Yoga Chicago / Yoga Musings

Are Teacher Training Programs the New Bartending Schools?

When I first started doing yoga, just about ten years ago, yoga teacher training programs were not so prevalent. Only a few studios offered them, and these were usually the more established ones owned by highly accomplished yogis–e.g., Chuck Miller and Maty Ezraty. Teacher training programs were also relatively small, and they ran just once in a while, maybe once a year.

My, how things have changed! Nowadays, teacher training programs are all the rage, and every studio seems to offer them, even those that have been open for just a year or two. In fact, at some yoga studios, it almost seems like the daily classes exist primarily as recruiting grounds for new TT candidates. In other words, yoga classes are just a side show, while the TT programs (and expensive workshops) are the main attraction.

It’s not just the studios that are pushing these TT programs. Lately, it seems like every yoga student out there is in a rush to get their “RYT” certification. This is true even among those who are relatively new to yoga — I’ve even heard of people taking TT programs who have never done yoga! I don’t know if being a yoga teacher is cool or what, but it’s astounding to me how many students today want to become certified yoga instructors, instead of focusing on their practice.

All of this reminds me a lot of a craze when I was in college: bartending schools. When I was an undergrad, it seemed like every other person I knew was signing up for some $500-$1000 bartending course, in the hopes of making some easy money. People thought this was a cool thing to do, too — why not make some money hanging out a bar, which we were all doing anyways? As it turned out, though, only a small percentage of people who went through these bartending courses ever landed a bartending job. And an even smaller percentage made any decent money. In the end, the people who were really profiting were those clever folks running these bartending courses.

Robert Gold Bartender

This man is not a yoga teacher. Or is he???

Sound familiar?

Now, I don’t mean to suggest here that teaching yoga is anything like bartending. My point is that yoga teacher training programs, like those bartending schools, have gotten a little bit out of hand. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by saying there are probably too many TT programs out there. And a lot of these programs thrive by giving students the false hope that they’ll be able to teach yoga one day. Is this good for yoga? Is this good for the students? Or, at the end of the day, is this really just good for the studios?

Back in the day — i.e., waaaaay back — if you became a yoga teacher, you would do so not by choice, but at your teacher’s urging. In other words, a yoga student would become a teacher only because he/she was reluctantly “pressed into service,” not by paying a $3500 admission fee.

Of course, this picture of how things were “traditionally” done is probably fraught with all sorts of problems and distortions. But even if it is more or less accurate, the model of the reluctant teacher is not necessarily the best model for yoga in the modern world.

I do think, however, that people should take their time before embarking on the path of becoming a yoga teacher. And people should go down that path for the right reasons. Too often, I see yogis who go into teaching because of ego. They teach not to give, but to take. They want the (apparent) glory, attention, authority, popularity, etc., that comes with being a yoga teacher. Or they just want to make some money. These are not good reasons, in my view, for becoming a yoga teacher.

So here’s a question to ask yourself, then, before signing up for that TT program: Do I want to do this because of what it will do for me, or because of what it will allow me to do for others?


3 thoughts on “Are Teacher Training Programs the New Bartending Schools?

  1. Great post. It is way out of hand. You said it, I think it is the big cash cow for studios nowadays. It’s hard to compete and stay in business serving only yoga classes, and they must rake in the dough from those TT programs. Richard Freeman appears to share your sentiments: He emphasizes practice before any thought of teaching.

  2. Hi there,
    I just came across this post as I am trying to find out more about YTT programs and their legitimacy. I don’t necessarily want to become a teacher and I doubt I will ever teach. However, in order to improve my self practice and simply for the experience I want to go through the process of obtaining the certification. I believe it can teach me so much more than postures, alignment and philosophy.. What are the things you recommend to look out for when deciding on a school? I have my heart set on travelling to India for it, but I am wondering, with all the hype and abundance of choice, what are the things I should focus on when making a decision?

    Your insights would be much appreciated 🙂


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