I’ve never had my own teacher training…and I don’t plan to anytime soon.
Recently, I’ve seen more and more of my peers take on the challenge of a teacher training or opening a yoga studio. I’m actually really proud of them—but that path isn’t for me at this point in my life.
However, I’ve been through a lot of trainings and have worked at various studios, which has provided me with perspective. A perspective that I believe many teachers who take on these challenges may not have received.
Below is some advice (but keep in mind it’s also my opinion):
1. Yoga Teacher Training Admittance
I’m not saying you have to have Iyengar Yoga standards (practicing at least three years with an Iyengar trained teacher), but you need to have standards. Most trainings I’ve been in have required a year or more of regular yoga practice. That sounds pretty reasonable—I would also require a reference. This can be as simple as a name and phone number on an application to a letter of reference from a yoga teacher. Whatever reference you require, use it. This is where that Yoga Alliance registrar and Google come in handy.
I would highly suggest interviewing or at least having a telephone conversation with potential teacher trainees. If you’ve come this far in yoga, you’re probably naturally intuitive. What does your gut tell you about this person and do you want him or her representing your teacher training?
This needs to be taught more, especially in a 200-hour yoga teacher training. Don’t assume that just because your students practice yoga that it’s all rainbows and unicorns. It’s quite the opposite and a firm grasp of the ethical underpinnings of yoga can help align a student’s values and actions. Mark Stephens has this wonderful quote in his book Yoga Sequencing:
“It is said that to begin asana before yamas and niyamas will result in further mental disturbance and negate the benefits of asana practice.”
Your student’s asana without the yamas or niyamas literally turns into a force that feeds their false self, and we can’t have that going around. (Trust me, I’ve seen yoga teachers take a turn for the worse once in a position of power and money.)
This comment is for a general hatha or vinyasa yoga teacher training—and I know I’m going to ruffle a lot of feathers. Scripting is not my favorite technique. Unless it’s a specific type of yoga therapy, giving students your script and/or class to memorize is not a good learning tool.
Sure, they walk away from the training with a class prepared to deliver, but what happens when that yoga teacher wants to create a new class or deviate from the script?
I’m a big fan of giving students a framework. Whether that’s a class built on chapters, sections or the good old-fashioned pinnacle pose framework. That way your students receive a guide for their class, but they will have the ability to problem solve through designing a class with the biomechanics, anatomy and posture selection information that they should be receiving from you anyways.
And more importantly, why do you want all of your students delivering the same class? Students in your teacher training have their own interests and strengths. Let them shine by giving them the leverage to create a class that feels good within your provided framework. Not only will your students walk out of a yoga teacher training being able to deliver a class, but also being able to sequence a class that feels good in their body and in their own words.
5. Observation Hours
One of the best yoga teacher trainings I took consisted of observation hours. Literally sitting against a wall during a yoga class and watching someone teach yoga. These classes were free to the observer and occasionally she would walk you through assisting students during class. I have to honestly say I didn’t think it was so super-great at the time since I lived 80 miles away, but I look back on those classes today and that’s where I learned to read lines in the body. She even allowed me to observe a graduate from her course that gave classes closer to where I lived at the time.
6. Yoga Exposure
In my first teacher training, I looked forward to Sundays the most. There was always a guest teacher in a different style than our primary yoga teacher. We took Kundalini, Restorative, Yin and even Laughter Yoga. You haven’t really laughed until you’ve seen your yoga teacher pretending to pee on a fire hydrant! Fantastic teaching tool!
7. Private Lessons
My most recent training included providing free, weekly private yoga sessions to a single person over a period of 10 weeks, which was a great teaching tool. This was a requirement for graduation. Require that your students find someone to give private lessons to for free during the last two to three months of teacher trainings.
Do you remember how lost you were when you gave your first private lesson?
The whole, “I’m not an anatomy person” thing doesn’t fly. There are so many resources online and at neighboring yoga studios. Think outside of the box and hire someone to come in and teach yoga anatomy. Look online at Yoga U or Paul Grilley’s videos. Just because you’re not an expert doesn’t mean you should breeze by this requirement.
This portion of the teacher training needs to be comprehensive. Giving a yoga private lesson can almost be as intensive as a physical therapy session. Your teachers need to have some knowledge of what to do.
9. After Graduation
Well, the teachers you just graduated may be looking for a class at your studio or want help in securing their first yoga teacher job. That’s great! You have some really motivated yogis, but there needs to be a reality check. Just because they have their certificate doesn’t mean they’re automatically hired.
Teaching yoga is a privilege, not a right.
If it were up to me (in my mythical 20,00 square foot yoga studio with a smoothie bar, showers, a boutique that selling yoga clothes, jewelry, aromatherapy balms surrounded by various cushion-filled lounge areas), I would facilitate a program for these newly trained yoga teachers. The program would consist of an audition, unpaid staff hours in the studio and assisting/observation hours in the yoga class.
