Making the decision to do a yoga teacher training (YTT) is a big step for most yoga practitioners. For some it is triggered by the wish to dive deeper into the practice and learn more about the century-old tradition, some take it as a part of their own spiritual journey, and some hope to be able to make a living out of teaching yoga to others. Whatever the motivation to start a YTT, it comes with numerous aspects to consider: Which program should you choose? Where should you do it? Which teacher will be right for you? What will the expenses be? And often: Are you ‘good enough’ to become a yoga teacher at all?
Researching answers to these questions will typically result in countless pieces of information, from studio websites to reviews by other yogis, and blog articles from the online yoga community writing about their own YTT experiences. And among all the wonderful articles describing how transformative and beneficial a YTT can be, you will probably come across a couple of less encouraging voices, specifically some that raise the question whether there should actually be more yoga teachers at all.
Blog posts with titles like “Not another yoga teacher“, “5 reasons not to do yoga teacher training” and “How teacher trainings ruin yoga” seem to become more and more abundant on social media; it even seems to have become sort of strange trend to bash new yoga teachers and training programs these days. The articles are usually composed of a series of well-crafted arguments as to why the world doesn’t need more yoga teachers. In some cases it’s just a subtle undertone and some taunting comments, sometimes it’s open ranting and raving. The authors criticize the overabundance of training programs, the lack of universal standards for consistent qualification, and the general “problem” that too many yoga practitioners do a teacher training instead of just staying content with being a student.
Some authors say they are raising this topic purely out of concern for the health of the students, insisting that yoga students must be protected from unqualified teachers. They question whether new teachers, with only 200 hours of training under their belt, have sufficient anatomy knowledge to make sure they don’t put their students at risk of injury. In other cases, the focus is on whether new teachers conscientiously live by the yogic guidelines (which ones varies from article to article) and embody them in their teaching. The list of arguments goes on, and I will discuss the most frequent ones in a separate blog post soon. But the bottom line always seems to be the question whether other people deserve to call themselves yoga teachers.
Reading these articles always makes me feel awkward. Frankly, I really dislike the undertone of superiority and entitlement, and to me the supposedly well-intentioned criticism actually drips with hypocrisy. Because do you know what all those who write bold statements about why the world doesn’t need more yoga teachers have in common? They already are yoga teachers. They have done a YTT, got certified and are now teaching classes on a more or less regular basis. They have experimented with their teaching style, tried out different things, and evolved over time. They know first-hand how transformative a teacher training can be, how much it takes to complete it, what an amazing feeling it is to pass your exams at the end and are able to call yourself a yoga teacher. And how priceless it is to look into smiling faces after teaching your very first solo class. And yet they begrudge others the chance to have the same experience…
They suddenly feel entitled to judge who deserves to be a yoga teacher and who doesn’t, casting doubts on the validity of teaching certifications and on the qualification of the new teachers. All out of concern for the students’ well-being, they say. They insist to care so much for the students that they do this all in order to make sure they can practice safely and correctly. That is, until one of these students decides to do a YTT of their own. Then the perception shifts, and suddenly the student they claimed to care so much for becomes someone else: a potential competitor in the yoga business.
I hate to think that views like this have found their way into the yoga community, but I guess this is a major trigger for the undertone of resentment in these articles: the perception that more yoga teachers mean more competition for those who already teach. That some people calculate the ratio of potential students per teacher in their area and conclude that every new teacher will inevitably take away “their” students and “ruin the market”, as one article fittingly phrased it. So they think that dissuading people from becoming a teacher is the best way to react. In doing so some may see themselves as advocates of the values and traditions of yoga who just want to help shaping its present-day path, saying they say they just mean well by defining criteria for who should be allowed to pass yoga on, and who shouldn’t. Yet to me it doesn’t sound well-intentioned at all; it’s very simply a desire for recognition, and the wish to be perceived as some kind of authority in the yoga scene.
