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Yoga Teacher vs Yoga Instructor | Discover the Differences Between the Two

Yoga instructor teaching a class

Yoga teacher and yoga instructor are two terms that many in the practice use fairly interchangeably. So is there any real difference between the two? We took this question back to the origins of the yoga practice to find that there really is a great deal to be said in how one chooses to guide students. We’ll look at the philosophy behind both yoga instructors and yoga teachers to help you understand which practice mindset is best for your individual journey.

The History of Yoga Education 

Yoga has been around for thousands of years but the practice didn't really become mainstream in America until around the 90s when the first professional yoga organizations began popping up. These organizations helped set up guidelines for credentialing, education, and other requirements for those wishing to guide students within a yoga practice. This is when we first started seeing the “RYT”, or registered yoga teacher, designation. Nowadays, there are many different organizations that offer accreditation for registered yoga teachers in various forms and under a variety of titles. As well, these designations come in many different tiers. There are basic, advanced, and even therapeutic related certifications that can be achieved.

Even with certifications, there are still no restrictions that would disallow someone from teaching yoga without an RYT certification. Now, as we all know, they're often times when a professional has many hours of experience and is very in tune with the philosophy of appropriate yoga education for their students. These individuals may lack mainstream education but make up for it with loads of real-world experience. So for the purposes of our comparison, we will designate yoga instructors as those without any formal certifications (which is not necessarily a bad thing) and yoga teachers as those who have gained certification. Let's look at the differences between the two.

What Does a Yoga Teacher Do?

The yoga teacher is an experienced practitioner of yoga who leads students through an asana, pranayama, and all the other associated aspects of a typical class and depending on the style. If you've ever been to a yoga studio, you've probably seen a yoga teacher at the front of a class on their map with students arranged in front of them so they have a good view of the teacher. 

The teacher will typically demonstrate the different sequences while the students progress through their routine. Up to this point, there isn't much difference between a yoga instructor and a yoga teacher. However, with additional education and credentialing, the registered yoga teacher typically has more to draw from in expanding the student's experience. 

Advanced poses, correcting postures, and even advanced knowledge in things like injury prevention, trauma-informed best practices, and special considerations like pregnancy can help an RYT stand apart from an uncredentialed yoga instructor.

How is a Yoga Instructor Different?

A yoga instructor is not typically certified but that doesn't mean they aren't qualified to teach a yoga class. As we've seen, a yoga instructor could have 1,000 hours of experience but never actually took the time to get certified. As well, there are many different credentialing levels around the world which may not correlate exactly to one another. So you could have taken training in one country that was good enough to start teaching yoga but that isn't recognized by a mainstream credentialing institution like Yoga Alliance, for example. 

A credentialing service like Yoga Alliance wants to see that you went to a school that's accredited under their guidelines, so if you went somewhere else all your skills and experience you gained may not necessarily apply to their specific credential. Still, at a basic level, a yoga instructor instructs. They lead a class of yoga students through their poses and provide general guidance for things like proper form. In general, yoga instructors are not going to get too deep into really advanced poses or additional areas of applicability.

Comparing Yoga Teachers and Yoga Instructors

An important note up front is that both yoga teachers and yoga instructors can both bring the benefits of yoga to their students. Better strength and flexibility, improved mood, less stress—yogis know that yoga does some serious good for the body and mind. 

Now that we've looked up the rules of yoga teachers versus yoga instructors, let's highlight some of the similarities and differences between the two.

  • Someone teaching yoga as a yoga instructor may not be credentialed. 
  • Registered yoga teachers have undergone a certain amount of education and credentialing in order to get that accreditation.
  • Both yoga teachers and yoga instructors can both be equally effective in passing on their knowledge to students.
  • With advanced training, registered yoga teachers may have a broader skill set than a yoga instructor.

The important thing to remember when looking at the differences between yoga and teachers and yoga instructors is that one of the most important aspects of yoga actually has much less to do with titles and more about the heart of the educator. When your heart is in something you generally do it to the best of your abilities. Vice versa, if you aren't fully engaged it doesn't matter if you have all the credentials in the world, you won't be nearly as effective with your students. Therefore, being in the right headspace before each and every session with your students is absolutely critical. Perhaps even more so than how you refer to yourself.

Choosing Your Perfect Style

As a yoga educator contemplating whether getting your RYT is worth it or not, there's some questions you should ask yourself.

  • Where do you want this journey to lead? If you're establishing a career that you'd like to have longevity with, then advanced credentials can help both employers or clients see the actual work and effort you put into meeting a high quality class. Thus, greater marketability for your yoga skills.
  • What's the focus of your practice? Many yoga instructors have been extremely successful focusing on a core group of select yoga modalities. This could be something like Bikram yoga for beginners. Specialization is a great tool to build authority and recognition within a specific sphere. This can help build your client base as well as your knowledge and experience within that genre.
  • How do you like to teach your yoga class? If you are more of a hands-off teacher who likes to lead from the front without a lot of correction then a career as an instructor may be a good place to be. If you're more hands-on and want to correct postures, it's a good idea to have the training and experience that comes with an RYT designation in order to do this safely and effectively.

Whichever road is right for you is entirely up to your specific desires as a yoga practitioner. There is no right answer except the one that meets all of your needs and allows you to do what you love. However, there is one huge need that both yoga instructors and yoga teachers both have from the very beginning and even while they're still in training. 

Practicing Yoga With Absolute Confidence 

The key to practicing yoga with confidence really is simple. Yoga insurance protects your career as either a yoga teacher or yoga instructor no matter what style you choose. Let's see why this might be the most important decision of your entire career.

Yoga insurance protects. 

Well that's kind of a given, but how does it actually work? Yoga insurance provides you with coverage against liabilities and other unforeseen circumstances that could otherwise cost you big bucks out of your own pocket. General liability, for example, could be as simple as a slip and fall injury that all the sudden results in a huge lawsuit. There are many other risks that are all covered under a comprehensive yoga insurance policy like you'll get from beYogi.

Yoga insurance provides benefits. 

Aside from protection, yoga insurance from beYogi also gives you loads of additional member benefits and resources. Everything from access to our perfect pose library to discounts from leading yoga products and services helps add a lot of additional value to signing up with one of the most trusted plans in yoga.

Yoga insurance covers your specific modality.

Yoga insurance from beYogi protects hundreds of different yoga styles and this is definitely not the case with every insurance plan. A lot out there only cover a few different core modalities meaning if you practice something outside of that or ever want to branch out, you may not be covered. Being covered for hundreds of different modalities means you can practice what you love without fear that it won't be covered. 

Practicing as either a yoga teacher or yoga instructor is far easier when you have such a solid support network at your back. The best part may be that signing up for yoga insurance only takes minutes and you can even get a student policy for a reduced rate when you're still in school.