More and more students seek yoga certification, though not all go on to teach

Even with a healthier economy, number of registered teachers keeps rising
A yoga teacher-training session is led by instructor Aaron Styles of Styles Yoga and The Hot Yoga Spot.
A yoga teacher-training session is led by instructor Aaron Styles of Styles Yoga and The Hot Yoga Spot.

Each month, thousands of newly trained yoga instructors register with the Yoga Alliance Registry. 

According to the Alliance, the largest nonprofit association to represent the yoga community, for every yoga teacher, there are two students interested in teaching yoga.

“One of my friends on Facebook jokingly posted that by 2050, 50 percent of women would be yoga instructors,” said Bethany Spencer, a yoga instructor with The Hot Yoga Spot.

So why the influx of teachers? 

The surge began in 2008, according to Andrew Tanner, chief ambassador with the Yoga Alliance. 

“It started growing with the recession. It was good for students to make a bit of extra money, and it’s good for the business model of the school,” Tanner said. 

Even with a healthier economy, the number of registered teachers keeps rising. Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, a nonprofit in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, reports it has also seen an increase in yoga teachers enrolling in specialized yoga therapy programs and getting their 300- and 1,000-hour level certifications. 

But don’t be deceived by the popularity and think it’s easy to be certified. Becoming an instructor is no cakewalk. 

Big investment

Aaron Styles, owner of Styles Yoga and a local instructor for The Hot Yoga Spot, runs teacher training courses that typically last between 10 and 12 hours a day. 

“We cover the fundamentals of yoga, we learn 150 positions, we have anatomy training too,” Styles said. There’s required reading about the history and philosophy of yoga, along with the physical training requirements. 

In order to be certified with The Hot Yoga Spot (and with the majority of yoga studios), students must take a 200-hour course. Styles spreads out his 200-hour training courses over nine weekends. Other instructors may run immersion courses that have students gain their 200-hour certification over a three-week period. Once they’ve been certified by their yoga studio, many new teachers go on to register with the Yoga Alliance. The Alliance’s registration gives them another level of credibility and recognition. 

If students want to go on to a higher level of teaching (say, they’re going for their 300-hour certification), they have to start those 300 hours all over. There’s no double dipping. 

Besides the time, training isn’t necessarily cheap. In the Capital Region, the cost for the 200-hour vinyasa course can be around $2,600. A 200-hour Bikram course can cost closer to $3,000 locally.

Bikram, for non-yogis, is done in a 105-degree room with a set dialogue. The training sessions are few and far between in the Capital Region, but two instructors at The Hot Yoga Spot began teaching courses in March of this year. 

Bethany Spencer and Sally Murphy started out offering a 60-hour immersion course, and they’ll be leading a full 200-hour course this fall. 

“We had a great split this time. About half the people were certified teachers and half just wanted to learn more,” Spencer said. 

Anna Acker, one of their students, was already teaching yoga, but wanted to be able to offer her own students other courses. She’ll start teaching a Bikram class this summer as an add-on to her other courses. 

The other half of the class just wanted a deeper experience. 

“So many people don’t end up teaching … and there are a million reasons why people don’t,” Spencer said. 

Teach — or not

Yoga instructors must be flexible — not just physically, but with their time and money. Instructors don’t get paid for the hours they might spend preparing for a class or working to get their curriculums approved by the Yoga Alliance. They also tend to work irregular hours and on weekends.

But for people like Acker, teaching makes sense. She teaches several classes a week, some at The Hot Yoga Spot and some in community centers.
Until 2011, Acker’s career revolved solely around ballet. She worked as a professional ballet dancer and taught. But in 2012, she had her son, Ethan, and her schedule became less flexible.
She still taught ballet, but she needed something on top of that that was flexible and active.
“I tried to do office work once when I was pregnant,” Acker said. But she ended up feeling antsy all day. 

Finally, she decided to turn her love of yoga, which she had been practicing as a supplement to ballet, into a job.  

“It’s great because I can make my own schedule and fit things in when I can,” Acker said, “My son is 5 years old now so he still needs me most of the time.” 

Donna Davidge, a yoga instructor who runs classes in New York City and northern Maine, began teaching more than 30 years ago. But it wasn’t until she started getting multiple requests to offer a yoga teacher training retreat that she even considered teacher training. 

At first, she thought that most yoga studios were just trying to cash in on the yoga trend by teaching it. However, as the requests increased, she began to realize most people wanted to become certified not necessarily to teach, but to challenge themselves and deepen their practice.  

“I’ve watched some go on to teach, but I’ve seen some people go on and go back into their own lives,” Davidge said.

Data from a 2016 Yoga Alliance study seems to support Davidge’s experience. According to the study, 49 percent of teachers in training plan to carry on yoga as a hobby. According to Tanner, just 25 percent of registered teachers go on to teach as a profession.  

“I don’t even think of it as teacher training,” said Holly Wasniewski, a physician who will be completing a Baptiste training program this summer. She’s been going to Power Yoga New York in Niskayuna for a little over a year, although she’s been practicing yoga on and off for about 15 years. 

“I like the physical and mental challenge of it,” Wasniewski said. The teacher training she’ll be attending is a weeklong intensive program offered twice a year across the country. From sunrise to sunset — and beyond that — Baptiste teachers will lead classes, readings and have students lead various classes.
Working as a physician and raising a family, Wasniewski can only get to Power Yoga New York studio in Niskayuna two to three days a week, so she’s looking at the training as a way to delve deeper into her practice and get into better physical and mental shape. 

While it’s unlikely that in the next few decades half of all the women in the world will be active yoga teachers, the trend seems to ensure that there won’t be a shortage of teachers anytime soon.

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