Joanne Highland in a Meditation Pose Joanne Highland in a Meditation Pose

The 10 Most Common Elements of a Yoga Teacher Training

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Some people feel a deep connection to yoga from the moment they step on their mat. For others like me, it’s more of a slow burn. I kept a dedicated personal practice for ten years before I decided to take the plunge and sign up for a yoga teacher training.

My knowledge of yoga before my teacher training barely scratched the surface. I felt it was time to deepen my understanding and take my practice beyond the physical asanas – whether I ended up with a new career teaching yoga or not.

Of course, I knew that teaching yoga is more than just calling out pose names and correcting alignment. However, I didn’t fully understand what to expect regarding the material covered in teacher training or how I should prepare for the experience. I was vaguely aware of the Yoga Alliance organization, which reviews course material and gives its seal of approval to reputable schools. Still, beyond that, I went in a bit blind. I just jumped in and went along for the ride!

Thankfully, it worked out for me – but I would have felt more prepared on the first day of training if I’d had a clearer idea of the topics I was about to dive into.

Knowing what to expect from your first yoga teacher training is helpful when researching what program is right for you – or if a training course is right for you at all! If you’re considering investing in a yoga teacher training course, here are ten crucial elements you can expect to learn about, from yoga history and philosophy to asana and other yogic practices and vital teaching techniques.

10 Topics Covered in Yoga Teacher Training

When researching various yoga teacher trainings, I recommend asking to see a sample syllabus. Any reputable yoga school will offer a well-rounded curriculum, including the following ten elements.

1. Yoga Philosophy and History

Expect to learn about the foundations of yoga from its ancient roots in the Vedic period through the lineage of modern teachers like T. Krishnamacharya, K. Pattabhi Jois, and B.K.S. Iyengar. To get the whole picture of yoga, you’ll likely receive the “cliff notes” version of several historical texts like Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita.

This historical exploration also includes studying the eight limbs of yoga, how these philosophical yogic principles apply to modern life, and how to incorporate them into your teaching.

2. Energetic Principles

As part of yoga’s philosophical structure, you’ll learn about the subtle body – the non-physical, energetic counterpart to our tangible bodies. The subtle body has its own anatomy and is the seat of consciousness and source of prana, or life-force energy.

You might already be aware of the chakras as energy centers. But you’ll dive even deeper into the subtle body’s structure with nadis (energy lines), koshas (sheaths), and bandhas (energetic locks).

common elements yoga teacher training
Joanne Highland in a Meditation Pose on a Beach

3. Alignment

The bread and butter of yoga teacher training is learning proper alignment cues and offering safe corrections to your students. The asanas in every training vary, but you can expect to cover anywhere from 50 to 100 postures.

For every asana, you should learn its correct alignment, contraindications, and how and when to offer modifications.

4. Anatomy & Biomechanics

Anatomy and alignment go hand-in-hand when learning to teach yoga. You’ll learn basic yoga anatomy in yoga teacher training, including the names of crucial muscles and bones and their function in each asana. This way, you can accurately inform your students which muscles work or stretch in every pose you teach.

Along with anatomical structure, you’ll learn a bit about biomechanics or how the body moves functionally. For example, you can tell the difference between internal and external rotation or which muscles contract to initiate a specific movement. Understanding biomechanics is essential for keeping your students safe and preventing injury.

5. Sequencing

As you learn the alignment and anatomy of each yoga pose, you’ll also get to practice putting them together in sequences. Most yoga teacher training programs include the fundamental Sun Salutation sequence and may expand on that to include its “B” and “C” variations.

However, you’ll also learn how to craft your own yoga sequences. This skill starts with understanding different pose categories (standing, forward folds, backbends, seated, etc). It progresses to include sequencing strategies like Vinyasa flow, peak pose, theme-based, or anatomical focus.

In addition to crafting a sequence of poses, your training will teach you how to construct a whole yoga class from start to finish, manage time, and incorporate meditation or pranayama into your session.

6. Guided Meditation

Meditation, or dhyana, is the seventh limb of yoga and an integral part of any well-rounded yoga practice. As a teacher trainee, your training will likely include a lot of meditation practice for you to deepen your overall yoga practice.

When teaching yoga, it’s common to use guided meditations in opening or closing a class, so you’ll also learn how to compose and lead effective guided meditations.

yoga teachers learning meditation
Yoga Teachers Practicing Meditation Beach

7. Pranayama Practices

Pranayama is the fourth limb of yoga and another foundational element of a yoga teacher training course. These breathing practices regulate the breath and direct prana or energy through your body to achieve specific goals like balancing the subtle body, cultivating energy, or preparing for meditation.

