Should you do a 200-Hr Yoga Teacher Training if you don’t want to teach yoga?

The Flow & Restore Collective
14 min readOct 8, 2020

The answer is Yes. But why?

Today, one of the only places to get a comprehensive, foundational understanding of the teachings and practices of Yoga is in a Yoga Teacher Training, and the most common, most foundational, and most thoroughly researched form of Yoga Teacher Training in the U.S. is the 200-Hour Training.

Ok. But, why is this the case?

Because Yoga is now a household word in the United States, we rarely question its origins or how it got to be what we currently regard as Yoga. Many of us who practice yoga regularly with a favorite teacher or through someone’s YouTube channel can easily miss some valuable context here. We often don’t realize that yoga is an ancient and holistic body of lifestyle practices that originated on the East Indian continent and likely only morphed into the form that we currently know it as (60 to 90-minute group posture-focused classes) in the last century. In fact, a majority of the postures that you and I know and love have only been created in that same time frame by teachers like B.K.S. Iyengar and Desikachar, while most of the other (less sexy and somewhat more challenging and sobering) practices of yoga date back thousands and thousands of years.

Many of the most popular yoga teacher trainings available today are guided by yoga teachers with direct connections to the source gurus and teachings from India. Many of them are disciples, who either traveled to India to learn from the greats (Swami Satchidananda, Krishnamacharya, Neem Karoli Baba, etc.), or they gathered and studied in small groups with these masters during their travels to teach in the western world.

Those of us who’ve undertaken training and developing yoga teachers, ourselves, know we are endowed with a certain responsibility to these lineages. As we embark on training others, we have the context of developing people to be responsible for not injuring themselves or others behind us, the context of doing no harm. And we also know that we have a responsibility to honor the true origins of the teachings and the practices: the history of the postures, the etymology of the language, the more challenging, and less instantly gratifying practices like concentration and non-coveting. We know that our students will be passing these teachings on to their students and we have a responsibility to our teachers, and to them, as teachers. Our students are immersed in a rigorous study of human anatomy, yogic meditation, philosophy, and lifestyle and this is far beyond what you may get from a more casual program of practice.

Whether you ever pursue yoga teaching as a career or not, a teacher-training will provide contexts for healthy physical practices in your own body that a group teacher may not have the time or attention available to offer you. You will learn three or four or five different breathing practices for different purposes, in-depth, that you have no guarantee will be present in any general yoga class. And much more.

It’s not that other kinds of yogic studies aren’t valuable. If you want to open different parts of the body and energy centers, through a physical exercise-oriented practice, and other aspects of practice are not at all interesting to you, it is absolutely not the case that short classes aren’t valuable. They are. It’s that if you want to learn yoga from a perspective that will make a difference in your life, overall, there are really very, very few places outside of a Yoga Teacher Training that you will find those teachers. You could live in an ashram. That is the other place to learn these tools.

It’s a fascinating subject. So, let’s dig in. We’ll start by exploring how we arrived at this conversation in the first place…

How did we get here? And why should we consider who we’re learning from?

In 2020, yoga in Western culture seems omnipresent. Your average American has most likely at least heard of Lululemon and probably knows that “downward facing dog” refers to something beyond the looks served by a guilt-ridden puppy. Chances are, you’ve heard a millennial reference the term chakra within the last few years. Smartphone apps, the careers of countless Instagram influencers, memes, hip Google ads starring Fred Armisen…it seems that everywhere we turn, we see a reference to yoga these days. How did we get here? And is there still an authentic, holistic practice to be had in what we, in the U.S. are calling and referring to as yoga?

The history of yoga’s arrival in the United States in its current iteration actually goes back centuries and is well worth an exploration.** And, while this topic is certainly worthy of its own article, here’s a quick glance at the abbreviated timeline of the East Indian practice of Yoga’s arrival to the States:

  • 1893 — Swami Vivekananda arrives in Chicago from India and becomes the first yogic guru to introduce Americans to the practice. He traveled the country, primarily speaking about yoga with a religious, philosophical, and spiritual focus.
  • 1920 — Paramahansa Yogananda speaks to the theologically and spiritually open-minded in Boston.
  • 1947 — Indra Devi opens a Hollywood studio for yoga. She had traveled to India in her 20’s and brought back the lineage of Sri Krishnamacharya to the U.S. He would go on to mentor many significant American yoga practitioners.
  • 1961 — Richard Hittleman’s television program, Yoga For Health, airs in Los Angeles. He would be instrumental in curating a more physical, less spiritually focused yoga designed for the American masses. His Twenty-Eight-Day Yoga Plan would go on to sell millions of copies.
  • 1965 — President Lyndon Johnson signs the Immigration and Nationality Act, ending the racist immigration quotas that had affected Asian immigrants since the 1910s. This allowed many historically significant gurus to teach and practice in the U.S. for extended stays.
  • 1966 — Swami Satchidananda arrives in New York City and teaches yoga to a small circle of young artists. Three years later, he opens a record-breaking (and largely chemically altered) Woodstock Festival crowd of 500,000. He would later go on to found Integral Yoga Institute and the Ashram at Yogaville, whose Yoga Alliance certified school currently offers YTTs online and in-person.
  • 1983 — Sharon Gannon and David Life meet in New York City. One year later, they create the renowned Jivamukti Yoga. A few years later, they travel to India and upstate New York and study under gurus Swami Nirmalananda, Pattabhi Jois, and Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati, whose teachings would significantly influence the developing Jivamukti Yoga.
  • 1987 — YogaWorks forms in Santa Monica, California. Since then, they’ve expanded to 66 locations across the US. The company currently offers 100% online yoga teacher training courses, including the 200-hour option.
  • 1996 — Deepak Chopra co-founds the Chopra Center for Wellbeing with David Simon.
  • 1997 — The newly formed Yoga Alliance holds its first-ever meeting at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
  • 2007 — YogaGlo forms (now simply going by ‘Glo’) to bring yoga courses to the web, serving a niche that would expand over the next decade. Most recently, this pioneering work of Glo has been a model for many 200-Hr YTTs who aim to reach students remotely in light of COVID-19.

