Are There Too Many Yoga Teachers?

by Shirley Archer, JD, MA on Apr 25, 2016

Today, yoga is offered in almost any setting where people gather. For example, Yoga Across America®, a nonprofit organization based in Sacramento, California, declares that its mission includes bringing yoga to “schools, military bases, parks, low-income communities, homeless shelters, children's hospitals and many other locations where people don't have access to the practice, or can't afford it.”

Alongside the steep rise in class participants, teacher-training programs have become hugely popular. “More than 14,700 new teachers registered last year with Yoga Alliance (YA),” says Stacy McCarthy, founder of Yoga Namastacy, in Rancho Santa Fe, California. “And many industry leaders estimate that just as many people as registered with YA completed a teacher training, but didn't register as teachers.” Last December, 52,746 teachers and over 18,000 yoga schools were registered with the Alliance. And there are currently two people interested in becoming a yoga teacher for every one teacher in the U.S. (Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance 2016).

Multiple factors are contributing to this exponential increase. Is the expansion good, bad or neutral? A number of industry veterans weigh in.

What Is Fueling the Boom in Yoga Teacher Training?

Growth in yoga teacher trainings (YTTs) reflects the yoga studio business model, increased practitioner interest in yogic studies, and growth in branded programs that offer YTTs.

Studio Business Model

Experts interviewed for this article note that most yoga studios offer a YTT program as an important revenue stream, to supplement income from classes, private trainings and workshops. "Even with popular studios, without a YTT, it would be difficult to make [the business] work," says Michele Hébert, E-RYT®, master yoga and meditation guide, speaker and author based in La Jolla, California. And with more studios opening in communities, competition limits the ability to increase class fees.

McCarthy observes, “Many ‘mom and pop’ studios are founded by teachers who love yoga, but who don't have business skills. Teacher training is one way they are keeping the doors open. But what happens after everyone takes a YTT? What will those studio owners do to continue to generate revenues?" Many experts we spoke to agree that a better business model is needed to help boutique studio owners stay in business.

Increased Practitioner Interest in Yogic Studies

Further fueling YTT enrollment are the many yoga enthusiasts who take teacher training to deepen their practice. Zachary Armstrong, RYT®, CPT, program manager for Yoga Six, in San Diego, says, “I've taken three separate 200-hour YTTs, and they were each completely different. What was similar—and what surprised me—was that only about 10% of the people who were in those trainings with me ever actually teach."

There is no hard data documenting how many people who complete a 200-hour YTT actually become instructors, but anecdotally most experts agree that not more than 50% of trainees actually want to teach and even fewer are successful at becoming professional instructors.

Growth in Branded Programs That Offer YTT

A third stimulus for YTT program growth is the emergence of branded yoga programs. Numerous providers now offer trainings nationwide, and some extend their reach internationally. Bikram Yoga, CorePower® Yoga, YogaWorks® and exhale® are examples of branded yoga programs that not only provide consumer goods and services but also offer branded teacher-training programs to enthusiasts and, as an employment prerequisite, to prospective instructors. Management consultants note that this turns employee training—typically a cost incurred to insure consistency across a brand—into a revenue generator and a strategic asset (Grosshandler 2015). CorePower Yoga reported in a 2013 press release that it graduates over 2,000 teachers annually from its 200-hour Level One training. It's reasonable to assume that only a limited number of those graduates go on to become CorePower Yoga instructors.

Benefits and Challenges of YTTs Everywhere

The widespread availability of YTTs has both pros and cons, say our experts. On the positive side, it reflects the growing interest in yoga and the strength of the yoga education market. Some experts think the “glut” of YTT graduates is in major urban centers and is not geographically distributed nationwide. Shaw, however, notes that YogaFit students come from cities nationwide, including many small communities, and that, in 2016, trainings will be offered in more than 350 locations.

Challenges related to the proliferation of YTTs include lack of clarity regarding their purpose (e.g., vocational training aspects may be diluted when students without teaching aspirations are in the mix); difficulty for YTT grads trying to enter the job market; potential depression of teacher wages; and lack of consistency among trainings.

Nicole DeAvilla, E-RYT 500, master trainer of yoga teachers, based in Kentfield, California, says, "Some historical perspective is needed because the original 200- and 500-hour training standards came from a time when the practice of yoga was much different. More young, fit and athletic people are pushing movements toward more extreme postures that require in-depth teacher training to offer correctly, and the environments are also different. Simply putting yoga in a gym or health club creates a more competitive atmosphere." In addition, a more diverse range of people at various ages and ability levels want to practice yoga.

For more information, please see “Yoga Instructors on Every Corner?” in the online IDEA Library or in the April 2016 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7

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About the Author

Shirley Archer, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA IDEA Author/Presenter

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is the 2008 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year and is IDEA's mind-body-spirit spokesperson. She is a certified yoga and Pilates teacher and an award-winning author based in Los Angeles, California, and Zurich, Switzerland. Two of her books, The Walking Deck and The Strength and Toning Deck, are now featured as iPhone apps. Contact her at www.shirleyarcher.com.