How to Become a Yoga Instructor: 8 Steps to Success
By Crystal Lee
| Last Updated June 26, 2020
Do you want to learn how to become a yoga instructor so you can help people improve their physical fitness and practice mindfulness? This comprehensive guide is what you need. It explains eight key steps for getting started on this fulfilling path.
You probably know that an increasing number of Americans are turning to yoga to boost their physical conditioning, reduce their stress, and enhance their spiritual development and mindfulness. But did you know that the number of practitioners throughout the country grew from 20 million to more than 36 million in just one four-year span, according to the 2016 Yoga in America Study? That means instructors with the right set of skills can find plenty of opportunities to share their expertise.
It's important to know that, legally, there are no qualifications for yoga teachers. There's no government-mandated training or licensing. But if your goal is to teach in a yoga studio or fitness center, you will likely need to become certified. That requires undergoing training from a recognized provider and applying for yoga certification. The process is described in more detail below.
But if you really want to stand out when applying for yoga teacher jobs or starting your own yoga business, you shouldn't stop there. As you'll discover, you can gain an edge on your competition by taking complementary courses in areas like personal fitness training, nutrition, marketing, and business management.
So check out the following information to discover all the details on how you can learn to teach yoga!
- How to become a yoga teacher
- How much do yoga instructors make?
- How to start a private yoga business
How to Become a Yoga Teacher
Do you want to share the power of yoga and help people live their best lives? Following these eight steps will get you on your way:
1. Assess your motivations and personal qualities.
Think about what you are hoping to get out of becoming a yoga instructor. Are you aiming to challenge yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually? Do you like the idea of sharing your love of yoga with others and helping them deepen their connection to this ancient tradition?
Many people want to learn how to become a certified yoga instructor because they are devoted practitioners who are hoping to turn their favorite pastime into a full- or part-time career. But before you undertake yoga instructor training, consider these questions:
- Are you committed to continually learning and developing in your own practice of yoga?
- Can you connect with people and make them feel comfortable?
- Are you a good communicator?
- Can you inspire people to give their best effort?
- Are you interested in exploring the philosophical underpinnings of yoga?
- Can you empathize with people of different ability levels and adjust your instructions based on the needs of each student?
Keep in mind that while yoga instructors should be ready to demonstrate proper form and lead by example, you don't necessarily have to be physically gifted. People of all ages, body types, and physical abilities can excel in this field. If you are passionate about yoga and dedicated to helping others advance in their practice, teaching may be the right path for you.
2. Complete a training program.
You train to be a yoga instructor by completing a relevant program. Coursework typically covers topics like physiology, anatomy, yoga philosophy, meditation techniques, and teaching methodologies. Most programs also include opportunities for students to get hands-on teaching experience.
Some programs specialize in specific types of yoga. So, for example, if your goal is to become a hot yoga instructor or an ashtanga teacher, make sure the program you choose offers training in that style. In some cases, training is conducted through a mentorship model, and you may need to have a certain amount of experience within your chosen discipline before you can train to be a teacher.
Three of the most common types of yoga teacher training are based on guidelines from Yoga Alliance, the Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States (IYNAUS), and the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT).
Yoga Alliance is a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that sets recommended training standards for schools and studios all around the world. It maintains a registry of yoga instructor classes and facilities that meet its guidelines. You can use its directory to search for convenient yoga teacher training near you.
You don't necessarily have to complete a Yoga Alliance-recognized course in order to become an instructor. In fact, some people feel that because the organization is not sanctioned by any level of government and there is little oversight or enforcement of standards, Yoga Alliance recognition is no guarantee of quality.
However, you do have to complete a recognized course if you want to be eligible for certification as a Registered Yoga Teacher through Yoga Alliance. While this certification is entirely optional, many commercial studios look for it when hiring new teachers. (Note that online yoga teacher training programs may not meet Yoga Alliance requirements, which stipulate that a certain portion of the program hours must be completed in person.)
Generally speaking, it takes anywhere from two weeks to a year to become a yoga instructor through these kinds of programs. Most programs are comprised of 200, 300, or 500 hours of training. (Keep in mind that 200-hour yoga teacher training is the most common and is generally accepted as the minimum baseline for any new instructor.)
Some programs are full-time intensive courses that can be completed in less than a month. Others are offered in the evenings or on weekends over a period of several months. Most programs require you to attend class in person, but learning how to become a yoga instructor online is also an option.
