I am extremely biased on this topic, because I run the YTT (Yoga Teacher Training) here at South Mountain Yoga.
Of course I’m very proud of our program, which I designed over fifteen years of teaching yoga. However, I hope that this information is useful to anybody thinking of doing YTT, regardless of what part of the country you’re in, what your budget is, or where you end up doing your training. This is a long read, so save it for when you have a good 20 minutes to digest it.
I was inspired to write this blog for two reasons. One is that our SMY YTT program is coming up in a few months, and I want anybody joining us to make a smart, informed decision. The other reason is because I have all too often been the shoulder to cry on for people who were unhappy with their YTT. “Did you take any classes with the main trainer before you signed up?” I’ll ask. “Did you ask to see the syllabus for the training?” Pretty much everybody answers “No.”
Then I’ll say, “What made you choose that training anyway?” And the answers are usually something like:
“It was convenient for my schedule, I wanted to get it done right away.”
“I wanted to travel in Asia and the training was in Thailand.”
“It was the most affordable one I could find.”
I so sympathize with this–I truly understand what it is to have a budget, a tight schedule, and wanderlust. Unfortunately, if these are your criteria, you’re much less likely to end up in a substantive, quality YTT program.
Q: “Why? Why not just sign up for any teacher training? Aren’t they all pretty much the same? Aren’t you getting the same education regardless of who you study with?”
A: No. Read very closely now, because this is a very important thing to understand about the contemporary field of yoga.
THE FIELD OF YOGA IS COMPLETELY UNREGULATED.
Doctors, nurses, psychotherapists, lawyers, accountants, public school teachers, massage therapists, acupuncturists, plumbers…you name it, many professions in our society require licensure to practice. Yoga teachers and yoga teacher trainers do not. There are no licensure requirements in yoga, no governmental oversight, no standards that our professional community has agreed upon. Literally anybody can hang out a shingle and call herself a yoga teacher or a yoga teacher trainer.
Q: “But what about this organization I’ve heard of, Yoga Alliance? My teacher has some kind of certification through Yoga Alliance. Aren’t they a professional organization?”
A: Sort of, but not really. Yoga Alliance describes itself as a “voluntary registry”—a list of yoga teachers and yoga teacher trainers. Note that registration with Yoga Alliance is voluntary. Yoga teachers and teacher trainers don’t have to register with Yoga Alliance.
Beyond maintaining a registry, Yoga Alliance has worked toward “establishing minimum curricular standards” in the field of yoga. If you’re curious, you can see the full Yoga Alliance curriculum here: https://www.yogaalliance.org/Credentialing/Standards/200-HourStandards.
However, it’s important to note that, in their own words, “Yoga Alliance Registry conducts no certification test or independent assessment of Registered Yoga Teachers.” In other words, Yoga Alliance has established a set of standards for the material that should be covered in a YTT. But Yoga Alliance does not actually check to make sure that the teacher and teacher trainers in its registry are actually following the standards.
Instead, Yoga Alliance uses a strategy they call “social credentialing.” After completion of YTT, graduates are invited to complete a survey on the Yoga Alliance website, grading their training. Unfortunately, every training program I’ve heard extensive complaints about has received positive feedback on YA’s social credentialing system.
I’m not sure why this is so. It’s true that there’s no accounting for tastes. However, it’s also true that newly-graduated teacher trainees don’t have a very large frame of reference for their evaluations. How would they know there’s anything better out there, if they’ve only done one training? Similarly, many theater critics complain about the prevalence of standing ovations for Broadway shows these days, even when the shows are terrible–if you’ve paid $300 for the tickets, you want to believe you saw an amazing show.
What does this mean for you? It means that choosing a school based only on the fact that it is a Yoga Alliance Registered Yoga School will not necessarily give you the best outcome.
Q: What WILL give me the best outcome? What do I need to know to make an informed decision about what Yoga Teacher Training program is right for me?
A: A few things.
1. You need to know the lead trainer.
Like, as a person. Obviously, she won’t be your best friend. But you need to have taken her class several times—in my opinion, at least ten. You need to see her on a bad day, you need to see how she handles problematic students, you need to interact with her personally to see if you get along. You’re going to be spending 200 hours and probably a few thousand dollars with this person!
What you’re looking for is someone who teaches in a way that you like A LOT. Someone who speaks your language. Think about it—if you aren’t engaged by her teaching, how is she going to teach you how to teach in a way that is engaging?
This is why doing a program in Thailand is not a good idea. How are you going to evaluate the lead trainer before you take her training, if she’s in Thailand and you’re in Buffalo, NY? You may think, Well, I watched a few youtube videos and she seems cool! Buuuuttt…no video can show you whether you like the way the trainer treats you or other trainees.
2. You need to know something about the education of the lead trainer.
There’s no Harvard of yoga teacher training. There’s no name-brand yoga teacher training that is reliably excellent. I can’t tell you that anybody who has studied with Rodney Yee is guaranteed to be a good teacher trainer. But I think you’re more likely to end up in a substantive, satisfying YTT if your teacher trainer’s resume is deep and wide. Here are some examples.
Sorry for the horn-tooting, but here’s mine in a nutshell: I founded South Mountain Yoga studio in 2006, majored in Medical Anthropology at Bryn Mawr, hold a diploma in Acupuncture, have been teaching yoga for 15 years, have been leading teacher trainings for six years, have studied yoga history and philosophy with Dr. Douglas Brooks for the last 15 years, completed three years of intensive meditation study with a teacher in the Transcendental Meditation style, was originally certified in Anusara yoga, and am currently completing a training in Restorative Exercise with biomechanist Katy Bowman. Oh, and my mom describes me as “shining and adorable”!
