When choosing a yoga teacher training (YTT) or yoga immersion program, you might consider the following factors:
Your intention may simply be to deepen your study of yoga, which is a fine objective. Even though that’s a general desire, it will still be helpful in choosing the best program fit for you, as it can help you to refine your choices based on the philosophy and style of practice you’re drawn to.
If your objective is more specific and relates to learning to practice or to teach a particular style of yoga or particular yogic techniques, then clarity of that objective is necessary in order to make a choice that’s most likely to support your objective.
Consider answering these questions to help you clarify your objective, and to share with trainers you are considering studying with:
Different programs are based on different assumptions, foundations and techniques. And they’re administered by trainers of vastly different backgrounds and experience levels. Whether or not you’re aware of these baseline aspects of a program, you’re making a decision among choices that differ on far more than such obvious factors as price and location. Therefore, this is the area that likely offers you the greatest payoff for studying prior to choosing a program.
You’ll be more able to make an informed decision about programs if you familiarize yourself with the meaning of yoga, the branches of yoga, and the emphases of various styles of yoga.
Yoga is defined in many ways. For the purposes of choosing a program, it’s important to understand that these variations exist so that you can consider the various assumptions and foundations of the programs you’re considering.
While the word “yoga” is used in many ways, it’s generally describing 1) a philosophy and/or 2) a set of practices and techniques.
Different programs will display different levels of honor and emphasis of the historical roots and philosophy of yoga. Yoga encompasses a vast and profound philosophy:
The following expert definition is fairly comprehensive and inclusive:
Yoga is an ancient science of health for the physical body and balance for the mind and emotions that provides the foundation for the spiritual journey whose destination is self knowledge. – Joseph LePage, Yoga Teachers Toolbox 2005 link
And this expert definition emphasizes the practical purpose:
Yoga is a way of moving into stillness in order to experience the truth of who you are. It is also a way of learning to be centered in action so that you always have the clearest perspective on what’s happening and are therefore able to respond most appropriately. – Erich Schiffmann, Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness 1996 link
Other common definitions of yoga include:
Over time, people have developed multiple branches of yoga and many techniques within those branches that are designed to honor the intention and meet the objectives of yoga as defined above.
The key differentiator among programs may not be how exactly a trainer defines yoga, but how he or she proposes learning and practicing yoga philosophy and techniques.
There is nearly limitless variation in techniques and approaches that are called “yoga.” Even within what might be called “traditional” styles of yoga, the emphasis can vary dramatically.
The primary branches or paths of yoga are:
While each of these paths represents a deep philosophy and traditional approach, each trainer will have his or her own perspective on applying the teachings. Asking questions about this topic will help you to understand the foundations upon which the various programs are based.
Styles of yoga can be categorized broadly as having a foundation in:
Many are blends of the earliest lineages and some represent a chosen sequence or style of an individual teacher. Even with so many different types, it’s common to find teachers who meld insights from multiple schools of thought.
For a list of more than 60 styles with their founders and links to more information, see Yoga Lineages & Styles.
Learn who will be administering the programs. A program may be administered primarily by one or two trainers, or there may be a team. The trainers may be steeped in a particular style of yoga or may come from diverse backgrounds. Some programs will administer various modules with the assistance or leadership of experts in anatomy or biomechanics, Ayurveda, yoga therapy, kirtan, or other areas of expertise.
Here are some questions to ask about the trainers of the programs you’re considering:
While there is no one right way, it makes sense to compare and contrast how the various programs are administered.
Especially if you have a desire to actually teach yoga (and even if you don’t), you can gain immense skill from a structured approach to practice teaching. In Reaching Your Teaching Potential, we discuss the vital importance of deliberate vs. naive practice. Jason Crandell alludes to this very thing in a September, 2023 email:
The best way to learn a thing is to teach the thing! Sidenote: Look for yoga teacher training programs where the practice teaching is done within very specific, monitored parameters with the aim of helping you gain confidence. – Jason Crandell