When evaluating programs (especially online ones), make sure they offer a thorough curriculum that delves deeply into both human anatomy and yoga philosophy. Do your research to see if they are full 200-hour programs. How much real-world teaching practice and feedback do you get?
It's also a good idea to talk to your potential instructors in order to get details about precisely what they cover, how rapidly the course moves along, and how much personal experience they have with the type of yoga you're interested in.
Iyengar is a style of yoga that has a specific, rigorous system of teacher preparation. The Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States (IYNAUS) certifies Iyengar instructors but does not endorse or recommend specific teacher training programs. Rather, it supports the concept of prospective teachers learning from qualified instructors in a mentorship model. You must have several years of continuous study with a Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher (CIYT) in order to qualify for the opportunity to become a certified instructor yourself. You can search for a certified teacher on the IYNAUS website.
The International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) promotes yoga as a therapeutic art and science. It provides a searchable directory of training programs that meet its standards. Approved programs are comprised of at least 800 hours of instruction, and graduates are eligible to become certified yoga therapists (known as C-IAYTs).
Cost of Training
How much does it cost to become a yoga instructor? A typical training program costs somewhere between $1,000 and $3,000, although prices can vary depending on what type of training you choose and where you opt to undergo it. Some immersive retreats can cost as much as $16,000 once you account for accommodations, food, and supplies.
Becoming a teacher in India (the birthplace of yoga) or in places like Nepal or Thailand can be much cheaper than training in the U.S., but you have to factor in the cost of getting there and back. Many courses offered abroad include housing and food, but that's not always the case. Be sure to dig into the details.
Also, be wary of any offers of free yoga teacher training. It often means that the course itself is free, but you must pay for travel to a retreat as well as accommodations and meals while you train. Always do your research to determine the actual costs involved.
3. Get yoga instructor certification.
You do not need a license to be a yoga instructor. You can become a yoga teacher without having any formal credentials. But if you're hoping to work in health clubs or fitness centers teaching yoga, certification is highly recommended. The most common certifications are available from Yoga Alliance, the Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States (IYNAUS), and the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT).
Yoga Alliance offers the most widely accepted yoga teacher certifications in the U.S and around the globe. There are several different types, and each has different requirements:
- Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) 200—You must complete a 200-hour course from a recognized school. No teaching experience is required. This is the best yoga certification for newly trained instructors who are seeking to work in commercial centers.
- RYT 500—You must complete 500 hours of training from a recognized school plus accumulate at least 100 hours of teaching experience after completing your training.
- Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (E-RYT) 200—You must be an RYT 200 who has taught for at least 1,000 hours over a minimum of two years. This designation currently allows you to act as a lead trainer in RYT 200 classes. However, beginning in February 2020, you will have to be an E-RYT 500 to do so.
- E-RYT 500—You must be an RYT 500 who has taught for at least 2,000 hours over a period of at least four years. With this designation, you can be a lead trainer in RYT programs.
- Registered Children's Yoga Teacher (RCYT)—You must be at least an RYT 200 and complete a 95-hour specialty course from a recognized school. You also need a minimum of 30 hours of post-training experience teaching children's yoga.
- Registered Prenatal Yoga Teacher (RPYT)—You must be at least an RYT 200 and complete an 85-hour specialty course from a recognized school. In addition, you need at least 30 hours of post-training experience teaching prenatal yoga.
- Yoga Alliance Continuing Education Provider (YACEP)—You must be an E-RYT and pay the yearly fee.
Each of the above types of yoga certifications requires you to agree to uphold the Yoga Alliance code of conduct, abide by the policy prohibiting references to yoga therapy, complete a prescribed number of continuing education credits, and pay an annual renewal fee. Starting in February 2020, RYTs will be required to sign on to a three-part ethical commitment that covers the code of conduct, the scope of practice, and the issue of equity in yoga.
Yoga certification costs vary depending on which credential you obtain. To become an RYT or E-RYT, you must pay an application fee of $50 and a yearly renewal fee of $65. To become an RCYT or RPYT, you must pay a one-time registration fee of $50 and maintain your RPT status. A YACEP only needs to pay a $20 annual fee.
You can get your yoga certification online by creating an account on the Yoga Alliance website, submitting the certificate of completion from your registered school, and paying the required fee. If you're already an E-RYT and you wish to become a YACEP, simply update your account and pay the fee.
Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States (IYNAUS)
To become a Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher (CIYT) through IYNAUS, you must be a current member of the association, meet all standards set out in the certification manual (which is available for purchase), and be recommended for assessment by at least two qualified teachers. There are multiple levels of certification:
- Introductory I and II—You must have five years of continuous practice or study with a CIYT. (Starting in 2020, this will change to six years.) You also need two recommendations from current CIYTs who are at the Intermediate Junior I level or higher, one of whom must be your mentor. In addition, you must take one of two routes: 1) Complete 90 hours of teacher training with an approved CIYT educator and 90 hours of mentorship with a CIYT; or 2) Complete 180 hours of mentorship.
- Intermediate Junior I, II, and III—Instructors who achieve this certification may act as recommending teachers or mentors. For Intermediate Junior I, at least two years must have elapsed since your previous certification; for levels II and III, only one year is required. Studying at Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI) in Pune, India, is highly recommended but not mandatory.
- Intermediate Senior I—A minimum of two years must have passed since your previous certification. Again, studying at RIMYI is recommended.
- Intermediate Senior II—At least two years must have passed since your previous certification, and you must complete a month of classes at RIMYI every three years.
- Intermediate Senior III; Advanced Junior I, II, and III; and Advanced Senior I, II, and III—You must apply to RIMYI and complete one month of classes there every three years.
International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT)
IAYT certification is available to instructors who complete specific training programs that focus on using yoga as a therapeutic tool. To qualify, you must be a member of the association, agree to abide by the scope of practice and code of ethics, and graduate from one of the many IAYT-recognized programs.
It costs $250 to become certified, and you must also renew your credentials every three years at a cost of $130.
4. Get complementary training.
The more diverse your skill set, the more marketable you become. Many commercial gyms and health clubs require their yoga teachers to hold CPR or first aid certification. Some also look for instructors who have completed formal programs in personal training or fitness and nutrition.
5. Practice yoga regularly at the studios you'd like to teach at.
Most instructors begin teaching at studios where they've practiced yoga themselves. In fact, the 2016 Yoga in America Study showed that around 60 percent of yoga studio owners encourage their students to become instructors.
When you put in regular appearances and develop a rapport with the studio staff, you boost your chances of being considered for an instructor position when one opens up. Make sure your instructors are aware that you've completed relevant training and that you're interested in teaching. You could even offer to cover a class for any instructor who needs to take some time off.
6. Get teaching practice.
Once you've learned how to teach yoga, you need to get as much actual experience as you can in order to build up your confidence and refine your own instructional style. That may mean offering free lessons to family members, friends, neighbors, coworkers, or other people you know.
If there are events like marathons or fundraising walks in your area, talk to the organizers about leading a free class for participants. Every little bit helps.
7. Establish a niche.
To stand out from the crowd of aspiring yoga instructors, consider developing a specialty. That allows you to focus both your training efforts and your marketing message. Plus, your students will likely be fairly loyal because they are coming to you for something specific that cannot be found just anywhere.
One way to specialize is by focusing on a particular style of yoga. There are dozens of different styles, from Iyengar and kundalini to vinyasa and restorative. Another way to establish a niche is by concentrating on yoga for certain populations, such as seniors, pregnant women, children, office workers, athletes, or couples.
You could also use yoga to help people deal with specific issues like stress, weight loss, or back pain. Or get creative: Yoga with goats or dogs, restorative yoga for hungover college students, and naked yoga are all real things.
8. Continue your yoga education.
You can teach yoga with a 200-hour certification, but that doesn't mean 200 hours is enough to cover all there is to know. Even well-established and famous yoga teachers are constantly learning. It's important to keep attending classes, workshops, and conferences to further your personal yoga journey and develop your teaching technique.
If you want to maintain your RYT certification through Yoga Alliance, you must log at least 45 hours of teaching experience and 30 hours of continuing education credits every three years. Courses that meet the continuing education requirements cover a wide range of topics, including yoga philosophy, instructor ethics, physiology, teaching styles, and addressing the needs of special populations.
Note that Yoga Alliance does not independently verify completion hours; the onus is on you to be honest when reporting your hours in your online account.
Other certifications have different ongoing requirements. For instance, maintaining certification as a Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher through IYNAUS requires you to study with a certified teacher for at least 25 hours each year. And maintaining certification through the International Association of Yoga Therapists requires completing at least 24 hours of approved continuing education credits within a three-year period.
How Much Do Yoga Instructors Make?
As a yoga instructor, you can make anywhere from $25 to $75 per class, depending on your location, specialty, skill set, and level of experience. In most cases, you receive a flat fee for each class you teach, but some studios pay per student or offer a few extra dollars for each additional student beyond a certain number (like 10) in order to motivate you to expand your class size.