And so much more is not captured by this one snapshot.

200-hour teacher training — what and why?

Let’s start with the basics. 200-Hr YTT = 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training. It is fairly self-explanatory in that it takes 200 hours to complete this training and upon your graduation, you’re considered qualified to teach a basic 60 or 75-minute yoga class. These are issued by schools that are registered with the Yoga Alliance. Once completing the 200-Hr YTT, you are eligible to register to be an RYT, or Registered Yoga Teacher. It’s important to distinguish these terms at this point, as you will see them used constantly when shopping for these training programs.

One major reason you should do a YTT is that they are necessarily vetted by the Yoga Alliance. Founded in 1997, the Yoga Alliance is the largest nonprofit organization dedicated to the yoga community and maintaining its integrity. Over the last two decades, the Yoga Alliance has been supple and flexible to meet the needs of the community. It has restructured itself many times in order to continue to serve aspiring yoga instructors and schools, going from an ad hoc committee to a nonprofit organization to eventually splitting into two separate groups, the Yoga Alliance and the Yoga Alliance Foundation. Through these changes, they’ve shown an unwavering commitment to serve the greater yoga community by continuing to set standards that are relevant to this rapidly growing industry.

In order to offer YTT, schools must build the curriculum according to the standards set by the organization. These requirements have a holistic practice at their core, and the credibility of the body that designed them is well established in the yoga community. You know that when you take a Yoga Alliance Approved YTT, the content and design of the course will have been held at the highest possible standard.

Here’s a quick rundown of these current standards, showing the minimum of what you get from a YTT:

  • Techniques, training, and practice

Here’s where you’ll dig into the physical practice of yoga. Expect to cultivate a personal practice of poses, breath technique, chanting, mantras, and meditation.

  • Teaching Methodology

Even if you never wish to teach yoga, this exploration of yoga pedagogy will offer a glimpse into where yoga teachers are coming from in 2020 at the most basic level.

  • Anatomy & Physiology

You may expect to gain an understanding of the different ways that each joint in your body is designed to move, how movements affect these joints, and how to apply this knowledge to a yoga practice. Additionally, this is where you will explore more advanced ideas about intake, output, and other energy flows taking place in our system throughout our lives from a yogic perspective.

  • Yoga Philosophy, Lifestyle, and Ethics for Yoga Teachers

This category of training will involve the more spiritual and philosophical aspects of yoga. While some courses will emphasize this more than others, you can expect some discussion and study of ancient yoga texts, yoga lifestyle concepts, and ethical issues inside and outside of the yoga community.

  • Practicum

Putting what you’re learning into action by teaching, giving and receiving feedback, observing teachers, and assisting students, aiding in your ability to communicate your instructions ever-increasingly more clearly, and to make sure that yogic principles ring through the way in which you communicate.

How does this set of criteria set the YTT apart from a more basic yoga class? In a word, holistic. Recognizing that yoga is multifaceted and then spending hours exploring and gaining facility and familiarity with these aspects will give you a much more complete understanding of what yoga is, whether you ever wind up teaching another yoga student or not.

While you might end up hearing the teacher of your once-a-week 5 pm yoga class mention one of the 8 limbs of yoga or the Bhagavad Gita in passing, it will likely be amidst leading the poses, managing the classroom, and making sure the class runs smoothly. That can be so powerful when it is done well. I want to make it really clear here, I am not “knocking” that in any way. That’s how I teach a 60-Minute class. Contrast that to dedicated units of study that will cover these topics foundational to the tradition, and you see that these are serious programs for serious students. These YTT take into account the fact that the ontological (or science of being) side of yoga is an important piece of the whole. If you’ve been looking to get deeper into that side of it, a YTT might be just what you’re looking for.