Here’s another example: My colleague Bernadette Birney studied yoga history and philosophy with Dr. Brooks for 15 years, was certified in Anusara yoga in 2005, has been teaching since 2000, has been lead trainer of like seven or eight teacher trainings at the highly-regarded Elements Yoga Studio in Connecticut, was trained as a massage therapist and a doula, trained as a life coach with Martha Beck, and is a contributing writer for Yoga Journal, Origin Magazine, Fit Yoga, Elephant Journal, Teachasana, and Srividyalaya Amrta.
Another example: I don’t know this fellow, Julian Walker, but I follow him on Facebook and I like his writing. He teaches in Los Angeles. Here’s part of his bio: “I would find my first mentor, Ana Forrest, in 1992 and start teaching at her yoga studio in 1994, do deep dissection with anatomist Gil Hedley, spend 15 years exploring the wonders of ecstatic dance as awareness practice with Michael Skelton and Jo Cobbett, and begin an ongoing intellectual/experiential journey into Somatic Experiencing, Transpersonal Psychology, Buddhist Meditation and neuroscience. I would go to massage school at IPSB in 1997, and then study with various mentors like Vincent Saporito and Hugh Milne in deep tissue and craniosacral therapy, visit India and spend 3 months in an ashram, go on 10 day silent meditation retreats, and spend many hours unravelling my emotional knots with Holotropic Breathwork.”
I’m not sharing these resumes with you so that you run out and find a trainer with these exact qualifications. Your trainer might have a totally different type of resume. And a deep and wide resume is no guarantee that you’ll get a substantive teacher training! But my guess is that you’re more likely to be unhappy if you go with a trainer whose resume is essentially: “Sally completed her 200-hour training in 2015 and loves helping people through yoga.”
3. You need to see some of the written materials for the program.
Let’s say you find a trainer with a deep, wide resume. She’s been teaching and leading YTTs for a long time. But when you ask her, she doesn’t have a curriculum, syllabus, manual, or any other type of written material for her training.
You might be into that! Maybe you’re into a freewheeling, more intuitive, less cerebral kind of teacher trainer, who does things from the hip and isn’t constrained by preconceptions of what her Teacher Training is going to look like. Nothing wrong with that—there aren’t any rules in yoga, remember?
However, you are doing YTT to acquire a particular skill. And in my opinion, it is easier to teach a new skill if you have a plan. One thing that Yoga Alliance has going for its curriculum is that it does require a teacher trainer to sit down and really think about what she’s going to teach in her training, how she’s going to use the hours. I don’t think it’s important to have a teacher trainer who is registered with Yoga Alliance, but I do believe that in order to effectively train somebody to teach yoga in 200 hours, you need to have some written materials. And in my opinion, it’s reasonable to share some of them with people who are thinking of paying you thousands of dollars for a service.
Word to the wise–not everybody will want to provide you with their full teacher training manual. I get that. My 200-page YTT manual represents my life’s work, and I prefer to share it only with those in my teacher trainings. But I am willing to share the Syllabus from my Immersion and Teacher Training, the Table of Contents from my Teacher Training Manual, and an excerpt from the manual, so you can see how I think, write, and communicate:
- Immersion Syllabus
- Yoga Teacher Training Syllabus
- Teacher Training Manual Table of Contents
- Teacher Training Manual Excerpt
If your potential teacher trainer doesn’t have a manual, a syllabus, or anything they’d be willing to share with you, even a few pages, I think you have good reason to be dubious about their training. Here’s a script for how you can go about asking for this stuff:
“Hi Sally, I’m considering your Teacher Training program. Do you have any written materials from the program that you’d be willing to share with me as I make my decision? For example, a syllabus, a section from the Teacher Training manual, a curriculum? Thanks so much, Susie”
4. You need to shop around.
Say you live in Austin, TX. I’m not saying you need to take 10 classes from every yahoo in Austin who is offering YTT. I’m saying that you need to look into the cost, schedules, and written materials of a few people just to get an idea of what your options are. If there are 5 trainers in Austin starting YTTs in the next six months, take a class from each of them. I bet you’ll be able to cross 2-3 of them off your list right away.
Then you can focus on the remaining 2-3. You can take more classes from them, find out what their resumes are like, and finally ask them for some written materials for the program. Then you have some basis for comparison—“I love Sally’s class, her syllabus is really clear and well-written, but this is her first time offering teacher training. I also loved Susie’s class, her syllabus is less clear, but she’s been teaching for like 20 years. Sabrina has taught three teacher trainings, has a really clear syllabus, I love her class, and I just felt a real rapport with her.” You can make a list of pros and cons and see what you can live with.
What happens if you find what you think is the perfect training but it’s outside of your price range? Consider waiting! Save your money in the meantime. This year I finally got to start training with one of my idols, Katy Bowman. I’ve wanted to do her program for years, but I couldn’t afford it. Now I can.
Another option is to tell the trainer that you really want to do her training, you’ve done your homework and you know her program is the one for you, but that you can’t afford it. See what she says!
5. Listen to your gut.
I will say that nearly every person I’ve consoled about their horrible teacher training has this in common: they knew almost right away that it was a mistake.
But…they talked themselves out of it.
“I’ve already paid for it.”
“I sure it will get better.”
“I talked to her about it and she assured me it will get better.”
“Maybe I’m just being petty and judgmental.”
The very worst: “I talked to her about it and she told me I was being unyogic.”
It’s not “unyogic” (whatever the heck that means) to want a good education.
I hope this information is helpful to you. If you want to know more about the Yoga Teacher Training I offer at South Mountain Yoga, click here.
Regardless, good luck to you! If you have any questions, hit me up.