How to Evaluate YTT Programs
You think you want to become a yoga instructor, huh? Awesome! As soon as you start looking into training programs, you'll soon discover there are about a ga-zillion options.
So how do you weed through it all to figure out what's the best fit for YOU?
I was recently in this position myself, and happily share my process and learnings—to save you from having to reinvent this wheel.
First, though, a bit of background....
My Yoga Journey
I took my first yoga class during summer session at my university something like 20 years ago. (Where has the time gone!?!) Since then, I've practiced on and off—and mostly "on" for much of the last 15. In the last few years, I’ve ratcheted up my practice, going to two to three classes each week.
Now that I’ve decided to pursue yoga teacher training (YTT), I’m trying to go three to four times weekly so I’ll build up my stamina and start tuning in to how my instructors teach. (No more rest days for a while I guess….)
During my tenure as a yogi, I've tried all sorts of yoga disciplines at many studios with a wealth of teachers. Seriously, everything from your basic Hatha mat class in the California Bay Area to Afro-Flow yoga with live drummers on the Esplanade in Boston to self-practice while traveling abroad. I have yet to try aerial yoga and paddleboard yoga—and I’m vehemently against any animal-accompanied yoga.
My point is that, while I’ve explored a host of yogic experiences, there are infinite possibilities to continue my growth and development and enjoyment. Sweet! This invigorates me; I know there will always be a fresh and challenging new way to practice if I want it. It’s also a major source of my inspiration to become a teacher.
Originally, I got into yoga just to see what it was about. I knew nothing and had no expectations. Possibly I had some preconceived notions that it was still a hippy-ish recreation, but that was so dang long ago…who knows….
Very quickly, though, I discovered amazing benefits. In that very first course I took, I found that yoga calmed me down and enabled me to relax (OK, raise your hand if you’ve ever fallen, snoringly, asleep during savasana. ✋ Don’t leave me hanging!) and constructively manage my tendency towards anxiety.
Since then, yoga has become a staple in my wellness routine—and for good reason. It can be a terrific exercise regimen all on its own. But for me, wow! I have it in the mix with spin and TRX, and mindful whole-foods nutrition and other self-care (e.g., massage, hydration, regular healthcare, taking time to relax and enjoy creative and social hobbies, etc.) This is truly a power combo for me, proven out by significant improvements in my health markers (e.g., weight, skin quality, etc.).
I feel better; I look better. I AM BETTER! And a better “me” means I can be better for those with whom my life intersects. (You are familiar with those old saying like “You gotta take care of #1” and “You have to take care of yourself so you can take care of those you love.”? There’s a reason those adages have had stickiness for the ages—there’s truth to them!)
I’ve had such great exposure to and benefits from yoga. Naturally, I began thinking: What’s next? Where do I want to take this? From studying martial arts and achieving my black belt, I knew that a logical and meaningful next step might be to become a teacher. Regardless of whether or not I want to teach.
Becoming a teacher is a fantastic way to deepen my practice. It necessitates me learning all the details of yoga poses and philosophy, anatomy, lesson planning and teaching, and so on. But it also means sheer repetition of movements and meditations. (Regardless of whether or not the theory that 10,000 hours or repetitions enables you to master a skill is in doubt, I think it can apply here to me.) I mean, I’ll be inculcating some serious mental and physical muscle memory. By the end of a teacher training program, it stands to reason that I'll be able to get into postures more deeply, attempt more advanced poses, understand how to design an effective vinyasa for my needs and goals. Cool—I'm totally on board with this.
Assuming teaching in some way, shape or form is part of my grand plan? My understanding is that to be a yoga instructor at most gyms and studios you need to have completed a 200-hour YTT program from a certified YTT school. It’s very often the minimum bar. On a more practical skew, though, I wouldn’t feel comfortable teaching without formal education on how to do so. I wouldn’t be confident that I could safely (paramount and non-negotiable!) and effectively guide others.
Becoming a certified YTT lays the groundwork for a lot of possibilities….
And this brings me to my hunt for a program that fits my needs.….
Finding a Santosha-Inducing Yoga Teacher Training Program
Based on my search, many YTTs are seasonal, meaning that there’s one beginning at the start of January/February, September/October, etc. I mention this because you’ll want to give yourself adequate time to conduct your search. I didn’t know this when I started looking at programs, but lucked out—everything fell into place. Score!
Yoga Alliance Seal of Approval
It quickly became apparent that I needed to find a YTT that is certified by the Yoga Alliance. The Yoga Alliance is a major industry professional organization. It strives to bring quality, vital knowledge and consistency to YTT programs across the board. And, as I mentioned before, many studios and gyms require you to have graduated from a Yoga Alliance-blessed YTT.
