How do I find a qualified yoga teacher?
Karen Prior replies: Within the last decade, yoga has become very popular in the West. With all of the styles, traditions, certifications and class offerings, it can be confusing when you are trying to find a qualified instructor.
Just because someone is a "great teacher" does not mean she is qualified to teach yoga. There are some individuals who seem to be able to teach just about anything because they possess the gift to do so. While this can be great in many subjects, it is not necessarily a good thing when it comes to yoga. Yoga is an ancient science, and it requires both personal experience and vast knowledge in order to teach safely.
In recent years, certification programs have surfaced that give credentials to just about anyone who will pay for them, sometimes in as few as eight hours of training. There are also teachers who start teaching without any formal training. That’s not to say that none of these teachers are good teachers — but it is important to do your own homework to see if the teacher can safely instruct you.
It’s just this situation that led to the formation of the national Yoga Alliance. The Yoga Alliance, formed by the heads of several top yoga schools, have set minimum standards of training that yoga teachers need in order to be able to safely instruct in a class setting. Teachers who are registered with the Yoga Alliance use the initials RYT (Registered Yoga Teacher) after their names, designating that they have met these standards. Some of these teachers have completed a 200-hour or 500-hour certification with a registered yoga school, while others may have completed several shorter certifications that add up to the number of required hours.
Tips for a successful search
Yoga can have profound effects on your health, hormonal system, physical structure and mental outlook. You want to be sure and find an instructor that will safely guide you on your journey. Here are some tips to use in your search for a qualified yoga teacher.
1. Visit the Yoga Alliance web site to locate teachers who have met its minimum standards. Choose an instructor near you who teaches the style of yoga that you are interested in.
2. Ask the teacher about his or her own yoga experience and certification.
3. Ask the instructor if she herself takes yoga classes and has a personal practice. Beware of any teacher who says she takes classes only occasionally or doesn’t have time to take classes. Regular contact with one's own yoga teacher is essential to the continued development of both students and teachers.
You want your yoga teachers to also be yoga practitioners. Unfortunately, it’s estimated that half of the yoga teachers out there do not take many yoga classes after they receive their certification, and even fewer have regular contact with their own yoga teacher.
4. If you have physical limitations or injuries, be sure to seek a teacher that has specific training to work with you. General yoga classes are for those who are generally healthy and have no physical limitations. If you have back problems or any physical ailments that keep you from participating in a regular exercise program, then you should make sure that your yoga teacher has training in this specific injury or condition.
There are many specializations in yoga training including yoga for back pain, yoga for scoliosis, yoga for osteoporosis, yoga for depression, yoga for pregnancy, yoga for knee problems, yoga for round bodies and even yoga for thyroid health. Be sure to inform your yoga teacher of any ailments or injuries that you suffer from, including past injuries.
5. Ask yourself what you are seeking from your yoga practice. This will help you decide what style of yoga to try. If you seeking relaxation and stress relief, then you may want to try one of the more gentle styles like Ananda, Kripalu or Samatva. If you are seeking weight loss and physical fitness, then a vinyasa, power yoga or Bikrim-style class may be for you. Those seeking to learn about going deeper in the poses might like to explore Iyengar, Ashtanga or Anusara styles. Those seeking spiritual development might prefer the Kundalini, Kriya and Integral traditions.
The term Hatha Yoga is a general term that can encompass a combination of many styles. If a teacher lists Hatha as their style, inquire to see if what he teaches will help you meet your own goals.
If you don’t find what you are looking for in your first class, don’t stop there. Try another teacher or style. In the end, it is important that you find a teacher that you feel comfortable with and who will always keep your safety in mind.
© Karen Prior
Karen Prior’s impressive breadth of knowledge in the therapeutic uses of yoga, nutrition and prenatal fitness is backed by solid credentials: she is a registered yoga teacher with the Yoga Alliance, a member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists, a clinical nutritionist and a retired La Leche League leader. Karen runs a Registered Yoga School, where she offers specialized training in prenatal yoga and yoga for children through her programs MamasteYoga and Let'sPlayYoga. Karen lives in Texas with her husband and young daughter.