A Yoga Teacher Training Course truly is a transformational experience. The group you join will no doubt have students and teachers from diverse backgrounds whose life experiences, values and thoughts that will differ from yours, but one thing that binds you is your mutual love of Yoga. If you decide that you want to embark on this special journey together, it will transform you in ways you never dreamed of but taking that first step to signing up can be just as overwhelming.
Having determined your readiness to delve deeper into yoga, whether you just want to develop your practice or train as a teacher reciting Patanjali’s sutras, there is a lot to consider when committing to a teacher training. If you, like many prospective students, just don’t know where to start given the range of teachers and studios in South Africa and beyond with substantial variations in quality and content, then read on to find out about the top 10 questions you should ask yourself before signing up.
1 WHAT IS THE STYLE OF YOGA I SHOULD STUDY?
Yoga is such a vast subject that it can be quite daunting to decide where to begin your studies. You may have experienced a full range of yoga styles from Ashtanga to Bikram to Kundalini to Yin yoga, or you may have found and fixated on heated Vinyasa. Whatever your yoga experience may be, choosing which lineage to follow is dependent on what training courses are available (and where).
When considering how to deepen your practice you need to give thought to what it is you want to do with this qualification once you have completed it. If you plan to teach as soon as you qualify, or want to go on to specialise in pre-natal, or sports-specific yoga adaptations then a solid grounding in a more generic style such as Hatha or Vinyasa will serve you well. If you just wish to explore your favourite style in depth with your local teacher, then your search can be much simpler.
Hatha yoga is a broad term which encapsulates the physical practice of postures (asanas) that is predominantly taught in studios in the Western World and will give you a fantastic base from which to explore other forms of more modern yoga expressions, such as Anusara or Forrest yoga. It also forms the basis for many teacher trainings so is a good place to start.
Vinyasa (flow) yoga is very widely taught and sought after as each class is unique and allows teachers to develop their own voices and style of teaching without the rigidity of sticking to set sequences as in Ashtanga or Bikram / Hot26+ or the precision of alignment in Iyengar. However, if you prefer a structured approach to teaching, then these forms may be better suited to your style. Similarly, if the spiritual, devotional and philosophical aspects of yoga along with Sanskrit scriptures are what inspire you then Jivamukti, Kundalini or Sivananda may be more suited to you.
2 WHAT CERTIFICATION, QUALIFICATION or CREDENTIAL SHOULD I LOOK FOR?
A 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training Course (YTTC) is as the industry standard for the minimum time required to become a certified yoga teacher. Typically, this involves a combination of theory, practice and assignments. Depending on where you are planning to train and what you want to do with this training, the teacher or studio that certifies you (awards your certification) could be well-known and have a high enough reputation to stand you in good stead. Your certification will also be in the particular style of that studio that you sign up for (i.e. Ashtanga, Hatha Vinyasa, etc).
There are many studios as well as individual teachers that offer YTT programmes with no measurable adherence to minimum standards, in part to make money and in part to fuel the demand for students just wanting to learn the basics in how to teach yoga teacher or just delve deeper into their favourite style. This has resulted in a dearth of ‘teachers’ who cannot necessarily teach to a high enough standard as required by studios and who also cannot be registered on international directories.
Thus, certifications from these types of individuals or institutions may end up being worthless to other studios when it comes to appointing teachers to teach group classes – be very sure that you understand the certification you will be getting as well as the certification credentials of your teacher(s). The certification you get is thus a factor of the style, duration and curriculum that you decide to pursue, along with the studio whose reputation you will want to be associated with.
3 WILL MY COURSE / CREDENTIAL BE INTERNATIONALLY RECOGNISED?
In today’s world there is an increasing need for skills training and qualifications that are recognised beyond our borders. Ensuring standards of yoga practice and teaching are maintained at a suitably high level around the world is a challenging objective for any institution and like many other disciplines, there are few governing bodies for standards that stick out on the international stage. The 3 main ones you encounter in yoga are:
- Yoga Alliance (YA) – this is the most recognised custodian of standards in Yoga teaching and is a U.S-based non-profit organisation that was founded in 1999. They developed the credentialing system of Registered Yoga Teacher (‘RYT’) designation for teachers and Registered Yoga School (‘RYS’) for studios who train teachers in order to be admitted to an international directory.
