What I Learned in a 200 Hour and 300 Hour Yoga Teacher Training

What I Learned in a 200 Hour and 300 Hour Yoga Teacher Training

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The first time I walked into a yoga studio, I was looking for a different fitness routine. Nothing more.

It was 2018 and I was living in San Francisco. I quickly fell in love with a class at CorePower Yoga called Yoga Sculpt, which was a combination of yoga, weights, and cardio. Appreciating the effect it had on my mind as well as my body, I fell hard enough for it to train as a Yoga Sculpt instructor. By that summer, I was teaching two classes a week.

I’d also fallen for the studio, where I felt a deep sense of community. I began spending all of my free time there, and when I was asked to take a management role, I went all in. I’d just lost my job as a content manager, so the timing couldn’t have been more aligned.

I hadn’t planned on enrolling in another training while I was adjusting to my role at the studio and teaching twice a week, but somehow I found myself enrolling in an eight-week 200-hour yoga teacher training (YTT) through CorePower.

From the moment I made that decision, it seemed like everything in my life started to change at an unprecedented pace. Suddenly my days were consumed by yoga.

My 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training

The training required us to meet three evenings a week for three hours. It was fast-paced, but our two lead trainers and their assistant coaches reassured us that we were exactly where we were supposed to be and encouraged us to trust the process.

My Introduction to 200 YTT

The primary focus of the 200 YTT was to learn how to teach CorePower’s set sequence, which is a “Level 1” power vinyasa yoga class consisting of a series of the same poses taught in the exact same order each time. Our curriculum was designed to help us memorize the set sequence as well as learn cueing and breathing formulas, hands-on adjustments, yoga philosophy, chakras, basic Sanskrit, anatomy, prenatal yoga, and the business of yoga.

With no time to lose, we dove straight into practicing how to teach. The sequence was broken down into 11 sections, each containing several poses. Having learned formulas for cueing and breathwork in my Yoga Sculpt training, I felt confident in my ability to lead students through several of the basic poses, including Sun Salutation A and B. But I needed to practice having a beginner’s mind as we explored teaching less familiar poses and transitions and learned the underlying why behind the order of the sections.

We finished memorizing the sequence in the first three weeks of the training.

Quote in Times New Roman about learning to teach yoga during a 200 hour yoga teacher training

By week four, we went deeper into anatomy and adjustments. I was also required to observe classes, which means I sat at the back of the room and took careful notes on the cues, pacing, and overall experience as another teacher led students through their practice. I started to notice subtle things I hadn’t been aware of before I began training, like were the lights too dim or too bright? Was the music too distracting or just right? I found myself being overly critical of certain things.

Later in the training, we practiced teaching in small groups. We received feedback from our trainers on “glows and grows,” or things we did well and things we could improve upon. That feedback was essential for helping us improve, although when it was my turn to teach, I always felt like my heart would beat out of my chest. It’s a feeling that I sometimes still experience when I stand in front of a class, although it dissipates when I remember to focus less on myself and more on my students.

Spiritual Sparks Fly

Given the limitation of 200 hours, we focused primarily on asana, or the physical postures. But we also covered some spiritual and philosophical aspects of yoga in the training, and that is what most captured my attention.

During week five, we learned about the chakras, which are the seven energy points in our body that run along a central channel. And each week, we were expected to turn in homework and reading assignments on yoga philosophy, including the yamas and niyamas. Our exposure to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra came from reading the translations included at the back of our manuals, although we were assigned to read The Inner Tradition of Yoga by Michael Stone, a psychotherapist and teacher of yoga and Buddhism, and that offered some additional insight into yoga philosophy.

There was one lecture that I vividly recall. In it, our trainers referred to “little s and big S.” The “little s” is what we perceive as our self—our self-image or ego. The “big S” is our true nature or pure consciousness, which some of the teachers translated as our spirit or soul. To this day, this is one of the concepts I rely on most for self-reflection.

We applied what we were learning by taking part in a Karma Yoga Project. My fellow trainees and I volunteered at a homeless shelter and helped prepare meals and handed them out, an experience that provided us the opportunity to connect with each other and the larger community while demonstrating that part of living your yoga is being of service to others.

