How to become a Yoga Instructor

By Rebecca Ffrench on 17 October 2015 | Video: How do you know you're ready to teach yoga?

It is generally accepted that in order to become a yoga instructor and teach yoga you need three things: insurance, teaching certificate and accredited status from a yoga association.

Before we talk about these things it's worth remembering that this wasn't always the case. Yoga was a discipline handed down from teacher (guru) to student. Once the guru felt the student had achieved enough maturity and knowledge of the discipline they were then handed teacher status, and able to pass the knowledge down to the next generation. This remained the case as little as 15 years ago, when yoga teachers with no official qualifications were able to teach yoga in gyms. Then the yoga boom happened and yoga rocketed in popularity. Suddenly there were yoga teachers everywhere and the need was felt to have some way to govern teaching standards. A number of different bodies were born, each of which seems to prickle at the sound of the others, but all of which upheld very similar minimum standards.

As a result the route for those wishing to teach is now

1. Train with accredited course to get a certificate

2. Get yoga teaching insurance by showing the certificate

3. Choose if you'd like accredited status with one of the associations


Before you make the plunge, here are a few key things you should consider:

Experience

The question every budding yoga teacher asks themself is, "Am I good enough?" Of course you are! You needn't be an expert to become a yoga teacher. Yoga is for everyone, so with a willingness to learn, you'll get good enough. That said you should have a certain amount of experience under your belt. There is no designated length of time you must have practiced before enrolling in a teacher-training course: some people are ready after a year of dedicated practice whereas others still won't be after fifteen years of less frequent practice. Every one is different so whether you are ready really depends on you. We recommend you practice for at least a year before teacher training. This isn't a case of becoming 'good enough', but to get the most out of teacher training, you need to develop your own practice first. You will find that yoga transforms your body and as this happens your preference for different poses and even yoga styles may change. Make sure you devote enough time to your own practice first to allow for these changes to happen. It is important you begin the personal spiritual and physical transformation yoga enables before attempting to guide others with this process.

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Motivation

Why do you want to become a yoga teacher? Do you want to deepen your practice, attain enlightenment or just get thin? Is this your calling, or just a phase? Make sure your decision to become a yoga teacher comes from you, and you're not just following friends or fashion! In the key yogic text, The Bhagavad Gita, motivation is an important theme. At level 2 on the 'ladder of motivation' a yogi is motivated by the prospect of liberation from karmic bondage as opposed to being motivated by material gain. If you are hoping to get thin, you might get a surprise spiritual awakening! And if you are hoping to get rich, you might be disappointed. If deepening your practice is your motivation, consider going on a yoga retreat or enrolling in specialist workshops before making the costly commitment to teacher training. (YogaLondon run Foundation Courses that will develop your practice and give you a taste of teacher training, or you can even have a sixty minute taster for free.)

Finances

Let's hope it's a given you're not getting in to this for the money. Still, it's important to give some serious attention to how you will finance your life as a yoga teacher. Yoga teacher-training courses usually cost around £3,000 and can be as much as £6,000, although the cost of the course can be a very worthwhile investment. Some course providers allow you to pay in instalments making the cost more manageable. Did you also know that some offer teacher - training scholarships? Or you may be able to earn as you learn as a Student Teacher? Even the best teachers have a hard time making enough money to support themselves from yoga teaching when they first start out, so give some thought as well to how you will manage financially when qualified.

Timing

The first word of the Yoga Sutras is atha, meaning now. When embarking on the yogic path timing is key. Be sure the time is now before you begin. This means you are prepared for and focused on the journey ahead and can put in the commitment required to get the most out of yoga. When becoming a yoga teacher it also means having enough time in your schedule to devote to teacher training and fit teaching into your life. It's not worth rushing into. You might be eager to get going but with everything else going on in your life, you may need to wait a while for the time to be right.

Lifestyle

Yoga is much more than asanas; it is a philosophy and a way of life. The physical exercise of asanas is just one of the eight limbs of yoga; the others relate to moral conduct and spiritual practice (The rest of the limbs are the niyamas, more personal precepts; Pranayama, breathing exercises; pratyahara, conscious withdrawal of energy away from the senses; dharana, concentration; dhyana, meditation; and samadhi, self-actualization: The Yoga Sutras 101). This doesn't mean you are obligated to become a vegetarian or hum mantras every morning, but you should be aiming to live a balanced and healthy lifestyle to compliment your physical practice. Nobody's perfect but it's definitely a faux pas to lose your temper with your students and it's unlikely they will take you seriously if they catch you sneaking a fag before class or trashed in the local pub. If you do need to make lifestyle changes, try this first before committing to becoming a yoga teacher. Your yoga practice will help as it brings about spiritual transformation that inspires the yogic lifestyle.

