Yoga can impact people’s’ lives in a powerful way: awakening meaningful connections within their bodies, uplifting spirits, increasing flexibility, strength and health, relieving stress, offering a new outlook on life… As a result, it’s only natural that some yogis feel inspired to teach. So where does one begin?
When I first discovered yoga, I was an artist, an ex-athelete and dancer; so my body had always been a powerful tool for expression for me. I was also drawn to meditation, butoh dance and exploring energy healing. Thus, all these inspirations took root in my practice; and through yoga, my appreciation of one body/spirit deepened. Yoga became my prayer. As such, I didn’t want this connection to be dependent upon the right teacher or whether I could find a yoga studio I clicked with (those can occasionally be hard to find). I also wanted to share this immense process with others, anywhere I traveled.
Almost ten years later, I was ready to take the next step!
Why did I choose to get my yoga certification in India?
Did you know that according to the Yoga Journal, by 2008, yoga in the U.S. has been a $6 billion a year industry?
Well, the U.S. has some awesome yoga gurus with exciting brand styles : David Life and Shannon Gannon (Jivamukti Yoga), John Friend (until his 2011 scandal), Baron Baptiste, Bikram Choudhury, the famed list goes on… But while these schools endorse popular styles, which energize and inspire, their teacher certification programs can occasionally be tagged with pretentious costs. My favorite guru school cost close to a semester of college (and that price tag didn’t even include a pillow)!
If yoga’s goal is spiritual, why did it cost as much as an MBA?
Many will say that teaching yoga is not a widely lucrative field. I’d probably agree with that. It’s a highly competitive field and it doesn’t offer much in a salary. According to Lisa Wells‘s article, So, You Want to Be a Yoga Teacher, working at a gym or studio, you’re often paid by the hour and it could start as low as $15 ( one gym actually quoted $12)… which is barely the cost of lunch and bus fare!
As much as I loved my NYC yoga studio, I didn’t align with the premium yoga philosophy. So I visited smaller studios, with ‘softer’ practices and less expensive teaching programs. But either, I felt like I’d be teaching watery yoga (yoga reduced to a gym workout) or I didn’t align with their method. Disillusioned, I put my certification aspirations on hold.
The choice to take my yoga teachers certification in India wasn’t obvious, until I lived in Asia. Before that, the notion of flying to India alone for schooling would’ve seemed scary; but having lived in Asia for a year, the thought of doing this now, seemed more practical and manageable.
Choosing your Yoga Teacher Certification school in India
1. Do you really want to be a yoga teacher?
One of the fundamental questions to ask is:
• Is your desire to teach yoga and enhance your self-practice?
• Or are you just looking to experience yoga in India?
A certification program in India still costs a sizable investment of time and money and the training is different.
If it’s experience you’re seeking, it’s best to take classes or intensive workshops at an ashram, a retreat or with an Indian yogi (in Varanasi or Rishikesh, for example). This will give you time and freedom to deepen your love for yoga, grow your practice in the environment and explore the insights your body feeds you.
A teacher’s program isn’t quite a place for exploration. The moment you step on the mat, it’s to learn the sequences you’ll be teaching. Your day is crammed with learning spiritual texts, anatomy, chanting, sitting in meditation and doing practicums. A teacher certification program doesn’t allow much freedom outside its curriculum (click here for curriculum). …There are times, it doesn’t even allows you to enjoy yoga!
2. What does it mean when a school is accredited by the Yoga Alliance?
A Yoga Alliance accredited school means that the school meets the Yoga Alliance’s 200 and 500 hour course curriculums for teacher certification (read more here). This enables you to register with the Yoga Alliance as a member and getting a RYT (registered yoga teacher) symbol to place next to your name.
Register with the YA and you’ll need to sign up, pay a registration fee and annual dues, but the Yoga Alliance is not a union. It sets the basic standards for yoga teacher requirements and helps to promote them, but it doesn’t give you a job.