Our training also required us to attend classes at different studios. I hadn’t expected this to be such an integral part of my understanding of yoga philosophy, but l will never forget attending a class at Love Story Yoga in the Mission District of San Francisco where we chanted mantras in Sanskrit before we began moving our bodies. At the time, because it was so different from CorePower’s teachings, the chanting felt very out there for me. Little did I know a seed was being planted in my soul.

Quote from a woman reflecting on her 200 hour YTT experience

Learning to Teach Poses

The eight weeks went quickly. In addition to the lectures and homework, I took around 60 studio classes during that time.

In the last week of our 200-hour training, my classmates and I prepared for final written exams and took part in a “Bring a Beginner” night. As teachers in training, we were expected to facilitate an inclusive and well-rounded class environment for someone who had little to no experience with yoga. We guided the students into poses without any of us messing up our cues or forgetting any sections. Afterward, the newcomers gushed about the class, which we took as a reflection of how well-prepared we were to teach.

The teaching tools were specific to CorePower’s sequence, which I found to be an intelligent way of learning how to safely deliver cues and adapt the practice to the needs of students in a supportive manner.

On the day I received my 200-hour certificate, my classmates and I commemorated the occasion by taking photos in fun poses. I celebrated with headstand, a pose I was proud to practice because I had recently learned how.

But I knew my yoga journey was still at the beginning. My 200 YTT had given me the tools to teach a safe and comprehensive asana class, but I was still largely in the dark and curious about yoga scriptures, philosophy, pranayama (breathwork), and meditation.

A few years later, I moved to South Lake Tahoe, California. As before, I found a community at a yoga studio where I taught some classes. It was a boutique studio, and without the rules and standards of CorePower, I found myself becoming more creative and exploring a different teaching voice.

As my ability to lead others through asana progressed, I knew that I still had so much more to learn. I felt a void. I was also teaching but barely practicing so the voice of imposter syndrome crept in. I constantly asked myself, do my students feel connected with the practice of yoga beyond the physical? Should I be doing more to share that with them? Can I call myself a yoga teacher when I can’t even maintain a consistent personal practice?

At the same time, I knew that I was being pulled elsewhere.

My 300-Hour Yoga Teacher Training

The next chapter in my story began with a Google search. One night I typed “birthplace of yoga” on my keyboard and the small town of Rishikesh popped up. I spent hours watching YouTube videos about the place known as the “yoga capital of the world.”

I felt immediately drawn to this destination and began looking for yoga schools that were based there. The Himalayan Yoga Association (HYA) seemed to align with everything I was seeking. Over 27 days, I’d train for 300 hours in hatha, Ashtanga, pranayama, meditation, Ayurveda, anatomy, alignment, and yoga philosophy.

“This is it,” I thought. “I’m finally making it happen.”

My Introduction to 300 YTT

Most of the nervousness I felt about the training was soothed by the fact that another yoga teacher I knew had agreed to join me on the journey to India. On March 1, 2023, the two of us and the remaining students in our 300-hour yoga teacher training were welcomed by our four teachers with a fire ceremony. It ended with kirtan, an act of devotion which involves chanting mantras in Sanskrit. It took a few songs for us newcomers to feel comfortable singing, clapping, dancing, and chanting with each other, since we’d only met a few hours prior. It was a beautiful way to immerse ourselves in the training.

Quote from a woman during her 300-hour yoga teacher training

The following day, we were immediately thrown into the deep end with a jam-packed schedule and what felt like information overload. We started just after dawn with nasal cleansing practices, such as jala neti and sutra neti, followed by pranayama, meditation, and hatha yoga. These practices reinforced that yoga isn’t just a physical practice but an entire system of practices that includes physical postures as well as breathing techniques, cleansing practices, and lifestyle adjustments.

By late morning, I was famished. In between philosophy and anatomy classes, we took a break for a strictly vegetarian lunch with lots of lentils, potatoes, veggies, and rice. There was chai, but I missed coffee. I often struggled to focus during the post-lunch class, wishing I could take a nap or sip an espresso.

