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Top 5 Things to Look For In a Yoga Teacher Training

by Arundhati Baitmangalkar

When I did my first yoga teacher training course in 2011 in Bangalore, India I had limited options to pick from. Not knowing what to look for, I relied completely on a friend’s review of her recent yoga course and in a week, I had signed up for my first yoga teacher training near home. Since then, a lot has changed in the yoga scene back home and in my life as well

I have completed four yoga teacher trainings in a couple of different styles, cities and countries. I moved from South India to Seattle and have been running my own studio here for a few years. Now as I sit to draft my very own teacher-training course, I am reminded of my initial days as a student hunting for the best schools and trainers. While we all seek different things from our yoga practice, these are the key things to look for in a good yoga teacher-training course.

1.   Which style of yoga interests you?

Though I grew up in India, I did not really do yoga until my early twenties. When I had to decide what style to study, I had only two choices – a hatha yoga training or a Vinyasa training. That made my decision much easier coupled with a few other aspects like price, distance and schedule. However, here in the US, we are spoilt for choice. You can pick from a variety of hatha, Vinyasa, Power, Hot, Yin, Acro and many more. While this can be very confusing at first, understanding what style appeals to you is key. What worked for me is training in a style that I was familiar with, comfortable practicing and loved learning prior to doing my teacher-training. And I did not fall in love with the styles overnight (okay, I probably did).

2.   How experienced is the primary teacher?

A primary teacher is the one who leads your teacher training in its entirety or a major portion of it. For me, it has always been about the teacher. Even today, though my teachers are literally thousands of miles away, I still return each year to train with them. Even though I am not with them every day, they still influence all my classes. If I can consider myself a reasonably successful teacher today, it is because I spent time looking for my primary teachers. Here is how I did it.

Research the teacher

When I was looking for a teacher, I started by reading about them online; seeing pictures and videos, testimonials, blogs and anything else that I could find. Bear in mind that the first page of google is not your complete answer. This just gave me a glimpse of what to expect. Reading the bio helps you to understand what schools or styles of yoga is their forte, what drew them to yoga and how they continue to make yoga a part of their life.

Attend their classes

Once I finished my online research, I looked at the teacher’s class schedule and tried to attend a minimum of 2 weeks of yoga classes (more is even better) with him/her. This will provide an insight that no online source can. Here you will see the teacher work first hand with different levels of students – notice if he/she can accommodate all levels in a group class, knows alignment and breathing cues, if they are watching with full attention and offering modifications, corrections, cues throughout class.

For me it was important that the teacher was approachable, friendly and warm towards all the students equally, knew their names, knew them personally, and took care of their needs while not being overly friendly, chatty or casual. In other words, does he/she inspire me? I needed to like my primary teacher and their style of teaching in order to have a successful training. As I was going to be spending a lot of time with them in the training, being comfortable with them was crucial. Real time interaction always tells me more than any review, testimonial or website. Finally, remember that a person having a fabulous “Instagram practice” may not be a great teacher, so research is vital.

3.   What is the schedule or format of the teacher training?

A teacher training is not a yoga vacation or retreat. It is serious business. I needed to put in lots of class hours, do assignments, master the art of teaching, understand anatomy, yoga philosophy, learn Sanskrit names, understand how to sequence and lots more… It is no walk in the park. One of my trainings started at 5am and ended at 8pm! All schools/ studios will have an itinerary for training. Finding out the duration and frequency of training helps. Your typical options will be

  1. weekend classes for a few months,
  2. a month long intensive,
  3. weekdays only, or
  4. a once a week/ yearlong

I always chose what suited my current lifestyle the best, allowing time to complete assignments, practice teaching, catch up on reading and continue life as well. For example, if you know your children have activities on weekends and you need to drive them around, figure out how you will manage that before signing up. Most trainings run for 6 to 8 hours a day so be prepared.

Next, understanding the time allocated to each segment like – asana, philosophy, teaching methodology, practice helped etc… Many schools run through some sections much faster, so I was looking for a well-balanced training, one that gave equal importance to all segments. I wanted to emerge as balanced graduate rather than a master in just one segment.

Most yoga schools offer an open house. Usually a couple of hours long, you meet with the primary trainer, review the training manual, get your questions answered maybe do a short yoga practice and get a feel of what is expected from the training. This usually gave me great insight in to whether it appealed to my sensibilities or not. However, be warned that open houses can sometimes be deceptive. I recently did a teacher-training which had a great open house but in reality was a total let down. The training involved watching yoga movies in every class (not serious documentaries, but modern pop-fiction and satires)! So, use open house sessions to understand the course’s structure, its strengths and weaknesses but recognize that it is a sales event.

4.   How much does it cost?

An average 200-hour training should range from $2800 to $4000. The most common figure I have found is $3000 with a couple of discounts for early bird sign ups, bring a friend etc… You will find some teacher trainings priced as low as $1000 or $1500 but be warned that while it is a great price the quality of the training may not be good. I actually did one of these and it was a total washout. We only watched irrelevant yoga movies and did nothing else throughout. The teacher would not even notice if you returned after lunch or not, most people slept during the movie or texted on their cell phones. I quit after a couple of months; it was invaluable in terms of what never to do in a training. To put it in context, a regular yoga class would cost you an average $12-15 per hour, and a teacher training involves at least 180 contact hours (as prescribed by the Yoga Alliance) so a $1500 course is about $8 per hour, and includes manuals, home work, individual attention and a whole lot of preparation on behalf of the teacher. So, what gives in that equation?

On the other hand, there are also some schools of training that try to set themselves apart by over-pricing their product. For example, some trainings cost $10,000 or more and market themselves as unique and exclusive. Decide if it really adds that much more value to you to spend that sum of money. Finally, it comes down to your budget and how much you are willing to spend.

Yoga teacher trainings abroad is an option

I have many yoga friends who certified in international schools. Depending on the country and their currency, a training could cost the same or less. When I now travel to study internationally, I take into account living costs, airfare, boarding and lodging, safety, ease of getting around and most importantly, making sure it is a fabulous school as I am making the extra effort. Choose a school that will give you most bang for your buck. All schools will have strict policies regarding refunds, transfers, etc. make sure you know what the terms are.

5.   How many trainees do they accept?

During the teacher training, I expect personal attention from my primary teacher. Most teacher trainings have a limit on the maximum number of students they accept in a batch. A smaller focused group is preferred for teacher trainings. So, when you looking to enroll in a teacher-training course, check the maximum number of students that they accept. Note there are teacher trainings out there that take in too many people (I know a training that takes 40 to 60 people – this being a conservative estimate). In such large batches, not everyone can get the attention they deserve and it can alienate you from yoga entirely. I knew a teacher who would not care about your hours and students could come and go as they pleased; more dropped out than finished the course. That is a classic example, of what a training should not be. Further having a small class size will give you more time to practice teaching and have your questions answered.

Finally, realize that no training in the world can give you all yoga knowledge in 200 hours of training. At best, it will help set a strong foundation about yoga practice and philosophy. To be a successful yoga teacher you need to constantly study, practice and update your skill set. My first training was the one that started a wonderful journey that lead me to find some amazing teachers. While I do not constantly look for trainings anymore, the above framework helps me ensure that the ones that I do choose to spend my time and effort on are totally worth it. I hope that this list will help you too in your quest for a yoga course. Good Luck!



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