by Kara-Leah Grant
Did you know that for $2000 and change you can sign up online for a distance yoga teacher training, watch some online videos – which count as contact hours – fill in some theory and paperwork and voila! You’ll receive a certificate saying you are now certified to teach yoga.
I’m thinking no. I’m thinking you’re not surprised at all. I’m thinking you know very well that there’s hundreds of yoga teacher training courses out there now, churning out yoga teachers by the thousands every year. That teaching standards are dropping, yoga’s being watered down, and the entire industry is a mess.
Or is it?
That’s what I had to find out, and to do so I sent an email out to about thirty teacher training courses, mostly based here in New Zealand and Australia.
I asked the people running those courses a handful of questions – I wanted to know what they were offering and to whom they were offering it, and I wanted to know what they thought about the state of the yoga teacher training market.
Because yoga teacher training is a market, and it’s a big market. Often, it’s not until a studio starts running teacher trainings that it begins to make any money. That’s the economic reality of yoga.
“Training courses are a way that studios can boost their income and it’s a tough business, so perhaps there may be a little less discernment in recruiting trainees than there could be,” says Barbara Coley of Svastha Yoga, who runs a 200HR course from her studio in Auckland.
Richard Clark, of Yoga Shala Brisbane agrees. “Currently teacher training is where the money is. I often hear of students who have been urged to take on yoga teacher training after their first class.”
Every person I spoke to agreed on one thing – 200HR courses do not a yoga teacher make. Even those who run 200HR courses were clear on that.
“This is the very first stepping stone on your journey in becoming an amazing teacher,” says Justine Hamill, of Power Living, which runs 200HR and 500HR courses. “It’s enough to gain the knowledge and confidence to step into the classroom, however we believe that continuing education, retreats and trainings are really important. Most of the senior Power Living teachers attend ongoing trainings at least once per year.”
Other teachers were forthright in the dangers of unleashing teachers with 200 hours of training under their belt into the classroom.
“We employ teachers we have trained at our school, however in recent years, teachers trained elsewhere approached us for jobs or to up skill by participating in our Yoga Alliance 300HR Course, so, we interviewed them, ” says Peter Nilsson of Yoga Academy in New Zealand.
“We asked them to share their knowledge of applied anatomy – that is how they are able to keep people safe and their knowledge of the psychology and philosophy of yoga – that is their ability to bring the understanding of yoga theory, through practice into their life and into the life of our students. Teachers who had done the fast track courses, gave answers which dismayed us.”
“Clearly they had little understanding of applied anatomy. For example when asked how to keep a person with a
torn cruciate knee ligament safe in asana class safe, a teacher replied, ‘I would get them to keep their knee bent throughout the class’. When asked how to advise a 50 year old with a neck issue, about how yoga can assist her to heal, the teacher said, ‘I would tell her to do headstands to strengthen it’. Scary!”
The Yoga Academy teaches a Yoga Alliance 200hr course which focuses on training participants to teach beginner students, however those 200HRs have evolved into a 900 hour part-time course over 11 months. The Yoga Alliance 300HR course that focuses on teaching participants to teach more advanced yoga practitioners has evolved into an 1100 hour part-time course over 12 months. Peter says this is because they found 200 hours to be far from satisfactory to train a yoga teacher.
Yet 200HR courses are touted as all that’s necessary to become a certified yoga teacher. And while this is true, that’s because you don’t actually need any kind of certificate to teach yoga.
Anyone can start teaching yoga just by showing up at the front of the class.
However if you wish to register as a yoga teacher with Yoga Alliance in the USA, you need that 200HR certificate. If you wish to register with Yoga Australia, which calls itself the national peak yoga teacher body in Australia, you need to have done a minimum 350HR course.
“Many training providers in Australia now offer 20o hour courses, which can be registered in America with Yoga Alliance. They are often promoted as internationally certified, which is incorrect,” says Michael de Manincor, Founding Director of the Yoga Institute and past President of Yoga Australia.
“What most people do not realise is that there is no such thing as international registration or certification, they are simply registered in America, but not able to be registered in Australia. Several years ago, Yoga Australia responded to this growing concern by introducing a level of Provisional membership based on 200 hour training, to enable people to become members (but not registered), and require a further 150 hours of training to be able to become registered.”
