Research Reveals What it Takes to Be an Effective Yoga Teacher

Research Reveals What it Takes to Be an Effective Yoga Teacher
22 January, 2017

As we usher in 2017, it’s important to look back at 2016 to understand where yoga is heading — in particular the Yoga in America Study. The study reveals some important insights, including what it takes to be an effective yoga teacher.

The 2016 Yoga in America Study was conducted by Yoga Alliance and Yoga Journal.  This benchmarking research project is conducted every four years to expand our understanding of the practice of yoga and to determine how Americans view yoga.

The study takes into account the perspective of yoga practitioners, teachers, studio owners, and the non-practicing US public. We reached out to Andrew Tanner of Yoga Alliance to learn more about what the data revealed.

What is Yoga Alliance and Why is This Report Important to Instructors?

Yoga Alliance sets standards for yoga teacher training and provides benefits for its association members. Their mission is to promote and support the integrity and diversity of the teaching of yoga.  They’re the largest nonprofit association representing the yoga community in the world,  with 80,000 members around the world, and a membership growing at about 1,000 members per month!

Yoga Alliance was created back in 90s, when there was talk among insurance companies and the fitness industry regarding regulating yoga.  By establishing standards for yoga trainers, Yoga Alliance set out to prove that the industry could create and maintain its own teaching standards, while still preserving the traditions of the many different styles of yoga.

“We do a lot more than that now,” Andrew said, noting that besides providing a registry for yoga teacher training programs and member benefits, it also provides ongoing education, business support, and government advocacy work for the industry.

1.23.17 Yandara Study- iview.png

The 2016 Study: Surprise, surprise

The Yoga in America Study is commissioned every four years to put a finger on the pulse of the industry, and according to Andrew, “We’re constantly surprised by the results.”  Here are a few of the highlights:

Yoga is Gaining Popularity

One of the biggest surprises from the study was the rate of growth for the industry.  Yoga Alliance knew that yoga was becoming more popular, but no one guessed it had nearly doubled since the 2012 study.

In 2012, 20.4 million Americans were practicing yoga.  Today, over 36 million Americans practice, and 28% of all Americans have participated in a yoga class at some point in their lives.


*2008 data from Harris Interactive study

*2012 data from Sports Marketing Surveys USA

*2016 data from Ipsos Public Affairs

Qualities of Yoga Practitioners

Part of the study’s goal is to help instructors learn more about what makes their students tick. Here are a few insights.

Yoga practitioners include many beginners. Yoga’s high growth rate naturally results in more beginners.  In fact, 74% of American practitioners have been practicing for less than 5 years, and 98% consider themselves to be beginner-intermediate level practitioners.


Yoga practitioners have a more positive view of their own capabilities. In comparison to non-practitioners, a higher percentage of yoga practitioners report they:

  • Have good balance

  • Are physically strong

  • Have strong mental clarity

  • Participate in a number of other forms of exercises


Yoga practitioners are more environmentally and socially mobilized.  Again, in comparison to non-practitioners, we see more practitioners engaging in sustainable practices, eating organic and locally-grown foods, and giving back to their community.


Big Takeaways for Yoga Teachers

The study is filled with many insights, and it’s in your best interest to study all the results. However, we asked Andrew to help us focus on some of the most important trends and takeaways.

1. The top qualities for yoga teachers

The study includes insights into what students value most in a yoga instructor. Topping the list of most important qualities of a great teacher are:

  • Being warm and friendly

  • Being easily understood or clear with instruction

  • Knowledgeable about the postures and practices

Andrew notes that being “warm and friendly” doesn’t just include being nice to students — it means taking initiative and communicating before and after class.  For example, it’s important to show up before class, ready to greet and welcome students.  

“That little act of greeting and welcoming is super powerful,” Andrew said. “It’s proven by the data.”

2. Many teach, few make yoga instruction a career

As many of you know, it’s not easy making a full-time living as a yoga teacher.  In fact, 67% of yoga teachers work fewer than 10 hours per week.


The data indicates that most yoga instructors approach this as part-time employment. “Only 29% of yoga teachers report yoga is their primary source of income,” Andrew said.

The stats are sobering for instructors who want to make this a livelihood, but to Andrew it’s an indication that you need to do more than just teach.  You also have to do workshop training, and pursue one-on-one sessions with students.

3. More training = more opportunities

We noted an incredibly high rate of newbie yoga practitioners. There are an equally high number of new teachers.  Andrew believes that new instructors need to focus on increasing their training.

“If you’ve completed 200-hour training, it’s just the beginning,” he said.

An increased knowledge base ties in with the chance for new opportunities.  Andrew notes that beginners value when teachers provide adjustments, for example.  The more you know, the more chances you have to engage students in more training.

“New students are often waiting for permission from their teachers to go deeper,” Andrew said, “If you are a yoga teacher you need to start offering workshops on alignment, breathing, etc… that give your new students better tools for their yogic toolbelt. The most important thing is then to directly ask/suggest that your students attend. You will be surprised at the willingness people have to dive deeper and you’ll make more money, too.”

Final Thoughts: The Best Yoga Teachers Are…

Yoga Alliance provides discounts to members on clothing and training, and it also provides legislative support.  In fact, they are supporting a new federal bill called the PHIT act which would allow practitioners to deduct up to $1,000 per year on physical fitness, and more importantly classify fitness as preventative health care, ie a medical expense.

But Yoga Alliance’s most important benefit is that it continuously strives to help you learn more and grow as an instructor.  Through research like the Yoga in America Study, it strives to keep you current on trends and new developments.

Learn, learn and never stop learning. As Andrew will tell you, “The best yoga teachers are yoga students.”

Learn more about Yandara’s Yoga Teacher Training!

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