Ahimsa Blog

10 Tips for Choosing the Right Teacher Training Program for You

For the yogi who is considering taking that big leap into the world of yoga teacher training, whether for the purpose of deepening their own personal practice or to move towards teaching professionally, choosing the right teacher training can be a challenging process!  Especially now, when there are so many teacher training options available, how is one supposed to choose?  For years I’ve been getting e-mails from prospective teacher trainees asking a wide range of questions about the program that I run each year.  But really, they all boil down to one of two questions… “How do I know if I’m ready to do this?” and “How do I know which program is the right one for me?”
After fielding yet another of these inquiries earlier this afternoon, I thought it might be useful to just put together a bit of a guide for the prospective teacher trainee.  A list of simple things you can do to get a little clearer on the second of these two questions, to narrow down the options and increase your chances of finding the best fit for you.  (The first question could be a subject for a whole different post!  So in the interest of brevity, we’ll just tackle the second here.) 
After all, when you find the right program, it can be a massively transformational experience!  A beautiful, inspiring, and unforgettable turning point in the road of a person’s life!  Whereas choosing the wrong one could turn out to be an exhausting, expensive, and unsatisfying let-down.  In the worst instances, it could even result in a person’s earnest passion for yoga dissolving into disinterest, cynicism or bitterness!  So especially for the yogi who sees their practice as a part of their long-term vision for a beautiful life, choosing the right teacher training becomes a very important decision.
So let’s get to the list!  10 suggestions for helping you find the best teacher training for you.

1) Practice with the faculty

Probably the most important of all – take classes with the primary faculty that you will be training under.  Every teacher has a different “vibe” and how you resonate with the teacher and “their voice / style" is a very significant factor in how engaged you may feel with the way they lead a teacher training.  (And if possible, in this circumstance, it may be beneficial to NOT introduce yourself before class as a potential teacher trainee!  Ideally, you want to see how we are when we are just engaging with our students in a normal way, not in a “I want you to take my training!” kind of way.  Some yoga teachers are better “sales people” than they are “teacher trainers”!)

2) Attend info sessions, and ask questions.

Attend whatever YTT info sessions you can.  Many studios hold at least one or two of these in the months leading up to their program’s start date.  This gives you an opportunity to hear the presenters speak and see what their emphasis is likely to be for the training.  It’s also a great opportunity to ask questions that may not be covered on websites and brochures, etc.  (FYI… I will be hosting an info session on Wednesday Aug 31st, 7:30pm at our Ahimsa Toronto studio)

3) Invest in a spectacular training, not in a spectacular sales pitch.

Although websites and brochures can include helpful information, to be sure, remember that those resources are “promotional material”.  They can definitely help give a sense of the “feeling” that a program might emphasize, but I feel that their main value (for both studios and potential participants) is just to let people know:
a) this group / studio is offering a training!  
b) practical details like cost, dates and teaching faculty. 
But for actual content information, you probably want to have some contact with either the director(s), the faculty, or past graduates.

4) Connect with past graduates

Whenever possible, connect with people who have graduated from the programs you are interested in.  (Most studios should be happy to put you in touch with people who have graduated from their programs.)  Directors will be only too eager to tell you all the ways that their program is so amazing!  But grads are more likely to share what was challenging or less inspiring.  Also important to know!   

5) Get clear on your “why”s (and be open to “more”)

Try to be as clear as possible on why you are interested in taking a teacher training.  All programs will focus on different things.  Some are almost entirely asana.  Some are more about teaching skills.  Some have a stronger meditation component.  Some are more anatomy or more philosophy.  Some are more theoretical or more experientially based.  But if pranayama is something you are interested in learning about, the program you choose should allow you to explore that in a way that will satisfy your desire to grow in that area. 
And yet… it is also important to be open!  In over 15 years of teaching teacher training, one thing I have observed very consistently is that things that may NOT have been on a student’s radar initially, are often the places where the greatest and most exciting growth is experienced.

6) What kind of teaching opportunities will you get?  (Both during and after the program)

I am always surprised when I hear tales of trainings where trainees only get a couple minutes of actual supervised teaching during their “teacher training” program, or sometimes even none at all!  If you are actually interested in becoming a yoga teacher (not just interested in deepening your personal practice or study) then teaching exercises and teaching opportunities (especially supervised by faculty) are going to be a key part of your training.  Find out what kind of practicum component your training options offer.
Also look into whether or not there are karma classes, community classes or other opportunities for new graduates to get some teaching experience in a studio environment after the program is finished.  (It’s hard to get hired as a teacher with a certificate and NO experience!)  If there are opportunities available, how are graduates selected for those opportunities?