The Yoga Institute refuses to offer a 200 hour teacher training course because they consider it insufficient to train a teacher. The basic level training offered is 500 hours, over a minimum of one year. “The growing number of providers offering 200 hour courses is of great concern,” says Michael.
Part of that concern is perhaps because 200HR courses are faster, easier and cheaper, plus usually offer the benefit of spending time somewhere hot and beautiful and preferably with a gorgeous beach or at least swimming pool. Why bother with a year or two year course in a city when you can get away and tick the Trained Yoga Teacher box in three sunny weeks?
Often there’s very little prerequisites required for yoga teacher training courses – of the responses received, prerequisites generally ranged from having 6 months to three years of practice. Annie Au of All Yoga Thailand said “We require our students to have basic experiences in yoga such as taking a classes at a studio, DVDs, or self-practice.”
The implication is someone could be accepted on to the teacher training program after watching a couple of DVDs and decided that yoga looks like fun.
At the other end of the spectrum is the Ashtanga Yoga Shala Brisbane. While most providers turn down between 5% to 50% of teacher training applications, in recent years, Yoga Shala’s rejection rate has been 100%.
“Because there are too many, quick, 200HR, 4 week programs enticing people with (deceptive) claims that they will become yoga teachers,” says Richard Clark. “Consequently no one seems to want to join a three year teacher training. Additionally most who make contact neither come to class, have a personal practice or have any experience in the method.”
Ashtanga’s requirements are tough. Potential teachers must have a minimum of two years daily practice – and that daily practice must be a minimum of two hrs per day, plus attendance in at least two classes per week. Ashtanga is unwavering in this.
“How can a school offering teacher training accept students with no home practice?” says Richard. “All students must not only have home practice, but in class practice prescribed by the teacher and be able to demonstrate a working relationship with the teacher and commitment to practice before they could be considered.”
Richard is also unequivocal about the impact low-requisite yoga teacher trainings are having on how yoga is taught.
“The range of postures now offered in many general classes are out of range for new students – no matter their flexibility as there’s more required in asana than flexibility – poorly articulated and instructed and ill-considered for the class format – but they are added in to make people think that they are advanced or to make people feel like they have had a good workout,” says Richard.
“Do people realise that headstand should never be taught to beginners? But headstand is offered in large group classes with off the cuff comments that if you cant do it this way use a wall or do this modification… but when does the teacher provide the individual instruction required?”
“It is too easy in an unregulated market for people to imagine that they are qualified to teach and many unverified claims are made by teachers making their way in the business of merchandising yoga,” says Mark. “In short the public are being short changed and not getting yoga. At best they are getting fitness workouts or gymnastic. Yoga needs to be studied sincerely with much more academic rigour like any other important subject.”
However, other teachers are more pragmatic in their outlook. Barbara Coley graduates only a handful of students each year through her 200HR training, and she is both away of it’s limitations but also it’s value.
“At the end of 200 hours you may have gained the skills and competence to be a yoga ‘instructor’ and capable of teaching relatively healthy, fit people, but it takes many hours of teaching to transition from instructor to skilled and competent teacher,” says Barbara.
“I don’t think this means that you shouldn’t be teaching after a 200 hour program, otherwise how would you gain those skills, but I do think you need to be realistic about who and what you teach, and of course continued education is vital. Obviously, the quality of training you have received also plays a big role in how you make the transition– I don’t think this can be judged by number of hours training alone.”
Even those who teach 350HR courses, like Swami Prema Ananda of Inner Cor are clear that learning to be a yoga teacher happens over a long period of time.
“I teach 350 hour courses but I still don’t think it is long enough to truly develop real devotion and a great command and discipline of the Asana nor the background,” Says Swami Prema Ananda.
“If only we could have the perfect training. The training would consist of the student spending much time with the Swami learning basically by example, in the class room and taking their learning over a two year period giving them time to soak up the learning. This would then allow for greater depths of knowledge and the ability to retain the information longer. “
Some yoga teacher training programmes do facilitate that kind of mentoring, although it may not look exactly the same as living with a Swami.