3. Will your certification allow you to teach anywhere?
This all depends on where you intend to teach. If teaching yoga is your passion, you will always have many available options to do that across the globe, registered or unregistered.
Many westerners, who hope to teach at a yoga studio or gym back home however, choose to take their training from a Yoga Alliance registered school. The organization sets the basic standard for teacher training hours and some western employers in the yoga community recognize that as a advantage.
But Yoga Alliance schools aren’t always the hard and fast rule. A good friend of mine is a successful yoga instructor at a studio in South Korea; she got certified from that studio and it wasn’t accredited by the Yoga Alliance, it’s has a very good teacher training course.
4 . What are drawbacks of getting yoga teacher certification in India?
To be fair, although your training and practice will be cultivated spiritually and culturally in India, there are four possible reasons why western training may have an advantage:
• You want to learn one of the western brands (Jivamukti, Anusara, Bikram, Power Yoga, etc…)
However, getting certified from India doesn’t mean you can’t continue your 500 hour learning elsewhere or that you can’t pack on extra certs from other schools. Specializing in a few different modalities only enhances your teaching tools. A directory of yoga teacher training certification courses around the world.
• Dealing with travel risks of India (i.e. injury, accidents, sickness, sexual harassment)
Valid. There are many things to know before traveling to India. You probably have questions about dealing with sexual harassment (you need to know this!), food safety, drinking water (you will ultimately want to get a water purification device), applying for your Indian visa, getting an indian SIM, travel insurance and getting around.
Here’s a bunch of articles I wrote answering those India questions.
I got sick and injured during my program, so I can’t promise otherwise. This can be prevented by taking precautions to reduce risk. Ask if there is access to doctors, hospitals and pharmacies near your school. If your school is in a remote area, ask if the program has an in-house doctor and provides meals or safe drinking water. Many cities have hospitals and pharmacies are fairly ubiquitous- if you forgot your Cipro, they’d likely have it (Read what I pack for India). In Mcleodganj I had direct access to one hospital, a couple of doctors and pharmacies.
• You want to get a job in a western studio.
Many yoga studios in the west make it a common practice of hiring teachers from their own teacher training programs. But there’s always exceptions, such as a newly opened studio or creating classes in the park.
• You can try out a yoga class beforehand to see if you like the school’s method or training.
As you can’t see what your school in India is, get to know the teachers, etc…you’ll have to do your homework instead. Know what you want, contact graduates… See #7.
5. What are the requirements for a teacher training course?
Again, requirements vary according to school. Some yoga teacher training schools request you practice for a couple of years before enrolling. Other schools are flexible on the matter, requiring just that you’re fit enough to keep up with classes. If it’s a month intensive course, the program is intense. My certification program had us do up to two yoga sessions a day, for about six days a week. It’s wise to be prepared for those types of workout demands.
6. Find your ‘guru’
A yoga mat is a one-size-fits-all. A teacher or school isn’t always like that.
Many people always ask me what school I went to. Why? Finding your yoga school is like finding your guru. Unless you’re aspiring to yoga for the same reasons and goals as me, then my guru may not fit you. Here’s a short story:
Just before going to Dharamsala for training, I learned some friends were getting certified at Sivananda, a world-reknown school. The luxury of the Sivananda campus, made me want to die with envy, “Why didn’t I choose to get my training here?” . A beautiful campus, vegetarian meals, dorm housing, uniforms, in-house Ayurvedic doctors… everything was included. Except one thing– I wasn’t a fan of Sivananda yoga or its training method! It had everything, but the most essential component for me.
If you’re willing to invest the money into being a teacher, seek out the school that resonates best with your aim. Contact graduates or the school with questions to see if the school and its teachers uphold the values you aspire to.
7. Guidelines to follow for picking your school
We gravitate towards things we want to learn, a philosophy we believe in, and a practice which will compliment and nurture our lifestyle goals. There are many yoga teacher training schools in India and undoubtedly, you may have trepidations about what you can’t see. Here’s some guidelines to help your decision.