None of the great yoga writings offer any instructions about how to handle yoga as a business. Patanjali doesn’t give advice on how to run a profitable yoga studio that attracts masses of students. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika doesn’t say anything about student recruiting and workshop advertising, and the old Vedic texts are not much help either if you are looking for ways to deal with competition in the industry. That’s probably because yoga was never intended to be a business. For many centuries, yoga teachers were not supposed to have to worry about competition and marketing issues. They largely led modest, self-sustained lives and weren’t forced to generate revenue with their classes. They could solely focus on handing down ancient traditions from teacher to student.
This is in radical contrast to how the “yoga industry” works today. Plenty of people have realized that nothing keeps them from misappropriating the ancient traditions into a lucrative occupation, and that they can actually make a living out of teaching yoga. So, to a certain extent, it’s understandable that they feel compelled to play along in the numbers game and elbow their way through the competition jungle. However, by choosing to utilize yoga that way, they also have to accept that they ultimately contribute to the problem rather than helping to solve it. By creating an atmosphere of exclusivity, they turn the yoga community into a yoga business.
Personally, I think that competition is about the best thing that can happen to yoga community, because the more teachers there are, the more options people have to practice yoga. The more yoga classes are offered, the more people will find their way to the mat. And isn’t this what teaching yoga is all about? Building bridges rather than creating rifts. Encouraging people to find that sacred space that is the yoga mat, and showing them a way to really connect and be present with themselves. Teaching them to find stillness of mind and openness of heart, and passing on the tools we were taught ourselves. Enabling them to accept themselves just as they are, and to act mindfully, consciously and responsibly towards themselves and others.
And if the students decide to do a teacher training themselves after some time, even better. That means their teacher has done a fantastic job in making them fall in love with the practice, so much that they want to dive even deeper into it instead of just consuming a couple of yoga lessons every now and then. It’s a huge accomplishment to inspire someone to take this journey. They may gain the right to teach yoga once they complete their YTT, but more importantly they will gain a better understanding of themselves. What greater gift can a teacher give them?
I’m immensely grateful that my personal journey towards becoming a yoga teacher didn’t involve any jealousy or resentment at all. On the contrary, from the moment I decided to do it I encountered only acceptance, encouragement, and friendship.
I received amazing support by the local teachers and fellow yogis I told about it. They sent me the kindest notes to congratulate me on the decision and wish me a wonderful time. Then, from the day I met my YTT group for the first time until the moment I passed my final teaching exam I experienced nothing but support and assurance from each of the 21 women who took this ride with me. We share amazing memories of flowing side-by-side on our mats, dancing our hearts out in the midst of our circle, and holding each other’s hand in Savasana. We shared our hopes and dreams and fears and life stories, laughter and tears. Each of us was celebrated with overwhelming joy when we passed our exams. And if I get the chance to take one of their classes, or even teach side by side with them, I will be happy, honored and humbled.
For the first class I taught alone after my certification I was joined by several fellow yoga teachers from my city. And they didn’t come to check on me and see if I would make a fool of myself, they came to support and encourage me and show me how happy they were for me. It felt so good to have them there by my side and being sort of welcomed into the yoga teacher circle. I also received the most amazing support from the yoga teacher whose classes I had frequently attended before I took my own YTT. She was the one who made teaching even possible for me by offering me the opportunity to give regular classes at her studio. She never ever gave me the feeling that she perceived me as a competitor now that I had completed my training. On the contrary, she welcomed me with open arms, entrusted me with her students, and shared her knowledge and advice whenever I needed it. I still love to go to her classes, and she often comes to mine.
If there’s anything I would like to be able to influence in today’s yoga scene, it would be for everyone to experience the bliss of finding true community and being surrounded by a group of people who accept and support you, and who have your back on and off the mat.
Yoga is often translated as union. And this is exactly what every yoga student and every yoga teacher should make their highest intention: to unite, not to divide.
So let us please stop criticizing people who are thinking about doing a teacher training. We should applaud everyone who decides to take the step and embark on this journey. We should see them as like-minded brothers and sisters and not as potential competitors. And we should support them and lift them up instead of pulling them down. After all, the common ground we all stand on is that we’re passionate about yoga, and about taking yoga out into the world.