Does completing a 200‐hour yoga teacher training (TT) program make you a yoga teacher? I can say with certainty that many teacher trainings don’t teach much about teaching. In all fairness to the trainings, at the very least, teacher trainees are taught how to consistently practice, which is no small feat in itself.
How appropriate is it however that these same trainees are then allowed to begin teaching, having just learned how to practice themselves?
The reality is that many students who sign up for a 200‐hour program in yoga are beginners, often only having been exposed to handful of asana classes for 6 months to a year, and having had very little if any tutelage under experienced teachers. I have encountered very few trainees that have a dedicated regular practice, and even more shockingly, many of them enter a training program only having heard of asana out of the eight limbs of the classical path of yoga. Another type of student I often encounter tells me they’ve been practicing “on‐and‐off for about 2‐3 years”, an even more vague reference to their understanding of what it is to practice.
Why don’t these trainees understand that yoga is a lifestyle and not just exercise, and that yoga is more than selecting a favorite playlist, linking together a bunch of standing poses, referring to something superficially spiritual and then closing your eyes to “go inside”?
It’s true that some trainees’ motivation comes from the celebrity culture that Western yoga and its media cultivate. The messages expressed in images of lithe bodies in expensive spandex, arriving effortlessly into beautiful postures, invoking the possibly of becoming more light, loving, beautiful beings filled with peace, happiness and bliss ‐ these are obviously seductive in many ways, and may account for part of an answer to the question above. Seeking to really understand a trainee’s motivation for undertaking a training however quickly reveals itself as a
dead end of generalizations and half truths, and the conclusion I’ve come to is that the answers have less to do with the nature of the students or the content of the trainings, and more to do with the standards for accepting trainees into these training programs.
An aside as well, to preempt possible misguided criticism ‐ I am not advocating for a higher bar of entry to the profession in order to maintain its exclusivity or increase its cachet. I am advocating for a more rigorous and systematic approach to the preparation and cultivation of future teachers. I believe this is necessary in order to avoid the continually perpetuated condition in which so many trainees are so ill informed of the discipline they are taking on.
An issue that I’ve observed is that many yoga studios are unaware of this situation, for a variety of reasons. Some seem to be more concerned with their bottom line than with the quality of teacher they are producing. Others have bought into selling an image and have lost touch with their roots of yoga practice. Whatever the reason, the unfortunate result is that the vague understanding many trainees possess of yoga practice leads them to believe that 200 hours of intensive study will not only deepen their practice but also qualify them to teach.
As a few popular contemporary studies have made clear, 200 hours is not all that much time in the space of a lifetime of study, nor is it all that much time to learn, assimilate, practice and then teach anything! Perhaps the notion of 10,000 hours of study should be emphasized on this path as much as any other.
It is my opinion that a deepening of one’s practice will lead to a point in which the impetus to teach arises organically as a way of further deepening practice and delving more fully into the global and communal aspects of yoga.
If it’s not clear already, let me be explicit in saying I believe it is the yoga studios’ responsibility to educate their prospective trainees more fully. Most studios rely on teacher trainings to help pay the rent, which is fair, as they’re running a business.
Yet wouldn’t these teacher training applicants be better off simply developing the disciplines of an asana practice, daily breath awareness, concentration, and self‐study practices which would fortify them in their lives and ultimately allow them to be content and more effective in any line of work? Perhaps it is not even necessary to make these training programs about teaching yoga when in fact they can fully stand alone as transformative experiences. What the yoga community always needs are more educated, devoted practitioners who are a part of bringing an ever increasing clarity and sense of purpose to our shared practice.