To Be, Or Not To Be A Yoga Teacher

To be, or not to be a yoga teacher– that is the question. Whether ‘tis a function of uncertain economic times and the highest unemployment rate we’ve seen in more than a decade or simply a reflection of yoga’s burgeoning popularity, it seems I am asked to weigh in on the certification process, job prospects, and lifestyles of yoga teachers with increasing regularity.

This isn’t surprising. You don’t need me to recount the obvious contraction of the job market or collective shifting of our priorities to justify a growing interest in careers that represent a different take on the 9-to-5 gig, that is to say, a lifestyle more focused on a quality of life rather than the quantity of a paycheck. Teaching yoga certainly isn’t the only career path that falls into this category; however, it is the one with which I have the most experience. Still, you can rest assured that I won’t romanticize things for you. Instead, I will attempt to outline the basics of becoming a certified yoga teacher and some of the key factors to consider if you’re angling to make a living by teaching side angle pose or perfecting a didactic downward dog.
Let’s start with the basics of how to become a yoga teacher. It goes without saying that you should have several years of yoga practice under your proverbial belt, with the bare minimum being 1-2 years before you are ready to instruct others. From there, the requirements vary depending on the teacher training program you choose. Over the years, Yoga Alliance has emerged as the most standardized assessment of both individual teachers and teacher training programs. Visit its website to familiarize yourself with the board’s standards, code of conduct, and other important details: A training program that you choose will likely receive its accreditation from this organization. Keep in mind that these programs vary greatly in terms of curriculum, requirements, length of time, cost and much more.
Before delving into the process of choosing a teacher training program, it’s crucial to assess your short and long term objectives for making this investment of your time and money. If neither are limiting factors for you and you simply want to expand your yoga practice, then, by all means, pick a program taught by a teacher you respect and enjoy, and relish the time for reflection, personal development, and physical challenge. On the other hand, if time and money are in more modest supply- which is the likelier circumstance for most- and you are considering the prospect of teaching yoga as either a full or part-time career, I would recommend that you do a little research first.
I encourage people to experiment with teaching before dropping hard-earned dough on a training program. Start by assembling a small group of pals (preferably beginner-level yogis) and treat them to a private class. The setting can be informal, like your living room or backyard, and the class doesn’t have to be full-length; 15-20 minutes is fine. This exercise will also prepare you for an important aspect of many training programs, teaching small groups of your peers. Notice if you enjoy the feeling of instructing a group or if, say, you’re overwhelmed with the jitters. Don’t judge yourself on performance; simply dabble with how it feels to be in the role of the teacher.
Assuming you dig the experience and want to scope out the real thing, you’ll need to determine which teacher training program you’ll attend. For many, this is an obvious choice, but not for all. If the yoga studio where you practice hosts training programs, then it is likely you will consider its programs first. If not, it’s still wise to consult a teacher whose classes you frequently attend for his/her input. My advice for anyone attempting to select a certification program is to weight most heavily two criterion above all the rest:
  • Is this the style of yoga that you most enjoy practicing?
  • Is this the style of yoga that you want to teach?
Perhaps these seem like painfully obvious questions. Yet, when taking into account all the other, more logistical factors that go into this decision (such as cost, location, and timing, among others), it can be tempting to veer away from the two most fundamental questions. Sure, you can become certified through a cheaper, quicker program, but you must consider up front if that will influence- or worse- impede your ability to teach a particular style of yoga down the road.
Let’s say you do select an appropriate program, attend, love, and complete it. You’re probably eligible to start teaching in certain health clubs and studios. However, it’s possible that there are several other requirements that you must meet en route to full-fledged certification (e.g. teaching hours, a video tape evaluation, a written component of some kind, etc.), and your motivation to complete these additional steps is probably contingent upon whether you actually want to be a yoga teacher. When friends, students, or readers of inquire about teaching as a vocation (particularly a full-time one), I usually prompt them to consider the following questions before quitting their status as members of the gainfully employed or newly “funemployed.”
  • Have you crunched the numbers? Meaning, have you calculated your expenses and determined that your teaching schedule (or one that you aim to obtain) will be covered by your new salary? Have you also calculated any new expenses that you might incur as a yoga teacher (e.g. gas for driving to and from studio(s), parking, liability insurance, health insurance, etc.).
  • Have you crunched the numbers again? (No, seriously).
  • Have you considered how your new schedule will impact your lifestyle? I love teaching yoga, but I no longer teach on a full-time basis because it didn’t suit my lifestyle over time. For several years, I worked six days a week, including nights, weekends, and holidays (yes, that means Christmas). This is an extreme case of a “prime time” teaching schedule (most people take classes during peak, post-work hours and weekends, so experienced, master-level teachers typically teach at these popular times), but it’s never too early to consider how your forthcoming teaching schedule will affect the rest of your life.
  • Will your physical health be affected? If you are a full-time teacher, you can expect to teach multiple times a day, several days a week. This takes a toll on any body, even very healthy, limber ones. It may sound like a paradox, but teaching yoga can negatively impact one’s health. If you have certain conditions that preclude you from this kind of ongoing physical exertion, please consult a health professional.
  • Will teaching yoga help or hinder your other life goals? Whether it’s traveling or child-rearing, any career, including those outside the corporate mold, should support your other ambitions. To achieve your goals, you must arrange your life in a way that maximizes your ability to make your dreams a reality. Any job has the potential to deliver or divert you, and teaching yoga is no different.

Finally and most importantly:

  • Why do you want to be a yoga teacher? A well-informed, excited, and inspired answer to this question is the single, best place to start. If what propels you is more internal (i.e. I love yoga, have been practicing for years, and want to share my experience with others) than external (I’m bored with my current job, and being a yoga teacher sounds cool to others), then you will settle in your dharma [sacred duty] soon enough. Best of luck to you!
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  • Meghan (Making Love In The Kitchen)

    I am often asked about the salary range of a nutritionist. I went from a 9-5 (or more like 8-7) with an awesome salary, bonus, paid vacays and full benefits to working from home, barely getting by, working more than ever before and never being happier. I can go for an afternoon bike ride when the sun shines, hit up yoga and pilates midday if I like, take holidays, work from the cottage… all sorts of goodies. Loving what I do means I need less money for distractions.

    I am also often asked about what kind of opportunities are out there. I never have an answer to this. If you work hard, and are passionate about your work, do it with integrity, you don't need to look for opportunities. You create them.

  • Om Gal

    Bravo, Meghan! Thank you for the additional, succinct, and inspiring insight. Well said.

  • Anonymous