Advanced studies = teacher training

In yoga, there is a juxtaposition of “advanced studies” and “teacher training.” Do they necessarily go together?

On one hand, it makes sense. Those serious enough about yoga to delve deep into it are likely to become teachers. Similarly, those pursuing PhDs become professors who not only publish their own work, but also teach and mentor students.

On the other hand, I suspect that some devoted yogis enroll in teacher-training programs because there are few other outlets for advanced study. In other pursuits, such as music or dance, one can perform, create (eg, compose or choreograph) … or teach.

In yoga, the clearest way to advance is to teach. One hypothetically could advance by self-motivated study: by attending classes and especially by studying on one’s own. Yoga is, after all, based on self-study and experiential learning. But, while independent study is the crux of yoga, the guidance and critical feedback of an external structure (aka a teacher-training program) is an invaluable catalyst.

Ripeness for teacher training

After a decade of practice, I’m now training to be an Iyengar teacher. This year, something clicked and I felt “ready” to teach. As a trial run, I taught a few old friends who know me in a totally unrelated context; thanks to their positive feedback, I then offered beginner classes at my neighborhood community center and committed myself to the lengthy and thorough Iyengar training.

Back in the early 2000s, I was a keen student but, while encouraged by a teacher to do advanced studies, I felt that the expectation to teach was premature. I was still a sponge, drawing lessons inward, unready to direct them outward.

Are there advanced studies for non-teachers?

Devoted students can do serious study on their own, reading and practicing and attending workshops for advanced students. But, generally (and surprisingly), even “yoga towns” seem to offer few classes exclusively for upper-level students. Most yoga classes are geared to attract the largest-possible numbers; they typically span “all levels” or multi levels.

Visiting San Francisco last fall, I attended an Iyengar class for levels 1 to 4, and the teacher (a senior-level certified teacher) forbade me from doing full sirsasana while she taught less-experienced students a modified headstand-prep pose. Unless a teacher is adept at simultaneously managing different levels (and the good ones are maestros), the class is geared toward the middle range.

Even if there were advanced-studies programs geared for pure learning, who would enroll? Probably folks who will eventually enroll in teaching training! But it would be exorbitant to pay $3,000-plus twice, first for advanced studies and later for teacher training. Who wouldn’t opt to combine them?

Maybe this is just a moot discussion. All who complete teacher training probably mature as yogis and as people. Beyond that, it’s highly likely that those who can teach, teach, while those who cannot, do not.

Related post: “Prerequisites for teacher training”


  1. you make excellent points, Spy! having studied in India, I think there is a need for “advanced” or seasoned students to study one-on-one with teachers, in small groups, like in the old way. i.e., small groups for people who don’t want to enroll in TT programs. that is kinda sorta the way I run my private classes out of my house — my long time students know it is more than the physical practice, that sometimes we can just sit around and talk.


  2. I think THIS should be the discussion everyone is having and not the constant criticism of those new teachers.

    I know so many yogi/nis who take the training not because they want to teach, but because they want to “deepen their practice” (a phrase often used to sell the teacher training programs- “if you want to teach or deepen your practice…”). Afterwards, they can make money while teaching… so even though many initially took the training to learn and never to teach, many decide to teach anyway after.

    why wouldn’t they? they can make more money now (I certainly would use it).

    Just recently there’s been a program here in Halifax that has offered a cheaper (250$) way to study and immerse in yoga with guidance. Involving daily practice with unlimited studio access, weekly meetings to discuss readings, ayurvedic diet and a day of rest.

    now that is more appropriate.

    but it’s the first of it’s kind here…

    great insight Yoga Spy. 🙂


  3. Good blog, YogaSpy.

    This affects the current effort of some states to levy fees on Yoga teacher training like it does on other training programs.

    Some have suggested just changing the name of the training, since so many take the teacher training because it’s the next and only available step, not because they intend to make a living from Yoga.

    It would be interesting to know how many teacher training graduates do.

    Bob Weisenberg


  4. My first thought was like Linda’s–probably a more advanced student would find one-on-one training the best way to deepen the study. Altho, that could get kind of pricey.

    Every once an awhile I think about adding a class for more advanced students, but I’m not sure how I would do the weed out. Some of my more advanced students physically are the newest and some of my long timers are still very much beginners. I’m not sure I have the stomach to name who is advanced and who is not.

    Also, what constitutes advanced? I’m not sure what my criteria would be–better at pranayama? more focused? stronger?

    I think it’s easier to do these kinds of selections with Iyengar because there’s such a clear delineation between levels. Everyday hatha classes are a bit fuzzier.

    (As I write, I am charmed by the snow falling past my comment…cute!)


  5. “they intend to make a living from Yoga.”

    you assume one can “make a living” teaching yoga…..;)

    “a program here in Halifax that has offered a cheaper (250$) way to study and immerse in yoga with guidance.”

    that gives me an idea!


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