Yoga participation in the United States is at an all-time high. There are now 36.7 million American adults practicing yoga, up from 20.4 million in 2012 (Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance 2016). That’s an 80% increase!
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.
Stephanie Adams, E-RYT 500, owner of Flow Yoga Studio in Hood River, Oregon, says, “I’ve been training teachers for 15 years. I think YTT is a great option for sincere students who want to learn the deeper aspects of yoga but are not truly interested in teaching.” Nayaswami Gyandev McCord, director of Ananda Yoga® in Nevada City, California, points out, “Studio owners offer YTTs to those who are interested, but who don’t intend to become instructors, because there aren’t enough people in the enthusiast market to make it cost-effective to offer an in-between training. Combining people who are simply interested in learning with those who genuinely want to become instructors makes the YTT program work.”
Los Angeles–based Beth Shaw, E-RYT 500, founder of YogaFit®, the largest teacher training school in North America and an international company in business since 1994, says, “We encourage anyone who loves yoga to continue to educate themselves. If this leads to them teaching—great; if this simply provides them with new information and tools to deepen their practice—great. We don’t judge people and their choices. . . . Many people do attend our classes to deepen their practice; however, we often find that because we require [them to do some] community service to get their certificate, many people continue on and take additional classes—and end up on the teacher-training track.”
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.
For more thoughts on the recent boom in teacher training participants, please see "Yoga Instructors on Every Corner?" in the online IDEA Library or in the April 2016 print 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.