I want to become certified as a yoga teacher and am unsure what criteria I should expect from the program I choose. What weight would my certification program hold when I'm looking for employment? Are some places more respected than others? How important is it to train at those places? —M.
Read Maty Ezraty's response:
I will do my best to answer your questions, but you may want to seek personal advice from a teacher who knows you and your practice. Since I do not know you or your aspirations, you may benefit from a second opinion.
Let's face the facts: Teacher trainings and certification programs are big business. Many yoga schools make a substantial portion of their income from them, and many schools actually depend on teacher trainings for survival. This means you must shop carefully.
I also believe there is far too much emphasis on certification. As far as I know, there are no current state or federal regulations or certificates required in order to teach yoga. Therefore, the pressure to have a certificate is mostly political and financial.
That said, I do believe training is important. But it takes time, especially if you want to be a well-rounded teacher. Despite the many promises being made, any training that promises you a complete teacher's education in one course is not focused on your best interest. There is no magical number of hours or days that makes the measure of a fine instructor. In truth, it takes years to become a good teacher.
Therefore, I caution against putting too much attention on "Yoga Alliance accreditation." Yoga Alliance is a registration organization, not a certificate control agency. I am not aware of its having any quality-control system to check the certification programs listed in its registry. "Two hundred hours" means nothing if the 200 hours are not worthwhile. There are many good schools that register with Yoga Alliance—but many inferior programs do so as well.
Further, I stress the importance of working with a mentor as part of your training. It is not enough simply to take a course. It is invaluable to be an assistant or an apprentice to a senior teacher. If this is not included as part of your training, you should either consider another course or look for a teacher who will take you as an apprentice. Being under the guidance of a senior teacher can make all the difference, because you will inevitably encounter students and issues that you won't know how to handle. It will be invaluable at that point to have a mentor's guidance.
Along with a mentor, it is important to have ongoing education—look for teacher training programs that offer this in some capacity.
I ran a school for 18 years, and during that time I trained and hired many teachers. As the director, I was never concerned with or impressed by teacher certificates; more often then not, I was leery of them. Before I ever hired a teacher, I would watch them teach. A certificate is meaningless if the teacher is not personable enough to attract students, or capable enough to deliver information safely.
So let's look at what to avoid:
As I said before, any school that simply offers a certificate at the completion of the course merits your suspicion. If you want to be a good teacher, look for a course that makes you earn your certificate.
And to reiterate, it is not possible to become a teacher in two weeks, one month, or even three months. No training can possibly guarantee that you will be ready to teach upon simply completing the course. The course should be presented as a preliminary step to the teacher training process.
I would further caution you against courses assembled of many guest teachers, because this can be confusing. If the teachers are not coordinating the course but are simply presenting their own separate materials, the course will likely lack cohesion. (The exception might be guest presenters on the subjects of Pranayama, anatomy, or philosophy.) You are better off with a course that is based on one method, or a course whose teachers work together regularly and have formed a unified presentation.
What should you look for in a teacher training course?
Examine the key instructors. A course is only as good as the teachers teaching it, so opt for courses taught by senior teachers. The instructors should have at least 15 years of teaching experience, and they should be generous with information, not constantly asking you to sign up for more courses.
It may not be necessary to like the trainers. I know this may seem radical, but what you need are teachers who know yoga alignment and philosophy. In other words, your initial training should emphasize the correct teaching tools that you must have to be a good and safe teacher. After that, you can go to teachers you like in order to improve your personal style of teaching.
Interview the teacher by taking a class with them prior to signing up for the course. See if they will set up a time with you to discuss the course curriculum.
It's a good sign if a course requires an application or some years of practice before admitting you, particularly if they want to see you practice beforehand. Courses that do not require applications may admit students at a huge variety of levels, and you may be underserved.
Look for courses that emphasize alignment. A teacher training should not be a relaxing vacation; it should be rigorous in practice and information. Check over the manual and other curriculum materials before signing up—they will tell you a lot.
I should add that many schools like to train the teachers they hire. You may want to look at where you want to teach and include that school's courses among the ones you choose to participate in.
Gyms are more likely to care about certificates, but often the director will still watch you teach. I believe that a training completion letter or proof of attendance will often suffice, but building a good resume, listing workshops and several teacher training courses, is more impressive.
I personally like the Iyengar teacher training certification. In order to become certified, you must teach in front of a qualified trainer, who will give you feedback. It seems that the Iyengar association is truly interested in turning out qualified teachers, not just in making money. The only problem is that many of these trainings ask you to sign a commitment to teach only Iyengar Yoga.
We live in an interesting time in the yoga world. The business is growing quickly, and many teachers are becoming popular based on personality, not experience. I want to thank you for your question. It is a solid one and raises important issues to consider as we look at the increasing popularity of yoga today.
Maty Ezraty has been teaching and practicing yoga since 1985, and she founded the Yoga Works schools in Santa Monica, California. Since the sale of the school in 2003, she has lived in Hawaii with her husband, Chuck Miller. Both senior Ashtanga teachers, they lead workshops, teacher trainings, and retreats worldwide. For more information, visit http://www.chuckandmaty.com.