So, I started my search on the Yoga Alliance website. In addition to absolutely indispensable information on what elements your YTT curriculum should include, it has a handy searchable database of member schools that have qualified YTT programs.
This helped winnow down the sea of potential programs a bit, but it also made it obvious that I had a lot more to consider….
Step 1: Determine Search Criteria
There are so many kinds of schools and programs. Before you start evaluating them—do yourself a favor and ask yourself these questions. Your answers will mercifully guide your search.
The questions below reflect the search/filter options you’ll find on the Yoga Alliance website. They will cut out the noise of the more than 7,500 registered yoga schools to a much more manageable list.
Designations: Do you want to do a 200-, 300- or 500-hour YTT?
Location/Radius: Where do you want to do your YTT? In the US or abroad? How far do you want to travel to get to your YTT?
Training Formats: Do you want to do a full-time or part-time YTT? Are you available during the week or only on weekends? What time(s) of the year are you able to dedicate to a YTT program?
Types Taught: What kind of yoga do you want to learn to teach?
For me, I knew I wanted to do a part-time 200-hour YTT starting in early 2020. I loathe being stuck in traffic (a side effect to being a home-based remote worker I suppose…), so my YTT needed to be close to home. Having tried a variety of styles, I knew I wanted to learn how to teach flow, fitness, heated and/or alignment-oriented yoga.
Based on my criteria, I was able to narrow the field to just five potential schools. It’s a lot easier to research five schools than 7,500+…. Am I right?
(I ended up selecting one of these five schools. But, if all had been a bust, I could have easily changed or broadened my search/filter criteria to come up with more options.)
Step 2: Refine the List
Go through the schools in your search results. Make a shortlist of the ones that are offering YTTs at a time that works for you. Many schools teach more than one YTT throughout the year, so hopefully, you’ll see multiple schools with program timings that will work for you.
I also noticed that many schools don’t list any program dates. I’m not sure if this is because they haven’t added them to the Yoga Alliance website yet, or because they don’t have any slated for the foreseeable future. My suggestion is to look at the school’s website, which should have info about their YTT.
For each program that piques your interest*:
Gauge the school/program. How does it present itself? What does it focus on? Does it seem professional?
Read the instructor bios. How do they present themselves? What credentials do they have?
Explore the program curriculum. How is the course broken out? What level and quality of detail is provided for each section? How is time allocated? How many hours are direct contact vs not? How many hours are with the Lead Instructor?
Read the reviews. What are past students saying about the school, program and instructor?
* Look for this info on the Yoga Alliance school profile page, the school’s website and via general web research (e.g., Google or Yelp reviews, other yoga sites and blogs, etc.)
Weigh these factors against your needs and priorities for a YTT program. You’ll likely feel in your gut that some programs are better for you than others. This is a great thing! You’re making progress. Woohoo!
A reasonable goal at this stage would be to further shrink your shortlist to two to five contenders. These you’ll delve into more thoroughly. Too many will make deep-diving way too overwhelming.
Step 3: Ask MORE Questions
YTT is a major investment of your time, money and spirit—make sure it’s worth it to you and the program you opt for is the right one. Also, remember that you are your best advocate. So ask questions, think about the answers, then ask more questions and chew on those answers. You’re bound to be happier and more confident in your decisions if you do this.
Having never picked a YTT program before, I figured my best bet was to go to trusted experts. I asked several of my yoga instructors how they would evaluate a YTT program, what questions they would ask, and compiled the listicle below.
Some questions are self-reflection and additional “filter” criteria (that the Yoga Alliance doesn’t let you apply). Others are course design details that will impact your learning experience, and thus your choice of YTT program. These are critical data points!
What’s your budget for a YTT? Can you pay upfront or will you need to pay in installments? My research showed 200-hour YTTs range in price from $1,500-$3,000 nationally, but of the programs I was considering they ran around $2,800-$3,100. They all offered early-bird and payment-in-full discounts. Find a program that is financially viable for you.
What aspects of yoga do you want to emphasize (e.g., anatomy or philosophy)? Of the two programs I was seriously looking into, one focused more on philosophy and one focused more on anatomy. I’m more interested in the physicality of yoga and its application to ensure safe, effective fitness. Suffice it to say, on this particular dimension, one of the YTTs is more suited to me.
Why do you want to take a YTT? What’s your end goal? It’s easier to evaluate a YTT if you know what you want to get out of it. Figure out (or at least think about) if you want to teach regular classes, do workshops and events, make videos, open a studio, get involved with corporate or community wellness, or simply deepen your practice. It’s all good. You just need to know what’s making you tick, what’s going to mobilize your bod out of bed for study and practice.
