People often ask me where they should go get their yoga teacher training certificate. I get the question so often that I thought I’d write a blog post about it to help.
I should mention first that A Yoga Teacher Training Certificate Is Just the First Step. There is so much to learn about being a teacher, and it has become a life-long practice for me. If you ever think you’ve “arrived” as a teacher, beware! There is always more to learn.
Obviously there are basic skills for teaching yoga: the practices of asana and pranayama and meditation. But this is not the yoga. These are the practices that may (we hope) lead us to yoga. It is possible to teach others how to structure the practice. But suddenly, as teaching yoga becomes fashionable, many instructors might not have the understanding of the subject we claim to teach.
Years ago, when I asked my teacher Richard Freeman how to determine when someone was ready to teach, he explained, “when you can do it, you can teach it.” Essentially, when you have a strong practice and enough confidence in your practice to guide you, then you are ready. That said, there are some things to be gained by attending a formal yoga teacher training. So here’s what I suggest when looking for one.
What to Look For
- Look for a well-seasoned teacher with ties to an authentic lineage and a devoted connection to a teacher. Yoga is passed from teacher to student, so know where your teacher learned.
- Is there a well-rounded, non-dogmatic curriculum that addresses a range of aspects to the yoga practice?
- Relationship. Do you know the teacher? If not, can s/he provide solid references? Do you feel a connection?
- Is the teacher kind? IMHO this is the highest teaching. Really, we could stop there.
- Does the teacher have experience leading groups? Many new teachers who may be perfectly qualified to share yoga techniques lack the maturity to manage group dynamics when things get sticky. Yoga brings up core emotions; if the leader is not equipped to deal with messy situations that may arise, you could be in for some interesting “lessons.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people come to me describing horrific situations that evolve out of a teacher trainer not having the maturity to handle the situation. Teaching yoga is not like teaching a second language or something more intellectual. It is a process of uncovering the blocks to our “True Self” if you will allow me to use that term. If a trainer doesn’t have experience of that herself, how will she be able to lead other to have the same experience, much less train them to guide their students through this process?
What to Watch Our For
- Fundamentalist Views. Is the teacher trying to impose her view on you or discouraging you from doing your own internal exploration? Wisdom comes from within; by training ourselves (through practice) to listen to our inner guide, this guide becomes stronger and more reliable. A good teacher will share the practice with you so you can come to your own conclusions. They should also model this so that you can then share this with your own students.
- Inappropriate Boundaries. Confusion about our personal boundaries can cause lifetimes of suffering. Some teachers, unfortunately, need students to reinforce ego. Please take care.
- A Yoga Factory. There is big money to be made in YTTs. Unfortunately, those who are the most experienced in business and marketing may not be the best teachers. Nothing wrong with making a living. But just make sure whoever is teaching is making an honest living.
- A New Brand of Yoga. Established traditions share time-tested wisdom passed down through the ages. If you feel inspired to “blend” your practices after you’ve learned them from an authentic lineage, that’s up to you. But first learn the authentic lineage unfiltered through someone else’s creative perspective. Especially when there are fees to pay for maintaining connection to the “spiritual community.” I could go on a rant about this…but I’ll spare you.
Questions You Should Ask
Is the Teacher Capable of Saying, “I Don’t Know?”
As students, we must make distinctions between gurus and spiritual guides. A teacher who does not have realization of enlightened mind cannot guide you there as a realized guru can. But she can show you techniques and practices learned from her teachers. It is extremely important to recognize this. Teachers who earn my respect are those who freely admit their limitations. If there are areas where we are still unclear, be honest, rather than drawing unsuspecting students into the drama. We can only take students as far as we have come.
Does the Teacher Teach from the Heart?
Yoga is about relationship and true yoga is taught from the heart. Many people these days offer teacher trainings not from the heart, but because it is good business. Learn to discern the difference.
Have they done their psychological work?
This is hard to discern if you don’t know the teacher. This is why I recommend studying with a teacher for several years before submitting yourself to a training under them. Get to know the teacher so there are no surprises when you go into the deep end together.
Do Your Own Practice
At a certain point the practice itself becomes the teacher. But in order to develop that unshakeable faith in your inner guide, it’s very useful to see that wisdom modelled in others. I think this is the main thing missing from many yoga teacher training programs: wisdom. Sure, it’s good to learn the technical skills and you can learn philosophy from anyone who has understood the words. But if you want a truly transformational experience that you can then pass on to your students, don’t scrimp on your own training. Go for the Wise Ones.
A Few I Recommend:
Richard Freeman’s Teacher Intensive in Boulder, Colorado The best one, IMHO. But then, he’s my teacher.
Mark Whitwell Teacher Trainings in Fiji
Tias Little Teacher Training Santa Fe, New Mexico
White Lotus Institute (Ganga White and Tracey Rich) in Santa Barbara, California One of the originals, and where I did my first YTT!
Judith Lasater Restore and Renew Trainings for Yoga Teachers Highly recommended in these busy times or for when you just get plain tired of fancy asanas.
Srivastu Ramaswami, Vinyasa Krama Yoga Teacher Training, Los Angeles, California If was starting over, this is where I would go.
Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute, Mysore, India. The original (and only) place to learn Ashtanga Yoga from the source. Though I no longer study here, and there are controversies, it was an integral part of my path, and if you feel the pull then I say go for it!
Do you have a story of a teacher training gone bad? Do you have a recommendation? Share your stories below!
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