Don’t Become A Yoga Teacher. (Unless…) ~ Kim Roberts

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Kim Roberts Yoga

A while ago I met a young woman who had just become a yoga teacher.

When she learned that I also teach, she said, “Oh, where did you do your teacher training?”

My mind went blank for a moment (which was a blessing in itself). It was such a bizarre way for me to think of my journey of practicing yoga. I suppose I had been training to be a teacher since my first class 22 years ago, and I have indeed received numerous “certificates” that show in black-and-white that I am qualified to share the practice with others.

But this young woman seemed to have a very different idea of “teacher training.” To her, it evoked images of a program designed to share a skill-set, culminating with a letter of authorization. To me, it represents years of pilgrimage and practice spanning nearly half of my life.

People are often surprised to hear my reply when they ask me if I have recommendations on yoga teacher training courses.


I don’t recommend yoga teacher trainings.

Before you dismiss me, hear me out. I’m not saying don’t ever do one. I’m saying don’t go looking for one just for the sake of doing a teacher training or to get a certificate that says you can teach. You don’t need a piece of paper to teach. You need students. And experience.

If you have been studying with a teacher that you know, love and respect, and they offer a teacher training then, by all means, do it. You’ve developed the relationship and you can always deepen your knowledge base. It’s good to have a mentor.

But if you have suddenly decided, after 20 years of practicing law, that you want to go get yourself a yoga teacher certification and embark on a new career, I say to you: Halt! Slow down, Betty.

The problem I see with aiming for a teacher training certificate is that it can instill a false sense of security: “I have the proof right here in black-and-white,” one may say.

But yoga is not about digesting information and dispensing instructions for healthy living. It is about developing a titanium relationship to your world in the present moment—adamantine, luminous and incredibly gentle—through dedicated practice and recognizing the limitless nature of that relationship. How can we learn that in a month-long program?

When I started teaching yoga it was purely circumstantial. People saw I was dedicated, and they wanted to learn. I never set out to become a teacher, and as a result, I’ve always looked to the practice to guide my teaching. And this is my point. Teaching should evolve naturally from circumstance—from the dedication we show to the practice and to people being inspired by what we do.

Are you ready to become a yoga teacher?

-You have the right motivation

-You have an ongoing practice and continue to learn

-You have done your own psychological work (meaning: you don’t look to your students to fulfill your needs)

-You feel inspired by what you teach

-You like helping others

-You don’t have an agenda for what your students will experience

-You are respectful to other approaches and schools

-You have confidence in your own relationship to practice, and not that of a system

-The universe conspires to create an opportunity

Many yoga schools have hit the dirt in recent years due to their leaders behaving in unsavoury ways. It’s unfortunate, and perhaps uncouth to mention, but it’s a reality. And if you are considering becoming a yoga teacher, then you should know this.

Because the fact is if you put all your eggs in one basket, sign the dotted line and create a franchise for your yoga school, and then the leader sexually abuses his students or there is foul play or questionable business practices and the school shuts, then you are S.O.L. That’s a whole lotta money you just wasted.

So I don’t recommend that.

Besides, joining a bandwagon is simply an invitation to dogmatism and fundamentalist ideology. I am more inspired by teachers who have developed their own style—not their own brands, but their own unique approach to these 5000-year-old practices.

In order to develop an individual style, one needs to have a deep understanding and an authentic experience of the practices.

There is a learning curve necessary to go through. It’s good to study with a lineage and learn the approach of that school. It’s good to know the texts: Yoga Sutra, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Shiva Samhita, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita.

But here’s the thing: yoga is a set of practices that allow a practitioner to explore and understand the mind. So any system that you try to impose on that exploration will inherently limit the possibilities by putting constraints on the view. It’s the “my view is better than your view” dilemma. And that’s what causes wars.

So after learning the system, or the posture, or the view, then (this is the big secret coming up) you have to let it go.

The only true thing is what’s happening right now.

Yoga can teach you to tune into that now with precision and grace, but only if you keep letting go of the past moment and being present for what comes next.

So if you are still inspired and on-board, that’s fantastic. Otherwise, don’t become a yoga teacher unless you have the dedication to explore your own relationship to practice over the long haul, regardless of what anyone else tells you.

Including me.

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Photo: Courtesy of the Author

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Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts shares irreverent humour and deeply grounded practices in gorgeous natural settings throughout South Asia. She is soon launching an on-line training for yoga teachers who want to expand their reach internationally. Please visit her website or her Facebook or write to [email protected]

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anonymous Oct 19, 2014 6:39pm

HellI Kim! I don’t know if you remember me, you were an assistant at my Maitri training down in Crestone, CO, in 1995. You taught yoga to those of us who chose to get up early before the program began each morning. You were an inspiring, dedicated practitioner even back then, I remember you fondly and with continued gratitude.

anonymous Apr 27, 2014 11:21pm

Some good points Kim. So many think they can jump into and take an expensive training course and then feel superior enough for their egos to claim to be a teacher. After 43 years of practise, most so called teachers just want to try and show off, control and inevitably discourage and injure potential yogis, without mastering their own practise.
Nice photo at the most beautiful spot in Thailand, at the Jungle Yoga Lakeside! Is that you? Have been there several times, with Dick & Beth, as well as Danny Paradise who annually teaches there, along with several others who share courses in this pristene pure natural spot. Highly recommended to all, if you can brave the path to get there!