- Yoga Alliance International (YAI) and Yoga Alliance Africa (YAA) is an Indian-based organisation that seeks to promote and create minimum standards for yoga teachers and schools. As with YA, a school can be certified with YAI as a Certified Yoga School (‘CYS’) and students who graduate can become Certified Yoga Teachers (‘CYT’).
- International Yoga Federation (IYF) is a French-based organisation that sets standards for yoga teaching (and incorporates the Yoga Teachers Fellowship of South Africa – YTF). Broadly, IYF recognizes three yoga teachers training systems, namely the Indian Traditional Gurukula System, the American System or Standards by hours and the European System by Programme and years. There are three professions of yoga, namely Yoga Teacher (who learn with yogacharya), Teacher of Yoga Techniques (most of the teachers) and Yoga Therapists.
Each body has its own standards governing curricula and minimum levels of contact hours. It is up to students to determine whether they have a preference with being registered to one or another (if at all). Follow the links below to find out more about these organisations as well as search functions to find the school or teacher you wish to study with.
Yoga Alliance International
International Yoga Federation
It is important to understand that there are no over-riding certifications, qualifications or accreditations that are truly ‘internationally recognised’; however, the system involves registration to international directories that require adherence to standards taught by the schools and these are the credentials you will obtain if you train through a recognised institution or teacher. What many institutions claim to be as ‘internationally recognised’ is not actually at all if they have not got the right credentials, and you yourself will not be able to register if you have been taught by someone who is not properly registered.
4 4 HOW MANY CONTACT HOURS WILL I RECEIVE and what support is there?
Contact hours are the time you spend learning in contact with the course leader and associated teachers as part of the course, or practical yoga classes by other certified (registered) teachers. Apart from contact time, private or independent study is thus very important. This is when you do your own reading, research and learning without involvement with staff.
For a 200-hour course, you should expect up to 200 hours of direct learning. Some institutions include time for homework and self-study within that, however the allocation of time spent on in a YTTC will be individually set by the school or teacher(s) in question in accordance to minimum standards they may subscribe to under their own registrations, so be sure to check how the course is structured, the standards they adhere to and what additional time requirements there are before committing.
In yoga training, as in any other type of training, you as the student take ultimate responsibility for your own learning and development. Contact time with instructors is thus to help facilitate your learning and understanding of yoga theory and practice, but you can determine which areas are of interest to you and develop your expertise in those fields to derive the benefit from the course that is most relevant to you by doing your own studies. This can include background or preparatory reading, planning your classes, homework assignments, exam preparation, revision, etc. There are other forms of support that should be made available to you if required, such as mentorship with designated teachers, assistance in notes for second language students as well as access to additional reading materials and libraries. Check what resources are available and whether they will assist you if you need the extra support.
5 5 whO WILL BE TEACHING ME?
Many courses are structured so that other teachers come in to teach their areas of specialisation and professional experience during the course. These co-presenters and co-teachers are just as important to the quality of the course as the course director, so it is worthwhile to find out more about the staff under whom you will be training in the different topics, particularly their backgrounds and areas of specialisation.
Another aspect to consider is the involvement of the lead teacher(s) in the course – if there is only one main teacher, that is a lot of pressure on them and this may become a problem if there are personality conflicts or you are looking for more regular feedback to guide you. Too many teachers may dilute your experience and not provide the right context for connecting with your trainers and you may feel directionless.
Give some thought as to what type of learning environment suits you best – this includes online learning and self-study - as well as the certifications of lead trainers. If you find a school with which you want to train, do be sure to meet the teachers and gain familiarity with the studio and its ethos. You will be spending a lot of time there, so you need to ensure it resonates with you as much as it provides the ideal space for you to learn. The level of experience and depth of knowledge of your teacher(s) is also of paramount important – you want to be able to tap into collective wisdom gained from years of experienced teaching by teachers during your course and a diverse collection of teaching staff will enhance any learning experience.
6 6 what will they be teaching ME?
The subject of Yoga is vast. It is a 5000-year-old tradition with a fascinating history and deep philosophy. Moreover, the health benefits and practical applications of this ancient practice are continually being refined. The adaptation and interpretation of Yoga and its teachings into the modern Western world are a particularly interesting aspect and being able to effectively communicate this as teachers is a skill that takes time and practice to develop.
The true historical yogis were teenage boys sent to ashrams for years of training. Women have only begun the widespread practice in the West in the past century, with pre-natal yoga only being developed in the past 40-odd years. Children’s yoga and incorporation of meditation practice in schools from a young age is another ‘modern-day’ adaption. Heated yoga and power yoga have developed recently to tap into the sports-orientated market.
