It seems like just yesterday when people were leaving their soul-destroying corporate jobs to set up cafes or social enterprises. These days, lots of disillusioned young professionals are hanging up their black blazers for a different kind of career—that of the yoga teacher.
The popularity of yoga in recent years as been nothing short of astounding, with particularly rabid devotees hitting the studio four or more times a week. If you have that kind of dedication, making a career out of yoga has probably crossed your mind more than once.
The question is, can you do it without having to go through ten years of further study in the Himalayas or sell all your worldly belongings?
We spoke with yoga instructor Mayuko Matsuda, whose Instagram account has inspired more than a few people to get off the couch and on the mat, to get some insight into the life of a yoga teacher.
What qualifications do you need?
If you’ve been practising yoga for any amount of time, you’ve probably heard the phrase “teacher training” being bandied about more than once.
So is attending a teacher training course like taking the O levels, an infallible qualification that lets you progress to the next stage on the ladder? Or can you get your foot in the door without it?
To make things more confusing, while the O levels are a standardised exam, yoga teacher training courses are conducted and assessed by the schools themselves. Some are accredited by Yoga Alliance, while others aren’t.
The short answer is that yes, you probably need to attend at least one teacher training course before you can get hired as an instructor. But a teacher training course won’t necessarily make a teacher out of you.
Mayuko says, “Every teacher is going to conduct a teacher training course differently. Some teachers teach you with words and lectures, some teachers teach you by sharing practical knowledge and others teach you by making you practice so you “feel” the practice rather than only learning theoretically. It’s hard to say whether teacher training adequately prepares one to teach. I think it really depends on the individual.”
While some teachers begin teaching classes after taking one single 200 hour teacher training course, others like Mayuko have multiple certificates under their belts.
While the jury is out on whether teacher training courses can turn you into a teacher overnight, Mayuko has this advice for aspiring instructors: “I’ve known quite a few people who’ve just attended one teacher training course and have gone on to become yoga teachers. So I would say it can be enough, but it’s definitely more than just attending a teacher training course. Everything from your personality to your network matters when applying to teach at a yoga studio.”
Where can you attend teacher training?
Most yoga studios or gyms run their own 200 hour teacher training courses, while others also run more extensive 300 or 500 hour ones.
You have the choice of doing the course on a full-time basis for 5-6 weeks straight, or on a part-time basis, attending evening or weekend classes over 4-6 months.
In Singapore, a Yoga Alliance-accredited 200 hour teacher training course generally costs about $4,000, although if you book weeks in advance you might be able to qualify for an early bird rate that can knock up to $500 off the price.
Teacher Training courses accredited by the Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana (sVYASA) are slighty cheaper, costing around $2,300 to $2,900.
Clearly, becoming a certified yoga teacher is not cheap in Singapore. If you’re able to take a short sabbatical from your job or are dropping out of the rat race altogether, you might want to consider hopping over to Thailand, India or Bali, where you can get certified at a fraction of the price.
For instance, the Himalayan Yoga Academy in Rishikesh, India runs Yoga Alliance-certified teacher training courses for about 1,200 USD (1,632 SGD) to 1,400 USD (1,903 SGD).
There are also teacher training courses geared towards certain disciplines. For instance, if you want to teach Bikram yoga (as opposed to generic hot yoga) you will need to attend a Bikram yoga teacher training course. Most studios accept generic teacher training certs, however.
While many yoga studios will accept students who are graduates of any training course, if there’s a particular style you wish to specialise in such as hot, vinyasa or prenatal yoga, it can be smart to get a qualification that area to make yourself more marketable.
Mayuko advises against stressing out too much about which course to attend. “Just dive into one teacher training course that speaks to you. If the style of yoga piques your interest, do a bit of research on that particular yoga teacher. If he/she seems qualified, go for it. There wasn’t a single teacher training course or workshop I’ve regretted going for. You learn something from every experience.”
How advanced do you need to be?
It’s a well-known fact that many teacher training courses will accept just about anybody who applies, from newbies to people who’ve been practising yoga for decades. It’s important to realise that attending a teacher training course is not going to suddenly have you flying up onto your hands like a contortionist. You’ll certainly learn a lot, but there are some things your body will only be ready for after months or years of regular practice.
Being proficient at basic asanas is a must, but not all yoga teachers are able to pull off the most difficult poses. While being able to do gravity-defying advanced asanas can certainly help you get your foot in the door, it’s not a prerequisite.
In fact, many yoga teachers continue to take lessons themselves and work to master new techniques even as they conduct their own classes.
Mayuko says, “Advanced asanas are definitely not what makes a yoga instructor qualified. Nor does being able to do advanced asanas make one a good student. Asanas are just asanas, they are a small part of what yoga is.”
What’s the job like?
Yoga teachers whose bread and butter consists of teaching at studios are either employees of one studio, meaning they teach on a full-time basis, or are freelancers or contractors at more than one studio.
If you’re a full-time employee at a studio, this often means you get paid a monthly salary in return for clocking a certain number of hours. Be prepared to teach on weekends and evenings. Salaries for newbie instructors can vary quite wildly but generally hover around the $1,800 to $3,000 range. However, senior instructors can earn two to three times as much.
On the other hand, if you’re teaching part-time or on a freelance basis at one or more yoga studios, it’s likely that you’ll be paid by the class. You might also have to spend lots of time travelling from one studio to another, for which you are obviously not paid.
While some studios require that the teacher be on the mat doing asanas alongside students, others prefer if they spend most of their time walking around and making adjustments. Ask to sit in or attend a class at a studio you’re seeking employment at so you know what to expect.
In addition, many teachers also conduct private classes on the side, conduct workshops (which allows them to command a higher hourly fee; you have to be quite a pro to do this though) or dream of setting up their own studios.
Clearly, becoming a yoga instructor isn’t exactly the easiest job out there. It’s likely you’ll be working on weekends and public holidays, which Mayuko cites as the thing she dislikes most about her job.
If you’re not prepared to lead a life that’s a little different from every other corporate drone’s, you might want to consider keeping that desk job.
That doesn’t bother Mayuko, though. She says emphatically, “I love having a job that doesn’t feel like a job because I love what I do!”
Bet that’s something not many of you can say.
Are you thinking of becoming a yoga instructor? Tell us why or why not in the comments!