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What’s in a Name: Does Calling Yourself a Yoga Teacher Make You a Yoga Teacher?

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certified-stampYou love yoga. Like, really love it. Enough to teach it, even. So you do your yoga teacher training, 200 hrs or what have you, and boom! you’re a yoga teacher! Isn’t it that easy? For the rare lucky and naturally gifted souls, maybe so, but for others, calling yourself a yoga teacher and even teaching a few weekly classes, does not necessarily a yoga teacher make, or so XO Jane contributor Grace Nilsson found out for herself after some trials and tribulations on and off the mat.

You see, Grace loved yoga, the way it was so “liberating!” and how afterwards she “felt all spiritual and shit.” But $1250 later, Grace graduated with a 200 hour certification or “basically a formality that they gave to everyone who completed the paperwork and paid all their fees,” and a lot of questions. With a heaping helping of self determination to BE a yoga teacher and two classes serendipitously handed to her by an optimistic new studio owner, Grace stepped into her yoga teacherness with gusto.

The 200 hrs is grand (literally), but what happened over the next six months to follow might have been her best training yet. As it turns out, Grace realized she was more in love with the idea of teaching yoga than the act of doing it.

Problem was, I was more excited about the idea of Teaching Yoga than I was about actually doing it. Apparently I thought if I just called myself a Yoga Teacher, I would magically turn into one of the mystical, superior creatures who I worshipped from afar during my years as a practicing student.

Trying to be something she wasn’t started to weigh on her. And her personal pre-class experience is something we know a lot of you out there can relate to:

I was extremely nervous before each class, which is not my typical demeanor, and dreaded teaching to the point to where I was relieved if no one showed up for class because it meant I was off the hook. This created a great deal of inner conflict.

“Am I a self-involved, lazy person who can’t deliver on her promises? Should I be “good at this” by now? Is my lack of natural talent indicative of an overall greater personal shortcoming?” I wondered.

We feel you sister!

Even though I still loved practicing yoga, I felt like a total impostor as an instructor. I stumbled over my words, made things up as I went along, confused “lefts” with “rights,” and basically made every annoying mistake that a rookie teacher makes. Over and over again, for six months.

Finally, after six months, her classes having never really caught on, Grace was fired from her teaching gig, though it sounds like it was a mutual decision. But in the end, to employ a played out cliche, the journey was the reward because Grace tried and failed and came out the other side with some pearls of wisdom. On “the grand scale of Life Lessons” Grace imparts to us four (our paraphrasing):

1. Be realistic and listen to yourself. It will save you time and trouble.

2. Commit and practice. Self-explanatory?

3. Failure is not the end. No effort is wasted, no gain is ever reversed.

4. Keep going. Don’t let failure deter you from diving into new things.

With the growing pool of yoga teachers out there, overwhelming (and increasing) number of trainings with a steady stream of recent YTT grads, we have to wonder how many are going through this very same thought process, and how many will realize they’re just not cut out for the job. Which is, by the way, OK.

Our take? Six months is not an incredibly long time for any new thing, but if you find yourself stuck in yoga, know there is always a way to get unstuck.


Do you have more words of teaching yoga wisdom? Please share!

Have your own yoga teacher story you want to write about? Send your submissions to YD@yogadork.com.



30 comments… add one
  • James

    People who use “YOLO” without irony are in no condition to give advice.

    She was more interested in an image than in being an instructor. There’s nothing wrong with not being intimately familiar with the spiritual background of a yoga practice but any teacher worth her salt will come to class with a clear idea of what she will teach. She didn’t prepare and made up her sequence as she went along. It’s no surprise that her teaching experiment failed.

    Dedication to our practice is what makes us yogi(ni)s. Talent is just a by-product.

