By Lucinda Staniland
It’s the holy grail of the yoga world: A Yoga Teacher Training that is transformative, comprehensive, and great value for money.
But how do we find such a thing?
Currently, the price of Yoga Teacher Trainings can vary hugely, from (very rare) free or koha based trainings, to $4000 for an average NZ or Australian based training, to upwards of $16,000 for the likes of big name studios like Bikram Yoga.
As someone who is seriously considering undertaking a Yoga Teacher Training (but just hasn’t found the right one yet) I’ve often asked myself: With so much variation in the cost of Yoga Teacher Trainings, how do I know when I’m getting real value for money?
This is especially relevant if your are considering yoga as a career, because, as many of us know, making money as a yoga teacher can be very difficult.
To find out more I contacted around thirty Yoga Teacher Training courses, mostly in New Zealand and Australia.
I asked them a brief series of questions about the cost of their Teacher Trainings, the factors that affect that cost (class size, experience level of the teacher, contact hours etc.) and what they think of the general cost of Yoga Teacher Trainings in the yoga industry.
Unsurpisingly I didn’t get a huge response. This kind of information can be commercially sensitive and it’s not something that many studios want to open up about, but the studios that did respond gave me some striking insights into how the Yoga Teacher Training industry functions.
Amanda Fuzes of Prana Space, a specialist yoga studio in Sydney, echoed my concerns about Yoga Teacher Trainings that are a have a poor return on investment, saying:
Students have to be careful with overpaying for TT (Teacher Training) programmes. While a lot of Yoga TT is personal development, it’s not a hugely profitable career choice- so it’s hard to justify paying a lot of money for a training that may not provide a great salary in the long term.
But Amanda, and the other teachers I heard from, were all able to explain exactly why their Teacher Trainings were high value, justifying the (generally) high price tags.
The key factors that Studios said affected the price of their Yoga Teacher Trainings were:
- The experience level of the teacher/s
- Accommodation and food
- The minimum and maximum class size
- The amount of contact hours
- The status of the Yoga Studio
- Resources i.e textbooks, DVDs, PDFs
- Including access to other classes at the Yoga Studio
Looking at these factors, I realised that prioritising items on this list would be a good way to determine whether or not a Yoga Teacher Training is good value for the individual.
Whether or not a Teacher Training is ‘good value’ depends on what your personal wants and needs. Meaning there’s no point getting outraged about the high cost of Yoga Teacher Training (or getting excited about a super cheap one) without determining the value of that training to you.
For example, if it’s important to you that the Training is in an exotic location, with beautiful accommodation and that all your food is organic and cooked for you then you need to be willing to pay a higher price for a training that meets this criteria.
If you want to practice with a specific yoga teacher who is very experienced and/or well known then you will have to pay a higher price for the privilege.
But are there also some general indications of the value and quality of a Yoga Teacher Training?
Yes, yes there are.
In general, smaller class sizes, more experienced teachers, and lots of contact hours is a good sign.
Yoga teacher Mark Whitwell says that the transmission of yoga can only occur though the genuine relationship between the teacher and the student, making lots of good quality contact with a talented teacher invaluable in your development as a teacher.
Barbara Coley of Svastha Yoga in Auckland takes a minimum of five and a maximum of ten students for her 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training, but to her the minimum requirement is less important than the dedication of the students.
This year I had only three students, but they were so committed to the course that I decided to run with it anyway.
But is small class size always an indication of a higher quality training? Maybe not.
Radiantly Alive, a yoga studio based in Bali, have up to seventy five students in their Level 1 Teacher Training.
However, they justify the large class sizes because they bring in a variety of “internationally acclaimed faculty from the world over” to assist with the teaching, and because they have additional support in the form of mentors, who can help provide the personal guidance the students need. James Mattingley, Yoga Teacher Trainings Coordinator at Radiantly Alive, says:
We make all of our trainings ‘intensive’, so the trainees get a huge amount of ‘face time’ and consistent direct feedback about their progress. Additionally we have a mentoring team set up for our Level I trainings. These are Alumni of Radiantly Alive who return to act in a different capacity, to help guide and transform groups of trainees. Depending on the size of training, we have between 4 and 7 mentors, all of whom go through further rigorous training to be mentors.
This seems self explanatory to me. The more time you spend in direct contact with a teacher, and the more time you spend learning, the more you will learn.
Kara-Leah illustrated this point in her article ‘Do Yoga Teacher Training Courses Need Regulation?’, in which she interviewed yoga teacher and studios that offered Teacher Trainings:
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.
The experience level of the teacher(s).
Of the teachers I surveyed most had between ten and twenty years teaching experience, one had thirty years plus, and one of the key drawcard’s of Radiantly Alive’s Level I course was “250 years of combined teaching experience!”
Many years of experience is a good sign that a teacher will provide a teacher training that is both safe, stimulating, and maybe even transformative. A skilled and experienced yoga teacher really can can revolutionize your yoga practice and your life.
