One of the most disputed questions surrounding yoga teacher training courses is not particularly the amount of hours. There are critical voices about the concept of becoming a yoga teacher in 200 hours. But there is more discussion about doing these 200 hours within the setting of an intensive yoga teacher training of one month. There are many yoga schools that offer 200 hours yoga teacher training courses spread out over a period of 2 to 3 years. And there is a growing number of schools and ashrams, that offer a 200 hour intensive yoga teacher training within a period of 4 weeks.
As a yoga teacher training institute offering such intensive and immersive training’s we encounter a fair amount of critical questions, be it by email or on social media. We see that many people feel insecure whether it is possible (and whether it should be morally attainable) to become a yoga teacher in four weeks:
We always ask our students in the beginning of our 200 hours yoga teacher training intensive, whether they really believe that they can become yoga teachers within the next month. The group is usually almost equally divided in people who believe it is possible (many of them, because they have been following classes with an Arhanta graduate) and the other half that aren’t sure.
Obviously, we think it is possible. Otherwise we wouldn’t offer 4 weeks yoga teacher training courses. And to take it a step further, we also believe that the learning experience gets accelerated by the intensity and immersive character of the training. So we do not only believe it is possible, but also believe that in many cases it is better.
In an effort to support aspiring yoga teachers on their journey to find out what kind of yoga teacher training to choose, we have compiled four often voiced doubts regarding intensive yoga teacher certification courses. So, playing the devil’s advocate, let’s talk about the most commonly given reasons why it isn’t possible to become a 200 hours certified yoga teacher in four weeks:
This is a very valid point and we agree with it wholeheartedly. If, we refer to yoga as indeed the complete science including the vast underlying philosophy and the expansive practices like the yamas and niyamas, pranayama, dharana and dhyana – to name a few.
Indeed, to fully understand, integrate and be able to teach these principles a 200 hours yoga teacher training isn’t sufficient! However the term ‘yoga’ is most of the times loosely used to describe the ‘practice of yoga asanas’. When we talk about becoming a qualified and skilled yoga teacher, what is actually meant is becoming a qualified and skilled yoga asana teacher.
This distinction is an important one to keep in mind. It doesn’t mean that as a yoga asana teacher you will merely teach the physical aspects, as if yoga is just another form of exercise. If you feel ready for it, you can convey some of the underlying concepts of yoga during your classes (if your students are ready for it, too!).
The subtleties of the practice and of teaching the practice of yoga, only reveal themselves through practice. Through, your own practice as well as the practice of teaching. Therefore, the biggest process in your development as a yoga (asana) teacher will take place, once you start to teach! The longer the starting to teach gets delayed, the longer you miss out on these invaluable lessons. During our residential 4-weeks yoga teacher training courses our students practice teaching each other from day one. By the end of the four weeks they feel prepared and confident to start teaching yoga classes. At that moment, they are as ready as they are ever going to be. We encourage them to start teaching immediately. Maybe start with friends and free classes first to gain some more confidence, but do not delay! Every day you won’t teach, you loose the hard-learned skills.
In our experience: Not necessarily.
We used to offer yoga teacher training course spread out over longer periods. Initially we did this in the Netherlands, before opening the Arhanta Yoga Netherlands Ashram. Our decision to open an ashram in Europe, next to the one in India, became fortified by our experience with these courses. We saw such a big difference in results between the immersive, intensive groups that we were training in our ashram in India, and the long-term study groups in the Netherlands. The groups in India performed 20-25% better during the exams and described the experience as far more eye-opening and life-changing than the groups in the Netherlands.
The main reason seems to be the intensive, immersive and distraction-free environment, created during the residential 4-weeks yoga teacher training courses. The students that were attending the long term course had to still manage their daily life to attending the course: Family and household responsibilities, work and social life. We spent far more time reviewing and repeating with those groups than with the residential groups. And obviously, the time we spent on repeating and re-hashing old information, couldn’t be spent on new or more in-depth information and practice…..
And therefore we do believe that in many cases indeed a shorter and more intensive yoga teacher training can be more effective, better. In many, mind you, NOT all cases.
