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Why you don’t need to do the splits to be a great yoga teacher

June 21st 2018 / Victoria Woodhall / 0 comment

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Thinking of becoming a yoga teacher? From what to look for in a course, to worries about being bendy enough and preparing for job interviews, yoga teacher trainer Julie Montagu and triyoga’s Yoga Manager Genny Wilkinson-Priest tell you all you need to know

Find the course that you are drawn to

Julie Montagu: “My first Teacher Training was with Baron Baptiste in New York in 2009. I loved it so much and wanted more so I trained a year later with two Baptiste Yoga teachers in London over three months. I loved Power Vinyasa and Baron Baptiste really is the father and founder of Power Yoga, so that was a no-brainer for me. I always looked at the lead teacher. I didn’t just want a ‘course’ - I wanted to be taught be someone inspirational and motivational to me I also spent three weeks in India doing an Ashtanga course followed by a 10-day training course for teachers at triyoga, which is where I teach exclusively now.”

Genny Wilkinson-Priest: “On my teacher’s recommendation, I went to classes at triyoga with the teachers who were on the Teacher Training Faculty to see if I could connect with and learn from them. I also knew that the triyoga TT had a heavy philosophical component, which interested me."

Find the right accreditation

Genny: "Make sure that a training is accredited by British Wheel of Yoga or Yoga Alliance. Both are accreditation bodies that offer similar benefits to members: teaching standards guidelines, insurance and training opportunities. The British Wheel of Yoga is the UK’s largest accreditation body and yoga teacher community, with its own teacher training course programs. BWY guidelines may be a bit stricter, and training programmes are thoroughly evaluated before accreditation is granted."

Julie: “Yoga Alliance is an organisation recognised worldwide but does not offer its own training - it’s a body of worldwide yoga instructors and yoga schools across the globe. For me, it was important to have my school of yoga, Whole Self Yoga, accredited through Yoga Alliance as it’s recognised globally.”

What a good yoga teacher training course should include

Julie: "If your TT is accredited through Yoga Alliance then you have certain topics you must hit such as Teaching Methodology, Anatomy, The Business of Yoga, Philosophy and Teaching Practicum.[For British Wheel of Yoga content see their Becoming a Yoga Teacher section]. I wanted to also offer Mindfulness Compassion with one of the UK’s leading experts Cathy-Mae Karelese as well as nutrition and self-care. That’s why I called my TT 'Whole Self Yoga' because I wanted it to be about you, your whole self, regardless of whether you want to teach or not."

Genny: "A good TT should have anatomy and physiology component, a strong emphasis on the history and philosophy of yoga, a mentoring program with the senior tutor, opportunities to practice different schools of yoga (Iyengar Yoga, Restorative Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, etc), opportunities to observe and assist in classes, and an ethics in business component.

"I know there are some month-long TTs in beautiful places like Bali and India, but I do think it takes a whole lot longer to absorb and even begin to understand the teachings and practices of yoga. My preference is for at least 18 months."

julie-montegue.jpgJulie Montagu

Genny's checklist for choosing a training course


• Check the yoga style: is it specific style such e.g. Iyengar, Forrest Yoga or more ‘general’?

• Do you gel with the faculty and how experienced are they?

• What’s the group size and student-to-teacher ratio?

• How many training hours does it involve? (triyoga’s foundation training is 350 hours most other courses are 200 hours, which is the minimum accreditation requirement).

• How long is the training? (24 months for triyoga’s training). Is it intensive in one block ie a month or at weekends?

• Training location: at home or abroad? Residential or non-residential?

• Is there the opportunity to continue your education with the same school/teacher?

• Cost?

• What are the career opportunities? Highly respected teacher trainings may open the door to teaching opportunities.

The 200-hour standard training vs 500-hour advanced

Genny: "I don’t know of studios that require 500 hours of training, but further education such as an advanced training and/or speciality courses e.g. pregnancy, restorative are certainly a plus on any yoga teacher’s CV.

"An advanced teacher training (which adds 300 hours of study to your existing 200-hour foundation diploma) is an in-depth learning experience that builds upon the knowledge gained in the foundation teacher training. The curriculum varies depending on the school but there might be a focus on philosophy, anatomy or option for a specialism such as yoga for sciatica."

genny-wilkinsin-priest.jpgGenny Wilkinson-Priest

Once you’re qualified: Continuing Professional Development

Julie: “If you are registered through Yoga Alliance, you must maintain 45 teaching hours and 30 hours of extra training known as Continuing Education (CE) or Continuing Professional Development (CPD) per year in order to keep your accreditation through them [British Wheel requires 15 hours of CPD]. And so what a good excuse to keep it up!

“Each year I take at least 50 hours of YACEP (Yoga Alliance Continuing Education Programme) with another Experience Registered Yoga Teacher (E-RYT, someone who has completed the YA 200-hour training and taught for at least two years with 1,000 hours of teaching experience) ) so whether it’s a 50-hour Advanced Teacher Training course that I’m doing this autumn in Italy or an 80-hour Mandala course (a creative form of yoga sequencing ) that I did last year in London. I make sure to keep up-to-date with my own training!”

Genny: "In an ideal world, a student should apprentice with their teacher, before becoming a teacher themselves. This means spending time with their teacher learning adjustments, watching them teach, going out for coffee with them to ask questions and more questions.