• Where do you want to live for a month?
My environment was my first priority. Where ever I did my yoga, I wanted to be settled in a lush and peaceful environment. Someplace tranquil and calming and not tooting with car horns. Afterall, I had to live there for a month! I didn’t want to be too remote or rural; I wanted my environment to help balance what I would be learning inside but have access to fun activities and restaurants. As I had an interest in experiencing Tibetan Buddhism, it narrowed down my choices. Dharamsala was where I wanted to be. The Home of the Dalai Lama (and Karmapa) with mountain ranges and scenic beauty. My only task was to find a teacher in that area.
• Know your yoga style.
You want to teach the style you practice, so seek out the schools which teach those styles. Bikram, Sivananda, Hatha, Ashtanga, the list can go on… In the west, there are so many new fusion styles popping up, with different modern philosophies, such that some yoga enthusiasts may have to think twice about which branch their modern yoga comes from. In India, you’ll learn more of the traditional yogas, which are at the heart and foundation of the new ones. Not necessarily the sweat and calorie burning but the honest yoga that was originally practiced by yogis.
• What are your goals and what do you hope to gain from your program?
While there’s a standard curriculum all Yoga Alliance schools meet, each school concentrates on /offers different electives. If there’s extra focus you want towards a specific subject, seek out the school which offers that extra attention where you’d like it. (i.e. Do you want to learn more philosophy or how to integrate it as a business?)
• Can you manage the schedule, homework and time frame?
My training was a month-long intensive and a little over 200 hours, so we had very little downtime. We had 1.5 days of rest. There was yoga practice twice a day and when we weren’t in class, we were studying.
• Who are your instructors and what is their background experience?
Find teachers you admire or whose training, discipline and lineage you respect.
• What’s your ideal class size?
Do you want a big name school with a large class and a more social atmosphere or a lesser known school with more intimate one-on-one training?
• Do you agree with the school’s philosophy?
Does the school care about the student’s growth and health or are they concerned with making money? Unfortunately, there’s no way of knowing a school’s true philosophy or how they’ll handle issues with your health, until you’re in the program.
Can you handle the book load?
I wanted to get a head start on my studies (highly recommended) but I had to deal with two things: I was living in South Korea and my only access to the recommended reading list (books like Autobiography of a Yogi) was the U.S./Amazon.com. Some of the inventory is limited as very few vendors ship to Korea.
The real problem was I was traveling in India for a month before my program. I didn’t want my backpack to become a library. Instead, I found some e-book versions to download to study while on my travels and then bought the hard-copied versions in India. Ask your school if those books are available at or near the school. I bought my books in a bookstore in Goa, but Mcleodganj (the location of my program) had a bookstore also.
Travel Insurance- get it.
My yoga school made travel insurance compulsory. For good reason. Yoga enthusiasts get hurt and the training program is like training for a mini yoga olympics. The worst case in our program was that one of the students broke her toe and had to go to the hospital. But several others were getting anything from pulled muscles, back spasms, … I got sick, we were all dropping like flies.
Although there are good doctors and hospitals in the big cities, you might not always have access to them. Also, traveling in India has its obvious risks– standards and regulations are different from the U.S., so safety precautions and measures aren’t always perfect. I went with World Nomads to cover my entire trip and it was the cheapest I found.
Will you be satisfied with your yoga school?
Yes and no.
No guru is a saint and likewise, no school is perfect. There will be hits and misses along the way, as learning yoga in India is different than the U.S. (oh, it’s different; be prepared!) you’ll meet the challenges of learning in a foreign environment and mastering an intensive school load. But as I’ve said, the opportunity to learn yoga in India is rich experience; it’s highly doubtful you’ll regret it!
Om Namah Shivaya.
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How to Apply for your India visa
Things to Know before you Go to India
How to Get an Indian SIM
Dealing with Touts, Scams
Things to Know about Indian Ashrams
Looking for travel insurance?
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