Personal Practice

It's a factor of yoga teaching that is often forgotten, but having a good personal practice is essential to becoming a good yoga teacher. When you start teaching your own practice can easily get neglected. You won't have much time to attend other yoga classes so you must feel comfortable practicing alone. You will of course need to co-ordinate routines for your classes, but you should also make time for personal practice so that you can continue to develop as a yogi as well as a yoga teacher.

Expectations

Does becoming a yoga teacher still sound like a dream? Well in many ways it is! You get to practice yoga all day every day, doing what you love and getting paid for it, growing as a yogi, meeting wonderful people along the way, and all the while in comfy clothes! But let's not lose sight of reality: have you thought about the unpredictable and downright weird hours you'll sometimes have to work? Getting up for classes at 6am before people go off to work, doing the graveyard shift with those who finish late, and of course a lot of weekend work. It's not all white beaches and penthouse rooftops. Until you have a stable class schedule, and often even when you do, you will find yourself in all kinds of locations dashing from community library to office basement. And there's no guarantee those classes will be full- you'll need to put the hours in to build your reputation. Yes becoming a yoga teacher is a wonderful life changing experience but that doesn't change the fact it is often hard work.

We haven't put you off?...Read on! What follows is a guide to everything you should need to know on your path to becoming a yoga teacher...

Tips for choosing the right teacher-training program

There are so many teacher-training programmes to choose from 3-week intensives to 3-year courses, from courses in your local gym to residential centres, not to mention all the courses abroad? It's great to have so many options, but how do you know which one is right for you? Here are some tips for choosing the right teacher-training programme:

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Intensives

Intensive 3-4 week programmes are ideal for people who want to immerse themselves in the world of yoga and can't wait to start teaching. People who choose the intensive route are often at a transitional stage in their lives. Do you want to break old habits and routine? Is becoming a yoga teacher part of greater life changes? Intensive programmes can be hugely transformational experiences in themselves that will inspire spiritual growth as well as incredible improvements to your physical practice. Some intensives are Monday to Friday during usual working hours so you'll have your weekends and evenings to yourself. Others are like a retreat - set in residential centres. But retreats usually don't require 200 hours of exercise in 3-4 weeks, and that's what an intensive is all about. There's no getting away from the fact that this is hard work! As many intensive course providers will tell you, research suggests intensive methods are the best way to learn new skills. But everyone is different so perhaps the intensive method is too intense for you.

Three-Month Trainings

Three-month trainings strike a good balance between intensive and longer courses. They are great for those who can't give up the day job just yet but aren't happy to wait a year or more to get their yoga teaching qualification. These training courses are made for those who work 9-5 so training takes place during weekday evenings or more commonly, at weekends with one free each month - as we offer at YogaLondon. Three month trainings are demanding but manageable you don't have too many family and/or social commitments.

Year Long Trainings

Longer trainings give you more time to integrate knowledge and practice. They are better for people wishing to make a gradual transition to becoming a yoga teacher and those with work/life commitments they are not ready or able to give up. Choosing a longer course will allow you to adjust, giving you time to plan for being a teacher, and your new life! There are lots of advantages with year- long trainings. They usually give more attention to the philosophical and scientific basis of yoga, so you can develop a greater understanding of yoga as a holistic practice; they also give more time to focus on teaching methods, which you'll need to learn largely on the job if you go for a shorter training course. Year long teacher training courses are available in a variety of different formats so you can choose between those that concentrate classes on workday evenings or only weekends, those in which classes are weekly and those which are monthly. YogaLondon year-long courses involve one weekend per month training. This means plenty of rest time between classes, but you may be in danger of forgetting what you've learnt before the next session comes around! To get the most out of longer trainings you need to put the work in between classes. This will hopefully instil discipline, which is good practice for the future. Longer trainings also give you time to build a yoga network, which will be helpful when you qualify.

Trainings Abroad

The huge number of intensive teacher training courses available abroad are very tempting. If you do choose this option first of all make sure the course is internationally recognised so you can actually teach if and when you return home! Course providers should be registered with Yoga Alliance. Trainings abroad have the added bonus of a holiday in an exotic location as well as the opportunity to experience the yogic lifestyle. Healthy meals are provided and complimentary practices such as meditation and massage often included. You will be looked after and won't have to worry about daily life chores and stresses, giving you the opportunity to focus fully on your yoga practice. The serene natural locations are appropriate for introspective work, suited to those who are looking to form a deeper connection with nature - both inside and out. If you're more comfortable in modern studios than the great outdoors, this probably isn't for you. Another advantage of training locations abroad is hotter temperatures, which increases flexibility, but profuse sweating leads to dehydration and low energy levels, so if you can't stand the heat, stay at home.

Trainings at Home

Training courses at home are the best option for people with family and other commitments. One of the big advantages of doing your teacher training at home is you will be learning in the context where you are most likely to teach, helping you to imagine how yoga teaching will actually fit in to your life, and perhaps even bringing employment opportunities for when you are qualified. You will meet fellow yogis in your area providing you with friends and support close to home. On the other hand, training at home may not be the break away from your 'past life' you desire!

