again, more questions, no answers. But I think the yoga community would benefit greatly from opening up this dialog.
WHAT ABOUT OFFERING LESS EXPENSIVE YOGA INTENSIVES FOR NON TEACHERS?
Beyond yoga teachers not being able to make a living off yoga teaching, the other problem with YTT is for those of us, like me, we end up using YTT as a supplement to our personal practices rather than to teach. I’ve heard of a lot of women that sign up for YTT with no intention of teaching, but rather they’re looking for a yoga retreat with a bit of a learning/workshop element. I think we need to offer a sort of hybrid to a yoga retreat/YTT where we can dive deeper into our yoga practice without the YTT price tag. And a retreat doesn’t have to mean going to some exotic location unless that’s what you’re looking for. It could be a yoga intensive at your local yoga studio for two nights a week for two months, something like that. I think it’s hard to get, and to expect to get, the knowledge of idiosyncrasies of yoga poses in a drop in yoga class. Yoga classes overall are a nice communal addition to the practice we’ve cultivated through personal practice and study. They can’t replace the information we should all have access to, to build the foundation of our yoga practice. This is where a yoga intensive retreat/workshop series could play a necessary role, rather than pricy YTTs.
AGAIN, IS YTT WORTH IT?
I would say yes if you want to teach and are open to whatever salary. If you truly love yoga and don’t care about income or are happily making money elsewhere, yoga teaching is very fulfilling. You might get lucky and build a following and get a lot of devoted students coming to you classes, or you might not. It’s impossible to know unless you’re already a yoga public influencer of some sort. I’m not trying to deter anyone from being a yoga teacher AT ALL, I’m just laying out the possible scenarios. It’s good to be realistic, especially when you’re investing thousands of dollars for a teacher training.
If you’re looking to expand your yoga practice I don’t really think a YTT is worth it, unless you’ve got plenty of time and money to spare. I’d recommend learning through videos, books, yoga workshops, and yoga classes. These things don’t replace the 100 hours of yoga technique training in YTT, but they’re the best we have right now until we create a yoga intensive program that’s affordable. As the yoga community continues to evolve I think we’ll address these needs and adapt to new yoga standards. Opening a discussion about YTT is the first step in that direction.
I hope my personal experience and point of view are valuable to you and your yoga journey! If you have any further questions or ideas I’d love to chat further! Respond with a comment below or email me, firstname.lastname@example.org. And check out my clothing line HERE.
By Hayley Elliott, owner and designer at www.purushapeople.com