What You Should Know About Choosing Teacher Training
By Adam Carney
Maybe you’ve heard the rumors; yoga teacher training is life changing. Perhaps you’ve got an intuition there’s more to this practice beyond sun salutations in a crowded room.
The rumors about yoga teacher training are true, you’ll never be the same person again. A good teacher training will fundamentally change how you perceive the world. However I constantly hear from our students that they have trouble choosing a program, that it’s sort of like throwing darts against google. Often time students default to choosing the safe program down street because they fear they might make the wrong choice going to a school in Costa Rica, India, Bali, or Thailand. Yoga schools may all appear to be similar from their websites, but this is far from true. In this post I want to help you go a one layer deeper to help you get a little more clarity on choosing a teacher training.
I am the founder of one of the largest yoga teacher training companies in the world that runs all-inclusive yoga teacher trainings in Bali, as well as one of the largest online listing sites for teacher trainings. To say my life is completely immersed in the yoga teacher training world is still an understatement.
Takeaway 1: Learning Yoga is not like learning other things. Do an immersive training, if you can.
It’s 2016, I’m sharing breakfast with a man who many consider one of the best yoga and meditation masters walking the earth. The epitome of health and wellbeing, his face would be on the cover of “THE” Yoga Manual, had such a thing existed. His long, flowing hair merges at his neckline with a thick, black beard, as if sharing a teaching on interconnectedness in his grooming choices. His kind, radiant eyes constantly glazed with tears of silent laughter and when he speaks, the sweet, subtle vibrations of his voice lull you into loving submission. A man who quite literally thanks the earth each time his delicate foot steps on the ground, whose mere presence sparks a transformation deep in the soul. Simultaneously the most grounded and most mystical person I have ever known, each day with him is a spontaneous adventure into the nature of life, unveiling its poetry and hidden miracles. He has been a pillar of radiant happiness in my life from the moment we met in 2014 in northern India. But on this day, he was sad.
Bewildered as to what could make a man like this sad, I inquired. After a long silence, he began speaking.
“People come from all over the world to my trainings to learn yoga, but they misunderstand it altogether. Yoga is not about accumulating information like in school. People come wanting to be teachers before they really learn it. It’s not a study and it’s not a career path. It’s a way of living, and you must know it through your own body to be able to share it. To understand the path of yoga, you must become the path, there’s no other way.” He paused, gazing out over the rice-fields before continuing.
“I am constantly watching people I love suffer needlessly. Today it is making my heart sad.”
Imagine for a moment you were taking a yoga class at Laughing Lotus in the Mission. 30 minutes into your class the teacher says “Ok everyone, we’re going to take a 30 minute break. Go sit in traffic, and then come back to finish the remaining hour of the class.“ Continuity is incredibly important in yoga. This plays out over the course of a single yoga class, but also over the course of days and weeks as you are in an immersive training. When you have the momentum behind you of a large group in a completely immersive environment with no distractions, you will learn yoga by feeling it in your own cells. This is the only way to really learn it. Though the knowledge is largely the same as what you’d receive at home, I see that teachers who do an immersive training go to a different level of intimacy with themselves and the practice.
I urge you to consider finding an immersive environment for your teacher training. Somewhere you can be totally disconnected from the outside world. Historically, if you wanted to learn yoga in India you had to commit yourself to 12 years in an ashram to even get in the door. The teachings are just that subtle. And while that may not be practical for you in today’s world, a month-long immersive program can give you a small taste of what that’s like.
If you do a weekend training in the states, you’ll learn the alignments, the sanskrit terms and all the technicalities of being a yoga teacher. However, all the best teachers in the world go out of their way to study in immersive environments. They become living embodiments of the practice, which on a deeper level is what they convey to their students in their classes. Yoga teacher training is about living the principles in each moment, not about learning to regurgitate information.
Takeaway 2: Don’t shy away because you aren’t sure if you want to teach yet.
Of the 200+ students my school trained last year, I’d estimate less than 1/3 or less actually wanted to become yoga teachers. Most people who do a teacher training are somewhere in between wanting to teach and wanting to deepen their practice. If you aren’t sure that you want to teach yet, that shouldn't’ discourage you from doing the teacher training.
Also, don’t shy away if you recently started practicing. There’s a common misperception that you will be a better yogi if you can perform the poses better. Many students I speak with are afraid they won’t be at the same skill level as the rest of the group. This is really a non-issue on the training. Teacher training environments are generally not competitive in the least.
Actually, the students who have left our trainings with the biggest life transformations are often times the beginning students. I chalk that up to the fact that they don’t come into the training with any preconceived notions about what they are going to learn.
Takeaway 3: If you actually want to teach, don’t go in expecting to dabble
15 years ago, you could do a 200 hour teacher training and start teaching right away because you’d likely be the only certified yoga teacher in your town. The industry has significantly raised it’s standards since then, there are far too many teachers now for that to be a guarantee. Think of the 200 hour training like a high school degree. Back in the early 1900’s you could get a high school and immediately go work on Wall Street. Not the case anymore.
In each of our trainings, there are always 2-3 students who go on to teach full-time right away. And we always know who they are. It has nothing to do with how they do on their test; it’s a mentality. The students who go onto teach right away have a fire in their belly to push through the initial discomforts and challenges of starting as a teacher. They aren’t dabbling in teaching, they commit to themselves to do it full time. The challenges you face in the beginning are the same challenges in any career: confidence, scheduling, making enough money, etc. If you really want to teach yoga, put your head down and commit to teaching 500 classes in your first year, regardless of how much money you make. If you aren’t willing to do this, chances are you aren’t ready to be a career yoga teacher, yet.
Takeaway 4: Don’t make the rational choice. Make the one that scares you just a little.
Close your eyes and ask yourself where you would be most excited to do your training. Don’t make the choice based on money, or based on what will look the best on your resume.
I did my teacher training in Dharamshala, India. I too felt like I was throwing darts against google when I was choosing a program. All I knew was I wanted to be near the birthplace of yoga, near the Dalai Lama’s home temple, and somewhere ever so slightly westernized. On my program, I ended up meeting the man who would forever change my life, the man I described in the story above, who now is our head spiritual teachers at East+West. Initially I thought this was all coincidence, but who was it that said coincidence is god’s way of staying anonymous?
Amazing spiritual experiences work this way, they don’t come from making the “smart” choice, they come from following that tiny whisper deep in your heart that pushes you into unchartered territory. If it’s not scaring you a little, it’s probably not the program that’s going to transform you the most.