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Trinity Yoga

Is your yoga instructor certified, and what does that mean?

As yoga continues to grow in popularity, I feel the conversation regarding instructor certification, experience and credentialing to be a very important conversation to have.  Especially as more people with health concerns are turning to yoga for relief from their suffering, it’s extremely important for students to understand this topic and know the right questions to ask their instructors before participating in classes.  You wouldn’t trust your body to a physician who hasn’t been to medical school, would you?  So, why would you trust your body to a yoga instructor who hasn’t had the proper training?  If you are healthy, fit, and don’t have any physical limitations it may be okay to work with an instructor that does not have official training.  However, if you have any health concerns like high blood pressure, artificial joints, heart disease, etc. (just to name a few) you would be wise to seek out a professional that has the proper credentialing, training, and experience.  

Why is this so important?  There are no universal agencies set up to provide examinations and certifications for yoga teachers as there are for group fitness instructors and personal trainers.  In the yoga community we prefer this for many reasons.  However, it puts the responsibility on the student to know how to identify a good instructor and onto yoga studios to be morally upright and only allow certified instructors to teach in their studios.

How do you know if your yoga instructor is qualified?  Here is a breakdown of the industry standards, and some questions to ask your instructor so that you know what their training and experience is.

Lets start with training.  There are many different training options for yoga instructors.  There are courses that can be taken online, some are weekend intensives, some week long intensives, some are 3 weeks or longer, others require multiple weekends over a course of many months.  Just like a state University is very different than Yale or Harvard, so too are Yoga Teacher Training programs.  

In my opinion, the best ones are multiple weekends spread out over a period of months.  The time in between training allows the student to assimilate the vast amount of information and also to put into practice what they’ve learned.  However, some people are fans of the multiple week intensives.  These are typically 3 or 4 weeks, with continual training throughout that period.  That’s a lot of information at once!  But, again, some really like to plunge in and not have the distractions of daily life to interfere with the learning process and the personal transformation that happens during a yoga teacher training program.  

Yoga is more than just a physical practice, it is a way of living, and teacher training is a very transformative experience.  As it should be.  How else can an individual successfully guide others through a yoga practice if they haven’t done the work themselves?  That isn’t to say that a teacher should limit the student to the experiences of the instructor, but there should be a very solid understanding of the material backed by personal experience to direct the student.  Ideally, as a teacher, the goal is to guide students beyond their own experience.  To create more teachers and to continually encourage personal growth and transformation.

During a quality yoga teacher training program, there is a lot of personal development that happens.  Strong bonds are formed between fellow students during the process.  There are tears, there is joy, there are breakdowns, there are breakthroughs, there is growth.  These things are hard to experience through just a single weekend, and even harder to experience through an online program.

Then there is credentialing.  Just like the medical industry sets certain standards that all physicians must meet, so too does the yoga industry.  The Yoga Alliance is the gold standard for the yoga community.  They are a global organization that is dedicated to setting standards for teachers, teacher training programs, and they also help protect and promote yoga through many of their efforts.  You can read more about Yoga Alliance on their website:  www.yogaalliance.org.  They also offer a yoga directory so that you can search for Yoga Alliance Registered instructors in your area.

Yoga Alliance sets forth a few different designations to help you understand an instructors level of experience and training.  First, an instructor must have attended a Yoga School registered with Yoga Alliance, and that meets their requirements for teacher training programs.  Next, the instructor has to complete a minimum of 200 hours of training to register with the Yoga Alliance.  The next level of training is an additional 300 hours of training to register at the 500 hour level.  Yoga Alliance also has an experienced teacher designation.  This is for teachers that have a minimum of 1000 hours of teaching experience.  So, if you see RYT 500 after someone’s name, it means they have completed 500 hours of training.  If you see E-RYT 200 after someone’s name, it means they have completed 200 hours of training and has at least 1000 hours of teaching experience.  That is teaching experience post training.  Teachers registered with Yoga Alliance are required to log their teaching hours if they want to add the “E” (for experienced) designation.  RYS is for Registered Yoga School, and has it’s own set of requirements.  Again, you can read more about this on their website.

Yoga Alliance also requires registered instructors to meet certain continuing education requirements in order to maintain their status.  Which is another indicator of a quality instructor.  Good instructors continually work to increase their education.  Typically this is done through reading, attending workshops, additional teacher training courses, and attending yoga classes taught by other yoga instructors.  Yoga is a process, and in order to continue to grow we must continue to learn.  Whether teacher or student.

Certain styles of yoga have their own certification criteria and do not participate in the Yoga Alliance.  This does not make them any less authentic, nor does it mean the instructor isn’t well trained.  But, again, not all training programs are created equal.  This is why it’s important to ask your instructor if you are unsure.  A good instructor will be happy to answer any questions you may have.  If they aren’t, then you might want to think twice about working with them.

I also think that it’s important to note that yoga in today’s society is faced with very different circumstances than it was historically.  In ancient India, where yoga originated, you would learn directly from a Guru.  Reputation would decide who was a Guru and who was not.  There weren’t any teacher training programs, yoga studios, or credentialing organizations.  And in order to learn, you had to do the work the Guru asked of you.  It was a spiritual path, and not for the faint of heart.  Now, yoga has become much more physical.  It’s benefits are still numerous, but it’s a very different practice than it used to be.  If it’s just the physical aspect you’re looking for, then maybe just any teacher will suffice.  But, if you want to truly work on yourself and embrace the entire practice of yoga, I would recommend you find a certified and experienced instructor.

A few final thoughts…Just because someone is certified does not necessarily make them a “good” instructor.  Likewise, just because someone is not certified doesn’t mean they are a “bad” instructor.  The best thing you can do to ensure that you are in good hands is to ask questions.  

Ask your instructor about their training, their experience, and their personal philosophies (do they live what they teach?).  Ask them if they have worked with people with physical ailments (if this applies to you) and if they know how to help you modify the practice to suit your needs.  Ask them how they continue to learn and educate themselves.  Ask them about their personal practice, they should definitely have a strong one!  (Also note that ethical yoga studios list openly on their websites teacher information including their experience and training.)

One aspect of yoga is learning to listen to your intuition.  That little voice within speaks loud and clear when you know how to listen to it.  If you aren’t confident you are getting quality instruction, keep looking.  Your personal growth and physical wellbeing deserve it!