As yoga grows in popularity, so do the yoga teacher trainings being offered in one of a gazillion yoga studios worldwide. Practically every local studio has a 200-hour training program. Most studio owners will admit that yoga teacher trainings, which run upwards of $3,000 ($6K if you're into Jivamukti), help pay the bills. But is 200 hours enough to be a qualified yoga instructor?
The Yoga Alliance says yes. Their definition of an RYT 200® (registered yoga teacher), a title, which by the way, is a registered mark, is having completed a 200-hour training program with an RYS 200 (registered yoga school). There are no actual teaching time/instructing requirements for this designation. The teaching requirement for RYT 500 status is only 100 hours, but with an additional 300 hours of training.
Is 200 hours of classroom instruction with little to no actual hands-on practical experience enough to legitimately “register” someone as a yoga teacher? How about teachers who have been practicing for decades but never registered with the Yoga Alliance (YA)? There are many, some prominent, such as Leslie Kaminoff and Richard Rosen, who eschew the YA and feel it offers little in the way of true oversight for yoga teaching and simply exists to gather registration fees for its various designations. So essentially the industry is on an honor system. Are programs are actually 200 hours long? Are the relevant topics covered? Can graduates actually teach? How does one perform due diligence on a yoga teacher or studio if the registration he or she has and the actual experience he or she embodies can be so wildly divergent?
In my experience, what matters most is the teacher’s personal practice. I am less interested in someone leading me thru a rote series of poses and far more interested in what wisdom and insight a teacher can share. A teacher who is a newly minted 200-hour RYT but has been practicing for 15 years under a variety of teachers and styles is probably better prepared to share yoga’s wisdom than a teacher who practiced all of 16 months before doing a training at a “McYoga” studio, but in the accreditation language of the YA, they are equivalent.
While RYT 200 status is the most basic qualification a teacher can receive from YA, I’m much more interested those who earn an E-RYT, which says that not only has the instructor taken a 200-hour training, but that they have completed over 1,000 hours of teaching time since graduating from said training (I have amassed this number of teaching hours, but I have yet to file and pay for this additional letter behind my name). E-RYT is far more descriptive of a teacher’s knowledge than RYT. After teaching 1,000 hours (that’s over 650 90 minute classes), presumably you have something of value to teach. Keeping in mind that the student/mentor relationship in yoga is never complete and most instructors that put in the time to teach 1,000 hours have not stopped learning from their mentors.
Yet as the industry has shown, being a highly respected, world-famous yoga instructor with decades of experience does not gild a teacher in perfection. Stories about Pattabhi Jois’ abusive nature are legion; John Friend of Anusara fame got himself into a huge pickle with allegations of stolen funds, inappropriate sexual relations, and pot dealing; Bikram Choudary lost a suit against Yoga to the People on grounds of copyright infringement and is still battling a lawsuit over sexual harassment. And it’s not only male teachers: a student claiming he suffered emotional and physical injury in her class is suing Hilaria Thomas Baldwin of Yoga Vida. All these teachers have lots of experience, lots of training, and have been at it for a very long time. So what makes a good yoga teacher? Is 200 hours enough?
Yes and no. In the right yogi, trained by the right program, 200 hours is enough to get them the basic teaching tools and designation that most studios will require to give them a job. It enables them to serve humanity via the incredible technology of yoga. In the wrong yogi, 200 hours is license to be let loose on a yoga-needing public without having the wisdom, experience, skill, sensitivity or anatomical understanding to serve it best.
One of yoga’s gifts is the cultivation of non-judgmental observation. If we can apply this to both the teacher and our own practice, we should be able to stay out of trouble. We are ultimately responsible for our own practice, even at the hands of highly trained, world-renowned teachers. But where does that leave yoga newbies? Bring the equanimity that yoga teaches along with lots of research to your search for a teacher or school. Ask to sit in and observe some classes, talk to the people running the studio about how they find their teachers and what the hiring requirements are, get a feel for the place. If it feels right, great! If it doesn’t, then find somewhere else that does.
A teacher that is a boon for one may by a non-factor to another. The style of yoga (there are hundreds) we practice and resonate with is a very personal thing. Newly minted teachers are a dime a dozen in New York City. Some of them may be very good; just as many, if not more, will never teach a class in their lives. As yoga grows in popularity, teachers and students are both called to become more aware, to teach (and practice) from a place of composure. Both must remember that the teacher is still human. We all have faults. That does not necessarily make us bad teachers. It is only when the faults get in the way of the ability to teach that you have a problem on your hands. So don’t look for letters trailing a teachers name to give you a stamp of approval. Instead do your homework, use your intuition and listen to your body to feel the teacher’s impact. This is the way you fill find your true teachers, they are the ones who touch your soul. - Lola Rephann