What Does Yoga Teacher Training Really Entail?
Not too long ago I was asking this very question. I’d experienced some amazing teachers, many while under various bouts of stress in college, while visiting my home town, and while traveling through the states and Europe in my mid-twenties. I was unhappy in my job, felt stuck in my being, and something about the sensation I experienced practicing compelled me to seek something further. I began asking some teachers after class and once the idea was in my head, it was bound to stay until I did something about it. And so I did.
I began my teaching career in a somewhat unusual way. I was living in Italy, became certified to teach fitness classes, Pilates and very basic yoga to groups in Germany, and then met a beautiful Hatha yogi who I studied and subbed for during my stint in Sicily. After that time, I solidified my training through a program in NYC. Before yoga swarmed the west and we found a way to capitalize off of it, we could find inspiration in a teacher, become their apprentice, study under them for years and once the teacher feels we’re ready to teach on our own, we would. I highly recommend doing this if you can. Your journey as a student will probably include this type of study, even if you simply take a teacher’s class consistently for a long period of time; but when you decide upon a Yoga Alliance approved Yoga teacher training (RYT 200) certification, here’s some of what you should expect.
For those yearning to deepen their practice, try their hands at teaching or merely go on a transformative journey can expect most quality (yes there are varying degrees, research is a must!) schools to offer a broad application of a dense, multi-dimensional form of therapy for your body, mind and spirit. Before entering it is important to know a few things: Yoga is much more than a physical practice intended for exercise; it is a 5,000 year old physical and spiritual practice with roots in Hinduism, and its very definition, its intention, and purpose is to calm the fluctuations of the mind.
The route you take is what makes it special. It is not about following one specific path, we all enter with common hopes and intentions similar to those I mentioned above; to find peace within and our bliss without, but how we get there will always be entirely unique to us. Go in open to what people and the experience can teach you, but know it is only the beginning. Most of your learning comes after you finish your education. It sets an excellent framework for which you can immerse yourself and have the tools to learn even more once you graduate.
What you learn most from in teacher training is teaching, naturally. You have to get over the many initial stages of awkwardness while finding your yoga voice (spoiler alert: It’s your normal voice.), and feeling comfortable not simply regurgitating lines and alignment cues, but rather integrating your knowledge with your natural intuition as a teacher. That phenomenon constantly evolves as an instructor and so long as you see yourself as a perpetual student, of yoga and life, you’ll never stop learning and growing.
What nearly every teacher training will cover is fundamental asanas/poses passed down from Hatha, Ashtanga, Iyengar and many other amalgamations of yoga that have been passed from East to West. Most trainings will emphasize the proper and safe anatomical alignment of the standing, sitting, supine, prone, balancing, folding, back-bending and inverted postures most commonly seen throughout studios, fitness centers, and videos around the US and many countries around the world. Teachers will vary in their emphasis and application, but the foundational information will be the same.
If you’re interested in a specific school then you’ve already resonated with what and how they teach. You’ll know the asana style to expect. For example, if it’s a Vinyasa inspired school, and there are many with diverse backgrounds and specific approaches to this physical practice, you can expect to move in a mindful sequence, linking foundation poses and creative transitions in-between, all in sync with your breath.
What drives your chosen postures, in any form of yoga, is your breath. Most Yoga 200 RYT programs will not only place emphasis on the breath when cueing alignment, but also as a means to focus your practice, clear your mind and possibly adjust your mood and energy state. In teacher training I learned from a brilliant Hatha Yogi, Will Duprey, about the empowering methods of pranayama. Pranayama simply means to control and extend energy, the life force, a.k.a. the breath. Through deepening inhales, lengthening exhales, and many interesting methods in-between, we become acutely aware of our own power in calming ourselves down, gearing ourselves up, and in enduring many of life’s physical and mental challenges. Without a conscious breath, the physical postures lack an internal connection, the light that will end up fueling your practice. We increase the intelligence of the mind and body by linking them with breath, forcing ourselves to be fully present and aware.
Another important extension of the teacher training module will be a historical and philosophical exploration of Yoga’s past and present. In my training, we had a list of readings to complete before Day 1, and an additional list of recommendations for films, videos and books to check out. Most schools will cover the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (one of its many translations and interpretations), The Bhagavad Gita, The Upanishads, The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and a slew of other spiritual texts that will provide a strong background into the Why and How behind Yoga. You may only have to read one, you may have to read them all, but a good teacher training will certainly devote time and energy into understanding the practice you are about to teach others. You’ll resonate with some material and not with others, such is life. You’ll take what sticks and find your own way to relate it to others as you teach in the future.
One of the first pieces of insight I learned during my training was on Day 1 of our training. I had first day school nerves. There was an excitement, a newness, a palpable energy. A master teacher of ours was relaying a piece of yogic wisdom about how every second of our lives are spent beginning, enduring and dissolving something. Big or small. A great metaphor for this is your breath. On the first day we felt beginnings very strongly and throughout the duration we felt the energy of endurance until we finally ended our schooling and became new teachers, to start the cycle all over again. Yoga teacher training is just one of many thrill rides of your life. Just have the courage to start, the rest is gravy. Enjoy every moment!