How to become a successful yoga teacher | Recommendations from an experienced teacher
I love when my past students come back to me and ask for recommendations on how to become a yoga teacher or further their understanding of yoga with the right yoga school.
Things like this
It makes me so excited to hear that their yoga practice is moving in this direction! A 2016 study estimates that more than 36 million people practice yoga, so it makes sense that more and more people are looking to become yoga teachers.
I recall vividly when I was living in San Francisco the teacher that impacted me the most, well actually my first teacher ever! She wasn’t explicitly saying anything about teacher training but the practice and her embodiment of the practice is what drew me to pursue training.
I quit my job accounting job, moved back to LA, and looked for a training almost immediately. You can read more about my story here.
I had enough saved from working as an accountant, I felt so proud to pay in full my tuition of about $3k. It was one of the most empowering moments at that point in my life. Perhaps it was because it was one of the first moments where I was making decisions for myself, that pleased me, and no one else.
In light of receiving a handful of students reaching out recently, I thought I would share the exact advice and recommendations I give them. In case anyone else out there is curious.
Who do you love practicing with? Ask those teachers where or who they studied with
In my research, I estimated between 43 and 56* styles and schools, plus a plethora of teachers out there that put in their own love and intention such as Trap Vinyasa and even Goat Yoga— it’s important to know or understand what type you are gravitating towards. What’s speaking to your heart?
The simplest most straightforward way to do that is to ask the teachers you love practicing with where they studied and who they studied with. That can be the start of your path because there are many!
Another way to go about this is to look up your favorite teachers’ bio, whether it’s on their website or the studio website.
*Source: S. B. Khalsa et al., The Principles and Practice of Yoga in Health Care, 27.
Look at the school’s curriculum
Be discerning with what is in the curriculum. Fortunately or unfortunately, it’s relatively easy to set up a yoga school. While Yoga Alliance is the only governing body that provides accreditation or regulations on curriculum, it is not required. Some schools are not accredited through Yoga Alliance. Meaning that in some 200-hour trainings, they could omit or focus on whatever they want.
In the beginning, you won’t necessarily know what area of yoga you want to focus on, or perhaps you do but with experience, it’ll be clearer and it will change over time. With that in mind, seek out a curriculum that is well-rounded but may also be in line with things you’re already interested in.
When doing some research, look to see that they include a good mix of anatomy, alignment, cueing, philosophy and the origins of yoga, Sanskrit, subtle body and chakras.
Depending on your interest, you might gravitate toward a school that focuses on anatomy, for example, but at least for the 200-hour, make sure you get that depth. That’ll lead your path and open up new discoveries for you! As a student and teacher.
Here is a sample of what I mean:
Alignment and Anatomy
Yoga Medicine offers a 200-hour training. Just from doing a brief search, their first line says “A well-rounded training with a strong foundation in anatomy and alignment…”
Spiritual and Heart-Centered
Anusara Yoga School offers a 200-hour program that “establishes each teacher to lead heart-oriented class theme…”
Reach Within offers a 200-hour Trauma-Informed Yoga Teacher Training “by leading thinkers in the fields of trauma healing and yoga/meditation, including Bessel Van der Kolk, Richard Davidson, and David Emerson.”
Neither route is better or worse. This is just the beginning so have fun choosing from both your research and your intuition.
When I signed up for my 200-hour through YogaWorks in Santa Monica, CA, I had never met my teachers Patti Quintero, John Gaydos, and Sarah Ezrin — along with world-renowned guest teachers such as Kia Miller. But I did my research and something about YogaWorks’s methodology really connected with me and I followed that nudge.
Stay connected to where the practice comes from.
This practice has more recently been used (and by recently I mean since the 50’s and 60’s) as a physical practice. Most notably connected to stretching, breathing, in some cases sweaty and gymnastics-like.
This is beautiful! We’ve adapted to our modern times. With that same thought though, remember that the practice is a spiritual practice that originates in India. And while our modern times allow us to adjust it, let’s continue to be mindful of where it comes from and respect the practice with each intention we step on the mat to practice and/or teach. Learn what cultural appropriation means and decide how you want to embody the practice with respect.
In my opinion, it’s never “yes or no” or “you can’t do this or that.” It’s a series of actions that acknowledge why you’re taking a stance. For example, I personally find it important to say the Sanskrit names of the poses. While I know my accent is heavy, and I can’t pronounce each word correctly I try my best to understand what it means, to say it correctly, and to study under Sanskrit scholars whenever I get a chance.
There are people currently in India that are amazing yogis, that never once have practiced a downward-facing dog — just to put things into perspective.
And as you’ll learn the first Sutra from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a foundational book for teachers — “Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodha”.
Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind chatter.
Yes yoga is a physical practice, and it’s also meditative practice, a lifelong lifestyle, and so forth (what you’ll soon learn as the 8 Limbs of Yoga).
After you graduate
Congratulations! You’ve now completed your training and revealed what’s behind the theater curtain, so to speak. What’s next?
Your practice is one of the most important pillars to understand how to teach. Without practicing, you’ll be teaching from theory, yoga books, or what you learned in teacher training.
You’ll definitely want to lean into this since it’s one of the reasons you attended school, but each time you practice you embody an aspect of the practice that no book, theory, or writer can capture. This is the art of yoga and this, most often, is what your students feel.
Listen to cues and ask question
Practice with an array of teachers. When I first moved to NYC, I missed all my teachers in LA and was so bummed I couldn’t practice with them anymore.
I signed up for a subscription with Glo.com (at the time it was YogaGlo) and began practicing at home virtually with teachers such as Jason Crandell and Katherine Budig — instructors that I would never be able to practice in person any way. Anytime I heard a cue, sequence, or a transition I liked — I would write it down and see how I can infuse it in my class later. I would then ask these teachers questions, whether they were hosting a Q&A or simply through email.
There are really so many ways to find a teacher to continue to learn from!
Get creative with how you look for teaching jobs
Finding yoga teaching jobs is challenging! If you do a quick Google search, you’ll see so many pop up. But then you wonder, how old are these posts? Will anyone actually see my resume?
Try out some creative ways to find teaching jobs by looking at this list of 5 out-of-the-box ways to find yoga teachings jobs. You have the power to create the path that makes sense for you.
Want to lead retreats? Do it! Want to teach 1 class per week? Perfect. Only want to teach virtually? That’s a thing now! Looking for a yoga startup? There are many now and it’s how I became a full-time yoga teacher in 2017.
Write out what you’re going to teach or at least be prepared
For about 5 years of my teaching career, I wrote down every class I was going to teach. And even to this day, I jot down any themes, bullet points, or sequences that are important.
If you think about it, teaching a public class is like giving an hour public speech. It’s public speaking in a very unique way, and most people that give public speeches prepare in some way.
While you aren’t memorizing lines, as an actor does, it’s important to know where you’re going. It’s really hard to wing “your message” or what you’re trying to convey for a whole hour without a plan. Perhaps you want people to walk away feeling at ease, less tension, more mindful — how will you do that?
Understand your audience, if they are expecting a “hard” Vinyasa class based on the description they read, but you’re presenting a slow restorative class — that might not be what people need in this context, or teaching a certain style might not be for you.
With time, it’ll come more naturally to “wing it” or to change up whatever you planned on the spot based on student feedback at the start of class— but at the beginning of your career always come prepared.
Remain a student
I crave the times I can step into my teacher’s class.
I can’t wait to take notes from a lecture on Vedic Psychology.
I had 7 years of teaching experience before I embarked on my 300-hour teaching certification.
I love when I get to be the student again and it’s such a beautiful space to be in. There is a quote that says,
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few. ”—Shunryu Suzuki
Especially for modalities like yoga and meditation, keep that beginners mind! There will be a time in your career that you’ll look back and say “I don’t teach it that way anymore because I learned something new.” To me, that is a beautiful moment to witness on your path.
Your teaching career is long and not straightforward
For a long time, I romanticized becoming a full-time yoga teacher. And while I did make it happen, over several years of teaching 15-16 classes per week — I realized that none of the pieces of training I took prepared me to make this a living career.
I struggled a lot. I took several pay cuts, overworked myself which led me down the path of burnout. I was relying on studios and what other people were doing in their wellness business but none of it actually made sense for me!
This might not be every teacher’s journey, but it was mine. And it’s a theme I’ve noticed with some of my colleagues as well.
Most recently I’ve made it a mission of mine to teach yoga teachers and other wellness practitioners of other modalities business and marketing skills — aspects that are fundamental to the well-being of a teacher but not taught well in schools. I aspire to make this into a curriculum and part of a teacher training soon!
There will be times in your teaching career when you’re teaching a lot.
There will be times when you’re not teaching at all.
There might be times when all you want to do is become a full-time yoga teacher.
And there might be a moment you realize that you can’t physically and mentally teach 10-15 classes per week.
I want to remind you, perhaps preemptively, that all of that is the evolution of how you’ll become a yoga teacher.
No version of being a teacher is better or worse. We all have different variations of it. Similar to how your practice evolves, your teaching career will evolve.
I hope these tips and recommendations are helpful for you as you embark on this new journey! I’m so excited for you, it’s only the beginning 🙂 Feel free to reach out with any questions, I’m here to support you.