Jennifer Turpin Stanfield by Jennifer Turpin Stanfield
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In 2016, Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance partnered to conduct the most recent Yoga in America Study. The study revealed that there are more people practicing yoga in the U.S. than ever before. Today, more than 36 million Americans practice yoga, and 28% of Americans have participated in a yoga class at some point in their lives. People take up yoga for a myriad of reasons, but some of the most popular explanations include increased flexibility, stress management and to improve physical and mental health (Ipsos, 2016).

Not only is the practice of yoga continuing to grow, the number of registered yoga teachers and individuals interested in teacher training is on the rise too. Today, there are more than 90,000 teachers and more than 6,200 schools registered with Yoga Alliance (Yoga Alliance, 2018). In the U.S., there are currently two people interested in becoming a yoga instructor for every one teacher (Ipsos, 2016).

Most practitioners who eventually become yoga teachers don’t start off thinking they will one day teach yoga. Yoga involves a practice of svadhyaya, or self-study. Svadhyaya requires that we not only contemplate our own motives and behaviors, but also our desires and passions. Inevitably, we arrive at the question: “What would make life more fulfilling?” For some practitioners, the answer to this question includes teaching yoga.

Moving from Yoga Student to Yoga Teacher

If you are considering becoming a yoga teacher, you’ll want to spend some time reflecting on the following:

  • Why do I practice yoga?
  • Why do I want to teach yoga?
  • What talents and skills do I already possess that will serve me well as a yoga teacher, and what skills do I need to develop? 

It is likely that your answers to these questions will change over time, and that is O.K. T. Krishnamacharya was arguably the most influential yoga teacher of the 20th century. His son T.K.V. Desikachar, founder of Viniyoga and author of The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice, reminds us that every yoga teacher has something unique to offer. “Yoga is creation. I know the way that you teach will be different form the way I teach, and the way I teach is different from the way my father taught. We all have different experiences, different backgrounds, different perspectives on yoga and why it is important for us.”

Historically, yoga teachers developed over time. The earliest yoga teachers in India were long-time students who studied and practiced under the guidance of a master teacher for years, often decades. Training included not only the study and practice of asana (yoga postures), but ancient yoga texts and pranayama (mindful breathing). Swami Vivekananda is credited with bringing yoga to the west during his presentation at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. Over the next several years, he traveled the U.S. offering lectures on yoga philosophy. Yoga continued to grow in popularity in the U.S. over the next hundred years.

Yoga Alliance 200-hour Standards

By the mid-1990s, several yoga teachers began discussing a potential need for developing yoga teaching standards. Yoga Alliance was formally established in 1999 following a meeting at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, Mass. Today, Yoga Alliance is the largest non-profit yoga association in the U.S. Its mission is multifaceted, but Yoga Alliance is perhaps best known for its voluntary teacher registry. All yoga teachers who choose to register with Yoga Alliance have completed a minimum of 200 hours of training through a Registered Yoga School (RYS). The organization supports diversity of both teaching methods and styles of yoga; however, all RYSs must include curriculum across the following five educational categories.

  1. Techniques, Training and Practice: A minimum of 100 hours must be devoted to this category. Trainees are introduced to teaching concepts related to traditional yoga techniques such as asana, pranayama and meditation.
  2. Teaching Methodology: During methodology lectures, trainees cover topics related to student learning styles, time management and group dynamics.
  3. Anatomy and Physiology: Trainees must spend a minimum of 20 hours studying anatomy and physiology. Of these 10 hours, five must be applied anatomy and physiology for yoga.
  4. Yoga Philosophy, Lifestyle and Ethics for Yoga Teachers: During these hours, trainees become familiar with the yamas and iyamas, which are the moral restraints and spiritual observances central to a yogic lifestyle. Additional topics often include traditional yoga texts and the value in teaching yoga as a service.
  5. These hours allow the trainee to gain hands-on experience through practice teaching, observing and assisting. 

Choosing a Registered Yoga School That is Right for You

Yoga teacher training can be tremendously rewarding but is also an enormous commitment. In addition to the financial investment, you will need to devote a significant amount of your time and energy to teacher training. Some schools offer intensive training programs that can be completed over the course of just a few weeks. These trainings require you to clear your schedule of any other commitments for the duration of the program. Other programs are offered one to two nights a week or on weekends and are typically completed in six months to a year. Modular training programs allow trainees to attend weekend workshops at multiple locations and at their own pace. Trainees are often required to complete homework and readings over the course of the teacher training program. Thus, you will need to not only consider the convenience of the training but the amount of time you will be able to allocate to out-of-class assignments.

You will also need to think about the style of yoga you want to teach and who you want to teach. Talk to graduates of the programs you are considering to get an idea of how asana, class sequencing and pose adaptations will be presented in the training. To learn more about teaching standards or to search for a specific Registered Yoga School, visit yogaalliance.org.

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