Prerequisites for teacher training

In her blog Grounding Thru The Sit Bones, Brenda posted “So You Think You Can Teach,” which spurred good questions about the qualifications and scope of today’s yoga teachers. She asked whether the average yoga teacher is qualified to teach more than asana.

Here, I step back and ask whether the average yoga teacher is qualified to teach any yoga. In North America, the predominant (but not preeminent) certification standard is the Yoga Alliance 200-hour or 500-hour “Registered  Yoga Teacher” registration. To me, it’s not preeminent because there are many respected, established, and more-rigorous training programs have no connection with Yoga Alliance.

Indeed, many Yoga Alliance-affiliated centers offer come-one-come-all training programs that are a joke because there is no selectivity. Centers accept all who are interested because training fees generate profit.

There are no strict prerequisites for acceptance into the majority of teacher-training programs. To enter graduate school, you need bachelor’s degree, high marks, and glowing recommendations. To take a yoga teacher-training course, you need … $3,000 to $4,000.

IMG_2842Many enrollees have under five years of yoga practice. Blogger Linda-Sama of Linda’s Yoga Journey comments that we have “babies teaching babies” today. It astounds me when an obvious beginner announces, “I want to be a yoga teacher.” Today’s training programs are stepping stones for eager novices to develop a home practice, rather than the final leap for seasoned practitioners!

Run-of-the-mill training programs (and some are run like mills) last from three to six months, while superior programs require two or three years. I also see month-long immersion crash courses and year-long courses for out-of-town weekend warriors. I have nothing against a variety of course formats, which accommodate careers and families. But it is obvious that they’re meant to widen the net, to catch more students.

Of course, training programs with high standards do exist. They’re the exception, however.

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13 thoughts on “Prerequisites for teacher training

  1. you’re on fire with your latest posts, Spy! (my quote must be attributed to Amanda of AnthroYogini when she commented on one of my posts, another outspoken yogini with pithy comments!)

  2. BTW, after my first teacher training, I felt like I knew NOTHING! I realized how much I did not know and how much more I had to learn. That is what my first training did for me!

  3. Totally agree with the trend for some to jump right in to becoming a yoga instructor without a solid personal practice to grow from.

    It comes down to a money grab or staying true to the yoga. Each organization has to choose for themselves and buyer (student) beware. Without imposed controls–which New York yoga teachers & studios fought vigorously against–there is not much to be done about this challenge to the integrity of yoga instructor training and credentials.

    Well trained, inspiring teachers will rise to the top of the profession. Let’s just hope the rif-raff will be sifted out before they do much damage.

  4. I remember being at a workshop for teachers being taught by Rodney Yee. It was a “sequencing basics” class (yeah, you can pick that up in 2 hours). It was a pleasant group and everyone seemed wide-eyed and eager to learn. Rodney asked how many people were relatively new teachers and a bunch of hands shot up; he asked how many were experienced and the rest came up.

    He then asked how many people had been teaching less than a year and about 1/3 of that hands went up; between 1-3 years and most of the rest of the hands went up; he asked how many had been teaching for at least five years, and only about four people raised their hands (including me).

    Apparently, “relatively new” (how I classified myself) has a different meaning to different people. 2 years of teaching doesn’t seem experienced to me!

  5. I think you should do some self-study on your teacher training judgements. Yes – early in my practice I knew that I wanted to teach and I have been preparing for that task. I may well have taught and practiced in previous lives. Do those years count? If you took a class from an amazing teacher and then discovered they had been practicing and teaching only 3 or so years, would you feel differently about the class? And what are all of us babies doing? Attracting more and more people to the practice – helping the west awaken? Or diluting the purity of yoga? Or practicing to be teachers who have been at it a long time. (the true mark of a good teacher?) There are a lot of great programs out there regardless of format. Some are likely better than others. In the old days You simply picked a guru and studied. Hopefully you picked a good guru. Has it changed? I suggest we should all work on ourselves instead of worrying about what everyone else is doing and whether or not they are doing it right.

    1. David:

      Thanks for your comment. I agree that generalities are just that. There are marked differences among people: some are ready to teach earlier than others. But don’t you think that all aspirants must have a solid practice before they can presume to teach?

      I, too, experienced a connection to yoga from day one. I immediately attended multiple classes weekly and eventually developed a home practice. That is probably a common experience among yoga devotees. But isn’t the first commitment to learn, to practice, to “be a student”? The transition from student to teacher might come early, but only after enough personal practice and self study.

      Regarding your question about an amazing teacher who’s taught only for three years: You are confusing my points. I’m not criticizing all new teachers. I’m questioning new teachers (or trainees) with no real practice of their own [yet]. What I’d like to know about your hypothetical teacher: How long was he/she practicing before those three years of teaching? Chances are, he/she has been studying, on his/her own, for quite a while.