A lot of people believe that it is simply not possible to acquire the necessary skills to teach yoga safely and with confidence in four weeks. And again, in many cases we agree. Because it depends greatly on the system, efficiency and discipline of the training course. If you can learn a skill in a short period of time depends so much on what you do in this time. It really is about what you do, not how long you take to do it.
Most adults drive and have a vaild driver’s license. During our first driving class most of us do not even know which pedal is the brake and which the accelerator. But after 20 – 30 classes, the driving teacher deems us ready to take the exam. After passing the practical exam, we are “unleashed” on the world and can drive the car at brake-neck speed on highways, in busy cities and complicated traffic situations. How could this possibly happen?
The answer is simple: There is a time-proven, efficient system that (most) driving teachers follow.
When I came to live in the Netherlands in 2007, I decided to get an European driving license, even though I’d been driving the car in India for 10 years already (on the streets of New Delhi). My first driving instructor was a pleasant man who kept talking to me about Bollywood movies and Indian cuisine. My driving class was usually around 2 PM, a time with little traffic, and we kept driving the same route. After 25 classes, my teacher registered me for the practical exam, which I failed hopelessly. I was exposed to traffic situations that I had not practiced for and felt completely unprepared. I took another 5 driving classes with the same teacher before going for the practical exam again. Guess what? Failed again!
After the second time of failing my driving exam, I started to research about driving teachers and I came across a list of all driving schools in my region. They were displayed in the order of their students passing rate. My teacher was at the very bottom! He was a nice, social man who asked a very reasonable price for his classes, but his students had the highest failure rate.
I decided to change the teacher and called the teacher at the top of list, the one with the highest success rate. I called the aforementioned teacher to make an appointment for a free trial class. He, not so kindly, told me that he didn’t offer free classes and his rate was 30% higher than my previous teacher’s. But by this point I was desperate to get my licence so I agreed.
In this driving class, my second teacher didn’t talk to me unless it was about driving. He wasn’t the least interested in small talk, but focused solely on teaching me the skills that I needed to drive the car safely and pass my exam. In the 5 classes I took with him, he exposed me to many high-stress traffic situations in rush hour time. He saw my weaknesses and exposed me to situations in which I could sharpen my theoretical and practical skills. I must say this time with him was not very pleasant. But this time I passed the practical exam with ease.
This experience taught me an invaluable lesson and helped me sharpen my vision on teaching. We are applying this vision of focused, practice-oriented teaching during our intensive yoga teacher training courses and we see amazing transformations every day.
Our students start to practice teaching yoga on each other from day one. We have a 3 hour slot for practicing ‘how to teach’ daily, in which we keep challenging them with new students / partners, new situations and more relevant information. We focus a lot of time, energy and effort on teaching our students the relevant skills that they will need as yoga teachers. This is our main focus during the entire course. As a result of this, our students feel ready to start teaching, and many of them have gone out to build a wonderful career for themselves.
It really is all about what you do within a curriculum of 200 hours, what you learn and do during your intensive yoga teacher training. It is about the structure, the system and the discipline! How long it takes you to complete a curriculum of 200 hours, doesn’t say anything about the quality.
Read more: What to Expect at an Ashram
This, personally, is a statement I have great difficulty with. It is a very common argument/ point that teachers offering long-term training’s try to make. The point this statement is trying to make is: “Only after reaching a certain spiritual level, after under-going a certain growth should you be allowed to teach yoga. As a school / teacher trainer we will assess your stage at the time of entry of the course and we will assess your development and level toward the end of the training.”
Growing up in India I have seen the blind devotion of common people towards priests, saints and gurus. Religion and spirituality are the pillars of Indian culture and these ‘spiritual’ leaders hold great amounts of power over their devotees. Just as much devotion, I have seen abuse of this power. A popular example is one Baba who has amassed millions of followers, built an immense temple and ashram for himself and ‘earned’ probably tens of millions in donations. He has used this money to make Bollywood movies about his greatness. He was indicted for murder, but the charges were dropped. And in 2017, he was sentenced to a 20 year prison sentence for multiple rapes & murders. The mind-blowing thing is that he still has millions of disciples….