Take a yoga class with the instructor. Ok, I know this isn’t a question. But, experiencing the teacher in the wild will enable you to pose and answer these important questions: Do you like his teaching style? Did she instill confidence in you (e.g., does she seem to know her stuff)? Extrapolate—can you see this person being a good YTT instructor and delivering the knowledge you need in a way that speaks to you?
How are the facilities? Are you comfortable? Do you have any environmental requirements? You will be spending long hours in the studio/classroom. You must be at ease. For example, many studios use essential oils or incense (hello allergens much?), may not have great HVAC or lack someplace to store/eat lunch on those full-day classes, etc. I decided that I couldn’t handle sitting on the floor for entire weekends and opted for a YTT that has a separate room with sofas for the discussion portions of the program.
What kind of reputation does the school/teacher have? Yoga communities are pretty small. So ask your trusted teachers if they know the school/instructors for the YTT. If you can find past students of the instructor/YTT, get their input. Only go somewhere that’s in good standing.
Is there rapport? If you can, meet the instructor(s) in person before choosing a YTT. Most schools have info sessions or will schedule consultations with prospective students. Info sessions are nice opportunities to meet other prospective students as well as the teachers. Get a feel for how the instructors relate to one another (if there are multiple teachers) and to students. See if you get good vibes from your potential cohorts. The instructor I chose let me sit in on a day of her current YTT training cycle; so I got to see firsthand how she related to students. You’ll be spending a substantial amount of time together, so it’s key that there’s connection.
How many teachers? How many students? It’s really important to know the teacher/student ratio. Lots of students and few teachers means you probably won’t get a lot of 1:1 attention. Large groups also can affect the pacing and direction of the course. Having more than one instructor can expose you to multiple approaches to teaching, which can benefit you greatly. It’s really about settling on what plugs in to your learning style.
How are classes structured? I would not survive a program that had nine hours straight sitting around memorizing muscle groups and the Sanskrit names of poses. So, I found one that alternates between sitting “bookwork”, movement and mat work, reflective or creative work and breaks/meals. It leverages multimedia resources and experiential learning. Think about your learning style and how you like your days organized. Try to go with a YTT that jives.
Continue to Flow
Make a Decision
Decision time! Give yourself a hearty pat on the back. You’ve done tons of work—a fairly rigorous self-inventory and thorough investigation of YTT options—to get to this step. You’ve armed yourself with the knowledge necessary to determine your next move.
The first decision you need to make is: Are you going to commit to doing a YTT? If the answer is “No”…that’s so cool. It takes gumption to assess everything and decide it’s not the path for you. Especially after investing all the time and effort to learn about yourself, schools, programs and teachers. Think about it—you saved yourself from going in an inauthentic direction and now you’re free to find your passion elsewhere. And you can always return to YTT at some other moment if it feels right.
But, if the answer is “Yes”…yay! Good for you! You passed the first stage-gate: You are definitely going to do a YTT.
Now you just need to get cozy with all the information you’ve gathered and the signals your intuition is blasting out. Weigh the pros and cons of the programs you explored. And then…DECIDE!
A decision is nothing without actions to bring it to fruition. Make your plan—complete with the steps you need to take, deadlines, etc. Hold yourself accountable for completing each task. Before you can utter “Om shanti shanti shanti” you’ll be nose deep in your Bhagavad Gita and flying your Pigeon like a guru!
Is All This Really Necessary?
Do you already have a YTT in mind, and this process feels unnecessary or redundant? I still recommend looking up your school and program on Yoga Alliance’s website. And searching/filtering to find competitor programs. This will either re-enforce your decision that your desired school/program is the ideal fit, or it will give you others to consider. Also, it will confirm that your chosen school/program is Yoga Alliance certified.
I was originally considering a particular program, but after my research on Yoga Alliance’s site and meeting the instructors/attending info sessions, I went with a different one. Both programs are of high quality—it’s just that one is more perfect for my needs.
Wrapping It Up
Finding a yoga teacher training program is a very personal thing. What differentiates a YTT and makes it “good” is unique to you. It takes time and care to research, evaluate and decide upon a school, instructor and curriculum that meets your specific needs and equips you for success.
Here's a cheat sheet to facilitate your search.
I wish you happiness and fulfillment in your endeavors. Namaste.
Opening It Up
Please share your experiences. What questions would you ask? How would you evaluate YTTs? What tipped you in one direction or another when choosing a program? Thanks!