With so many Teacher Trainings now being offered, how do you choose the right one? What should you look for? How advanced of a student do you have to be to sign up? What if you want to deepen your practice but are unsure if you want to teach?
Recently a yogini wrote to Yogateau asking us these exact kinds of questions, and we distilled our advice into one answer:
First, find the teacher. Then find the training.
While you may be tempted to pick a Teacher Training based on location (somewhere tropical like Bali? Or a convenient studio down the street?) or timeframe (what fits into my schedule?) or duration (how long does the training last?) or whether it’s certified by a certain organization or other requirements, our best advice is to identify your teacher.
Identifying your teacher is the single criterion you should use in choosing your yoga teacher training.
Generally speaking, coursework such as practical and pedagogical exercises, asana, meditation, pranayama, anatomy, physiology etc do not vary all that much between different yoga Teacher Trainings. Sure, there are nuances in approach, philosophy and alignment instruction, but the core of what you learn during a yoga Teacher Training is:
• how to get students to move their bodies into poses safely
• how to give clear verbal instruction and cues
• how to adjust without causing injury or triggering trauma
• how to design an effective sequence, teach to what you see, etc.
The real difference — the one that has the biggest impact on your future as a yoga teacher — is your Teacher Training TEACHER.
ARE YOU MY TEACHER?
If you practice yoga regularly, you probably have a favorite teacher whose class you take as often as you can. Ask yourself: what is it about this class or teacher that draws you in? Is it the sequencing? Is it the pacing of the class or the language they use? Is it the themes they interweave with the poses? Is it their playlists or their way of moving through the room?
These are all vital to consider because the teacher who leads your yoga Training will model the teaching principles and behaviors that you’ll acquire, and then assimilate into your own style. Their voice, teaching beliefs, outlook and carriage will naturally influence you. As Douglas Brooks famously said, “You are the company you keep. So keep good company.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF TRUST
Training with a teacher who knows your practice will facilitate and quickly establish trust. Why is this important? Because a Teacher Training can leave you physically, psychologically and emotionally vulnerable. You’ll want to be in an environment in which you feel safe expressing yourself, knowing that your teacher will create and secure a space that respects boundaries and is inclusive, tolerant and sensitive.
Another advantage of doing your Teacher Training with your teacher is that he or she will be accountable to you and your success, invested in you as a student and as a teacher-to-be. Proximity is obviously good as it ensures that your teacher will be able to check in with you regularly, however the covenant you share is about much more than just being physically near each other. It has to do with the virtuous circle of responsibility that binds you together: you embody what you have learned and in so doing affirm the teacher’s expertise and experience. And the teacher learns and grows as a result.
By the way, this doesn’t mean you will be in constant touch with your teacher, like a baby bird unable to leave the nest. Accountability simply means that you will remain in each other’s orbits, available for support and encouragement.
WHAT IF MY TEACHER DOESN’T TEACH TRAININGS?
Then wait. Wait for your teacher to lead a training. Be patient so that you can study with the person who has spent time nurturing — and being responsible for — your practice. This is someone who knows you, knows your potential and will be the right mentor to you.
Still impatient? Meditate. Then wait some more.
YOU’RE DONE WAITING
Ok ok, if you’re really impatient and you’re done waiting and your teacher still isn’t offering a training, maybe do a training with your teacher’s teacher. Remember when we said that thing about your teacher modeling the teaching principles and behaviors you will invariably emulate? There’s a mid-to-high probability that your teacher’s teacher is the originator of the stuff you love…
Caveat: it isn’t always the case that your teacher’s teacher is great — often the student improves upon the original teacher’s work, so manage your expectations.
Rather than a Training per se, register for a yoga Immersion or a workshop that explores an area you’re interested in such as a specific class of poses such as arm balances, or Ayurveda or Mantra or chanting. If it’s with a teacher you don’t know but are interested in studying with, this is a lower-stakes way to see if their approach suits you without your having to spend the 💰💰 on a Teacher Training. And if it’s a teacher who works nearby, take a bunch of classes.
FINALLY: BE YOUR OWN GURU
Resist the temptation to sign up for a yoga Teacher Training because the teacher is famous or you follow their Instagram or like the products they sell (essential oils, supplements, books, crystals, Patreon memberships, the list goes on…) or because your friend had a great experience when he did her training.
A yoga Teacher Training is a serious investment, both financially and personally. You owe it to yourself to take the time to research, compare/contrast curriculums and teaching staff, figure out the payments, interview graduates of the program, and most importantly honor your unique needs and think deeply about what you hope to gain from the training. Your participation and creative energy are just as important as the teacher; they’re the necessary ingredients for ensuring a life-enhancing, enriching experience. How do you want to spend your time and why and with whom?
Because don’t forget: this is your experience. Pay attention to your research. Listen to your heart. Heed your intuition. If the feeling in the pit of your stomach says “I’m not sure” or straight-up “No”, then don’t do it.
Sadly the yoga world, like many social or spiritual movements, is beset by cults of personality that build up around charismatic leaders. We want our teachers to be shining examples but they are regular human, just like us: often imperfect, vain, egotistical. It is easy to be ensorcelled by appearances or a well-crafted phrase or image. Try not to give those things more significance than they deserve. Scratch beneath the surface. Don’t be afraid to be skeptical.
If during your research, you read articles that disparage certain teachers or perhaps even meet people who have a less than enthusiastic recommendation, take that feedback seriously. You may not want to hear it, but their truth warrants acknowledgment and consideration. Be open-minded.