I would also take into consideration whether or not they practiced at my studio and how they handled themselves during teacher training. Did they sit in the back and text on their phone during anatomy class? Did they cause a bunch of drama with unnecessary gossip? Many yoga teachers have health-related professions. Did you receive a massage from them and they gossiped the whole time about other yoga teachers? This is probably a good sign that you don’t want to hire this teacher.
Your intuition is invaluable, so use it. They’ll most likely quit anyways, or leave you hanging one hour before a workshop due to the flu immediately after posting pictures of themselves on Facebook doing forearm stand. I’m just sayin’…
10. The 500-Hour Yoga Teacher Training Question
Do you allow teachers to attend a 500-hour yoga teacher immediately after they completed their 200-hour teacher training? This is definitely one of those case-by-case basis scenarios.
Personally, I would rather a newly graduated 200-hour yoga teacher gain some experience by teaching classes, taking classes and experiencing new styles of yoga. If they’re chomping at the bit for more training, the weeklong yoga teacher training immersions are becoming very popular. Those are relatively inexpensive and can broaden a perspective.
I would also encourage 200-hour yoga teachers to train with a different 500-hour yoga teacher. This probably goes against the grain of you filling your class spots, but I would want my teachers to be well rounded. They’ll come back and thank you for it later.
11. Age Appropriateness
I have to pause for a moment when a teenager is admitted into a 500-hour teacher training—and when I say teenager, I mean still–living-at home-with-parents-and-hasn’t-graduated-high school type of teenager. I’m not saying it’s wrong, it just gives me great…pause. What is asked from your students in a 200-hour yoga teacher training is very different than what is asked in a 500-hour yoga teacher training.
Please train you yoga teachers to arrive on time, start class on time and end on time.
When I say arrive on time, I don’t mean arrive when class is due to begin; arrive as early as recommended by the manager or studio owner. I’ll give you a hint: it’s probably 10-20 minutes before class.
I’ve been in small classes where the teacher has asked us if she could end class five minutes late—I don’t mind that. But when teachers consistently end class five, 10 or even 15 minutes late, they’re being disrespectful to the students.
As yoga teachers, we have no idea whether the lady in the back row has to pick up her child from daycare, meet someone for lunch or go to a staff meeting. If class begins five minutes late because students didn’t arrive on time, well guess what? The yoga class needs to end on time. If there is some magical finishing posture before savasana that I’m unaware of which your students absolutely cannot live without, please let me know.
Your class is not about you or the postures you’ve selected, but your students.
Keep in mind that your students may be allergic to oils, scents, perfumes, etc. Please consider using non-fragrant lotions, body washes, deodorants and hair products when teaching your classes. (Yes, I can smell the Paul Mitchell mousse in your hair.) Try to keep it as neutral as possible. After you teach, you can go Bath & Body Works crazy.
The same goes for yoga studios. If you provide students with washcloths, oils, towels, yogi-toes, etc. they need to be dye free and scent free, unless you want to be responsible for someone’s rash outbreak during savasana.
I’ve actually seen some studios use almond oil at the end of a class for massages. Really?
Be considerate of your students and their needs. Plus, most of the dye-free and scent-free products are good for the environment.
If you end up being totally successful at the whole owning-a-yoga-studio thing, that’s great! Eventually, there will need to be a methodology to the way you give teachers class time slots.
You may be fortunate enough to where your studio’s schedule is based on your teacher’s work schedule; you may not be that fortunate and everyone is competing for that 9:15 am Saturday time slot.
Generally speaking, new yoga teachers need experience and giving them non-prime time slots may be a good option. Perhaps have them teach free community classes or discounted classes.
I would steer clear of giving them prime time slots right away—this will create tension in the ranks. Teachers will notice if you give your college dropout daughter prime time teaching slots because she “needs to pay for her Lululemon clothes.”
If your yoga studio or yoga teacher training has grown exponentially, consider formulating an Ethics Board. This board can help you come to decisions concerning teacher misconduct. Hopefully you never have to use it, but it’s good to have one in place.
Don’t be stupid. As my CPA says to me, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.
If you employ yoga teachers or students who just love yoga to work your desk, answer the phone, clean the studio, help sell clothes, etc., they’re probably W2 employees. If you think you can get away with paying them as 1099 employees, please refer to paragraph three, Yamas and Niyamas. Consider going back to teacher training or finding another line of work.
Remember, karma is pronounced, “haha, f*ck you”!
Yes, you need to provide a written exam, an exam board or something before graduation. And you can’t be afraid of failing students or allowing them to retake portions of the class and the exam.
This can be for too many absences to ethical issues. When asked where they received their yoga teacher training, they’re going to say you. Like it or not, their yoga teacher training graduation is a reflection of you.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise