At the risk of sounding cynical, I want to make the simple but potentially controversial observation that yoga teacher training programs have really been churning out a lot of really poor teachers in the past few years. My suspicion is that teacher training programs have become a veritable business for yoga studios and gyms, and, as a result, pretty much anyone who is willing to pay the ridiculous fees to enroll in one of these programs is just a few weeks away from being a “certified yoga instructor”.
This is problematic on quite a few levels. First, this trend is problematic because it has watered down the meaning of “certified yoga instructor,” so much so that you never know what you’re going to get when you go to a yoga class, even if the teacher has all kinds of certifications, training courses, pictures with famous yogis, etc., listed on his/her yoga resume. My guess is that tens of thousands of people out there are “certified” at the Yoga Alliance 200 and 500 hours levels, and even beyond, but so few of these people, in my humble opinion, are really cut out to be instructing others in yoga. I think there has come to be a certain cachet associated with being a “certified yoga teacher,” just as there is a certain cachet associated with getting any kind of degree in our society. Unfortunately, just as a college degree has come to mean less and less as watered-down degrees continue to be offered by for-profit, quasi-universities across the country, the yoga teacher certification has come to mean less and less as profit-driven yoga teacher training programs pop up at studios and gyms across the country. Believe it or not, I’ve even seen advertisements for “do-it-yourself at home” yoga teacher training kits — you never have to attend a class, go to a studio, or even be observed by anyone else!
I think this trend is also problematic because it makes it very difficult for students to know which teacher training programs are legit and which ones are not. When it comes down to it, I think the best model for training good teachers is the traditional model — i.e. find a guru and study with him/her for several years, become an apprentice, and learn how to teach by teaching, one day finding your own voice and style. Unfortunately, in order to get a job teaching yoga at most studios or gyms, you will probably need some kind of official stamp of approval, even if it doesn’t mean all that much any more. But how is anyone supposed to know whether or not a teacher training program will be good before plopping down potentially thousands of dollars? Of course, you can talk to people who have finished the program to find out what they think, but often times this is not a good measure of whether or not the program will be good for you, especially since the people you talk to will have just spent thousands of dollars and will have every incentive to convince themselves that it was money well spent.
In general, I’ve tried talking to people who I respect as yogis to find out what their opinions are about the different teacher training programs they’ve completed. For the most part, the reports haven’t been good. I won’t name/slander any particular studios or teacher training programs here, but, from what I’ve heard in talking to yogis around the country, some of the most famous, brand-name yoga teacher training program are sloppy, superficial, and generally not worth the money. I have heard, however, some very good things about certain teachers, and my general impression is that the quality of the teacher(s) is what makes or breaks a teacher training program. But this should come as no surprise, given that the value of a teacher training program will be (or at least should be) in what you learn, not in the “prestige” of the brand name associated with the studio or some celebrity teacher who conferred the certification on you.
So what are all these teacher training program about, then, if not about producing good teachers? Well, not to sound cynical again, but I think it’s about money. My understanding is that many yoga studios, especially ones in big cities, are unable to pay the bills just by holding yoga classes. For instance, I recall reading in a recent Yoga Journal article that Jivamukti in NYC makes less than 30 percent of its overall revenue from yoga classes. The rest, as I understand it, is coming from teacher training programs, special events and workshops, and, to a lesser degree, retail sales.
Certainly, however, there are some excellent teacher training programs out there, and some excellent teachers. And I think many of us are willing to pony up the $1000 to $3000+ to take a teacher training program that is worth it. Towards this end, I’d like to invite readers to submit comments/reviews about any teacher training programs they’ve taken, and to share with others the pros and cons of these programs.