To be honest, my first thought in regards to how to choose a yoga teacher training is actually more that it might choose you, because both of my YTT experiences were presented to me by the universe and I just said yes and found a way to make them happen. However, I appreciate that my previous self (the person I was
before I stopped having ambitions and stuff) was much more inclined to do research and plan and organise these things, than to just let them happen, so assuming you are still in planning mode…
First to consider the style of yoga that speaks to you personally. My personal practice is Ashtanga, so initially I did 35 hours vinyasa immersion with my teacher, Joey Miles. I had never even considered teacher training, but Joey contacted me while I was living abroad and suggested I would be a good candidate for this experience over two long weekends at Triyoga in London, that would give me the opportunity to learn the skills needed to adjust the Ashtanga Primary series, to deepen my own personal approach to my yoga practice and to get a taste of what it’s like to instruct others. It was affordable and practical as an introduction, so I would definitely recommend finding a weekend or two intensive to try teaching out for size. You may find that you hate the pressure of teaching others and it actually takes away from your own experience of the practice that you love, which would be a shame to discover in a full 200 hour YTT. For me it was the opposite, I took to it like a (very inexperienced baby) duck to water.
So having dipped a toe in the pond, what next? Committing to a full 200+ hour teacher training will depend very much on your responsibilities and commitments in life. There are a few options of course.
For me, I was (and still am) in a nomadic state, so committing to a few months or even years in one place every weekend or even every month was not practical. I needed to go and immerse myself in a month long intensive. And intense is the word. It’s six days a week, all day, from 6am – 10pm most days and there is no time to reflect while you are on it. I would only recommend this to someone who a) is mostly interested in deepening their own practice, or b) has a solid personal practice in their chosen discipline and possibly a little teaching or assisting experience already and the YTT intensive is solidifying one or both of these things. If you expect a month long YTT to give you everything all at once, quick and easy and you’ll pop out of the other end, fully-fledged teacher, job done, you are likely to find that you are a little overwhelmed. Yoga is a life-time’s practice and information takes time to sink in.
In an ideal world, I would have loved to continue with Joey and do his two-year YTT in terms of the time I would have had to learn a bit, go away and let it sink in and then go back for more this would have been a good steady way to allow the skills to integrate into my being. But given that I’m not in one place for very long it really wasn’t practical for me. Doing a longer YTT does also give you the opportunity to apprentice with your own teacher or to teach community classes, to put into practice what you have learned, which will result in you being a very well-established teacher at the end of it all. Probably the best option for those who are really serious about teaching as a profession.
The intermediate option is to commit to every weekend for a few months in one place. Then you get the benefit of having time to assimilate what you have learned during the week, but it’s not too long term a commitment in one place. Or even a broken YTT in two parts, so you can take few months in between to study and assimilate and then go back for the second part.
In terms of the teachers, get a recommendation if you can from your own teacher. When Joey recommended Heather Elton’s training, I just trusted his judgement that it would be right for me and went for it, even though I had never met Heather and didn’t have the opportunity to study with her before the YTT because I was out of the country. Ideally you will choose the teacher based on a personal connection. Having now completed my YTT I can whole-heartedly make the same recommendation to others. Heather’s is also Yoga Alliance registered which is an important consideration, as many places you may wish to teach will require this accreditation.
Course content and the delivery of that content is key. The history and philosophy and also Anatomy and Physiology elements are essential to really grasp, and if the course that you choose relies mostly on you self-studying these two subjects then I personally think you will miss out on their significance. History can be a dry subject unless it is brought to life by a passionate teacher. Anatomy is daunting and there are lots of complex names for bones and muscles and movements in various directions that will completely pass you by unless they are well taught in person. I firmly believe that as Yoga is such a practical, personal subject you cannot rely on books to gain the most important bits of information.
If there is one thing I would not skimp on it is the quality and experience of the teachers. Yoga teacher training is a big investment, and if you’re going to do it, you may as well do it right. Heather teaches a month-long Yoga teacher training intensive in Goa in February/March and also a three-month long YTT which takes place every weekend from September to November in London at Yogaloft, both of which have a stellar line-up of teachers. Heather herself is a passionate Buddhist and so that lineage and it’s application to modern life and modern postural yoga is subtly integrated. She has decades of asana practice in Ashtanga and then Iyengar and has brought the alignment principles of the latter into the former, something that is vitally important if you want to understand how to teach people of a multitude of physical expressions, ages, and conditions, not just flexible, strong, gym bunnies, who currently have few physical limitations.
She is also pretty hard-ass (and I’m sure she won’t mind me saying that). She’s not just going to tell you everything is wonderful when it’s not, because she is honest and wants you to see the world as it really is. You have to work hard and work for yourself and also maintain a strong sense of perspective. Just because your teacher corrects you when you make an unsafe adjustment or teach something without due consideration for the implications, doesn’t mean they are making a personal criticism and to take it as such would be to misunderstand the place from which it comes. I personally prefer unadorned truth to sugar-coated half truth. I learn better under conditions of trust and understanding that we’re all there for one reason, and that is to learn as much as possible with as little softly, softly tiptoeing as is strictly necessary. That said, Heather was also extremely caring and was very personally touched by our breakthroughs, frequently moved to tears when we excelled ourselves. She was also very quick to call in the doctor when the inevitable Delhi belly struck, which had us back on our mats within a day, rather than the usual three days in bed.
Where to do it is a consideration too. If you can’t get away from home for a full month because of work or family commitments then the weekender is the most practical option. Personally I wanted to study in India, which I found invaluable in terms of going to the source and being able to understand the history as a living practice, but I appreciate that is not always a realistic option. I also wanted to study with Sharath at KPJAYI as the home of Ashtanga, and again if you are an Iyengi and want to get to Pune, I would definitely advocate taking the time to travel to the home/source of your chosen discipline to deepen your true understanding, as the traditions and information often get diluted, or don’t make as much sense when taken out of context and transported half-way around the world.
The most time-consuming part of the programme is the reading-list, so start now, like today. Get recommendations of books to start with and keep reading. I started with ‘The inner tradition of yoga’ by Michael Stone and “Light on life’ by BKS Iyengar. I also would recommend investing in a Kindle (other e-readers are available) to get as many of the books in digital format as possible, there will be so much that you want to refer to when you start teaching that having all your resources in one place and with the ability to highlight key passages you may want to share with students is invaluable. Books are heavy and in my experience you can never find the page you are looking for.
Finally, or perhaps, firstly, why do you want to do a yoga teacher training? There is definitely no right or wrong answer here because I think often what you expect to get out of it doesn’t materialise, and instead you end up coming away with something you didn’t expect and that you actually value more in the long run. For me I gained a new perspective on my own practice. Heather made me realise that it is OK to stop pushing, to step back, to start from scratch and to un-learn bad habits. there is no constant need for forward motion, sometimes you need to go backwards to unravel and she taught me to show kindness to myself first and foremost. My hunger to teach actually lessened a little, as a felt I had nothing left to achieve. I let go of my ambition. The original reasons that my ego wanted to be a yoga teacher have cooled in their intensity. Of course I wanted to learn how to share the benefits of yoga that I have experienced for myself, and to be able to do this from an informed and safe standpoint, but the societal drive to earn a living, make your mark in the world, be liked and respected based on your chosen profession – all of these things have drifted away. Should the opportunity to teach yoga present itself, then I will gladly fill the role, confident that I have sufficient training to be able to carry out the task with care and enthusiasm, but I am no longer grasping at it, with as much Aparigraha as I can muster.