Does an experienced teacher always equal a great teacher? No, of course not. Teachers like the much maligned Bikram Choudhury are evidence of that. But if a person has been teaching for a decade or more it seems fair to assume they are passionate about yoga, knowledgeable and skilful, and work well with their students.
Perhaps the most important question to ask when determining value is: Will this Teacher Training help me become the yoga teacher (or person) that I want to be?
Yoga Teacher Trainings are hugely popular (and profitable) right now.
Some people take a dim view on this, saying that the yoga industry has been flooded with yoga teachers who don’t really live their yoga and haven’t been trained well, leading, if we want to get dramatic about it, to a dilution of the genuine transmission of yoga.
Others, like Donna Farhi in her recent article Donna Farhi on Why Your Yoga Teacher is Not Your Friend see nothing wrong with ‘basic’ yoga teachers, as long as they teach safely:
I think there are definitely different levels of teacher depending on the depth of what you wish to transmit. Some teachers are very happy to offer a basic and safe introduction to practices such as asana and pranayama. I don’t see this as hierarchical because helping people to use these practices is a great gift to humanity. Well done!
But James Mattingley of Radiantly Alive is passionate about high quality, transformative Yoga Teacher Trainings that create phenomenal yoga teachers, rather than merely proficient ones:
There are many trainings that will teach people how and where to put their big toe in Trikonasana, or in other words, how to move peoples bodies in space, in the $US2000 – $US3000 range. We view yoga as more than that, our thirst for creating the ultimate transformative experience, for people to experience their own truth, to live yoga as well as being able to teach yoga phenomenally … its unquenchable. Our aim is for every trainee to discover their true potential, and we make sure that what trainees receive is far more than the cost of what they invest.
Radiantly Alive’s 300 hour Level 1 Yoga Teacher Training is, at $8,350 USD, a big investment for most yoga students, but James says the high cost represents the value of the course delivers:
The value is largely determined by what the trainee gets from the experience, which in turn depends on many factors in the training such as the experience of the faculty, the curriculum, the location, cuisine and the history and success of the training program. Our Level I is on the higher end of the pricing spectrum precisely because we invest a lot our own time and money creating the best combination of the above (including investing in our own ongoing personal transformation).
Will a $8,350 USD Teacher Training like this be ‘worth it’ for everyone? No. But if it’s going to help you become who you want to be, and to live and teach your yoga “phenomenally” in a way that embodies your biggest self, then maybe it is great value.
But if a lower cost course with a local studio offers you all the things you need as a yoga teacher then that would be a better value option.
But what about accessibility? This is a conversation that’s often overlooked in the yoga world. The truth is that access to yoga usually involves privilege, especially socio-economic privilege.
For some people, no matter how committed or invested they are in their practice, they just don’t have the funds available to take the next steps. It’s heartening to hear stories about Yoga studios that offer scholarships or financial assistance to students who really are unable to afford a Teacher Training, or about initiatives that take yoga to communities that normally can’t access it.
And it appears that it is possible to offer low cost Yoga Teacher Trainings while retaining the value and quality of the program, albeit in very particular circumstances.
The Turiya Yoga Foundation is a small specialist meditation and Tibetan Yoga group based in Australia that offers a self paced distance education examination paper completely free of charge to it’s members.
This includes a written paper, which normally takes a minimum of nine to twelve months to complete, covering yoga philosophy and psychology, asana sequencing and safety, pranayama, meditation, Tibetan Kum Nye, teaching methodology and basic physiology, as well as a practical exam,
Gaynor Austen, principal Trainer for the Turiya Yoga Foundation says:
We make no charge for this process – all one-on-one mentoring is provided by our senior teachers, and assessment is undertaken free of charge by myself and the Chair of the Foundation (each of us holds Turiya qualifications and more than 30 years teaching experience). We graduate no more than 1-3 new teachers each year.
Of course, this isn’t your typical Yoga Teacher Training. Candidates for the course will have already spent an average of five to ten plus years studying with a Turiya teacher before beginning the accreditation process, it’s almost entirely distance and theory based, the teachers are extremely qualified, and it only graduates a very small number of students.
But it’s an inspiring example of a very non-commercial yoga teacher training, a rarity these days, in which a dedicated group of Yogis is taking great care in transmitting their knowledge to the next generation of teachers.
So how do we find the ‘perfect’ Yoga Teacher Training for us, that is also great value for money?
1. Prioritize. Know exactly what you want and need from a Teacher Training down to the smallest details (food, accommodation, length, teaching style)
2. Ask yourself: Will this Teacher Training help me become the kind of yoga teacher (and person) that I most want to be?
3. Look for the following:
- Teachers with presence, a deep passion for teaching yoga, many years experience, and their own home yoga practice.
- Small class sizes (or larger classes with more mentors and teachers to support)
- Lots of contact hours
- A sense that the school or studio is invested in Yoga Teacher Training at a level that goes beyond the commercial.