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Teaching Yoga

How to Choose a Yoga Teacher Training Program

So you've decided you want to be a teacher. With so many excellent choices, how can you be sure you're picking the right one for you?

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I emerged from a three-day workshop with Ana Forrest last spring with a rising feeling of power and clarity in my heart and an unmistakable sense that I needed to learn more from her. That intuitive feeling of connection ended my year-long search for the right yoga teacher-training program. I was so drawn to Forrest and her philosophy that it didn’t matter that the program cost a bit more than some others I was considering, nor did it matter that it was scheduled right in the middle of my busiest season at work. It was what I needed to do.

Responding to your intuition–the feeling that you’ve found a teacher who seems to speak directly to you–may be one of the oldest methods of choosing a teacher-training program. For those who feel a strong pull toward one teacher or guru, the process of deciding on the perfect program can be quite simple. But what if you don’t feel it? What should you do if you want to learn more, but you aren’t pulled strongly toward a certain school of yoga?

Whether you’ve decided you want to teach or simply dig deeper into your practice, it can be daunting to sift between the many yoga styles and teaching methods, so it’s important to spend some time contemplating. Most programs cost quite a bit of money and will require you to take time away from the rest of your life. And though there may be demand for yoga teachers in your community, a yoga teacher training is not necessarily a vocational track; when you emerge, there’s rarely a guarantee of a job. So when you’re drawn to enter a teacher-training program, it’s good to ask: what am I really looking for?

The good news is that you have options. “There’s a broad spectrum–from the guru-disciple school to franchised one-size fits all programs, which have success here, because in the US, consistency is wanted,” says Veronica Zador, yoga teacher and vice president of the Yoga Alliance, which counts 9,940 yoga teachers as part of its registry of certified teachers. With so many choices, it helps to meditate on your goals. Do you simply want to learn complicated advanced poses, or do you need a job right away and want to find a program that will lead to quick employability?

If work is what you’re looking for, think carefully about the market for yoga in your area. Sometimes, Zador says, a yoga studio will be more inclined to hire students who have graduated from its own program. But she warns against choosing a teacher training just to get a job. While many of us have dreams of living the yoga life, most long-time yoga teachers will tell you to approach learning as a process, without striving too hard to teach before you feel ready. A skilled practitioner of Vrischikasana (Scorpion Pose) may not be ready to teach a classroom full of wide-eyed novices, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

For those who are more certain about wanting to teach, Marla Apt, president of the BKS Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States, urges students to look for schools that offer practical teaching skills. “Some schools focus a lot on learning poses,” she says, “but I’m not sure when people get out there that they’re ready to teach.”

There are other factors to consider: every program places a different value on various elements of yoga. In my month-long intensive course, I spent almost no time learning Sanskrit or studying the yoga sutras. That was fine for me, because I wasn’t looking for those things at that time in my life. But if that’s something you want, ask before you sign on.

In the end there is no easy formula for choosing the right training, and the best advice seasoned teachers and trainers can give is to spend lots of time reflecting on what you need and asking questions of your own teachers and fellow students. Of course you’ll need to investigate costs (some programs are as little as $1,500, while some cost more than $5,000), location (many trainings take place in urban yoga studios, some take place in isolated ashrams), and schedule (some are intensives, typically lasting up to month, while others are spread out over many months and are more incorporated into the students’ regular life).

And if you can, take classes with many teachers to see what really moves you.

“In order to become a teacher, take an educated, intuitive approach,” Zador advises. “Know the teacher and the program, and know if the practice is strong. But then still keep all eyes and ears open, and close to the ground.” After all, teaching yoga requires every part of us–involving our emotional, spiritual, and intellectual centers simultaneously.

Another nice piece of wisdom comes from Apt, who reminds us that making it thorough a program doesn’t bring you to the end of the yoga road. “Just because you’ve gone through the training it doesn’t mean your training is over,” she says. “We are always students.”

Rachel Brahinsky is reporter for the San Francisco Bay Guardian and a brand new yoga teacher who hopes to keep learning new things about yoga for the rest of her life.