This is an extreme example of course. Unfortunately I have seen more abuse of ‘spiritual’ power then good- use. Therefore it has become my deep-seated believe that a person claiming himself to be a guru or saint, most likely isn’t. We have a popular saying in India: “A sadhu (monk) in the city is actually a business man’.
I have also become very careful with the idea that I or anyone else can claim himself/herself spiritually more evolved than someone else, and therefore able to assess their spiritual growth. I am not saying that there aren’t any real pure souls (sadhus), but you won’t find them in a city, doing business.
Our approach to our students is simple: They get a number 10 on their forehead. A 10 out of 10! Not literally, but that’s how we look at them. We believe that everyone holds greatness within and everyone can become what they want if they are ready to work hard for it- everyone is a 10! Everyone can grow and overcome obstacles and our role as a teacher is to help them on their path. Our role isn’t, and can’t be, to judge them and evaluate them on their spiritual growth. Therefore, yes, being a yoga teacher comes with responsibility and needs maturity and a desire to serve others. But no, you do not need years to get there. Teaching will be your best teacher and your students will be your best teachers too.
David Swenson, one of the most popular Ashtanga Vinyasa teachers these days, has inspired tens of thousand of people to practice yoga. His yoga practice is inspiring and with his 62 years he puts much younger practitioners in the shadow. He is an amazing example of discipline, skill and passion and one of the most inspiring teachers I have met. Even though he is world-famous and highly respected, he is very grounded and humble. As the author of the international bestselling book Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual, David was the first Ashtanga Yogi to make the physically challenging (some say ‘grueling’) practice of the Primary Series accessible to all different-abled yoga practitioners, by offering variations and modifications.
One of his most remarkable statements is about the reason for practicing yoga. During his yoga teacher training course he asks the group what the goal should be of the practice, as students often get frustrated with their (sometimes temporary) inability to do a certain pose or transition. He ponders the question if we are doing yoga to become a yoga asana machine. If the goal of our practice should be to be able to do all the poses.
No, in his opinion (and in mine), that is far removed from the goal of yoga. If we hold ourselves to these standards we will get too self-absorbed and self-obsessed and teaching yoga will always be about us. And if we do not reach this goal of mastering all the postures, we will give up on the idea of teaching. According to David, the practice of asanas (and the practice of teaching) should help us become better people, for ourselves and the world.
Many people are afraid to start teaching because they think their personal practice is not good enough. Even if it is hard to believe: Everybody has some limitations in their bodies. Some people are very flexible but lack strength, some people have strength but lack flexibility, and some have both but lack balance and concentration. Every yoga teacher has difficulty with certain poses.
Being an advanced yoga practitioner doesn’t make you an advanced teacher. There is a big difference between knowing something and being able to explain and transfer that knowledge to students. Yes, good teachers inspire their students. Do remember that the most inspiring quality that people remember in a teacher is that the teacher truly cares about his/her students. People do not admire a show-off, but they get truly inspired by passion for teaching and genuine concern!
In the end, to answer this question we must also consider your personal situation. So even thought we obviously are believers in our intensive learning system, we urge you to do search for your answer. I do hope that I could help shed some light and inspiration. Most importantly, I would like to encourage you to start on your path to yoga teacher if that is your heart’s desire. Because I personally have grown the most due to my passion for and my responsibility for teaching.
If you want to learn something, read about it – If you want to understand something, write about it – If you want to master something, teach it. (Yogi Bhajan)
Ram is Founding Director of the Arhanta Yoga Ashrams India and The Netherlands. Within the last 10 years, the Arhanta Yoga Ashrams have become renowned internationally for their professional yoga teacher training courses, and have up to present trained over 4000 yoga teachers from all over the world.
Born in New Delhi, India, in a traditional and spiritual family, his yoga and Vedic philosophy education started at the age of eight years as a part of his primary school education. Presently, he is the lead teacher for various yoga teacher training programs in India and Europe.