These are some examples of applying what we learn from the base teachings and being able to work off a solid foundation of anatomy through to zen. Make sure the syllabus provides a comprehensive list of the topics you will cover. How this is structured is really a factor of how the course is presented and you wouldn’t necessarily want a course that is too prescriptive with no room for spontaneity or fun, but at the same time, not having a direction or over-arching broad plan should raise alarm bells.
At the end of the course, you should be able to confidently teach a full-length, balanced yoga class – make sure the syllabus and structure facilitates this and that your certification requires this. Broadly speaking, the main competencies that need to be covered are:
Asanas, pranayama, meditation, anatomy & biomechanics, yoga philosophy, lifestyle, basic Sanskrit, teaching methodologies and adjustments. There should also be an emphasis on practical teaching and skills development as well as the ethics of being a yoga teacher along with an introduction to the business of yoga.
There will be variation between courses as to how this information is presented – whether online, in a ready-bound manual that is skimmed through, or in detailed presentations where you supplement your notes by your own research and note-taking. Additional textbooks and manuals may also be required – check what is provided, what is not and what facilities there are available to supplement your research.
7 HOW MANY PEOPLE WILL BE ON THE COURSE – IS THERE A MAXIMUM NUMBER?
The number of people on the course is an essential consideration when joining a teacher training programme. Students can experience profound physical, mental and/or emotional changes during this course, and there is a lot of information to absorb that can be overwhelming at times.
The teacher trainers thus need to have a sound working relationship with course participants in order to provide the right level of support as needed. If a group is too big, this personal interaction is not experienced and students can easily get ‘lost’ in the crowd, even coasting through the course with no real connections to classmates or staff. Smaller groups allow for more opportunities to ask questions and engage with teaching staff so that students get more direct feedback that may not be available in large groups.
8 HOW MUCH TEACHING PRACTICE WILL I DO?
Learning to teach yoga is a process of discovery – we must confront our own fears about speaking to groups, or not sounding knowledgeable enough, and ultimately finding our voice as we develop our own unique style of teaching. This is best learnt through practice.
Well-structured courses will facilitate this during the contact hours as well as provide guidelines on how to practice teaching in your own groups and provide ongoing feedback that is constructive in developing your skill. You will need to be able to do lots of practice – whether it’s with your classmates or friends and family.
Find out what the commitments for teaching practice are during your YTTC and ensure you have the capacity to do this. It is (usually) a lot of money being committed to a course – you need to be certain you can commit the time too.
9 WHAT ASSESSMENT & examination SHOULD I EXPECT?
An important question to ask is how your knowledge of yoga theory and practical teaching will be assessed at the end of the course. A clear framework of what the criteria are for determining whether your teaching is acceptable or not should be clearly articulated and you should be able to find out.
Apart from practical assessment, there needs to be a form of theoretical assessment which allows students the opportunity to enhance their own learning and allow a deepening of understanding on particular topics. These assignments and homework should form part of a framework of knowledge within which you can explore, with appropriate feedback to guide you in your path of learning. Ultimately any outside work is a mechanism to determine your own individual levels of discipline, commitment, effort and involvement, thereby giving trainers insight as to what sort of teacher you might become. You will need to determine how much self-study is expected of you and ensure you can commit to that – especially if these hours are not included in the 200-hour curriculum.
If you consider how the practice of yoga has been passed down through the ages with no formal examinations or research assignments in the foothills of the Himalayas, teacher trainers face the challenge of merging traditional yoga training with modern learning techniques. However, in order to obtain certification, a good course should have a final written and practical assessment. Be sure to find out how this is done - what form the examination(s) takes and how new teachers are certified.
10 WHAT ARE THE REQUIREMENTS FOR ME TO DO A YTTC?
Training to be a yoga teacher is very much a personal journey, and what you put in is what you get out of it. Only you can determine your readiness to embark on such a journey.
Overall, the strong personal practice and self-study of yoga is what makes a teacher more rounded. These aspects cannot be taught – only learned through one’s own curiosity and a development of your own practice. As such, prospective students should have attained some proficiency in the practice of yoga asanas as well as perhaps having a passing knowledge or awareness of yogic principles. This is very subjective, and you should be able to discuss your readiness with prospective trainers who should be able to offer guidelines in getting you to that point if needed. You will also be able to determine whether any specific course or studio is right for you and you should not feel coerced. It can however be a leap of faith – but one that can transform your entire being.