Many instructors who offer private classes charge more than $100 per lesson. And those who arrange and host retreats (either locally or abroad) can boost their income by thousands of dollars.
So how much do yoga teachers make in a year? According to PayScale, the median yoga instructor salary is about $39,000. The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not provide a specific yoga teacher salary, but it does note that the median annual pay of full-time exercise trainers and group fitness instructors was about $40,390 in 2019.
The 2016 Yoga in America Study found that teaching yoga was the main source of income for only about 29 percent of instructors. Many yoga teachers generate additional income in other ways, such as:
- Writing blogs or articles
- Producing videos that are instructional and distributing them online
- Selling yoga-related accessories like mats, props, books, and clothing
- Doing administrative or marketing work in gyms or health clubs
- Offering other wellness services such as massage therapy or acupuncture
- Creating online courses for other yoga teachers on how to design a website, organize an event, or become skilled at Internet marketing
How to Start a Private Yoga Business
Becoming a successful instructor doesn't necessarily mean looking for yoga teacher jobs near you. Going out on your own and teaching outside of an established studio can be an excellent way to build a career. You start a yoga business by following these steps:
1. Decide where you will operate.
Think about where you want to teach. Do you plan to work one-on-one with clients in their homes? Are you aiming to operate group classes out of non-studio spaces like community centers, corporate offices, schools, or libraries?
When you're just starting out, it's wise not to go too big. Don't rush to rent a huge space until you have a solid customer base and a good understanding of your needs. To keep overhead costs low (and profit margins high), you may want to look into conducting private online yoga classes via webcam.
2. Get a handle on accounting.
Many a business has floundered due to poor management of financial matters. You need to understand how to properly track your income and expenses and pay all required taxes. You also need to decide what payment types you will accept, determine how you will structure your invoicing, and develop your policies on cancellations and refunds.
So it's probably worth getting some basic business training before launching your new venture. Or hire an accountant or bookkeeper to handle that aspect so that you can focus on serving your students.
3. Create a waiver.
Before beginning any yoga instruction, you should have each new student sign a liability waiver that clearly explains the risks of participating in your class and provides warnings about who should not take part. (Here's an example, but make sure you have an attorney look over the one you plan to use.) This helps protect you against legal action if someone gets injured during one of your classes. It's easiest if you ask students to sign the waiver as part of the registration process.
But while waivers do offer some protection, they do not render you immune to all lawsuits. That's why it's also important to get liability insurance (see below).
4. Purchase liability insurance.
Liability insurance is essential for yoga instructors. Even if you teach in a studio that is insured, the coverage likely won't extend to you as an independent contractor. Most studios and gyms require contractors to have their own coverage.
Yoga Alliance offers discounted insurance to its members through Alliant. Policies are also available through providers like beYogi, Philadelphia Insurance Companies, ProSight Direct, and Alternative Balance.
When comparing policies, look at the cost of the premium, the maximum amount of a single claim, and the total coverage amount (known as the aggregate limit) per year. Make sure the policy applies to your particular type of yoga; styles such as aerial or acrobatic yoga are often not covered.
It's also important to find out if you're covered when you teach somewhere other than a studio. For example, what if you work in private homes, public parks, corporate boardrooms, or online? What if you host retreats outside the country?
5. Promote yourself.
No one will know what you have to offer unless you put the word out. A solid marketing strategy will help you reach potential clients and build your brand identity. Here are a few basic things you should do:
- Create a website. Make sure it looks professional, is simple to navigate, and describes the services you offer. It's wise to give people the ability to book classes or private sessions directly through the site. Another idea is to produce a blog or newsletter and add a subscriber form to your site so that you can collect email addresses and offer some sort of freebie to anyone who signs up.
- Tailor your messaging. Think about the audience you want to serve and the terminology they would be most comfortable with. For instance, athletes may be more apt to seek you out if you brand yourself as a yoga coach or personal yoga trainer.
- Build partnerships. Identify other businesses that could help you connect with your target market. For example, that might mean talking to restaurants about hosting yoga-and-wine evenings, reaching out to chiropractors and acupuncturists to see if they'd be willing to provide referrals, or seeing if you can leave a stack of business cards with places like hair salons and health food stores.
- Build relationships. Word of mouth is the best referral system. Devote yourself to guiding each of your students along their yogic journeys and you will likely be rewarded with recommendations and positive reviews.