    • Anonymous

      I have to respectfully disagree with you on something: In my experience as a student, my favorite teachers are the ones who don’t come to class with an agenda or clear cut plan, instead they listen to student’s request and build a class catered for them. As a teacher, I’ve found that my best classes are the ones I walk into without any expectations. I do not know for certain who is going to be in my class, what they will need and therefore I do not know before hand what I should teach. I love that element of surprise and I’ve found that those classes actually move more smoothly than my pre-planned, set-sequence classes and my students respond better to them. This approach, really only works though if you a) have a strong practice and b) are comfortable sharing it, and that to me sounds like Grace’s weakness.
      On a more general note, I’m left wondering if her teacher training involved actually teaching the other teachers? In my 200hr we taught a couple of 1 hr classes and were given feedback from the class, and I as well as others found that this was a clear indicator of whether or not we liked teaching yoga as much as we liked studying and practicing yoga 🙂

      • tai

        I agree with you, I just finished my teachers training and I recently started to teach. With the little experience that I have I can say that when I “make up things” that feel more adequate for my students, instead of following a pre-planned sequence rigorously, my students seem to feel better (more comfortable) and I feel better as well. I also make all the other mistakes Grace talked about but I am getting better and better, I guees six months is a very short time to overcome noobness. 🙂

      • James

        There is a difference between walking into a situation without any expectation and walking into a situation without any preparation.

        It sounds like you have enough experience to tailor a lesson on-the-fly. I imagine you dedicated some time developing that skill. She chose to not dedicate that time. Because of this I imagine you to be a much better teacher than she is.

    • Tanis

      I agree that going in as such a new teacher with no plan was naive of her. However I’m also curious how you feel about experienced teachers walking in without a plan? In my opinion skilled teachers are capable of creating an intelligent, graceful flow when they see who has entered their classroom.

  • You must practice practice practice you must do hours and hours and hours you must train others as well as yourself you must keep going forward you must fake it till you make it you must grow you must BE in order to BE
    Ms RYT

  • Anonymous2

    I completed 200-hr ytt a year ago and have taught 260+ classes since then. I was extremely nervous in the beginning, and I still get a little nervous before classes sometimes. When I signed on for the training, I really was not sure where I was headed with it, but I dove right into teaching classes for some willing friends when I returned. Things expanded from there. Classes have grown. I am running a small, one-person studio in a rural community and teaching classes a couple of mornings a week at a local senior center. I still get my rights and lefts confused sometimes, and so do other more experienced teachers–you even run across that on their DVDs.

    Apart from the coursework, one of the most valuable things that the director of my YTT told our class was how nervous she was when she began teaching. I am an introvert, so nerves seem natural, but I push through knowing that I have a lot to offer my community.

  • Yoga Teacher Trainer

    As someone who owns a studio and has been training yoga teachers for over 7 years now, I can honestly say that not everyone who loves yoga is meant to be a teacher. There is only so much theory and practice that can be discussed before some just has to live it/do it to see if they are cut out for it in the long term. When I attempt to identify students in the program who I think will be good teachers, there are some indicators (i.e. consistency in practice, dedication to study, adeptness in understanding the materials etc.) but the most compelling potential that I see in someone is usually an unteachable quality that is hard to pinpoint or explain.

    • Cathy Ge

      I have practiced yoga over 30 years and worked as a public school teacher over 20. There are many pieces to that little unteachablle quality mentioned above: preparation, enthusiasm, willingness to be available, positive attitude, honesty in discussing self-growth, a deep interest and passion for teaching- yoga in this case, as opposed to as the author of the article.. a passion for “being the part”.

  • Amanda

    These comments are not very yogic. How can you possibly know what she was going through? At the very least try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes before judging. Yes, practicing teaching is wonderful, but there is not a lot of sense in practicing if the passion for teaching isn’t there. Teaching yoga is certainly not something you do for the money. You do it because you love it. If you try it and you don’t love it, who says you have to keep going with it? Many people take teacher training programs as a way to deepen their practice. There is nothing saying you have to teach!