How long does it take to train as a yoga teacher?

There are literally thousands of yoga teacher training courses out there - from once a month meetings over the course of two years to intensive one month retreats on tropical islands. No matter which training speed you opt for - if it's an accredited course it will offer at least the minimum contact hours as prescribed by that association (see below the hours stipulated by each association).

There are certainly pros and cons for different training lengths and what might suit you may not suit someone else. A long-term course run once a month over two years fits easily around existing work/family commitments. You are given plenty of time to assimilate the information and develop, not only as a teacher but also a yogi. This long term approach to teaching is great for someone who wants a gradual transition into teaching, but it can be difficult to give the training your full attention and effort when it is spread out so thinly.

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Intensive one month trainings are great if you want total immersion in the subject. Often held as residential retreats away from home they give students the chance to leave life as you know it for one month and dedicate yourself entirely to the course at hand. This total immersion method can be a life changing experience, having a profound effect not only on your career but also on lifestyle and values. You'll emerge a yogi, but well practiced teaching skills usually get left until you’re actually on the job... And can you get that month off work?

There are some courses that offer the middle ground, a hybrid between the intensive retreats that propel your personal development and the long term trainings that truly teach you 'how to teach' yoga. These can be offered as once a month courses with a intensive one week retreat, or simply a weekends only training over three months.

The Four Main Yoga Teacher Associations

The four main yoga teacher associations are the British Wheel of Yoga (BWY), the Yoga Alliance UK, the Yoga Alliance (International) and the Independent Yoga Network (IYN).

The BWY often sites itself as being the ‘National Governing Body for Yoga’ leading many to believe it is the only recognised yoga association in the UK. This misleading information caused plenty of friction between the various Yoga Teacher Associations, and the Advertising Standards Authority did eventually step in to rectify the matter. The reality is that there is no governing body - and for a discipline with so much diversity that can only be a good thing.

Each of the associations differ slightly in their view on course content as shown below, but all support a high number on contact hours with experienced teachers as being intrinsic to a good teacher training course.

The British Wheel of Yoga

The British Wheel of Yoga Teacher Training Diploma covers 500 hours of training and takes a minimum of two years (and up to four years) to complete. Applicants need to have practiced yoga for over two years and will often have completed the BWY Foundation Course as well (additional 60 hours). There are no intensive trainings under the BWY.

Yoga Alliance UK and Yoga Alliance (International)

Both the Yoga Alliance UK and Yoga Alliance (International) accredit 200 hour training programs. These consist of a minimum 180 hours of contact time with teachers and 20 hours of home study. So long as the required minimum time is spent on each part of the syllabus, these associations value both the intensive and long term training paths. Care should be taken to view the two Yoga Alliance Associations as separate bodies.

Independent Yoga Network (IYN)

The Independent Yoga Network offers a different view. It believes that the standards offered in the associations listed above (based on prerequisite hours in very structured topics) are rudimentary in their 'cookie-cutter' format. Pete Yates (one of the founder members of IYN) states "We wanted to register authentic teachers who were safe and who had integrity. Beyond that we were happy to be non-prescriptive and to allow for and encourage diversity." Each school wishing to register their course is looked at individually, so while there are no minimum hours imposed each course is scrutinised to check it upholds intrinsic yogic values.

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Types of training courses

If you've been searching for training programmes it's likely you've stumbled upon a dizzying array of course formats. There are 100-hour, 200-hour, 300-hour, 500-hour, pregnancy courses and beyond. There are also courses that run over a short period of time, such as 3-week, and others that run over 2-years...but which to choose and what are the pros and cons for each? The key to selecting the ideal type of yoga training course is how it fits into you lifestyle. If you're a busy professoinal with children and a spouse, perhaps a longer course will suit you. If you have a bit more time on your hands at like to dive into things, consider an intensive course.

Other questions to ask yourself when considering taking on a yoga teacher training course are:

  1. Should i become a yoga teacher? What are the reasons I'm deciding to make this change in my life?
  2. How will becoming a yoga instructor change and develop me?
  3. What's the cost of yoga teacher training?
  4. Do I want to specialise and become a prenatal/pregnancy yoga teacher or yoga therapist?
  5. Is there a particular yoga style I'd like to focus on such as Ashtanga, Vinyasa Flow, Hatha, or Hot yoga?
  6. Should I use an online course or is a traditional course better?
  7. Do I want to train in London or far off exotic loctions like India, Goa, and even Thailand?
  8. What are the requirements and qualifications to become a yoga instructor?
  9. How long does it take to become a qualified yoga instructor? Does a short intensive, a medium length, or year-long course suit your life?
  10. Do I need insurance to teach yoga? What if I teach without any?
  11. Can I teach as an sole trader?
  12. Should my students need to sign waiver forms to take my yoga class?