"As well as gaining authorisation from the Sri K Pattabhi Jois Astanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India, I have have taken ‘bolt-on’ specialist CPD courses such as the triyoga Hot TT, a British Wheel of Yoga Children's Yoga course and started a study in an MA in Yoga and Meditation at SOAS, in London. As you develop as a yoga teacher and gain more experience, it becomes quickly obvious that there is a lot to learn. A good yoga teacher will have a ravenous appetite to learn more, no matter how many years they have been a student and a teacher."

What yoga studios look for when hiring you

Julie: "From my 10-year teaching career, a 200-hour certification is enough to teach anywhere, but most studios want you to have experience and some will require at least five years of consistent teaching."

Genny: "At triyoga, we ask for around five years' teaching experience; the majority of our teachers have around 10 and some as many as 20 years. Why five? We believe those early years raise the bar of excellence where the skills of observation, adaptation, communication and compassion are honed. There's something priceless gained in the many years working directly with students where compassion and patience lay the fertile groundwork for self-exploration. We do make exceptions for some teachers who distinguish themselves in their understanding of, and absorption in, yoga."

The job interview questions to prep for

Genny: “When a teacher expresses interest in teaching at triyoga, I ask for a personal letter of recommendation from their teacher or studio manager and ask the following questions:

• Who is your teacher/lineage and what is the nature of your practice?

• How long have you been studying with your teacher?

• What do you teach in the classroom?

• Where you did you complete your 200-hour training and in what timeframe?

• From which philosophical school do you teach?

• Where do you teach now, for how long have you taught there, and how many classes a week do you teach?

• Where have you taught in the past? (Please provide exact dates and what type of yoga you taught.)

You can do a teacher training course without wanting to teach

Genny: “Many people study on a TT program without ever actually going on to teach. That path gives you a great grounding as a student to develop your practice into something that supports you for your whole life.

“I took the triyoga TT because I wanted to learn more about yoga as a physical practice as well as a spiritual one. I was heavily pregnant at the time so had no ambitions of becoming a teacher - I was focused on raising a family. Over time, I became more interested in teaching and gained the confidence as well as support from my teacher to go ahead."

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You don’t have to be bendy to be a yoga teacher - even if your students are

Julie: “Yoga is so much more than just the poses. People want to be taught by someone who’s real and authentic, someone who inspires them. Being a good teacher is all about one word: authenticity - I can’t stress this enough.

"You will gain the tools of teaching, anatomy, philosophy from your Teacher Training if you do all the work; those will be with you for a lifetime. But it’s how you use them - are you trying to copy another teacher, is the voice you’re using to teach your true, authentic you? For me, I want someone who at the end of the day is real - regardless of whether they can get into a handstand or not.”

Genny: “Advanced postures do not make or break a good teacher. It is certainly not something that I focus on when meeting teachers who want to teach at triyoga. I look for humility, grace, kindness, knowledge and embodiment of all yoga practices from asana (the physical postures) to pranayama (breath work) to meditation and more.

"A good teacher might have struggled themselves with their practice, which allows them to empathize with a student who is stiff and can’t touch their toes let alone balance on the tip of their head. Someone who has an advanced asana practice may have been blessed at birth with the kind of body that allows them to do arm balances and deep backbends and of course, there are some teachers who have worked very hard on their physical practice. Either way, it bears no reflection on their abilities as a teacher."

…or have a single Instagram follower

Genny: "People think teaching yoga is a glamorous job perhaps because they see it associated with a certain lifestyle as portrayed on social media or in pop culture. But in my view, teaching yoga is not a job, it's a privilege and enormous responsibility because you are entrusted much with people's physical, emotional, energetic and spiritual well-being. That's a scary thing, and not necessarily learned on a TT. A teacher training will provide you with the necessary foundations but there is so much more to come after that.

"Some yoga teachers send me their Instagram profile or tell me how many followers they have. I have zero interest. I do not believe a hundred, a thousand or a million Instagram followers equates to excellence in teaching. Having a big following on Instagram means you can take a nice photo of yourself in a hollow back, and that you have some caption-writing skills. But it bears no reflection on your teaching abilities, and whether you can compassionately see every student in the room and meet them where they are at that very moment."

Progressing from newbie to experienced teacher

Julie: “I remember teaching my first class like it was yesterday. I had a dry mouth and felt sick to my stomach because I was soooo nervous! But I’ve learned since then that nerves are healthy - it means you care! An experienced teacher can teach a class without having to do the class with the students. I know as a newbie, I was doing all of the poses while teaching - but it definitely helped me become more confident."

Genny: “An experienced teacher can calmly and professionally deal with any situation that might arise in the studio from a student bursting into tears in a backbend, to a student presenting with spondylolysis. I believe an experienced teacher knows they are first and foremost a student of yoga. An experienced teacher has a lived understanding of yoga philosophy."

Yoga Teacher Julie Montagu is also the author of several books including Superfoods and Recharge, a Year of Self-Care. Whole Self Yoga 200-hour Teacher Training with Julie Montagu runs January-June 2019 in London and costs £2,995, certified by Yoga Alliance UK.

Genny Wilkinson-Priest is a yoga teacher and Yoga Manager at triyoga. The triyoga Teacher Training Diploma has two intakes a year in June and November in London. It runs over two years and comprises 350 hours of tuition and practice. It costs £4,500 (£4,200 if paid upfront). Certified by Yoga Alliance UK and British Wheel of Yoga.

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