    I appreciate this article because teaching isn’t always rewarding for people, no matter how much they love practicing yoga. In fact, teaching can often take away from your own practice, and even make you question your love for the yoga. Unless you have oodles of free time or teach full time, it’s tough to fit in another 2 hours to TAKE a class after you’ve already spent a few hours at the studio teaching a couple of classes. That can bring about a bit of resentment for not being able to do the very thing that got you into teaching in the first place. I have to admit I miss the days when I could just take a class every single day and leave feeling refreshed! Now I sometimes am scared to show up at my studio to take a class because I’ll be asked to sub an extra class or take on another teaching slot at that time. It makes it hard to just do the yoga. Many teachers switch to a home practice but you can miss the days of being a part of the yoga community as a student. It’s something that’s not really talked about in the yoga community that much, so I thought this was great to see. Good for her for being honest with herself.

    • James

      Well, I based my comment on the article she wrote sharing the experience. I’m trusting that all relevant details were included in the piece. The point of the article is for her to explain what she was going through.

      Had she said something like, “I really wanted to devote more time to my teaching job but my father was sick and I had to take care of him” then she deserves a pass. She didn’t say that. She said, “…I often partied like it was 1999 even when I had a class to teach the next day.”

      Besides, most of the comments here are pretty encouraging; I’m the only one being condescending. Fortunately, I know from your comment that you are concerned with understanding the driving forces behind a person. Please enjoy imagining yourself in my shoes.

    • Paula

      If you have great difficulty finding time to practice then you shouldn’t be teaching. This goes for any discipline. If you cannot find the time in your day to hone your craft, to refine your art, your practice, then what do you have to draw upon when you teach? It need not be 2 hours each day, perhaps one or two classes a week combined with even a short 20-60 minute home practice.
      Without regular, devoted practice there is no exploration, no problem solving, no inquisition into the technique or the depth of the practice, so one can end up teaching not from experience but by rote which results in a mechanical and unengaged teacher. With due respect to anything that one wants to teach, one must practice.

      • Vision_Quest2

        You can do a practice work-in rather than a practice work-out. With all the cardio I MUST do, that’s what I do, as an avid yoga student of years’ standing …

        You can do yoga 3 times a week that way. Some of the belly dance teachers’ videos have substantial sections devoted to yoga practice … & before anyone sniffs at the lack of “lineage” … just infuse it with your OWN lineage if that’s important to you …

        If you’re creative enough to teach in front of a group of people, then you’re creative enough to improvise …

  • Bonnie

    I always loved yoga but looked at becoming an instructor as just a dream or a goal for “someday”. 5 years ago I thought I would go for it and decided that at the end of the 200 hour training I didn’t want to teach then I wouldn’t. But I love it! You need to want to share the gift of yoga with others. My goal was to help people feel as great as I did after or during a yoga class. One thing is that you have to be yourself because people see right through a phony. I am blessed with the love of teaching- 🙂

  • Vision_Quest2

    Somebody a little more old school, just used this article (and the XOJane one) as a theme to promote a yoga workshop. Pretty creative – now, that’s thinking a little north of the box … lol:


    Sometimes, you have to admire the creativity of some of those commercial yogis out there. Just sayin’

    • Hmm… that is creative and at the same time the whole point of actually exploring our motivations is to be willing get really raw and expose ourselves to ourselves. I feel completely lucky that I was exposed to Yoga when we had to make our own wooden blocks and could only get a Yoga Mat from the car yard ( we used the insides of the car mats) Yoga was completely unpopular and only the die hards were willing to hold poses for 10 minutes. There was no such thing as vinyasa flow etc. So when we did teach we felt so lucky to have students to be able to share the little of what we had understood. As Yoga has grown and everyone out there GOES for it and discovers the challenges in teaching. Its good to remember that even 1 student is enough. To make a difference to someones health and well being is such a gift.