Power Living encourages mentoring relationships between newer teacher and more experienced teachers.
“We feel that to become a safe and effective teacher in the classroom it is really important to have live mentoring, coaching and learnings from senior and master facilitators and teachers, as well as learning through experiencing in your own body with your training community,” says Justine Hamill.
The Yoga Institute also builds mentoring into their programmes, as does the Yoga Academy and Mark Whitwell. In fact, that on-going mentoring and relationship with a senior teacher may be the biggest indicator of a quality yoga teacher training course. Doing three weeks and then being tossed in to the world of yoga all by yourself to sink or swim does no service to either the new yoga teacher or their potential students.
The difficulty then arises that a 200HR certificate from one provider is completely different from a 200HR certificate from another provider.
“How does the public differentiate between the quality and standard of teaching between a 200HR Course and those who have done more hours such as our 900 hour Course?” asks Peter Nilsson from the Yoga Academy. “How does one teacher receive the credit they deserve for all the hours they did in fact train for? Is the public being duped, are people in safe hands, are they receiving safe teaching of yoga?”
Which brings us around to the tricky topic of regulation. Yoga teaching is completely unregulated in both New Zealand and Australia, although Yoga Australia is encouraging yoga teacher training courses to register with them according to set guidelines.
“There should be regulation – this allows for continuity of training and assessing of trainees,” says Margaret Willcocks of Greenwood Yoga Academy. “Currently there is nothing like this for the general yoga teacher training courses other than those from a lineage such as Iyengar, Satyananda, Ashtanga and Desikachar styles etc.”
Margaret teaches a government accredited course that takes two to three years to complete so is used to meeting set standards. However, she wasn’t the only provider calling for regulation.
“It seems like regulation is becoming more and more necessary. However, external regulation can have its own set of problems. It would be preferably to see the development and adherence to a self-regulated professional. Perhaps a government requirement for self-regulation and registration within the profession would be helpful,” says Michael de Manincor.
“The needs for regulation are largely about professional standards – of yoga teachers, as well as training providers. If yoga teaching is to become more recognised as a professional, including recognition by health insurance providers, rather than being a hobby, fitness or recreational activity, then some form of regulation seems necessary. The present and unfortunate reality is that anyone can train anyone to become a yoga teacher, any way they want, to do whatever they want.”
Other providers were wary, indicating that if self-regulation was the way to go, it could be a long, drawn out conversation to agree on what that regulation looked like.
“That’s a tricky question – the word regulation doesn’t appeal, but I do think having some standards could be relevant,” says Barbara Coley.
“What those standards should be is a big question! The issue for me around standards/regulation is that even if a course meets some predefined standards it doesn’t necessarily mean that the content will be well delivered or that it will be well received and understood by the trainee – so I’m not completely convinced that standards or regulation equate to quality. Probably a better chance than no standards at all though.”
For now, the yoga industry is seeing the results of no real standards – anyone can teach and anyone can teach a student to become a teacher.
Plus the quality of a yoga teacher – certificate or no certificate – varies enormously. It is difficult for the general public to assess the competency of any given yoga teacher – especially if they’re brand new to yoga and have nothing to measure their teacher against, and no understanding of yoga safety or that yoga is about far more than just asana.
Perhaps instead of seeking regulation of yoga teacher training courses, we need to assess yoga teachers and give them some kind of title or award if they pass.
After all, there are many skilled yoga teachers out there in the community who have never done any kind of teacher training certificate. Two students who have done the same course will have had a different experience of that course, and be teaching at a different level.
Would it make more sense for a national body of yoga teachers to administer standardised testing of potential yoga teachers?
Sit the test, pass the standards, and receive some kind of recognition that you’re a competent and able yoga teacher.
You wouldn’t necessarily have to even go to a yoga teacher training – some yoga students are natural born teachers and pick up enough know-how along the way.
That way, no regulation of teacher training courses is required, yet the standards of yoga teaching are maintained.
What do you think? What’s your experience of yoga teacher training programs? Is the standard of yoga teaching something to be concerned about? Does the industry need to be regulated? Should we be testing our yoga teachers?