This information is reliable for the US only, other countries have different regulations.
When you first start looking into becoming a yoga teacher, it can be a little confusing to figure out what all these different terms mean. The most important thing to know about teaching yoga in the USA is that there is absolutely no regulation on yoga teachers. This means that you do not need to be certified, registered, or licensed in order to hang a shingle and start leading sun salutations. In fact, some of the most experienced and well-known teachers in the country have never been certified, registered, or licensed. That is because all of these are relatively recent concepts, especially in regards to teaching yoga. When many of these teachers started teaching, there were no formal yoga teacher training programs. Your teacher might “certify” you to teach, but that was an arbitrary designation that did not imply a specific amount of training.
Some time in the last 30 years or so, yoga teacher training has become a profitable endeavor if not quite big business. There are a plethora of options for novice teachers to receive their training and very little oversight or regulation. Although the actual laws regarding teaching yoga have not changed, the environment has. As a brand new yoga teacher today, you are unlikely to have much luck finding a job teaching yoga unless you have been through some training.
Certification refers to the completion of a certain program of training according to the standards of that particular school. There are no universal standards for certification, so two certified teachers from different schools can have completely different skill sets. Most gyms and yoga studios require that you have a certification in order to teach there. For some gyms and studios, a certification is all the credentials you need. Others require you to be registered with the Yoga Alliance or have graduated from a Yoga Alliance approved training. And some places require you to teach an “audition” class in addition to your credentials in order to more clearly see your skills in action.
In order to bring some consistency to the burgeoning market of teacher training programs, The Yoga Alliance was formed in 1997. The Yoga Alliance sets minimum standards for teacher training programs. Programs that meet these standards and pay a fee can market their trainings as “Yoga Alliance Approved”. Graduates of these trainings can then register with the Yoga Alliance and then promote themselves as RYT – Registered Yoga Teachers. Registration is available at 4 different levels: RYT 200, E-RYT 200, RYT 500, and E-RYT 500. The E stands for experienced and indicates a certain number of hours teaching since the completion of teacher training.
Some employers require Yoga Alliance Registration and some do not, but rarely will an individual student know or care about Yoga Alliance registration. There is a a lively controversy regarding the value of the Yoga Alliance. Some argue that their standards are too weak and unenforced, making them ineffective at fulfilling their stated mission of ensuring the quality and consistency of yoga instruction in the US. Others argue that yoga is a spiritual practice that should not be regulated at all. This faction believes that regulation misses and stifles the best parts of yoga while subtly endorsing the commercialization of yoga. Some people support the Yoga Alliance, stating that if we do not regulate ourselves, then the states will step in with regulation.
As it stands, registration is optional and the benefits of doing so are hotly debated. However, most reputable teacher trainings are registered with the Yoga Alliance so it is likely that your training will qualify you to register. You can go ahead and register right away if you feel that an extra credential will help your chances of getting a job, or you can wait and see if anyone asks for it.
Licensing usually refers to regulation by the state, such as in massage licensing. However, there are currently no states that regulate yoga (though some are making noises about it). With the current popularity of yoga, it is likely that state regulation will become a reality in the future. If and when this happens, I will update this page to reflect the latest news.
Licensing can also refer to the ability to use the name of a specific style in your marketing materials. Some schools of yoga have licensing agreements separate from their certifications. Once you have met the standards for certification, you may choose to pay the licensing fee in order to promote your classes as this particular style.
I hope this was a helpful discussion on the terms that are commonly used to describe the credentials of yoga instructors. If any of this information is incorrect or out of date, please let me know in the comments below. If you have any additional questions regarding this material, I’m happy to give it a shot and possibly incorporate it into the body of the article, so leave a comment about that too.