With the abundance of abbreviations following yoga teachers’ names these days—in print and online—it’s easy to be confused about what’s what or to understand what these labels mean.
This is in no way intended to criticize the growing variety of yoga practices or fusion disciplines, but I think some clarification is needed in lieu of stringent regulations for yoga teachers, and perhaps some honest self-inquiry.
First, being educated and being trained are not the same thing. They are often intertwined, some disciplines highlighting one over the other.
Here’s the difference: education is the process of learning, understanding, and integrating theory, principles, and the most current information about a subject or subjects. Education is largely about learning why. The goal is to produce critical and independent thinkers who can make informed decisions regarding current or emerging knowledge and who can challenge their own thinking. These are mental virtues that describe the scientific and philosophical thinker and that can engender innovation and new discovery.
This is not achieved immediately—learning is a life-long process.
Training involves learning by doing with the goals of improved performance and practical application. Material provided during training sessions is typically prescribed and specialized. Any kind of training seeks to hone a trainee’s abilities, mental (memorizing lines, dance routines, or dining orders) or manual (typing, piano, dance, building), so that they can execute them with greater and consistent skill. This process is more short-lived than education, and can span from a day to a few years.
Training is learning by doing, and is focused on learning how.
Certifications granted by Yoga Alliance, the regulating body for yoga teachers of the general population, include elements of both practical application (training) and theoretical understanding (education).
The 200-hour certification standards include 180 hours of required “contact hours”, meaning hours spent in the training environment and not in public classes or at home. The total 200 hours are broken down into five categories with the minimum number of hours to be spent on each.
The first category is techniques and training (100 hours), where one learns what to teach (asana, namaskar, etc.) and how (sequencing methods). Teaching methodology is next at 25 hours and includes topics like teaching style, demonstrating, adjusting, and marketing. Anatomy and physiology take 20 hours, comprised of both biomedical and energetic (vayus, chakras, etc.) material. Yogic philosophy and ethical considerations are given 30 hours and practice teaching is allotted 10 hours.
Overall, about 68% of the allotted time and material is dedicated to training; this makes sense given that participants may not have significant exposure or experience with the material or methods. New graduates of 200 hour programs certified are expected to demonstrate competency in teaching (comfortable leading a group through asana). Having the stamp CYT or RYT 200 means that someone has completed these minimum hours and requirements and has completed a final test of some kind, normally created by the lead teacher(s) of the training. C signifies certification while R indicates that the person has registered these hours with Yoga Alliance; one can only register with YA if the hours they have accrued are in alignment with their criteria.
A 300-hour training is intended to “deepen understanding of fundamental concepts within the 200 hour and bestow the ability to teach more advanced and/or subtle techniques with greater skill.” 85 hours are allotted to pure hands-on training (practice teaching, assisting, observing, cuing, learning new techniques), and 45 devoted to both anatomy and yoga philosophy/ethics. 300-hour programs can vary widely, especially by style, since 190 of the 300 hours can be dispersed among the categories at each lead trainer’s discretion. In my own experience, the proportion of time dedicated to training was more or less equal to the 200-hour, the difference being new material.
A 500 hour program is essentially a combination of the above standards. Instead of completing a separate 200 and 300 hour program, perhaps in different styles and perhaps many years apart, one can decide to complete all 500 hours in one long stretch (no pun intended). A teacher can earn the label RYT 500 via either path. A few other programs exist that comply to independent standards and go beyond the YA’s 500 hour cap—700, 800, and even 1,000 hour trainings are emerging regularly in a variety of styles.
The point in outlining all this is simply to reveal what is there. I appreciate the resources and time it takes for anyone to complete these programs, especially since being a yoga teacher is not yet the most lucrative job to have. Most of the money I made teaching yoga the first few years was invested back into further training.
This aside, I have even greater respect for those that make it clear what they know and what they don’t. I have been very impressed with the efforts and standards delineated by the International Association of Yoga Therapists, a separate entity that regulates yoga therapists. There are a variety of articles on their website that discuss the difference between education and training and what exactly yoga therapists should be expected to understand.
Another important distinction is that education is not superior to training, or vice versa. Rather, for yoga teachers in particular, a balance between the two elements is ideal. It seems to me that many yoga training programs are currently heavily weighted in training, especially quick monthly immersions. This is classic for training: short term and performance driven. This is not a bad thing—it is only unfortunate when teachers are so inexperienced and uninformed that they hurt themselves and put students in danger.
Here’s a thought: What kind of background do you want your physical fitness trainer to have or your acupuncturist to have? If you knew that they had only just immersed themselves for a short while or only learned one method of the craft, would you mind?
As yoga teachers, we have a responsibility to our students. We need to know that we can keep them safe to the best of our ability and offer the right information. Do we need to have a formal education in yoga methods and philosophy, anatomy, kinesiology, mind-body medicine, and basic physiology to be the best teacher we can? No, it is not necessary to empty the bank to educate yourself. Examine your own skill-set and understanding. Where are the gaps?
The resources available are numerous. Check out books at the library about anatomy and bio-mechanics, or peruse the breadth of material available online. Anatomy Atlas and Daily Bandha offer free educational material in general and yoga anatomy in particular. Muscle and Motion offers a free version of their software that includes interactive material for general kinesiology. Finally, many books are available in these subjects for your teaching collection: Ray Long and Leslie Kaminoff have published beautifully illustrated books for yoga anatomy, among others. Go even further by occasionally checking the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health to stay current with research in yoga and other holistic modalities.
For those who conduct training or plan on organizing training, of course your curriculum may be largely influenced by certification requirements, level, and stylistic considerations, but with the “elective” hours remaining, meditate on what kind of learning would best equip the new teachers in your program.
Do you want to hone their skills with additional training, instruct more deeply into a particular subject like anatomy, or spend time exposing them to topics like Ayurveda?
As a teacher, going beyond the requirements of your training will make you more versatile and aware. That is, we realize our training and perspective is not all there is, and that the labels we acquire only mean so much. It’s more important to know where you are teaching from and embody what you give.
Explore your own thought patterns, remain open and genuinely curious, and this will make you into the best teacher you can be. The combination of self-inquiry, self-correction, and excellence in skill is unique, unmistakable, and will speak for itself.
Author: Jessi Hughes
Apprentice Editor: Toby Israel/ Editor: Renee Jahnke
Photo: Elidr on Flickr