How to become a Yoga Instructor

Yoga teacher trainings have become available from almost every yoga studio in the country.   You can attend training at your local studio, or go away for a training that is condensed into a month long series, or study online.  With all of these options, how do we choose what’s best?

 The plethora of choices does not mean that all trainings are the same.  In fact, there are vast differences in focus, experience and emphasis. The quality of the training program is dependent on the experience and abilities of the trainers.

Change in ways that may surprise you

It’s important to determine what you’re seeking.  The experience of yoga teacher training can be a journey like no other.  When the training includes the many aspects of yoga that are beyond asana, it awakens our inner wisdom.  Incorporating breath, mindfulness and movement is what sets the practice of yoga apart from exercise modalities.  In Yoga, there is an opportunity to stretch not just your body, but your mind, awareness and creativity.

Yoga Teacher Training

So how do you find a training that can awaken your special talents?  Look for trainings that move beyond a specific, structured way of teaching.  Many schools follow the practices of a guru or teacher who has very strict ideas about how each asana (pose) and breathing should be practiced.  Keep in mind that most of these teachings were designed for teenage boys and have changed little over time.  Often, they focus on form over function with emphasis on having all students look the same in every movement.

Common sense tells us that each body is different.  Age, gender, injuries, culture and body type influence how we move, breath and live.  The power of yoga is that, in its essence, it means “unity”.  Not the unity of a group but rather the union between body, mind and spirit.   Thus, yoga is uniquely created to be mindful of our differences and use them as powerful tools to find balance within each individual.

How long does it take to become a Yoga Instructor?

The concept of standards for Yoga teachers is a relatively new one.  In 1997, a small group of instructors began to discuss the need for guidelines when teaching yoga.  The Yoga Alliance was the outcome of those early meetings and came to fruition in 1999, creating codified teaching standards. It wasn’t until 2004, that the Yoga Alliance began to see more and more schools create programs that followed the standards set for teaching.  The Yoga Alliance originally created the 200 hour designation for instructors and expanded to include a 500 hour teaching registry.

200-Hour Yoga Certification

The initial training for Yoga teachers is a 200-hour course that includes studies on asana, anatomy and physiology, pranayama (breathing practices), ethics, teaching methodology, Yoga philosophy and practicum. Many trainings have a specific focus and might include more hours dedicated to that focus.  Trainings must be led by at least one teacher who has the designation of E-RYT 200 or E-RYT 500, indicating that they are Experienced, Registered Yoga Teachers with a minimum of 1000 hours (ERYT 200) or 2000 hours (ERYT500) of teaching experience.

Trainings can be offered in many ways:  weekends over several months (3-5 is standard) or condensed trainings offered in dedicated locations, usually over 3-4 weeks. A personal note here:  we all learn differently and in my years of training I have experienced a wide variety of training structures.  While going away for several weeks to train seems efficient, and a good way to immerse yourself, it is generally exhausting and much of the information and wisdom can be lost in the long days and weeks of study. 

Teachers Teaching Teachers

Teaching others to teach requires a skill-set beyond teaching yoga classes.  Understanding the foundations and principles behind what is being taught is a necessary talent for lead instructors.  If possible, when choosing a Yoga training program, attend a workshop led by the program leader for the school you’re considering.  It might give you a better sense of whether or not they are the right teacher for you.

How much does it cost to become a Yoga Instructor?

The plethora of trainings also means a wide range of cost, but the range of 200 hour trainings is $1,000-$3,500.   You can pay a great deal more, for instance Bikram trainings can begin at $12,000 and go as high as $16,000. You can also pay less but choose carefully. There are trainings offered that are not Yoga Alliance Registered and might be one or two days of simply learning how to use a few yoga poses in exercise classes.  Sadly, these “quickie” trainings have added to the misperception of what Yoga is, and can lead to injuries.

Do you need a license to be a yoga instructor?

There is no licensing required to become a yoga instructor, but it is a very good idea to have yoga instructor liability insurance.  Yoga studios and gyms generally have an insurance policy that covers the instructors who teach there.  However, if you teach at more than one location,  see private clients, or offer any classes outside of those locations, it’s advisable to have your own policy. The Yoga Alliance offers insurance to registered teachers and there are several other companies that offer inexpensive coverage as well.

How to become a Yoga Teacher Online

The practice of yoga is not simply an exercise class but it is often taught as such.  When the focus of training is asana as exercise, it is likely that students will be taught that there is only one correct way to move into a pose and everyone should look the same.  You often find this in online courses.  The drawbacks of online trainings are that there are no opportunities to learn how to read individual bodies, or get immediate feedback on movement. There is no opportunity for individual attention, which is key as every student is different. In general, online learning is most effective for continuing education on specific subjects.  Yoga teacher training is a deeply personal experience.  The community, sharing and reflection that is inherent in Yoga training simply cannot be replicated online.

The benefits of Yoga Teacher Training extend far beyond the aspects of teaching others to move.  It taps into our cellular wisdom and experiences, releasing trauma, memories and inviting us to study ourselves in unique and powerful ways. Regardless of whether you decide to teach, you might find the most amazing student is you!


Karen Quinn