Time was when to find a yoga teacher, you had to make your way to India and seek one out through word of mouth. These days, you can probably find one within minutes of your home. And if you can’t, you can choose a teacher that you like the look of from anywhere in the world and Zoom them right into your living room.
And while in the past, you would learn to teach in a one-to-one relationship with a teacher over a number of years, today you can (in theory), learn to teach yoga in any number of ways. With yoga teaching now as mainstream a profession as school teaching or hairdressing, there are hundreds, if not thousands of yoga Teacher Training courses to choose from. You can probably sign up for a course not too far from your own doorstep or you can pack your bags and travel abroad to study, immersing yourself in a 200-hour course for a month and coming back with that coveted piece of paper telling you that you’re a certified 200-hour yoga teacher. You can even get that piece of paper by signing up to an online course. (That piece of paper, by the way, doesn’t make you a yoga teacher – but that’s a whole other blog post.)
Before you do any of that, I’d ask you to think about why you want to sign up for a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training in the first place. Alarm bells were first raised for me on this issue a couple of years ago, when I was sitting in my yoga studio in Greystones, tidying up after a class. The doorbell rang and through the intercom, I heard a young woman ask if she could come up to talk about yoga. I buzzed her in and sat down at the desk in reception, opening the laptop, ready to take her through the timetable. She reached the top of the stairs, burst enthusiastically through the door to the studio and asked: “Do you do Yoga Teacher Training here?”
At the time, I was almost finished teaching a 200-hour course. I told her the next course would be starting in 6 months’ time. “Oh great!”, she said. ” That timing would suit me really well because I’ve just moved back to Ireland and I’d love to start soon!”.
I asked the first question I always ask someone interested in the Teacher Training course: “How long have you been practising yoga?”.
“Oh, I haven’t started yoga yet!” she said. “I’d just really like to teach!”.
As my very first Ashtanga teacher, the wise and wonderful yoga scholar, Marianne Jacuzzi, said when I related this story to her: “It’s like someone saying they want to be a tutor of classical piano, but they’ve never learned how to play the piano!”.
I told the enthusiastic would-be yoga teacher to perhaps think about signing up for some yoga classes before thinking about teaching.
In an ideal world, no-one would sign up for a Teacher Training course without several years of yoga practice behind them. Think of yoga as a language. You have to master the language before you think about passing it on to others. To quote another gifted Ashtanga yoga teacher, Kia Naddermier of mysoreyogaparis: “Teaching without substantial personal experience goes against Ahimsa”. Ahimsa is the first of the Yamas & Niyamas, the ethical guidelines for living outlined in the Yoga Sutras. It means, “respect for all living things and avoidance of violence towards others”. Like the yogic version of the Hippocratic oath, “First, do no harm”. If you are teaching yoga without a deep knowledge of the practice and a regular personal practice, you are, at best, not acting in the best interests of your students. At worst, you are putting them at risk.
So, here are the reasons NOT to sign up to a Teacher Training course:
- You want to make a lot of money
It’s really hard to make a living as a yoga teacher. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Either you’re a freelance teacher, earning a low wage from a single studio or trying to build up your timetable by running around between studios, or you’re trying to run a studio yourself, paying 13.5% VAT on every class, as well as rent, rates, salaries, utilities and maintenance. It’s very, very hard to cover the overheads, let alone make a profit. Yoga studios in Ireland have long campaigned for yoga to be categorised under healthcare, so as not to be subjected to VAT. Unsuccessfully, to date. You also often have the additional issue that there’s a cohort of people who believe that yoga should be free. This can either be because they think that we should teach them everything we know just for the love of the practice, or they find online teachers who offer their services for free, forgetting that these teachers enjoy a big income from advertising. A drop-in class at my studio, which opened ten years ago, costs the same today as it did then. In the same period, rent, rates and utility costs all increased, as things do. But yoga teachers can’t put their prices up. That’s just the way it is.
- You know you’d look good in lycra at the top of the class
If you’re looking for fame, sign up for a reality TV talent show. The best yoga teachers spend little time at the top of the class anyway. Instead, they should be walking around the room (or, these days, stepping off their mat to peer into the screen) to check that their students are understanding their guidance and keeping themselves safe. If your teacher spends all his/her time at the top of the class, ignoring the students they’re instructing, I’d recommend you find a new one.
- You want to be an influencer
Realistically, you’ve probably missed that boat. Also, see “2” above.
- You’re not sure what you want to do, you quite like yoga, so you think you’ll teach it for a bit while you decide on a career.
The only way you’ll succeed as a yoga teacher is if you are absolutely committed to it, above all else. It takes years to build a following, which is mainly achieved through positive word of mouth. Advertising on social media has its place, but the real way to build a following is through your students. People who are happy with your teaching telling their friends about you, and those friends slowly finding their way to your classes. And so on. That takes time. A lot of time.
- You want to start a yoga practice.
You need to already have one. A regular, long-established one. Find a good teacher – one that you really connect with – practise for a couple of years and then see if you really want to sign up for a YTT. Or start with a course that has nothing to do with teaching, but is instead uniquely about deepening your own practice.
So, what are the reasons you should sign up for a YTT? There are really only two. (As it happens, the desire to teach is not essential):
- You have been practising yoga consistently for at least a couple of years and you are absolutely passionate about it. You have a genuine desire to pass on the practice to other people.
- You have been practising yoga consistently for at least a couple of years and you don’t want to teach, but you want to devote more of your time to yoga. It’s ok not to want to teach. Committing to a YTT is a great way to help yourself to build the discipline to practise more regularly and learn more about the science, theory and philosophy behind a practice you obviously love (or you wouldn’t be thinking of investing over a couple of thousand euro on a course). You’ll more than likely make great friends too, with all those hours spent with like-minded people pursuing a subject that you love.
Bear in mind that “practising consistently for a couple of years” does not necessarily mean having an advanced physical practice. The Asana (postural) practice, although it brings great physical benefit, really only exists to lead you to the real yoga – the stilling of the mind. Someone who regularly gets on the mat and connects to their breath as they move through a simple asana sequence may be a very dedicated practitioner.
And while an advanced physical practitioner may be a fantastic teacher, it’s not always the case. Yoga teaching should be about relationship and connection, not performance. Of course, a good teacher needs to know their yoga and be deeply committed to their practice. But one of the most important qualities a yoga teacher can hold is compassion. How a teacher connects to their students, how they transmit their knowledge, how they encourage and support every student, respecting their individual body and mind – this is what really matters. So before you sign up for a YTT, make sure you spend time with a teacher who does these things well. Develop your practice with their help and guidance and if a Yoga Teacher Training course is for you, yoga will lead you there in the end.