Every now and then, especially if you’ve been doing yoga for a long time, you might leave a class thinking, “Does he know what he’s doing? Is my yoga teacher qualified to be here?”
If you were at a gym or a studio, probably. But all the right paperwork doesn’t make a good teacher. There’s a difference between qualified and good, and that’s the difference you might have been picking up on.
Yoga Teacher Qualifications
You should expect your yoga teacher to have a minimum of 200 hours of yoga teacher training. The next level is 500 hours. Some teachers might have specialty certifications in pre-natal yoga or yoga for trauma recovery. However, just because they don’t have a specialty cert doesn’t mean they can’t teach those populations at all, but teachers with those certifications are generally more knowledgeable about the specific needs facing those populations. I have studied some pre-natal yoga, for example, and I would be happy to teach a pre-natal class or two and I always welcome pregnant women to my regular classes, but I don’t have a specialty certification in that area.
Most gyms/studios won’t hire teachers that don’t have a minimum of 200 hours of yoga teacher training. However, every now and then I see community and recreation centers who advertise for teachers and don’t list any required qualifications–and the pay starts much, much lower than what I would expect to teach for. So there’s a chance your teacher doesn’t have the typical qualifications in a scenario like that, but I’ve taught at rec centers before, so that’s not a given. If you’re in doubt, ask.
Registered Yoga Schools and Teachers
The Yoga Alliance approves yoga schools as meeting certain standards; these schools have an RYS associated with their names. After a teacher graduates from one of these trainings, he or she can choose to register with Yoga Alliance, thereby becoming a registered yoga teacher (RYT). The Yoga Alliance holds the teacher to certain continuing education standards. It gives the teacher credibility, visibility, and a few perks, and it helps you know that he or she is teaching somewhat regularly (YA requires RYTs to teach and log 45 hours every three years) and is keeping up with additional training and study. However, becoming a RYT simply requires that you graduate from a RYS, teach and log your hours, complete 30 hours of additional training every three years, and pay an annual fee.
Keep in mind that although every registered yoga school must meet certain standards, there is still a lot of room for variation and teachers emerge from these schools with different levels and types of yoga understanding. If you attend a new class that’s totally different than your old one, it doesn’t mean the teacher’s bad or unqualified, just that he had a different type of training.
I Like My Class. Is It Necessary for My Yoga Teacher to Be Qualified?
Say this happens: you have a friend who’s really into yoga, and she knows more than you, so she started teaching you what she knows. At some point, maybe you even started paying her for it, but she’s not a certified teacher.
There’s nothing wrong with that in my mind. She’s honest about not being certified, you know that going in, and it’s just an agreement you have. I think that works even if she’s not a friend. Same with personal training: if he’s honest about not being qualified, you understand the risks you might face by working with him. If you work with him anyway, that’s your choice.
(That’s my personal opinion, and I have no idea about any legal implications if you were to get hurt while working with someone who admits they’re not qualified to teach.)
However, a qualified yoga teacher has a lot of information, skill, and insight that your yoga enthusiast but not-a-teacher friend usually won’t. It’s to your own benefit as a student to work with someone who can really teach you something.
Outside of a one-on-one or small community situation, or possibly a rec center, it seems unlikely that you’ll be in a class with an uncertified teacher.
So, I Guess He’s Qualified. But He’s Not Good.
Just like in any profession, there are good professionals and not-as-good professionals. Even bad professionals. It happens. It’s rare for a yoga school to not pass a trainee, because yoga teacher training is expensive and I imagine they would have a whole lot of fits on their hands if they started refusing to give people their certifications. (If a teacher trainee doesn’t pass–and it does happen occasionally–it’s often because she missed too many of the required hours, or is teaching way outside the standards set by the school.)
And it’s okay to cut your yoga teacher some slack. Is he new to teaching? He’ll get better as he goes. Is she having a bad day? That can turn into a bad class, though hopefully teachers are professional enough not to let that happen. And what’s bad to you might not be so bad to someone else. If he’s consistently offering sub-par classes that are dangerous or feel negative, it’s time to find a new teacher.