Find the right training program!
By Linda O’Toole
In the mid-1990s, Chicago was the home of only a handful of yoga studios. Today it’s not unusual to see two or even three studios on a busy street like Clark Street or Lincoln Avenue. You can practice yoga at the health club, in the workplace or at the local park district. The centuries-old practice that teaches us how to connect to each other and ourselves is now commonplace in the Midwest. As the demand for yoga grows, the training programs that prepare yogis to teach this venerable science and spiritual tradition are on the rise.
Choosing a training program that fits your needs requires time and energy. There are many options; 200 hour, 300 hour, 500 hour, online, restorative, prenatal, power yoga, yoga sculpt… the list goes on. Last year Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles launched the first master’s degree program in Yoga Studies in the U.S. And it’s no surprise why this is happening.
Nearly 20 million Americans practice yoga today, compared with 4.2 million in 2001. Yoga is the fastest-growing exercise activity in the U.S. so it’s only natural that the industry demand for teachers is on the rise. But how do you select a teacher training program?
For many yoga practitioners, choosing a teacher training program will require pratyahara (turning inward) and dharana (concentration). Focusing on these two stages of the eight- limb path of yoga will help to find the wisdom needed to make the right choice.
Do your homework
Lori Gaspar, director of Prairie Yoga in Lisle, launched the studio’s teacher training program in 2006. Today, the program is so popular they often have to turn people away. Gaspar recommends that students take time to investigate the available options.
“There is a big difference in the quality of different teacher training programs. Not all good teachers make good teacher trainers,” Gaspar says. “Ask teachers you respect for recommendations. And talk to graduates of different programs to compare how well they were trained and how satisfied they were with the program.”
Quinn Kearney, co-owner of Yogaview in Chicago, shares a similar philosophy. “The best thing to do is research a program, see who’s teaching and what style is being taught. Do you like the type of yoga being taught? Do you want to teach with a script like Bikram or teach a flow class where you create your own sequence?”
illumine founder Lourdes Paredes and Pam Udell co-teach the House of Shanti teacher training program at Healing Power Yoga in Highland Park. “I have always said it’s important to be inspired by and connect with the teacher because they are passing on information that you want to take root in your life,” says Paredes.
Getting to know the program’s faculty beforehand is key, says Stacy Levy, a graduate of the Yogaview program. “Take their classes, immerse yourself in their community and experience it firsthand,” she says. “It is important that their ‘style’ resonates with you and also inspires you.”
It’s also important to be clear about your own intentions, adds Jim Kulackoski, who leads a 500 hour advanced teacher training program at the Darshan Center. “Ask yourself why you would want to be a teacher. Be specific about what inspires you to teach yoga,” he says. “Find a program that reflects that intention and offers a clear and detailed methodology of how to get there.”
Timing is Everything
Teacher training programs are rigorous and require a physical, mental and emotional commitment. Yoga Alliance, a nonprofit organization, registers teacher training programs that meet its minimum standards in 200-hour, 500-hour, prenatal and children’s. For example, at the 200-hour level, the Yoga Alliance breaks down how many hours should be spent on each part of the training, including teaching methodology, physiology and philosophy.
Yoga is a practice of self-study or “svadhyaya” and involves a great deal of introspection and self-awareness. For example, Yogaview students are required to meditate by themselves or with the group for at least one- half hour a day. “The program has an emphasis on self-understanding. We want students to go deeper into their own practice – that’s where people will learn to teach in the most effective way,” says Kearney.
If you are working part- or full-time, schedule time to practice, teach, observe or assist in yoga class as part of your training. Knowledge of anatomy is such an integral and essential part of being an effective and successful yoga teacher. You’ll spend time studying the body, including key muscles and how to best provide a safe environment for your students. If you haven’t studied physiology since high school, this might require additional time spent at the library.
“A teacher training program is a big time commitment, so it is important to carve out time to devote to the program,” says Deb Wineman, co-leader of the program at Reach Yoga in Glencoe. Reach Yoga offers a summer intensive program and anticipates that the timing will appeal to people whose schedules tend to ease up in the summer.
At What Cost?
The average cost of a 200-hour teacher training program is $3,000 plus an additional $100 or less for books. Some programs offer slight discounts for early registration. It’s a significant investment, and students should be realistic about a full- time career as a yoga instructor.
House of Shanti invites graduates to visit the weekly teacher training class to lead a class opening, meditation or simply observe the class. “Having the House of Shanti teachers available to continue to learn from–in and out of the studio–is priceless and has really allowed me the confidence to grow my own practice, as well as pass the endless knowledge to my students,” says Trayci Handelman, a House of Shanti teacher-training graduate.
Training participants at Moksha Yoga Center receive a 20 percent discount on all workshops held at the studio’s three locations, including Satvic Nutrition, Prenatal Yoga, Kid’s Yoga, Ayureda and Business. Students are also offered two apprenticeships with a teacher of their choice. practice teaching opportunities and access to studio space for practice throughout the year.
“We believe the most important aspect of a teacher training program is a community that lifts you to your highest goal,” says Zoey VanDuren, teacher training manager at Moksha.
Yoga teacher and Moksha graduate Kayla Anderson says her class became very close
and even continued to meet for dinner after graduation. “It was a very hands-on environment where we made a strong bond,” she says. “The program gave me a ‘voice’ and confidence to stand in front of a room and teach.”
You’ve Received Your Certificate of Training. (Congratulations!) Now What?
Once you’ve received your teaching certificate there are many opportunities to teach. You may opt to teach in a small setting such as a community recreation center, local Y or gym, or you may choose to teach private lessons to friends or colleagues or at a studio. Whatever the case, you’ll need liability insurance, available through Yoga Alliance, and the initiative to market yourself (and your classes). This can involve creating a website, flyers, brochures and business cards.
Sharyn Galindo, teacher, owner and studio director of North Shore Yoga, oversees studios in Northfield, Evanston and Bannockburn. The studio offers 200 hour and 500 hour teacher training programs, as well as several workshops for teachers and students.
“There are a lot of criteria for hiring an instructor, “ Galindo says. “First of all I have to see each person teach. A lot depends on timing, availability and having the right person to teach the appropriate level class. New teachers also have to be willing to stick with it and build a class. Subbing for other teachers is a great way to get in front of students.”
Easing into teaching is a good idea. “We recommend our students start teaching slowly and not take on too many classes too fast,” says Gaspar. “We invite them to return as a mentor in our future trainings. They learn a lot from participating in the training again for free. They learn the information again at a much deeper level, and mentors also get a lot of hands-on adjusting experience.”
As you begin your journey, remember the teachings of Buddha: “There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.”
Linda O’Toole is a Registered Yoga Teacher and received her certificate of training from House of Shanti. She currently teaches at Reach Yoga in Glencoe.