Even if you are mainly interested in the physical side of yoga, a YTT will prove to be immensely beneficial to know what you’re doing and why when practicing yoga. The study of anatomy and physiology is thorough and will give you a new appreciation for what’s happening in your body with the poses and postures that you execute. Ideally, it will help you prevent injury and keep you healthy, fit, and flexible for your whole life as a yoga student. If that is your goal and you are particularly motivated, YTT could be an excellent choice.

YTT’s are the ideal fit for a student who is looking to base their life around the principles of yoga practice, too. The intensive training will provide the necessary foundation to build a way of life that supports your lifelong study of yoga. Dharma, karma, chakra study, community service…these are all part of the yoga tradition, and if you’d like to participate and share fully in the tradition, taking a YTT will be a great way to get started. This study offers valuable life perspectives that have gradually diminished in the greater American conversation about yoga since Vivekananda first arrived in Chicago.

Sounds interesting but where would I even start?

Well, let’s take a quick look at what’s out there! Like the Yogis I mentioned above, someone who is interested in developing a mainly physical practice is not likely going to be interested in the same TT as someone who is largely interested in developing a meditation practice and working with the energy practices of yoga. But both are entirely possible.

The process of choosing a school, lineage, and particular training to study within warrants its own thousand-word article. We’ll work on that, we promise (we also promise to link it here when it’s done), but in the meantime, I want to point to a few things to ask yourself when you’re making this decision and highlight a few schools that I just love and am eager to share about.

One thing to seriously consider here is how important is the cost to you? Is it the biggest deal? Is it the only thing you care about? Are you someone who looks for savings everywhere you can get it? Are you someone who will pay more, if what you’re paying for is quality?

If you find yourself in the latter category when selecting a program (or if you are one of the ten to twenty people on the planet for whom money is actually no object), Jivamukti School has an incredible reputation for their offerings and an enormous network of support and opportunity to its graduates. They are the kind of a school that, once you are a certified Jivamukti teacher, most places will very seriously consider hiring you and some will even seek you out. If you explore their site, you’ll see that their trainings are largely regarded as immersive experiences. Sharon Gannon and David Life truly have a reputation for training and developing the best of the best of us. Also, and like many of the top yoga schools, they’ve developed a robust set of courses available online.

Another set of options in the “costly, yet worth it” category of YTT comes from YogaWorks. All I can say about these trainings is that some of the best teachers I’ve ever studied with are disciples of this school and they are very rigorous in auditioning even their own teachers to teach at their studios. Additionally, I independently selected almost the exact body of work for the required reading in the Teacher Training I lead as they require in theirs. So there’s something to be said for being on the same page with what they are putting down.

Two other lineages I feel similarly about are the Dharma and Iyengar schools, with direct lines to Dharma Mittra and Sri B.K.S. Iyengar. Both schools have specialized focuses and it would be of critical importance to be clear about those focuses before embarking on training with them. But, again, they are some of the best teachers I’ve ever encountered, and the schools are clearly delivering deeply challenging and enriching teacher training.

My regard for all of the aforementioned trainings is that they are clearly oriented around bettering people, and if you wanted to leave the door open to the possibility of teaching, you would have no problem building a career as a yoga teacher on the foundation you will get from any of them.

The YTT in 2020 and beyond

In the past, Yoga Alliance standards had a very hard rule about the number of “contact hours” a yoga teacher training needed to have to be certified with their organization. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, Y.A. has drastically altered what it regards as a “contact hour” and, like so many other things today, they have already had to push back the expected date they would begin requiring in-person hours again. Personally, I question whether they will return to *requiring* it. Participation is way up and many of the Board Members of Y.A. are themselves benefitting from the ability to reach so many people from home with these teachings. Many of these online trainings are less expensive than in-person trainings due to the overhead costs being drastically decreased. And, if a given online program’s price is not reduced in some way, I would seriously question participating in it.

Another thing I’m always eager to mention is that some schools/studios are now offering steep discounts to the BIPOC community in an effort to dismantle the cultural appropriation of yoga, racism, and white exceptionalism in the broader yoga industry, and take their own small steps toward the redistribution of wealth to people who have been oppressed by violence against black and brown-skinned people globally. My school is currently offering a program like this. And this school is offering them for free. So is this one.

Even after reading this, you may be clear that the YTT is not your speed. That is okay! Students might be interested in getting to a deeper study of yoga through other channels. There are other programs like the Living Yoga Training, with the Integral Yoga Institute, which is a month-long retreat that especially values the community and service aspects of the yoga lifestyle. (And the Integral Yoga Institute is where I’ve personally chosen to do my 500-Hr and Yoga Therapist Certification based on the quality of their programs.) While not necessarily as rigorous as a YTT, a program like this could be a great alternative way to delve deeper into the substance of yoga. It’s clear that there can be many possible paths to a healthy, lifelong, and enriched yoga study. Whether you pursue a 200-Hr YTT or not, in 2020 you now have unprecedented access to an authentic, holistic, and tradition-honoring yoga education.

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**It’s important to note with an article like this that we are talking about the East Indian practice of Yoga. Historic images and writing have shown that indigenous people also took part in yoga-like practices, engaging breath, body, mind, and spirit, on what we are calling the “United States.”