There were two yoga asana classes a day, and they weren’t exactly a walk in the park, which meant I went through a lot of Tiger Balm. The training ended at 7 p.m. with alignment and Ashtanga, and at night I was physically and mentally exhausted. I was learning what felt like a lifetime’s worth of information and my body was still trying to adjust to the physical practice.

I found myself completely overwhelmed.

My favorite class was the late-morning philosophy lecture. Our teacher had an aura about him that lit up the entire room. He taught concepts about yoga that I had never heard of before and that also applied to several Eastern religions, including Hinduism and Jainism. I was fascinated by samsara, the wheel of life, where we are all continuously experiencing birth, death, and rebirth. I learned about moksha, which is breaking free from the cycle of samsara and attaining the highest form of human life in which our Self or Soul becomes one with the divine. It was another big S moment.

These concepts of divinity and reincarnation opened my eyes to new ways of contemplating life. I couldn’t help but wonder if these concepts would be taken seriously in my classes back home. How would my students respond?

A Completely Different Understanding of Yoga

The training in India exposed me to aspects of yoga I had known nothing about. Perhaps this should have been no surprise, since I came to India with the intention to explore more of the spiritual side of yoga.

First, there was the physical practice of yoga. Most Hatha classes in the West are slower-paced and beginner-friendly. The hatha classes at HYA felt like boot camp. I didn’t know you could do a push-up in Wheel Pose until, well, I did a push-up in Wheel Pose.

I had only practiced Ashtanga a handful of times prior to my training in India. It includes several series of set sequence of poses, beginning the primary series followed by the intermediate series. My 300-hour YTT covered the intermediate series of Ashtanga yoga, which focuses on backbends. But having very little background in the primary series, I confessed to my teacher that I felt completely lost.

Surprised, he asked, “Didn’t you do the primary series in your 200-hour teacher training?” I was embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t. A few others in the 300-hour had the same experience, and luckily our teacher was kind enough to break down the poses in the primary series for the first few weeks before moving on to the intermediate series.

Aside from being pushed to the physical limit with the asana practices, I was blown away by how vital pranayama, meditation, Ayurveda, and yoga philosophy were to the tradition of yoga and those who practiced yoga in India. We learned an entire pranayama sequence, and I witnessed the progression of my breathing as the days went by.

We were also exposed to different meditation techniques and were asked to read a good portion of the Yoga Sutra. Our teacher had us chant each sutra in Sanskrit before diving into its meaning.

Everything seemed so disciplined, from the schedule to the rules. There was how and what and why you should eat, according to Ayurveda, which is the sister science to yoga. There was also what was considered the best times to practice pranayama and meditation.

The yoga lifestyle in India was a complete 180 from the yoga lifestyle I was used to in the U.S.

Learning to Teach Yoga

While we learned countless new skills and a huge amount of information, we didn’t learn how to teach any of it. In fact, we didn’t teach at all. I asked my teacher if we were going to receive feedback or practice teaching. “That’s what your final exam is for,” he said.

Final exams at HYA took an entire week. There were written tests for anatomy and philosophy, and verbal tests for pranayama, meditation, hatha, and Ashtanga. The hatha exam also required us to teach a short class that included joint movements, Sun Salutations, forward bends, twists, and inversions.

For the Ashtanga exam, we were split into groups to teach the entire intermediate series. Luckily, we were allowed to have our notes in front of us. It was our first time teaching since we’d learned the series. I can’t imagine how this would have gone without my notes. With gratitude, I passed.

Quote from a student after taking both 200 and 300 hour yoga teacher training

The Teacher—and Student—I Am Today

My two YTT experiences were equally transformational but in completely different ways. Each has made me not only a better teacher but a much better student.

Yoga in the West has brought me nothing but positive experiences and opened my eyes to mindful living. But during the four weeks I spent expanding my practice in India, I came to understand that yoga is a continuous physical and spiritual practice that is constantly unfolding well beyond the walls of any studio. With that understanding, my practice and I both underwent a true metamorphosis. One in which life itself became the school.

RELATED: I Learned Yoga in India. Then I Did My Yoga Teacher Training at CorePower.

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