    anonymous Apr 28, 2014 7:44pm

    hi Michael,
    Thanks for chiming in! I don't want to discourage anyone from making the journey, but rather encourage everyone to go deeper. It's so tempting to want to stop along the way and think you've "got it." But then that's the most important time to take another look.
    Yes, it's me at Jungle Yoga! I discovered it at one of Danny's programs a couple years ago. LOVE that place and hope to offer another program there next year.
    Hope to cross paths with you there. Until then, be well.
    best wishes,

anonymous Apr 25, 2014 9:26am

Teaching Yoga–it's not a profession or identity, it's an unwavering commitment to our creative Self, to the beauty inherent in being, and to hope for our World.

    anonymous Apr 28, 2014 7:38pm

    Yeah! What she said! totally agree with you awesome friend. be good to yourself. xxx

anonymous Apr 24, 2014 10:09am

It all starts with finding selfrespect, otherwise it isn t possible to respect others. *For me* it is not important to become a yoga teacher but to find out what my talent/ s are and giving myself permission to give them to the world we live on:) For me not always-easy… am learning a lot of you about making the mind into a tool instead of a confusing something. The lesson I am learning at this moment in my live to find what is giving me joy and being brave to walk towards taking the joy and letting go again. Not only thinking what I want for this moment but also reminding myself I have to care for myself if I want to get 80 years at a certain moment. So in that way yoga is a support to keep myself healthy and going, Thank you Kim.

    anonymous Apr 28, 2014 7:37pm

    Yes Carlie! It's so important to take time to listen to what brings you joy! I mean, why else are we here? Always nice to hear from you. big hug to

anonymous Apr 23, 2014 10:36am

One must consider that there are benefits for receiving Yoga Teacher Training other than the certificate. When I went for mine, I didn't go with the intention of working as a yoga teacher exclusively, I did so to learn more about yoga. Taking that time to dedicate myself to learning about yoga, my teaching style, and my practice, was a great step for me as a person.

I also made huge leaps towards better health – where I was flat footed, I know have healthy arches! (and flexibility, strength, etc., etc.)

It is valuable to consider that a certificate may not make you the best teacher you could be, but no one is the best teacher they will be coming out of a Yoga Teacher Training program. It takes time, and a natural progression, as expressed in this article. But I very much disagree that one needs any of the things the author has specified.

We all have our own path.

    anonymous Apr 23, 2014 5:58pm

    Wise words Sheila! Thanks for sharing…

anonymous Apr 23, 2014 9:59am

While I agree partially with the premise that one should take years to develop their own practice/style of yoga and not necessarily subscribe whole-heartedly to a brand. Teacher training can provide a foundation for you to SAFELY begin that journey. Training programs come in many varieties, but those approved the the Yoga Alliance have met certain criteria to cover topics that the leaders of the Yoga Community have deemed necessary to becoming good yoga teachers. We should forever be students and look for teachers in our students and peers; having a solid foundation of safety, anatomy, history, meditation and asana given by those who have traveled the path before us can make our journey more fruitful for ourselves and those we teach.

    anonymous Apr 23, 2014 5:57pm

    yes, David! agreed….see my comment above to Cindy. It's good to get training in foundational teaching skills. and I agree with you also that it's important to continually be students, and above all to avoid falling into a fundamentalist viewpoint.
    all the best to you,

anonymous Apr 23, 2014 1:04am

I hate to but i have to disagree : you should do a teacher training, no matter how many years of experience and practice you have, and how much you (or other) think you are a great yogi. It's a complete shift of perspective from being the student to being the teacher. You will learn lots about anatomy, proper aligment, and sequencing.
Yoga is a beautiful thing, and it can help you heal, but it is also the source of many injuries because people do not practise properly (in particular proper alignment).
Myself, as every other yogi, ended up teaching my friends for fun … it was fun , but that's all it was.. I was not qualified and when I think about how I used to do these "classes" I'm ashamed of myself !
Myself, as every other yogi who's gone to a teacher training will tell you : once i started the training, i thought to myself "what the hell was I doing before ?".
So please DO get a training before risking your students joints and muscles.
However, I would agree that many are jumping into teacher training because there's a lot of money to be made, but it doesn't mean they won't teach you properly how to be a great yoga teacher

    anonymous Apr 23, 2014 5:55pm

    hi Cindy,
    Agreed, there is a reason TTs have become so popular–they are helpful! I've completed 4 of them!
    My point was that we should not try to put the cart before the horse…that the experience comes first, and then we can refine the ways we organize that experience to present it to others. I too taught some reaaaalllly bad classes when I just started out!
    I would simply like to propose that for those who would like to teach yoga, they first develop their practice.
    wish you all good things and thanks for sharing!

anonymous Apr 22, 2014 11:27pm

This is so timely right now. I also feel that so many people are jumping aboard the yoga teacher ship, and that's awesome, but first and foremost, it MUST be authentic to you. It blows my mind when someone who's taken classes for a month takes a teacher training and then comes back assuming they now have what it takes to share their knowledge with students… I don't necessarily judge this as I have seen great teachers happen in a space of a few months, but I do caution them, mentioning that yoga is a vast and ancient tradition… And the fact is, that piece of paper, even if it's from a well-known, celebrity teacher, does not qualify you as a "good" teacher. As long as they can see and agree with this, I bid them good luck, and happy learning.

    anonymous Apr 23, 2014 5:51pm

    yes, it's all about authenticity! if you have experienced something, you can share it.
    so thanks for sharing!

anonymous Apr 22, 2014 10:55pm

Great insights, Kim. Valuable perspective that evokes deeper thoughts on ways of learning and why we choose our path(s). Thanks.