15 Questions to Ask Before Starting a Yoga Teacher Training Course

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

So, you’re thinking about starting a yoga teacher training course but feel totally overwhelmed by what’s on offer. I feel you — there’s a pick and mix of practices to choose from and studios typically design their own curriculums, which means the quality and content can vary dramatically.

To be honest, it’s like a yoga wild west out there. As the industry is mostly unregulated, many rogue and unaccredited studios are holding up wannabe teachers and making a hefty profit from selling substandard programmes.

You might think I’m fear-mongering (after all, yogis aren’t exactly known for their cowboy ways), but you should approach training courses with a healthy dose of cynicism and plenty of questions. Otherwise, you might find yourself investing time, money and a whole load of emotional labour into a programme that leaves you bitterly disappointed.

To help you separate the good, the bad and the ugly, I’ve put together 15 essential questions to ask yourself and the studio before cementing your choice.

Why do you want to start a yoga teacher training course?

There are plenty of reasons why people start teacher training — and not all of them include wanting to teach! Some people use the opportunity to deepen their knowledge and enhance their physical practice, and others are simply searching for a community of dedicated and like-minded practitioners.

Whatever the reason, it’s essential to know why you want to do this so you can decide what course elements are valuable.

  • If you plan to teach, choose a course that offers plenty of practical teaching experience.
  • If you want to expand your knowledge, look for a programme that’s philosophy focused.
  • If you want to make friends, there are probably better (and cheaper) ways to do it!

As well as helping you to set priorities, knowing your why will help when things get tough (and they will get tough). When I was training, it was my firm intention that carried me through the before dawn starts, muscle spasms and inevitable personality clashes.

Do you have a consistent practice?

Some training courses say all you need to teach yoga is a willingness to learn — this is bullshit. If you don’t have a regular practice, you shouldn’t even consider teaching.

At the end of the day, you wouldn’t learn a language from someone who couldn’t speak it or an instrument from a tutor who couldn’t play. Why would you learn yoga from someone who didn’t practise? It doesn’t make sense.

A consistent outside practice puts you in the shoes of the student (and we’re students first and foremost) — you gain a better understanding of sequencing, how postures feel and challenges that can arise on the mat. It’s what sustains you as a teacher, and it’s where you draw inspiration to create valuable and innovative class plans.

I’m not saying you have to have a wealth of experience or arsenal of advanced postures, but you need a solid foundation to build upon. Most studios accept a minimum of six months of practice, although, in my opinion, it should be at least a year.

If you need help starting a home practice, follow these easy-to-implement tips.

A woman practising yoga at home
A woman practising yoga at home
Photo by theformfitness on Pexels

Are you emotionally prepared?

Yoga teacher training is draining and requires a truckload of self-enquiry and analysis. Plus, a lot of deep-seated trauma and insecurities naturally rise to the surface, triggered by frustrations over not feeling “good enough”, chakra-rinsing twists and so many conflicting personalities in one space.

  • Are you ready to deal with emotions you may have subconsciously suppressed?
  • Are you able to handle conflict in a considered manner?
  • Are you willing to share space with people who have very different opinions?

You don’t have to be some mythical and unflappable super yogi to take a training course, but it’s wise to think about how you’d deal with any physical and emotional challenges that may arise.

What kind of yoga do you want to teach?

There are so many styles to choose from, so it pays to do your research.

Do you prefer traditional ashtanga or power yoga (which closely resembles ashtanga but is modified to make the practice more accessible to Western students and gives teachers the freedom to deviate from the sequence)? Are you a fan of blocks, belts, bolsters, chairs and blankets? If so, restorative yoga might be for you. What about dynamic breathing, chanting, meditation and mantras? Because that’s the realm of kundalini.

Photo by wee lee on Unsplash

Who do you want to teach?

Are you planning to teach mixed-level studio classes, private lessons, corporate events, children, pregnant women or those with disabilities?

Having a niche can give you a competitive advantage when it comes to establishing your yoga business — but remember you’ll often need additional training if you’re specialising.

Is the course registered with Yoga Alliance (YA)?

Not all yoga teacher training courses are certified by Yoga Alliance (YA). In fact, there are plenty of incredible teachers who have never taken any formal training and are vehemently against universal regulation.

However, at the very least, a Yoga Alliance certified programme promises the curriculum meets basic requirements — and it’s worth remembering many studios will only hire teachers who have this qualification.

If a course is not certified with YA, there might be a totally valid reason, so ask why before making your choice. Ultimately, if you find a teacher, style and curriculum that sets your soul on fire, consider participating in the program anyway.

Who is teaching the course?

It’s increasingly common for course leaders to employ outside teachers to deliver parts of the training. This isn’t necessarily a problem if these teachers are chosen carefully — but you could end up learning from someone with less experience than you hoped for.

Before choosing a course, find out who will be involved, their qualifications and what parts of the training they’re responsible for. Not only will this help you to make an informed decision, but it’ll also manage your expectations (there’s nothing worse than thinking you’ll receive plenty of one-to-one tuition from a master, only to be passed on to a teacher training trainee).

Photo by Ali Husnain Arshad on Unsplash

What’s the best method of learning for you?