  • Stella

    200 hr yoga teacher trainings (ytt) barely scratch the surface. Kudos to those who feel adequate enough to call themselves yoga teachers with such minimal formal training. Many gymnast-able-bodies are making an easy career out of teaching vinyasa to intermediate level western yogis- kudos to them too, I guess. I think the real teachers shine through when making yoga accessible to everyone, (including “unflexy”, injured, over-weight or elderly).
    I for one have become a serial 200-hr (ytt) trainee and still often times feel like a phony. But, I am willing to share what I know with others, if I am asked to. Still, it’s not for everyone, I admit.

    • Vision_Quest2

      I apologize for being that unclassifiable student with an undiagnosed endocrine problem that mimicked everything from looking like unusual strong to having a torn meniscus …

      I apologize for having been a U.S. size 12 in a New York City yoga studio while in that condition.

      Most of all, I apologize for never having totally come clean about picking all you teachers’ brains (yes, even the newbies) for developing my own style for my own purposes …

      That’s absolutely right. You teach wrong. And Some People find a way to make it work for them. I’ve NEVER walked out of a sub’s class and I respect teachers that suck!

      • Cathy Ge

        Sometimes it is time to STOP reading and commenting on articles. There is a link at the bottom of the page which is helpful.

        • VQ2

          WOW! I pressed some buttons there, didn’t I?

          That means my mojo has worked all these years, and you yoga teachers took the hint ….

  • PS

    I appreciate Grace’s honesty. My feeling is that there will be a sort of natural selection process working on the flood of yoga “teachers” graduating every week. Those who do not have a true calling as teachers will eventually tire of it and drop out. Those who are meant to be teachers will keep at it, continue their training, and hone their craft.

  • semper fi

    The YA RYT 200 hour teacher training is a sham. It lines the pockets of RYT yoga schools like some kind of deranged Amway scheme. TT’s attract people who have attended a handful of yoga classes and want to be the next yoga rock star. Little do people know to achieve that status, you have to put in years of doing yoga. In this McSociety, we don’t have that kind of patience. To do it right, you have to practice with someone who knows what they are doing for 10 years. Then, start your own class for FREE in a park or some low rent place. You have to build your students up one at at time. After you have built a handful of students and taught them to the best of your ability, then consider “certification.” By that time you will not need Yoga Alliance to tell you that you are a yoga teacher. I doubt many of you can hack it, so go ahead and pay your $2K for 200 hours and and stamp. I just don’t want to be there when your first student with an injury shows up.

    • Vision_Quest2

      Wonder what ever happened to that guy who sued Hilaria Thomas Baldwin …

  • Alex

    I have practised yoga since my early twenties and am now 55. I go to classes and practise at home. I have never had any desire to be a yoga teacher. I have been to classes where teachers were very nexperienced, I did my own thing without making any fuss, they never even noticed. I could teach a basic yoga class if I wanted to, I have done enough yoga to be able to do it. The point is if you don’t really want to teach you should not. When I meet a yoga teacher I could not care less about her qualifications and training, I can see straightaway if she can teach or not from the moment she starts. I go to yoga class when I am too lazy to practise on my own. Yoga is a solitary activity, a personal practice. As soon as you feel confident to do it on your own you’d better increase your practice and be less dependant on classes. Only you can be your own teacher, other people are instructors, some good, some bad.

    • Vision_Quest2

      And, you could even learn from “bad example” … i.e., a sub who generally doesn’t “get” the general level of the regulars to class.

      I’m never what’s considered a “regular” – AND I’m very cardio-oriented, as well. And I believe in cross-conditioning. At home. Video or self-sequencing. Longer than class length. NOT always eschewing “progressing in asana”. Something that the frequent-flyers’-club of commercialized yoga attendees will never understand.

      Thankfully, I finally found a studio that “gets it” …

  • This article deals exactly with the subject matter of a blog post, written by Joanne Avison about the regulation or otherwise of Yoga teaching. We posted it in July and you can read it at http://www.handspringpublishing.com/regulating-yoga-teaching/. Hope this is a helpful addition to the debate!

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