The specific pranayama practices covered vary depending on the training program, but some of the most common types are ujjayi, kumbhaka, nadi shodhana, and kapalbhati. You’ll learn proper pranayama techniques and how to guide students through the practice.

8. Practice Teaching

In the latter half of your training, you’ll finally begin to combine all the previous skills and practice teaching in the “practicum” portion. In this phase, you’ll have the opportunity to lead other students through some of your sequences and observe other trainees doing the same.

This portion of the training is invaluable for those who are set on teaching yoga after completing their certification. You’ll receive helpful feedback from your other trainees and facilitators, allowing you the opportunity to improve your teaching and hone your craft.

9. Leadership Skills

So far, these elements directly relate to practicing yoga. However, there are other transferable skills you’ll learn, too!

To feel comfortable leading a group of students through a yoga class, you’ll need to build self-confidence and cultivate leadership skills. To accomplish this, most yoga teacher training courses contain some element of personal development. You may complete journaling assignments or participate in workshops geared towards becoming comfortable speaking in front of a group.

In a yoga setting, leadership entails honing your observational skills and being able to motivate and inspire your students in creative ways. Teaching yoga is much more than calling out pose names and fixing alignment. As a teacher, it’s your job to foster a sense of community and create a supportive, uplifting environment.

10. Effective Communication

Of course, sharing your new-found yoga knowledge with your future students requires the ability to communicate effectively.

As a yoga teacher, you must be able to give clear directions while guiding students through various postures with succinct cues and explanations. On the other hand, you also need to listen to any questions and concerns and provide appropriate feedback.

Communication extends beyond the technical aspects. Language is a powerful tool in creating spaces where all individuals feel safe and welcome. Most yoga teacher training programs recognize this by including how to be more inclusive and trauma-informed language.

Even if you aren’t sure you want to teach yoga after you complete your training, these last two elements are valuable skills you can apply to many areas of life off your yoga mat.

Other Considerations When Choosing a Program

Choosing a yoga teacher training program with a comprehensive and well-rounded course curriculum is paramount. Beyond that, you should consider a few other factors before committing to a program.

Course Format and Length

Yoga teacher training covers a lot of ground. When researching what program is right for you, consider how to get the most out of the experience. Are you the type of learner who likes to take your time to digest profound topics fully? If so, you may prefer a self-paced online yoga teacher training course.

On the other hand, diving deep into a retreat-style teacher training program could be better if you learn well in an immersive environment with a hands-on approach.

Yoga Alliance Standards for Teacher Training

The ten essential topics I’ve detailed here should be covered in every basic 200-hour yoga teacher training (RYT-200) in some capacity. Another way you can ensure the program you’re signing up for is comprehensive and worthwhile is the Yoga Alliance accreditation.

The Yoga Alliance sets standards for course curricula to maintain the integrity of yoga schools and facilitators and establish consistency within the industry. For example, each level of training must include a specific number of hours in various categories like teaching techniques, anatomy, and yoga philosophy.

Each registered yoga school (RYS) must submit its training curriculum to the Yoga Alliance to ensure it meets their requirements. If your chosen program is Yoga Alliance-approved, your training will include all the elements on this list.

Prerequisites

While requirements may vary across programs, technically, there are no set prerequisites for joining a yoga teacher training. Even if you’re relatively new to yoga, the course will be a solid foundation for your practice.

However, based on my experience after completing multiple trainings and now being a yoga instructor, I recommend having some basic knowledge and some experience.

  • Minimum practice experience: Some courses may require at least one year of solid personal practice. If there is no set requirement, I recommend at least six months of consistent practice before signing up for a training course.
  • Fitness level: You don’t have to be a super-athlete or handstand expert to join a yoga teacher training. But you should be free of any significant injuries and able to spend ample time on your mat, especially during intensive retreat-style training courses.
  • Basic yoga terminology: While your training course will cover all the Sanskrit pose names and philosophical terminology, it’s less overwhelming if you’re familiar with some of it beforehand. There’s so much to learn, so if you already have a handle on the pose names, you can focus more on the deeper concepts.

Final Encouragement

Even if you aren’t sure about whether or not you want to teach yoga, there is so much to gain from a teacher training course. In my opinion, the phrase “transformational journey” is often overused, but it holds true in this case. I learned a lot about myself by exploring the energetic body, yoga ethics and philosophy, and intentional communication.

Consider a yoga teacher training course if you find any of the topics on this list intriguing. Especially now that there are so many easily accessible and affordable online options, there’s no reason to put it off!

If becoming a yoga instructor is your goal, but you’ve hesitated to commit to a training course, I hope this article has provided you with some inspiration, clarity, and motivation to take the plunge. Along with your yoga teaching certificate, you’ll gain a whole world of knowledge and a fresh perspective on your yoga practice.