Yoga teacher training: intensive vs. long course

1 September 2019
Comments: 2

These days yoga teacher trainings are so ubiquitous that it’s hard to imagine that for most of history, yoga that was transmitted directly from teacher to student and was only practised by religious ascetics. Women were not allowed to study or even practice yoga. It is remarkable to realise that in the last 100 years, yoga has become a global practice, open to pretty much anyone.

We have never had as much access to the rich yoga tradition as we do now. There are thousands of books, workshops, and teacher trainings available to the wider audience. Yet within this abundance of information, it can be hard for the curious yogi to decide on an appropriate type of teacher training. Even if you’ve already picked your favourite out of all the possible yoga styles, there’s still many different ways and time frames for doing a teacher training. A quick summer school in India or a five year study? Or rather something in between?

Different life situations warrent different choices, so naturally I’m inclined to say: to each their own. But after my experience with two different yoga teacher trainings, I do have some thoughts about the pros and cons of these different time frames for yoga teacher trainings.

Slow and steady

When I was looking for a yoga teacher training, back in 2018, I had two criteria. One: it had to be a hatha teacher training, given that hatha is my favourite yoga style and it has formed the basis for other yoga styles. Second: it had to be a longer training, preferably taking at least one or two years.

Why not go for a quick immersion? My rationale for choosing a long program was that I have always gone for the quick route, and it never brought me anywhere. I rushed through my university studies without taking the time to feel. I was always doing, doing, doing. And it gave me massive anxiety.

In addition, I never really believed that you can become a great yoga teacher within three weeks. Learning something new and becoming skilled at it comes with age, not with rushing through the ‘mandatory’ 200 hours within only a few weeks.

For all of these reasons, I chose Saswitha. The program that takes at least four years to finish completely (to finish 500 hours). Where the first year consists mostly of establishing your own personal practice. Where you will only really learn how to teach in the second year.

I will be honest here and say that yes, I absolutely loved the slow immersion, the small glimpses into anatomy and philosophy, the long yoga classes, the two weeks in between sessions and the challenge of establishing a daily home practice. Because that’s the real challenge in the end. You can do all the training you want, but in the end you have to practice what you preach. Doing a longer training helps you do that, simply because there’s a lot of time in between sessions where you’re left to your own devices, trying to figure out this whole yoga thing for yourself.

But I also found it frustrating sometimes. Many times I found myself thinking: “But what are we actually doing? What am I actually learning?” As much as I enjoyed the me-time and appreciated the idea that good things take time, I also found myself getting impatient and eager to start teaching. I craved more concrete information, even started desiring homework and assigned readings.

 Quick and intense

My desire for homework and assigned readings was not the reason why I signed up for a second teacher training with José de Groot in June 2019. Of course my love for yin yoga was the main driver to this decision. But I definitely started feeling the itch to teach and go a bit deeper. For that reason, the 200 hour yin yoga training seemed like a great addition to the lovely and healing program of Saswitha.

The yin yoga teacher training is spread out over more or less one year, with short bursts of multiple-day sessions spread throughout the year. It starts with one intense week, followed by a long weekend two months later, and another weekend two months after that. That same cycle is repeated in the second half year.

I’m aware that for some people, this type of time framing still counts as a ‘long course’. But compared to Saswitha, it is nothing like that. The first week was a full-on immersion into yin yoga, consisting of seven jam-packed training days and one rest day in between. Additionally, there was homework and assigned reading  before, during, and after that first week. Be careful what you wish for, I guess.

Having experienced that intense week of yin yoga, I can see the appeal of the quick immersion teacher trainings. You go all in. At that moment, everything is yoga. Surrounded by likeminded people, it gives you a sense of purpose. There is so much that you learn in a short time.

But that’s also the down side. By day three or four, you’re exhausted. Not necessarily physically – though I’m sure that’s definitely the case if you study a more dynamic type of yoga. But it’s the mental exhaustion and overwhelm that’s so pervasive. There’s all this information and at some point, there’s no more mental space to absorb it.

And then there’s the homework. The readings. The assignments. The study group meetings. The constant self-practice. The teaching.

Yes, you learn a whole lot. But there’s never really a lot of time to pause and truly take it all in. And I’m talking about a year-long training here. Not a month spent in an ashram.

You learn all these things and yet when you come home, daily life continues all the same. And you may have no idea how to integrate everything into your life.

To each their own

I’ve said it before and will say it again: different life situations warrent different choices. Not everyone has the luxury or time to do a longer teacher training. If you really want to do a yoga teacher training, you have to find out for yourself which of training works the best for you and your lifestyle. Nobody can make that decision for you.

But I will say that there is a big difference between how an intense and how a longer training feels. And what it does.

If you love doing yoga, want to dive deeper, but you’re not sure whether you want to start teaching: by all means, do a quick and intense immersion if it calls to you. Maybe it will inspire you to start practicing more at home, practice teaching friends and family, and at some point you might want to teach more often.

But in my opinion, if you really want to honour yoga and what it stands for: please take your time. With the three week YA-certified trainings, it’s technically possible to do your first ever yoga class at the beginning of the month and be a 200 hour certified trainer by the end of that some month. That just doesn’t sound right. Sure, you may have learned a lot in those three weeks and you might be able to teach others the yoga postures, but it’s no guarantee whatsoever that you’ll be able to transmit what yoga really stands for as a philosophy. Really understanding that and being able to teach others about it takes much more time.

I’m not saying that everyone has to do a four-year long training, although of course I do recommend doing so. A year-long training is still a long-ish training. The only thing that matters is that you have some time in between to take the yoga wisdom in.

Because that’s the thing. Teaching yoga is not about repeating the words someone taught you to say. It’s about integrating these words into your own way of living and understanding life so that you can formulate your own words and your own truth. So that you can teach from your own inner wisdom instead of merely repeating the beliefs of someone else.

Now that I’ve had the experience of a more intense training, I see what this first year at Saswitha was all about. Integration. We weren’t getting a lot of homework, we weren’t assigned all these readings, we didn’t have jam-packed days full of theory and information, because we were learning to return to ourselves. Our true selves, stripped off of all our “should do’s” and “have to’s”. We were simply (re-)learning how to relax again. To just be.

And that is what yoga is all about. Relaxing and returning to yourself. 

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