When I was 16, I convinced my high school boyfriend to accompany me to my local gym to attend a yoga class. Neither of us had done maybe more than a 90s era, Rodney Yee video, but I thought it would be a fun alternative to going to the movies, or bowling — the only options in my rural hometown.
Standing on my straight left leg, right leg bent, the sole of my right foot pressing into my upper left thigh in tree pose, listening to "Sail Away" as the yoga teacher instructed us to breathe, I marked the moment in my mind. I knew that one day I wanted to teach yoga myself.
Eight years later, I started my yoga teacher training and have been teaching ever since receiving my certification.
Here's how I did it.
Before you commit to a teacher training program, expose yourself to the many varieties of yoga. Try out a different studio whenever you travel, and absolutely check out all the ones in your surrounding area. The summer before college, I worked at a holistic institute where part of the compensation package was free workshops and classes. That's where I experienced teachers of styles my small hometown didn't offer, like Kali Ray TriYoga, ViniYoga, Yoga Nidra, Forrest, Yin and more. While you may be tempted to train in the first (and maybe only) style of yoga you've experienced, you're doing yourself and your future students a disservice; consider this as building your baseline of yoga knowledge. And you never know, you may find a type you connect with.
The teacher who sparked my desire to become one myself was Kripalu trained; for years, I thought I'd have to find the time and money to travel to Massachusetts to take the training. However, while in college in Boston, I tried a few YogaWorks certified teachers and loved their depth of knowledge as well as the structure and flow of their classes. When I finally had time to enroll in a teacher training while living in Kansas, I sought and found a YogaWorks program, taught by an instructor who flew from L.A. to teach us a few weekends a month.
Most courses include required reading of books such as "The Yoga Sutras," "Light on Yoga," and more. As an aspiring yoga teacher, you'll want to have a solid baseline of knowledge about the history of yoga, as well as familiarity with some of the original thought leaders on the topic. Get a headstart by reading these on your own rather than waiting until you're in the class. The books my YogaWorks class required were:
Take a look at what a few programs recommend to read and then take a trip to the library. (Pro tip: many will recommend "The Bhagavad Gita" and a few anatomy books, too.)
Before you commit thousands of dollars and 200 hours or more of your time to teacher training, see if you enjoy the experience. You'd be surprised how many yogis attend teacher training never to teach post-graduation. In my teacher training, I'd say half or more of the class never taught after receiving their certification. For a few, it was nerves: they hated public speaking and couldn't make it through instructing a class without bursting into tears. Others realized they preferred to attend class than plan and teach one.
Round up some friends, family or coworkers and try teaching a mini class. Pick a sequence from Yoga Journal or create one of your own. See how it feels. For me, I was lucky, an old boss forced this on me. When I was in the Army, my company commander when I was a platoon leader found out I liked yoga. So, for physical training one morning, he ordered me to teach yoga to the group of seven officers. I enjoyed the process despite being put on the spot; after that, I knew I'd continue my quest to get certified.
You shouldn't have any problem with this step if you've worked through the first two. By now, you should know what type of yoga you'd like to train in (or what teacher you'd like to train under).
For the most part, 200-hr certification courses are offered in two formats: a month-long intensive and extended training that takes a number of weekends spread across a few months. From my experience, the month-long intensives seem to be focused more around the location and providing some sort of vacation rather than providing the best training. My training spanned four and a half months, with classes on Friday through Sunday a few times a month.
The extended format allowed more time to absorb the lessons and come to each class with questions and comments. While my personality tends toward sprinter, not marathoner (I wanted to take a 200-hr course but I couldn't take a month off of work), the slow, methodical teaching approach worked much better for retention and depth. And, after speaking with a number of people who did take an intensive, they all verbalized how accelerated it felt and how they didn't retain many of the lessons, especially anatomy.
Many of us are multi-taskers, but when it comes time for your teacher training, be present. It seems silly to tell a future yoga teacher to be in the moment, but it's a necessary reminder. Most trainings are just 200 hours; if you spend those hours answering emails during the lecture portion of class, or keeping up on your work to-do list (all things I've observed), you're not taking full advantage of the program.
Keep a notebook and folder for your training materials, and have a running list of questions, observations and notes. In the future, you'll use those notes to develop your classes and to continue your professional development. As for your trainer — cultivate a relationship. This person could become your mentor in the future, and again, with the limited number of hours required for teacher training, you'll want to maximize what time you have with them. Ask questions, get advice and learn all you can while you're there.
After you complete the training, it's time to start building your teaching skills. To deepen your practical skills, I recommend working with a senior teacher. Ask to observe their classes — take notes about how they cue poses, adjust bodies and structure the flow of class. Once you have a rapport, see if you can assist. Depending on the teacher, that could mean setting up and breaking down the classroom, helping with hands-on adjustments, playing DJ or acting as the demonstrator.
Once you feel comfortable with your practical skills, sign up to teach community classes, become a substitute or student teach. Every studio will have its own set of norms for junior teachers; find out what those are and start working your way into the community. I started teaching in San Antonio, where I had moved a month after receiving my certification in Kansas. I didn't have any studio connections — my yoga community was back in Manhattan, Kansas — so I had to start from the bottom. I attended classes at multiple studios, and then asked if they needed substitutes, karma yogis or volunteers to lead donation-based classes.
After training and some practical experience, expand your teaching (if you want!). Apply to work at gyms, corporate yoga companies, advertise as a private teacher, tell your friends, coworkers and families.
Life as a yoga teacher isn't the most financially secure. For starters, you'll be a contractor at most, if not all, establishments. That means you're responsible for paying your taxes separately, at the end of the year — they aren't deducted from your pay automatically. Health insurance is often a concern, since that's generally not a benefit offered to yoga teachers; if you don't have a policy through a full-time job, your spouse, parents or school, you'll have to purchase one on the marketplace. And, at the end of the day, even if you're teaching twenty or more classes a week, it's very likely you won't make enough to support independently support yourself.
While plenty of yoga celebrities exist, and many more yoga influencers since the start of Instagram, it's not exactly the norm. The people who do succeed in growing a following online do put in plenty of time and effort — most of it unpaid, until they reach enough followers to garner sponsorships and paid advertising opportunities.
As for how much you make per class, that depends on the studio. I've worked at places that pay a flat rate per hour; when I lived in San Antonio, a few studios paid me $30 per hour. Another paid a base rate of $15 per hour, plus $2 for every student. In New York City, I've earned anywhere from $50 to $200 per hour.
All this is to say if you're pursuing teaching in the hopes of making a good (or even average) living, not just a side gig, be prepared for an uphill battle.
Here are the common ones:
Nina Semczuk is the Head of SEO Content at Fairygodboss. She teaches outdoor yoga from May through October in New York, NY and has taught in Manhattan, Kansas and San Antonio, Texas.