How to pick a yoga teacher training course, and why it matters

Students often ask me to recommend yoga teacher training courses. And the truth is, it's really difficult for me to do that. YTT programmes are a lot of time and money, and I feel sad for people when they commit energy into a programme that is a disappointment. More often than not, the quality of the first (200-hour) YTT that you complete has a direct impact on the quality of your teaching in the first 6-12 months as a new yoga teacher. As a new yoga teacher, unfortunately, most of us don't know what we don't know, and the best we can hope for is to be competent and safe "parrots" of the teacher(s) who trained us (I certainly was, for at least a year). I see a lot of people who want to do YTT programmes in beautiful exotic locations so that they can combine something practical with a month somewhere that feels like holiday. That doesn't usually work out very well. So here is my best effort to consolidate some advice and things to consider all in one tidy little blog post.

WHERE?

Not Goa. Not Bali. Not Thailand. Not Hawaii.

Not because there aren't good YTT programmes there. But because if you are picking your YTT based on the location, rather than the lead teacher(s), you're already missing the point. Do your research and pick the YTT that you feel is run by the BEST teacher you can possible imagine, even if it's based in Slough. My YTT was based in the very exotic and glamorous location of the Dance Attic on North End Road, London, SW6. No palm trees. No coconut curry. No accommodation on the beach. No midnight swims in the ocean. However, what that location did offer was the promise of continual support in the city where I lived and hoped to teach, both from the network of fellow trainees, and from the senior teacher who was based in that city as well, long after our 200-hr intensive had finished. In my opinion, that local support network was an invaluable help during my first two years of teaching.

WHO?

A teacher who you already know and respect. A teacher whose style of yoga is similar to what you hope to teach. A teacher who, if you walked out of the teacher training and were a kind of mediocre version of them for awhile, you'd be pretty damn happy. A teacher who has been teaching yoga for at least a decade. A teacher who has run a few 200-hr YTT courses before. Who shouldn't you look for as a lead teacher? A teacher with an amazing instagram account whose class you've never taken.

WHAT?

I know lots of people sign up for YTT courses and aren't sure if they want to teach yoga. In my opinion, it doesn't matter if you aren't sure. You should sign up for a course that will prepare you to teach so that if you decide partway through the course that you want to teach, you don't have to go do a second 200-hr course to make up for the sort of crappy first one you did. So, here are some things to look for:

1) Practice. Lots and lots and lots and lots of hours practicing teaching. The first afternoon of the first day of my 200-hr YTT course, Stew asked us all to teach a Sun Salutation A. None of us could, but from that very first day, we all taught, every day, for the whole course. In my opinion, everyone should be teaching on the very first day of their YTT course. Furthermore, the entire final week of my YTT programme was devoted, in its entirety, to us getting to practice teaching each other. Every day, I spent at least two hours teaching, and the rest of the day I was practising while other participants taught me. Every time I taught, either the senior teacher or one of his assistants was there to offer personal feedback and criticism. We got good, fast.

2) Evaluation. There are YTT programmes in which the practical exam does not require you to teach a full 60-minute yoga class, start to finish, on your own. Rather, you are asked to teach a shorter portion of the class (perhaps 10-30 minutes). In my opinion, there's no way to ensure you are ready to teach a "real" class if you haven't done it already. It's not just about your ability to "memorise" a sequence: so much of teaching yoga effectively is about your ability to sustain the energy and focus (both of yourself and of your students) for a full class. Look for a course that requires you to teach a full class as part of your evaluation. There will also almost certainly be a written exam, which is also important, but to my mind, less important than the experience of teaching a "real" 60-minute class.

3) Faculty. I'd look for a course with several contributing teachers who you think will offer diverse approaches and opinions. There will always be a senior teacher who runs the course, but being exposed to different teachers is a great way to ensure a good quality training.

WHEN?

YTT courses run in lots of different formats, from 30-day intensives (which is what I did), to year-long courses, to many formats that are somewhere in between. I honestly don't think there is one format that is inherently better than the other. It all comes down to what is feasible with your schedule (if you have a full time job, taking a month off entirely is probably not possible) and how you think you will learn best. Some people like to dive in head first and completely immerse themselves intensively; others find a more gradual pace is better for them. Think about what is best for you and then find it.

Perhaps more important than the length of the course is when you decide to do it in relation to how long you have practiced yoga. I recently learned about someone who was starting a YTT course having practised yoga for less than 6 months. This is not long enough. Even if you have a very strong asana practice because you are a former gymnast, dancer, etc, there is so much to learn about yoga that extends beyond your ability to throw fancy shapes on a mat, and much of that can only be learned through a commitment to the practice over the course of years, not months. Most reputable programmes require a minimum 2 years of consistent practice. If I were in charge (or, when I am in charge), I will probably advise closer to 5 years of practice. Yoga is something we must commit to for life, and I would want to see someone who had integrated the practice, patiently, into their life for many years, rather than someone who had become very enthusiastic about it but had only demonstrated that enthusiasm for a few months. For what it's worth, I had been practising for nearly 8 years when I did my first YTT and I strongly believe that I was a pretty decent teacher fairly quickly partially because I had so many years of practice under my belt.

WHY?

Again, this may be controversial, but "I love yoga" may not be the most well-rounded reason to want to do a YTT. Teaching yoga is not the same as practising yoga. Do you already know, from teaching other subjects or disciplines, that you love teaching? And why do you want to teach yoga? Figuring this out before you shell out £3000 for a fancy YTT course may save you a lot of heartache (and money). If the answer to the question is that you want to learn more about yoga, but you aren't sure you want to teach, maybe wait a year, attend a diverse set of workshops, and buy some books and study aspects of yoga that relate to the non-asana based practices. If a year later, or two years later, you still want to learn more, then maybe it's time to sign up for that YTT programme.

There are thousands of 200-hr YTT programmes. The truth is, many of them aren't as good as they could be. For those of you based in London, we are lucky that there are several good 200-hr courses run in this city, by excellent, experienced teachers. Do your homework in advance and pick a programme that truly offers what you need to be a good teacher, not what you want for an extended yoga holiday.

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