      And what if that’s not the case? What if that three-year teacher discovered yoga only the year before? If the teacher impressed me, I would not discount him/her. I would be extra impressed. That would be like finding a musical prodigy or athletic phenom. Very rare indeed.

      As for longtime mediocre teachers, did I ever say they are legitimate? No. There are countless longtime teachers plodding along merely by their seniority. I have occasionally attended classes by highly regarded senior teachers only to be disappointed: their way did not resonate with me. I certainly don’t elevate teachers simply by their standing.

      Your point about picking a guru: You’re right, but you’re missing the other step. The guru also must pick you. That is my point. Today, people can easily (with money) pick a program and be accepted. (Of course, there will be the rare standout in so-so programs. But they’re not the norm.)

      Finally, yes, it is best to focus on ourselves and not to poke and prod others. But, hey, this is a blog on yoga culture and trends in North America. If my writing generates thought and clarity (both in me and in my audience), it’s all good. Thanks again. Criticism spurs me to rethink (and sometimes to change my mind).

      Sincerely,
      Yoga Spy

      1. Thanks Spy for your response. Clearly I am reacting because I feel attacked. My issue. 🙂
        I guess if people have the money for training – they should be able to spend it. The Guru they choose will have to choose them by the Guru’s standard; possibly whether they can pay or not. In that sense the Guru and the student may be a good match! Whether they will teach or not is not really a controllable issue. But if they hunger for more training – I say let them get it. It may be the best training they ever get, even if it is mediocre by some standard.
        And yes – you are correct – it is very appropriate for a blog on yoga culture to raise these issues.
        Seeya – David

  6. I’m curious as to what the test would be to determine if somebody is ready for a teacher training. Can we measure devotion, aptitude, enthusiasm, sincerity? Can we judge readiness simply by how long a person has been practicing? I, like others here, had a life-changing THIS IS IT! moment soon after I started practicing, and started my teacher training three years later. Maybe because I was 40 at the time it seemed like a now-or-never thing to do. During the 15-month program my personal practice and depth of knowledge deepened immeasurably, and I felt ready to teach upon graduation. I also found that during the program, which was quite demanding, those who weren’t ready weeded themselves out in the first few months. Thanks for the discussion!

    1. Three years of practice is much longer than most programs demand for potential Yoga Teachers.

      As for the idea that a qualified Yogi has no way of measuring teacher potential?? Well, when people apply to a University to study Psychology, they too have to pass tests and be essentially ‘judged’ by the school they are applying to. Would you appreciate seeing a Psychologist who was not interviewed before being allowed to practice?? Who may in fact turn out to be a sociopath seeking to harm others?? I think not. Yoga is no different. It is a profession where people are making themselves vulnerable, seeking healing and guidance from someone they trust has been seen fit to teach.

      I feel too many people see Yoga Teaching as something anyone is capable of doing; it is not at all this way. To me, it should really be taken more seriously. A true Yogi is called to teach because they wish to heal others and serve humanity, where most of the teachers I see today merely want to make money and participate in a trendy movement. I do not think you fall under this category at all, and hope you do not take offense to what I am saying. I just feel it is very important to screen potential teachers carefully before allowing just anyone to take a teacher training course.

      Namaste

      1. I agree: in general, the bar is set very low to become a yoga teacher. Some methods, such as Iyengar yoga, raise the bar; an aspirant needs not only *years* of practice, but also strong approval by a senior teacher. It is akin to applying to grad school–and the exams required for certification were like a PhD defense before an objective panel!

        If yoga becomes less trendy, perhaps only the serious and sincere practitioners will remain.

        Many thanks for reading and commenting!

  7. All I have to say about this is no matter how long I teach Yoga I hope to continue to have the humility to see myself as a student of Yoga.

  8. We just had this very same conversation this eve during teacher training… I had brought this up as a concern (then regretted it afterwards, as most of the people there were not regular practitioners, and one had just started a practice only two months prior to the course!!).

    I totally agree with your perspective, though I felt like an ass in class tonight lol, I feel it is very important to have a solid foundation before beginning your training to become a teacher. It is not a right, but rather a privilege, and a very sacred beautiful privilege at that.

    As a true Yoga Teacher, you are bestowed with many sacred gifts, which require mastery, and discipline to wield. Often while entering into a deep practice like teacher training offers, an unprepared vessel could potentially ‘crack’. I was questioned, “Who are you to judge whether someone is deserving of teacher training or not??” Well, if I was a 500hr teacher, I would absolutely be THE person to judge that! Allowing anyone with the money to receive these sacred teachings is corrupt and should not be done, PERIOD.

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