About once a week, I get an inquiry from someone looking for a yoga teacher training program or, a recent grad looking for a job or mentoring opportunities. It’s easy to see why people want to teach yoga and do what they love. However, from where I stand, there seem to be some troubling (maybe slightly sinister) market forces at work out there concocting a glut of young, under-prepared, overly in-debt teachers.
For the record: I don’t have a downward-facing dog in this fight. I don’ t do teacher trainings and don’t aspire to in the near future. I have been teaching yoga for just 17 years–not long enough. The people I trained with had decades (not combined, but individually) of intensive teaching experience, often in residence, in ashrams. To be clear, the notion that you can somehow teach an all-encompassing practice like yoga shy of middle age is a Western one. Back when I trained in 2001, there were a limited number of established schools ( lineage back to India) in the Yoga Alliance. They were supposed to “protect” the legitimacy of the certification by careful vetting of training programs. Somewhere along the way, a “growth” strategy took over and qualifications like residential training went away. With that, so did my annual dues, as I couldn’t figure out what they were providing for me as a teacher. That little badge you see up above, in my view has lost its meaning. It doesn’t distinguish whether you did your training online, with a famous Swami, a yoga thought-leader or “Jenny from the Block. ”
So why the boom in Teacher Training programs? I see three main market forces at work:
1) They’re lucrative and provide the lion’s share of revenue for bricks and mortar yoga studios to pay the rent. Starting at $2000-2500 for a 200 hour basic program, you multiply that by 15-20 students participating and you can make a good chunk of change. Moreover, you can wedge in the teacher trainings at off-hours on weekends when the studio isn’t being optimized, say on Saturday evenings or Sunday afternoons. Better yet, offer an on-line component so you don’t even need to provide space. Really? On-line teacher training? Would you like a massage therapist or a doctor trained on-line? But, all the schools are doing it! Why? (see number 3).
2) They create a perpetual pool of low-cost employees for the studio. Each session graduates newly-minted teachers eager to work for peanuts to gain experience. Of course, the studio can’t possibly hire all of their graduates now, can they? Those who don’t get jobs will have to hit the pavement and look for jobs at other studios, but of course, those other studios have their own graduates to hire. Smaller indie studios with a discriminating clientele want teachers with loads of experience who’ve mentored under big names. Then the options narrow to places like LifeTime, Snap Fitness and the like, who are always hiring, due to a huge turnover rate. Why the turnover? Because teaching yoga for $25 / hour is only gratifying for so long, especially when you’re trying to recoup your $2000+ investment. Think about it, at that rate, you have to teach 80- 100 classes just to break even on your investment!!! If they hire you for 2 classes a week, that’s almost a year of your life teaching for FREE! Besides, you have student loans to pay….which leads to my Grand Finale Point:
3) Student Loans, including PELL Grants can be used for Yoga Teacher Training. Ah haaa! Now we see the real reason for the boom in yoga teacher training programs, and the accompanying college-like tuition inflation. It used to be you could go live in residence at an ashram or a yoga center with a full campus , room and board included for what these strip mall studios are charging for their teacher trainings. Moreover, the demand is such that they can pluck their “lead trainers” from their own in-house schools after they’ve only been teaching themselves for a few years and no one questions it. So, instead of “going to the mountain,” and training in an immersion environment with a cast of experienced teachers from a reputable school of lineage (back to India) as well as teaching assistants, chefs, anatomy professors, etc., you go down the street and train w/ people w/ names like “Nina B.” or ‘Tommy Y.” who themselves have only taught yoga for maybe a few years. Oh, and you don’t actually immerse yourself and live like a yogi because you can’t really afford to quit your day job given the exorbitant cost of the program! Kids ~ this is NOT a good deal!
So what is a sincere, aspiring yoga teacher to do? Stop. Breathe. Discern. I don’t want to say that you must put your life on-hold and take an immersion program, but it is the gold standard. That said, what I do feel strongly about is this: don’t pay Ivy League Prices for a Community College program because you couldn’t spot the difference! If you have to study piecemeal or even online, then just don’t pay what you’d pay to go live somewhere; and, keep your expectations in line. If you need to teach yoga to pay your bills, then choose carefully and consider programs where you have not one, but several teachers with decades of experience at your disposal. Frankly, I can’t imagine the egotistical leap necessary for a sole individual of a tender age to claim to be able to teach you everything you need to know about being a teacher.
I’ve included some links to some reputable programs which have withstood the test of time; they also have a lineage to somewhere other than the mall or Los Angeles! Some of them even offer SCHOLARSHIPS (i.e. Kripalu). In the meantime, keep up your own practice, study w/ as many teachers of as many styles as you can to narrow it down, save your money and please, don’t go into debt and end up paying even more (with interest) for a sub-standard “canned” program. They will only turn you into a cue-reciting parrot, not a yoga teacher!
Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health — Scholarships available!