Are you a fast learner who digests new information quickly, as if it were a fibre-packed green smoothie, or do you prefer a little time between meals?

There are various ways to become a yoga teacher — you can fly to an exotic location for a month’s long immersion, train online or spread the course over six months to a year (in which case, students often meet on set weekends).

Each structure has pros and cons — for example, online training courses suit students with limited time and a lower budget while destination training gives practitioners a chance to eat, sleep and breathe yoga.

A group of women practising yoga on a beach
A group of women practising yoga on a beach
Photo by Kaylee Garrett on Unsplash

How many people will be on the course?

Successful and well-renowned courses are likely to be busier, which potentially means less contact time with senior teachers. On the other hand, smaller courses could suffer from less funding, resources and career opportunities afterwards.

It’s hard to judge the value of a programme simply by how many people take part — it needs to be followed up with a question about the structure. For example, I recently completed a training programme that was rammed, yet the way it was structured meant everyone received plenty of teaching time and individual attention.

Are you happy with the course curriculum?

Yoga is more than postures and the pretty pictures you see on Instagram — it’s a massive, magnificent and mind-blowing system that has deep roots in Hindu philosophy. Culturally sensitive courses should teach about yoga’s history, as well as touch upon the eight-limbs below:

  1. Yamas — attitudes toward our environment
  2. Niyamas — attitudes toward ourselves
  3. Asana — postures
  4. Pranayama — breath-control
  5. Pratyahara — withdrawal of the senses
  6. Dharana — concentration
  7. Dhyana — meditation
  8. Samadhi — complete integration, enlightenment, bliss

Reviewing the curriculum beforehand is a great way to make sure the content aligns with your values (I wouldn’t be comfortable learning about a non-inclusive and whitewashed version of “yoga”). It also lets you familiarise yourself with the reading list and topics ahead.

If a studio can’t provide any details about the syllabus, it’s a good sign you need to pocket your cash and run in the other direction.

A woman sitting and meditating
A woman sitting and meditating
Photo by JD Mason on Unsplash

How much practical teaching experience is offered?

The only way to become a fantastic teacher is by standing in front of a room and teaching. Yes, it’s absolutely terrifying to begin — but I promise it gets easier (and this is coming from someone with an irrational fear of public speaking).

Practical experience is the only means to discover your unique voice and teaching style. Plus, by practising in a supportive group setting (where everyone’s in the same boat), there’s so much opportunity to gain constructive and valuable feedback.

I know plenty of people who have finished their training and still feel entirely underprepared to teach classes. As you can imagine, after investing so much time and money, it’s a pitiful place to be.

So, with that warning and provided you want to teach, you must ask your course leader how much practical experience you’ll receive, and whether that time is divided between teaching the group and members of the public. As well as this, how will they assess your teaching and support you once you enter a real-life studio environment?

Does the programme offer extra support?

  • Are teachers available outside of course hours to provide additional support?
  • Do they have a mentorship programme for graduates?
  • What happens if you need to revisit something because it didn’t make sense the first time around?

Excellent training courses will offer workshops and chances to revise topics at no extra fee.

Does the course focus on accessibility?

This is a two-pronged question — is the course itself accessible, and does it include information about how to teach all people?

  • Is the venue wheelchair accessible, and do they provide support for those who have learning difficulties?
  • Do they provide props and regular breaks for those who need them?
  • Can they provide all the equipment you need to learn effectively?

Then, are you learning how to teach all people during the training? Yoga is an inclusive practice that shouldn’t discriminate based on age, gender, skin colour, religion, ability or size. Ideally, your course will give you the skills needed to create space for everyone, and you’ll leave able to teach a variety of bodies confidently.

Sadly, accessibility is woefully lacking in mainstream courses these days. As a result, it’s usually offered as additional training.

Elderly women practising yoga postures
Elderly women practising yoga postures
Photo by Ekta Agarwal on Unsplash

What’s included in the price?

Yoga teacher training courses are expensive as it as — and, depending on the type of course you book, there are likely to be additional costs.

  • If you’re booking an immersion, are transfers, laundry charges and meals included in the price?
  • Do you need to buy textbooks?
  • If you’ve chosen an online course, do you need to book additional contact hours at a studio to obtain the Yoga Alliance accreditation?

Also, take into account indirect costs such as travelling to the venue, time off work and childcare.

What do recent graduates say?

A sure-fire way to check whether a course is reputable is to get the inside scoop from graduates. There’s no need to be shy — ask as many questions as you want about their experiences. What did they like and dislike, did the training have a positive impact on their career and do they have any advice before starting?

Me and David Swenson at a recent training course

Now you’re ready!

By answering and reflecting on the above questions, you’re sure to find a course that genuinely matches your values and personality. And before committing, take some time to sit with your decision and discuss your thoughts with friends and family.

I wish you all the best with your journey moving forward because it’s a real adventure. Whether you’re looking to deepen your own practice or build a fulfilling teaching career, embarking on a yoga teacher training course is bound to impact your life positively.

Originally published at https://ashleighmayesyoga.com on December 16, 2019.

My name’s Ashleigh — yoga teacher and mental health advocate.

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