7) Be aware of the “Student – Faculty ratio”

In addition to the actual content delivered, the connection and support you have from the faculty can have a significant impact on your teacher training experience.  How many students will be in your training group?  What kind of access and proximity will you have with the faculty?  How many faculty will be on hand at any one time?  Will their be any additional support staff or assistants present?  Will you have the opportunity to ask questions?  If it is a large group, will you still have the opportunity to teach and receive feedback from your faculty?
In addition to the invaluable nature of personal feedback from an experienced teacher, we all benefit greatly by feeling seen and heard, especially by our guides and teachers.  The student-teacher relationship can be a sacred thing.  At the very least, it should feel supportive.  If there will be no opportunity for interaction, personal feedback or asking questions due to the number of students, you may even want to consider a smaller program, or even online courses, where you can at least rewind and replay that last moment of brilliance or bewilderment until you can really take it all in.  (They’re usually a lot cheaper too!)

8) Get clear on what “200 hours” really means.  (Hint – it usually doesn’t actually mean “200 hours”!)

Most entry-level teacher training programs are based on a “200-hour” certification standard.  But what does that 200 hours actually refer to?  What most prospective teacher trainees are seeking are called “contact hours” – hours spent with the primary faculty in a program.  THAT is a number that every interested student should research before choosing a teacher training program!  How many hours will you actually be studying with your amazing YTT faculty?  Because what many people don’t know is that a significant number of those “200 hours” advertised are actually hours spent doing homework, reading on your own time, and attending classes or doing self-practice, all of which you could have been doing on your own anyways, without paying the thousands of dollars a teacher training often costs.  Having a certain number of “non-contact hours” is pretty standard for most training programs (so don’t automatically assume that you are being ripped off!) but different programs will definitely show a different ratio of “contact hours” to “non-contact hours”.  
Do a little math.  What is the cost of the training “per contact hour”?  Add up the number of in-class training hours (you can usually get the dates and scheduled hours from a studio’s website) and divide the total cost of program by that number.  You may be surprised at the differences between programs!

9) Be optimistic, and be realistic.  

It can be SO EXCITING to think about starting a teacher training program.  For many adults, it’s like going back to school again!  But this time, studying something we are truly passionate about, and something we are actually excited to put our time and energy into.  That level of excitement can cause people to ignore certain practical considerations which really should be taken into account when making such an important decision.  Considerations such as:
  • program duration & schedule (Can you get the time off work?  Or can the schedule fit into your current obligations / schedule?  How much time away from your family / other commitments will it require?) 
  • tuition cost  (Are there financing options / payment plans available?  What can you realistically afford to spend?  How comfortable are you with the idea of carrying a debt or loan to finance your training?)
  • additional expenses for books, materials, and required practice hours (Are your yoga classes included in the tuition?)
  • location (Where will it be held and how much travel time do you need to budget?)
  • anticipated hours of out-of-class requirements (homework / reading / assignments / etc.)
All of these things could weigh in significantly in selecting the teacher training that “makes the most sense” for you.  Yet, on the other hand… remembering the old expression “fortune favours the bold” is an invitation for some to rise above what may seem to be limitations and challenge oneself to “find a way.”  I truly believe that if someone has enough passion, enough focus, and a willingness to really engage their resourcefulness, the overcoming of obstacles that could otherwise prevent you from pursuing your passion can actually be a powerful part of ones growth.  (Jai Ganesha!)
However… if you have been “overcoming obstacles” consistently for a while, and that has landed you deep in the red, then THAT may be the obstacle that needs overcoming first!  Yoga will ALWAYS be there, waiting for you.  And home practice is free!  As are many online resources that will allow you to continue your growth without deepening your debt.

10) What kind of support will you have after graduation?

The importance of this question is greater than most prospective teacher trainees realize.  Before training starts, many of the trainees are often complete strangers.  Most are anticipating the information they are hoping to learn or the skills they are hoping to acquire.  But one aspect of a group training that is so hard to anticipate is the power of the COMMUNITY that is created in the process – the relationships that are developed with the faculty and with your fellow trainees.  So when the program is over… what then?  
  • Will you continue to get support from the faculty when the program is finished?
  • What kind of continuing education opportunities are there with your faculty?
  • What kind of teaching opportunities will be available to you through your school or organization?
  • Will you have the opportunity to see your fellow trainees and continue to benefit from the support of that community?  (Some of them may feel like FAMILY when the program ends!)
This is a consideration easily overlooked by students taking a distance training intensive.  If you are travelling with a teacher and students from your home community, you may come back with the absolute tightest of yoga families!  But if you are travelling to study with a teacher and other students that you will not see in person when the program ends, you may feel the loss of the support and connections of your crew.  These situations also rarely include any kind of teaching opportunities or continuing conversation after a program’s completion.
Quite a list!  And these are just ten of the most important considerations.  There are certainly more!  But I hope it has given you some things to think about to help you make a decision that will really serve you on your path.  Whether your plan is to become a teacher, or just deepen your study of yoga, you DESERVE the best support you can get.  It can be such a massively impactful and transformational journey when you find the right teacher, the right training program, and the right community, so I truly hope that you can take the time to find the best fit for you!  Good luck!