This article originally appeared on Yoga Journal
If you've spent any time in the yoga world, you've probably observed that one of the most common ways to access what’s described as a "deeper" or "more profound" understanding of yoga is enrolling in yoga teacher training (YTT).
But your love of practicing yoga a few times a week doesn't necessarily equate to wanting to study all aspects of yoga. Most classes don't go much beyond asana, which are the physical postures. This is just one component of the practice. When you study to become a yoga teacher, you also explore the philosophy, the breathing techniques, the meditations, the self-work, the surrender to the practice, and many other teachings from the ancient tradition.
Learning is an essential part of your yoga practice and should be a lifelong process. Even if you choose to study yoga in more detail, it doesn't mean that you want to teach it, need to teach it, or should teach it. And there's nothing wrong with that. But before you commit thousands of dollars to a YTT program, you should understand more about yoga and its philosophy so you can discern whether this is a commitment that you want to make.
4 Things You Need to Know Before You Enroll in YTT
There are several essential things you need to consider prior to enrolling in a yoga teacher training.
1. Start With Free Resources
If you're curious about yoga, pause before you put down a deposit on a yoga teacher training. Explore some free resources to see if you like the non-asana aspects before making a larger commitment. Read articles, books, and blog posts about various aspects of yoga. Listen to yoga podcasts. There are even video lectures on the philosophy and history of yoga available for free online. If you find that you have little to no interest in doing this, consider it a pink flag.
You may love the non-asana side and decide to explore it more. Or you may realize that yoga beyond the physical practice is not for you. But start small so you can truly understand your interest and bandwidth. You can even explore mini-trainings on a particular topic, such as breathwork. Instead of jumping into a training, you can take a two-hour workshop, a weekend course, or an ongoing online program that's 20 rather than 200 hours.
2. Understand That Teaching Yoga is a Commitment
There's a common assumption that if you're good at asana, you'll be good at teaching yoga. This couldn't be further from the truth. Becoming a capable yoga teacher demands consistency, discipline, humility, hard work, sacrifice, non-attachment, mindful presence, an attitude of service and many other attributes that are more important than being able to kick into Handstand.
For centuries, people studied, practiced, and committed to bringing yoga into their everyday lives without any pressure to become an expert. They studied with a yoga teacher for a long time--decades or even a lifetime--without a thought of becoming a teacher. They learned the nuances of asana as well as how to engage in everyday yoga. Those who went on to teach others were first selected by their teacher and then became an apprentice, assisted classes, attended lectures, read and reflected on philosophical texts, engaged in thoughtful conversation, and stepped in to substitute when the teacher was indisposed.
It was not an option to sign up for a yoga teacher training and receive a teaching certificate after three months. But the way the western capitalistic yoga system is currently designed, most yoga students are led to believe that the only way to become a yoga teacher is by enrolling in yoga teacher training.
3. Know That Becoming a Yoga Teacher Takes Time
If teaching is the path you choose to take at the end of your training, you'll need time to evolve as a teacher. Receiving a certificate does not make you a teacher. Yoga is like any other career--it requires dedication, patience, time, discipline, and drive to do more and be better.
Traditionally, yoga teachers were "tested" to prove their competence and skills before they were allowed to teach a class--for the sake of the student and the teacher. Teaching anything is a responsibility, especially when people entrust you with their body and their being. It is a tremendous honor to be able to serve.
Ask yourself why you want to teach. It's not about focusing only on those parts of yoga that you like or make you feel good. Only one in thousands becomes a "celebrity" yoga teacher and few even make a living exclusively from teaching yoga. Becoming a yoga teacher is not an escape from your life or a quick ticket to anywhere.
4. Take a Training If It Feels Right for You, Without the Pressure to Teach
If you choose to take yoga teacher training for reasons that are right for you, you might approach the end and realize that you don't want to teach or that you would rather spend more time studying. In either case, that's great! Your practice is not lesser in any way because you're not a yoga teacher. The pleasure of being a student of a subject for life is something we don't pause and consider enough. Even if you choose to teach, you should remain primarily a student.
Teach if you feel that you're called to do so and only if you're willing to put in the work to keep it true to yoga--and true to you. But only you can decide if you truly want or need to teach yoga. Feel no shame if you opt to never teach yoga. Learn to recognize how FOMO, peer pressure, pack mentality, and even capitalism, are subtly at play here.
YTT is still a valuable learning experience. You can do a teacher training as a study program and never teach an asana class ever and it would be no less valid. Don't let anyone convince you that the only way to study yoga is to become a teacher.
About Our Contributor
Arundhati Baitmangalkar is an Indian immigrant yoga teacher and the creator and host of the Let's Talk Yoga podcast, a free continuing education resource for yoga teachers. Baitmangalkar has been teaching yoga for 18 years and owns a studio, Aham Yoga, in Seattle. She's passionate about raising the bar for yoga teacher education. She offers a variety of online continuing education and mentorship for teachers. She's also a Bollywood choreographer, former professional dancer, and the owner of BollyWorks, a home for Bollywood dance. She shares her passion of yoga through her podcast, blog, studio, trainings, YouTube, and Instagram.
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