Well, you are certainly not alone. More and more people hear the calling.
But why do you want to teach yoga? Do you dream of traveling the world, teaching in glamorous, palm-tree shaded locations? Do you want your work uniform to consist of leggings and tank tops instead of suits and ties? Do you fancy thousands of Insta likes when you post pictures of yourself in pretzel-y soft porn shapes? Do you want a room full of people doing exactly what you tell them to do? Do you want to teach a couple of classes a week to supplement your income as an artist/writer/musician? Do you want to make lots of money?
Or, do you want to share the wonderful tool of yoga with others? Because you want to help others heal? Help others de-stress? Help others become a little bit happier? Great! It's the only answer that makes sense if you are too pursue this.
Because the job of the yoga teacher is usually under-paid and insecure. And the job market is saturated. And to get a job teaching yoga you usually need previous experience teaching yoga. Catch 22. But if that doesn't deter you and you still want to become a yoga teacher more than anything else, how does one go about it?
I'll tell you what I did. I took my first yoga class in 1996 (I think). In year 2000 after some on and off explorations, I started practicing regularly at a now defunct yoga school called Go Yoga in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I practiced there for three years (mostly with J. Brown who now runs the popular podcast 'yoga talks') and then I moved to New Orleans where I found a Jivamukti teacher called Michelle Baker (she no longer associates herself with that school or style). I practiced with her for four years. During those years I also did some extended stints of ashram living. For example, one month at the Shoshoni in the Colorado Rocky mountains. In 2006 I started looking into doing a teacher training. Most trainings (and there weren't that many then) at that time required a minimum of five years of dedicated practice, mastery over certain asanas such as Sirsasana and Urdhva Dhanurasana and letters of recommendations from your teachers. Contrast that with today, when yoga teacher training is a multi-billion dollar business (and the best source of income for many teachers as teaching group classes definitely won't get you rich) and the only prerequisite for most trainings are that you can pay the several thousand euros that the training costs.
And contrast that with how you became a teacher before the late 1990's/early 2000's when you mentored with one teacher, after you had been showing up for class regularly for years, and then started filling in for her when she deemed you ready. A system I feel way more comfortable with. And also how it was 'back in the day' in India as well. But of course the trainings were even longer and more rigorous then. Yoga wasn't for the masses. I am sure that there are many people out there who have never done a training but are way more qualified to teach that most people who graduate from a 200 hour training. Other things that one has done in life also factor in. Maybe you already teach something? So you know something about pedagogy. Perhaps you've studied psychology? Dance? Sports medicine? Perhaps you already are a massage therapist? Or maybe you've been a dedicated practitioner for over twenty years?
After consulting with Michelle I ended up doing my first YTT with Sivananda at their ashram in upstate New York in May/June of 2007. The style of Sivananda is classical hatha yoga, and very far from how I've ever taught and ever will teach. I definitely felt that the teachers we had were very competent, devoted and qualified. And the YTT students all had fairly advanced asana practice. There were some things going on during the training, certain kriyas, like swallowing long bits of gauze, flossing my nose with a weird plastick-y tube, and drinking 10 liters of lukewarm saltwater and then vomiting, that I then found mostly ludicrous, but now consider potentially harmful at worst, and at best, absolutely worthless. And there were a few moments where I cried and just wanted to get the fuck out. And I didn't learn very much (or anything) about bio-mechanics. There were anatomy lessons every day, but I don't think I was able to absorb very much of the teachings in that intense month of study and sleep-deprivation. And when I got out, I definitely wasn't ready to teach. But I was still determined to unleash myself onto unsuspecting yogis ...
After the training I left the States and moved back to my homeland. In Stockholm I was teaching friends and friends of friends for free in a park over the summer. And in the autumn I was hired (after auditioning) for my first paid class at a gym. I got lucky, at that time the market wasn't saturated, and, to my great surprise, the job offers kept coming to me, and before I knew it I was a full-time yoga teacher. But, I definitely shouldn't have been teaching yet. I had way too little anatomical/bio-mechanical knowledge, even though my heart was in a good place and I had a certain energy about me that people seemed to appreciate. I remember seeing some super-funky Down Dogs, that looked more like squares than triangles, but not having the slightest idea of how to start 'fixing' them, neither with words nor with my hands. But I did get better.
In 2010 I did another teacher training, in Yin Yoga, with Ulrica Norberg in Stockholm. A couple of years after that I did a Thai Yoga Massage training in Pondicherry, India.
I'm always reading about yoga, practicing yoga, listening to yoga podcasts, dreaming about yoga. I participate in workshops and continuing eduction every year. But most of all I learn a lot through teaching.
Now, with over ten years of teaching experience, and twenty years of practice, I do feel qualified to teach. But the more I know, the more aware I become of how much I don't know. The body is strange and amazing. I am not a doctor. And even doctors often don't know ...
I think most long-term teachers and yoga community members agree that the 200 hour training model is harmful, and that something must change. And change soon.
Some advocate that in order to be a yoga teacher you should be required to have a Bachelor's degree and in order to teach teachers a Master's degree.
Some people feel that a 500 hour training should be the minimum requirement to teach. And in reality it often is, as the market is self-regulating and most studios are reluctant to hire someone with just a 200 hour training and no experience.
But then, how do you get experience?
And you got to start somewhere right?
Yes. When you have practiced regularly (meaning at least 4-5 times a week), and for a minimum of 5 years, and your asana practice is strong (because let's face it, asana is the main thing you will be teaching), and you have a good idea about what yoga is as a whole, beside the asana stuff, and maybe you've read the Yoga Sutras, maybe B.K.S Iyengar's 'Light on Yoga' and/or some other texts, and you really have a strong urge to share the teachings, to help people heal, then look into a teacher training, but select carefully. Are the teacher trainers experienced enough? There's a lot of deceit going on in this buiz that at times get real dirty. Don't think that the 'Yoga Alliance-certified' is a mark of quality, because it isn't. Personal recommendations are great of course, but remember that at many of the schools in India, Bali and so on, the teachers may be traveling teachers, so even if your friend had a great experience there, it may not mean that you will, as the cast of teachers may have changed. This is one of the reasons I am very reluctant to give advice about specific schools. But if a teacher you like and respect is offering a training, that's obviously the best bet. Read people's bios carefully. Check out the teacher's social media accounts. Read between the lines. Ask a lot of questions. What will be the focus of the training? What style of yoga? Will you learn to assist? Read the Bhagavad-Gita? Do a lot of meditation?
And then be aware that the 200 hour training probably is just the beginning. You will probably need the 500 hour training too. Or a mentorship program. And that it will be super-competitive to find a job, and that you will need some skills in marketing and self-promotion as well as contacts. But don't give up! If you are meant to be doing this, you will do this.
Good luck! <3
P.S I hope to make a post about some other aspects of the yoga teacher profession too, so stay tuned.
Photo by Hanna Lagerberg