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Yoga Alliance: The Issues and Need for Solutions
I don’t often weigh in on the larger yoga world. I’ve never found it particularly useful and quite frankly I usually don’t care about “who said what to who about what.” It always feels like a saccharinely pompous version of TMZ fueled by inane spiritual psychobabble and the driving desire to win the title of "yogier than thou." But as the saga with Yoga Alliance continues to unfold, I think it’s important that we as teachers start talking more openly about the issues with this organization and its processes. My intention of this blog is to steer us towards solutions and see if we can air out some of the issues around certifying yoga teachers that have come to light in recent years.
I also want people who are not familiar with the yoga teacher certification process through Yoga Alliance to know a bit about it. Yoga Alliance (YA) defines itself as a national yoga teacher registry and there is no actual national certifying body for yoga teachers in America. Some yoga schools, like Iyengar, have their own (very rigorous) certification processes in place but they are independent of YA. Yoga Alliance sets forth general standards for yoga teacher training programs which yoga studios meet by submitting a written curriculum plan and registration fee to YA. YA approves the program and the yoga studio becomes what is called a Yoga Alliance Registered Yoga School (RYS.) Aspiring teachers complete the RYS program and are then certified by the school they attended. After receiving their certification from the RYS program, teachers may opt to register with YA as a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT.) YA has no direct role in certification other than to approve an outline plan for the yoga school’s curriculum, accept the certification from the yoga school, and accept the registration fee. YA simply registers teachers and allows them to use the YA credential titles.
What I’m about to write is from my own experience with YA. I have not read every online exchange between YA and yoga teachers nor do I have any intention of doing so. Both YA and yoga teachers are guilty of hyper-emotional and irrational approaches to the differences between them. Yoga teachers need to stop emotionally complaining about YA in private and online and work for a rational and lasting solution to the issues. YA needs to own up to their failures and shortcomings in a professional manner and approach yoga teachers with humility and accountability.
Some thoughts from my experience of YA and why I find the organization problematic:
1. To my knowledge, Yoga Alliance does not audit any of the yoga training courses submitted to them (they may but in 14 years I’ve never heard of it happening.) There is practically no follow through on assessing whether a yoga school is maintaining the standards set forth in their training curriculum. NOW most all yoga schools maintain these and higher standards on their own because they care about producing and do produce very competent teachers. But YA does not verify these programs once formed. Yoga schools are not getting any real benefit or value for their registration fees which YA processes on an annual basis.
2. For the last 14 years I have renewed my registration with YA without needing to submit any proof of continuing education I have taken, classroom hours, or verification of course work that I taught in trainings. I have registered with YA as a continuing education provider at an additional fee, yet none of my materials or courses were ever reviewed nor were any of my students asked to present proof of participation in the course to receive CE credits. I have found no professional benefit or value from this extra certification.
3. For my taste and from the posts and blogs I have read, Yoga Alliance has not offered any adequate, accountable, and professional explanation of why it is so difficult for the organization to present a coherent, accountable, and organized structure as a national certifying body. There are disclaimers that are offered by YA that they are not a certifying body but rather a national registry, when in fact they sell credentials. Selling credentials implies a certifying body. YA reaps the financial benefit of collecting fees yet does not seem to want to accept the responsibility required as that kind of organization and does not provide true professional value to the yoga teachers investing in those credentials.
4. I asked YA by email a few years ago about changing certifications given my experience, training, teaching hours, and training skills and the response I received was, “No because we are not in the business of assessing the quality of yoga teachers.” I can handle the “no”, but I remember squinting and scratching my head. If Yoga Alliance was not in the business of assessing the quality of yoga teachers, why were they presenting program standards for certifying yoga teachers? What was their actual purpose? Why was I paying them every year for this credential? Why were yoga studios paying to be a registered yoga school? There is no inherent value in the YA credentials aside from the erroneous perception that they verify the competency of a yoga teacher.
5. At the risk of conceit, it has been my hard work, independent training, continual learning, and building of solid professional reputation that has enabled me success as a yoga teacher. I have never relied on nor found any professional benefit in using the credentials given by YA. I have found this to be true for many of my colleagues as well.
Now teachers, we’re not off the hook either. If we have no national body that has any validity assessing our competency and skills for certifications, then we must make those for ourselves. We must also accept part of the blame for continuing in this system for so long and allowing it to go unchecked. We have to hold ourselves to high standards and care less about the letters we put after our name or certificates we hang on our wall. We have to care about our craft for the sake of our craft and the ethics of teaching complex movement and esoteric spirituality to the public. Those are huge responsibilities. For the sake of the integrity of the evolving tradition, which we love so much, it is good for us to have set standards that we uphold. We must put down the pseudo-spiritual notions of “everything is yoga” and “no one can define yoga.” Yes we can and we should. The integrity and future of what we do depends on it.
We must work for a solution. That solution may or may not include YA, but ultimately that is not important. What is important is that we as a group of professionals come together and sort out standards for our craft, find a way of verifying those standards are met by ourselves and all yoga teacher trainees, and hold each other accountable to those standards.
So there it is, for whatever it’s worth, my own two cents on this unfolding yoga world drama. Teachers, lets stop griping and complaining and stomping our feet like spoiled adolescents. Lets get out from behind the computer, off our butts, and do something constructive to find a solution. If we have the time to complain to each other all the time, we have the time to find solutions. We’re not victims and I refuse to act like one. We have power to change the status quo and we will. Offer thoughts, offer ideas, and offer ways forward. Offer what you believe will help. I won’t go into all the ways yoga has helped me again, you can read other posts if you want to know. What I will say is that yoga has helped me and I want to help others with yoga. That has always been the drive behind my teaching. I want to keep this tradition healthy and in integrity. Let’s all work towards this common goal. I am certain that collectively we can achieve it.
PS. . .
Here are my thoughts on some standards yoga teachers should meet before being granted any basic certification by a national certifying body:
1. A verified basic fluency in human anatomy and physiology.
2. A verified basic fluency in basic biomechanics of all categories of yoga poses.
3. A verified basic fluency in safe physiological sequencing principles.
4. A verified basic fluency in yoga alignment principles.
5. A verified basic understanding of common injuries and medical conditions and appropriate modification of yoga practice to safely accommodate students with these conditions.
6. A verified understanding of the “scope of practice” of a yoga teacher, what a yoga teacher can and cannot recommend, and an understanding of how and when to refer a student out to another form of movement or therapy.
7. A verified basic literacy in the classical texts of India from which we derive the modern western practice of yoga including: The Upanishads, The Bhagvad Gita, and The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. If the yoga school is a specific form of yoga outside of the classical tradition, than a basic fluency in that specific philosophy and its foundational texts should be verified.
8. A verified basic understanding of the philosophy Classical Yoga including but not limited to the Yamas and Niyamas, conceptually differentiating between Nirbija Samadhi and Sabija Samadhi, differentiating between concentration and meditation, and differentiating between Samadhi and Kaivalya.
9. A verified understanding of ethical and moral standards of being a yoga teacher. A basic understanding of healthy boundaries with clients and students.
10. A system of requiring continuing education and re-certification at set intervals.