When I was 26, I joined a sorority. It was a collection of some of the brightest, most empathetic and passionate women I’d ever met. We met through a learning institution, one that we all came to with hopes to build a career, or deepen our knowledge, or with the idea that it might even change our lives. I can’t speak for the rest of my yoga teacher training class, but for me, those hopes were realized. Today, yoga is even more popular than it was when I did my training. With this increasing popularity comes the need for more teachers, and with the need for money (on behalf of the studios) comes more teacher training programs. I often read articles on how the yoga market is over saturated with newly certified teachers that say in order to prevent this, we should stop training teachers. But then, I turn around and see another new yogalebrity, who’s branded another style by name, and who’s now asking thousands of dollars tuition for the next young aspiring guru to become certified in “Buti” yoga.
It seems that all those who currently teach have an opinion on this, for several very understandable reasons. For one thing, it drives up the competition for jobs. With every new teacher seeking jobs, a veteran teacher will begin to wonder why they are competing for the same job as a rookie yoga teacher. On the other hand, you have many veteran yoga teachers who see teacher training programs as an opportunity to make money for themselves. Then you have the evolving issue of how well these teachers are actually being trained and whether or not 200 hours is enough study to delve into a hands-on physical health practice for individuals of need. I’ve seen articles about people who’ve emerged from their teacher training disillusioned about the happiness they didn’t find, the money they didn’t make, or that being a yoga teacher simply wasn’t what they expected. With these dashed expectations, spending several thousand of your hard earned dollars to “find your bliss” seems like a misstep, one that’s now being argued about. So the question must be asked, in the year 2015, what is the real value of yoga teacher training?
I myself, am the ultimate yoga teacher cliché. When I was 22, I moved to New York City straight out of college with hopes to be a musical theatre actress. By 25, I had lost a great deal of my enthusiasm, waiting tables late nights to try to scrape by and afford my tiny Queens apartment. One of the restaurants I worked at was in Hell’s Kitchen. One day, walking to the train after work, tired and reeking of salsa, I saw that a studio nearby offered a free week of classes. Needless to say, after several classes, I fell deep into the yoga well. Yoga changed my life for reasons I couldn’t explain. It was as if my life had gone from gray to color. My mood improved, my outlook improved, my body improved, my relationships improved, everything across the board seemed to have magically shifted me from sad waitress to shiny yogi. I didn’t know how it worked and why I felt so good and I wanted to know. So I saved my hard-earned waitressing dollars and signed up for teacher training. I hadn’t been a serious devotee. I didn’t know sanskrit well, or how to invert in headstand. I just knew I loved it. I wanted to learn the tricks from the magicians themselves. Somewhere, deep inside, I knew this held the key to my destiny. That somehow, following my heart would lead me to an understanding of my purpose, where before I was lost. I was desperate for answers. I was desperate for a path.
On the first day of my yoga teacher training the teachers explained to us that we were undergoing a process that might bring on radical changes in our lives. They said many people in the program lost relationships with friends, lovers, and family members because of their newfound philosophy and way of life. Though curious, I was undeterred. Those next three months, my life was a vibrantly rapid trip through sanskrit texts, yoga scripture, challenging asana practice, anatomy lessons, meditating (which I had never done before) and practice teaching. I was waiting tables at night until 2:00am, then coming back into midtown from Queens at 8:00am to attend my trainings. It was hard and I was tired. I loved it. I was fully on board with the idea of becoming a yoga teacher full time. I couldn’t wait tables anymore. My mission was clear: finish my certification and get the hell out of food service. I put in my two weeks notice at the restaurant I worked in. One by one, my managers told me I’d be back. They said there was no way that I’d make the money I was making waiting tables as a yoga teacher. They thought I was making a foolish mistake. I didn’t care. It might have been the clarity I’d gained from my meditation, my naiveté, or just plain luck, but I leapt. The week I quit my job, I was offered a new one, teaching yoga full time in a corporate setting. That was five years ago. I have been a full time yoga teacher ever since.
On our last day of training, we held a ceremony to commemorate our graduation and we bawled like babies. I felt as if I was attending the funeral for my old self- a girl, who thought that life would always be impossible, who had no idea what she was doing with her life, and knew deep down there had to be something else. My yoga teacher training was my first step in becoming a woman. From there I started my own business, married my husband, and made the decision to move out of New York. I can’t say that yoga teacher training was what made all those things happen. What I can say is that for me, after my teacher training, everything began to make sense. I had a new group of friends that I held dear. I became a life time member of the greatest international club.
Because of luck, or hard work, or passion, I’ve been able to not only sustain a career in this field, but make a transition to another city doing it. It hasn’t been easy, and I’m not rich. I don’t want to be like other yoga teachers that say it’s fine that I don’t make money because I’m fulfilled. That’s crap. Doing the work you love and making money are not mutually exclusive. I’m a business woman, and I’m a skilled practitioner. I seek to make more money, to be the kind of person who can one day afford to own a home and create a “vacation” or a “hit by a bus” fund. I’m not there yet. YET. I believe that we as yoga teachers have the responsibility to create these changes for ourselves and our industry. The problem of lack of money in the yoga industry will not be solved by teacher training programs. The 200 hours will remain inadequate, and a promise of a career is only a projection of potential, not a guarantee. But, for every person who has fallen in love with the way they feel because of yoga, there should be a yoga teacher training program. Yes, the branding of new certification styles is ridiculous. Yes, the studios do them to make money. Yes, the market is over saturated. But I remain driven by the words our teacher, Lauren Hanna said to us, “There are people who will be your students. They are waiting for you.”
The real truth about teacher training is that it is invaluable. There are problems with the current model, but I just can’t see a downside to people walking around like they are awake for the first time, alive and with renewed sense of purpose. I have a hard time seeing the downside of creating teachers. The world needs teachers. And yoga teacher training can apply to ALL careers and all paths. If you are considering spending your money doing teacher training, think carefully. There is only one question to ask yourself. Are your students waiting for you?