How to pick a yoga teacher training course…
and why it matters
Deciding which 200-hour yoga teacher training course to enroll on is an important decision. The quality of the first (200-hour) Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) 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. 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). However, picking a programme that will provide the highest quality training in an accessible format is not always straightforward. YTT programmes are expensive, in terms of both financial and energetic expenditure. All too often, I hear about people who enrolled in a programme that turned out to be a disappointment. However, asking yourself some serious questions before you put down a deposit on a YTT can help guide you towards the right programme for you.
Not Goa. Not Bali. Not Thailand. Not Hawaii.
Not because there aren’t good Yoga Teacher Training 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. I hear about 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. Do your research and pick the YTT that you feel is run by the BEST teacher you can possibly imagine, even if it’s based in a not so terribly beautiful location. My YTT was based in the very glamorous location of a dusty old dance school in the city where I live, London. 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 sound of Rihanna blasting from the neighbouring modern dance class every afternoon just when we were embarking on our meditation practice. In all seriousness though, training in the city where I planned to teach offered me invaluable continual support. Support from both 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. That local support network was a tremendous help to me during my first two years of teaching.
Pick a Yoga Teacher Training with a lead teacher who you already know and respect.
Pick a YTT with a lead teacher whose style of yoga is similar to what you hope to teach.
Pick a YTT with a lead 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.
Pick a YTT with a teacher who has been teaching yoga for at least a decade, and who has run a few 200-hr Yoga Teacher Training 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.
I know lots of people sign up for Yoga Teacher Training 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:
It takes hundreds of hours practicing teaching to become a good teacher, so look for a Yoga Teacher Training that requires you to teach a LOT. The first afternoon of the first day of my 200-hr YTT course, the lead teacher 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.
There are Yoga Teacher Training 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 and regurgitate 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.
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.
Yoga Teacher Training 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.
Much more important than the format 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 or dancer with a strong asana practice, 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. However, in practice, I always advise students have closer to 5 years of practice before embarking on YTT. Yoga is something we must commit to for life, and a yoga teacher needs to demonstrate that they have integrated the practice, patiently, into their life for many years, rather than simply become very enthusiastic about it 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.
Again, this may be controversial, but “I love yoga” may not be the most well-rounded reason to want to do a Yoga Teacher Training. 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 many thousands of pounds/dollars/euros 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 Yoga Teacher Training programmes. The truth is, many of them aren’t as good as they could be. 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.
Becky Farbstein is a no-nonsesnce yoga teacher in London. “I am uncompromisingly honest and make no apologies for challenging my students both physically and intellectually. I think my students appreciate my pragmatic approach and my straight-talking style. While I expect students to be disciplined in their yoga practice, I balance this with a dry sense of humour and a light-heartedness in the face of the challenge.”
Check out more of Becky, or Read more from Becky Farbs on the monthly here on Gather. Practice with Becky on the weekly in London at Yogarise Peckham, The Power Yoga Company, Union Station Yoga, Yotopia.
Feature photo from Karin Burke’s Instagram