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A Dispatch from the Field: Why Yoga Alliance Must Go

James Yoga Teacher Training YogaWorks Montana 2006This email I got from a yoga practitioner of 40+ years explains, better than almost anything I have ever read, the damage that is being done by Yoga Alliance and the yoga community’s complicity.

Dear Mr Brown,

I just read your article on the Yoga Alliance. I wanted to share this with you –

An unusually enthusiastic and childlike professional poker player I know explained to me this weekend where he had been going for the last several weeks every day – he is taking a Yoga teacher certification course.

“Wow”, I said, “I didn’t know you were that involved with Yoga.”

“Yes”, he said, “it is pretty involved. It’s every day for hours.”

“Actually”, I said, “what I meant was that you must have been pretty involved with Yoga to have reached a point in your yoga practice where you decided to teach.”

“No”, he said, “I only started doing yoga a few months ago.”

“So why are you becoming certified as a teacher?”

“Well I just thought I might want to teach it some day. They told me I could with the certification. You never know. It might be fun.”


“You never know. It might be fun.”

That’s his level of engagement with safety concerns. He doesn’t know any better after seven years of cross fit.

“But wouldn’t it make sense to develop some actual experience and knowledge of yoga before you teach it?”

“Well I thought they were going to teach me that in the course”, he answered. He actually thought he would learn “all that stuff” in the seven week class. “All that stuff” being the actual Yoga part of this. He thought it was something you just learn in seven weeks, sort of like becoming a notary or learning CPR. Except you learn how to do yoga.

I’m not kidding. After a few months of sporadic, normal attendance at a nearby Yin Yoga center he went in to ask someone if there was a way he could get some assistance designing a stretching sequence for himself – his current understanding of yoga being that it is a better form of stretching than the stretches he learned in Crossfit. That’s it.

So he goes in to ask for this help “designing my own flow” (I thought he had adopted the jargon pretty well after only a few months) and somehow he comes out having paid $2700 for a teacher training and certification course recognized by the Yoga Alliance. I don’t know what the meaning or background of Yin Yoga is but I do know that the director of this local center is a stock broker who has no personal interest in, knowledge of, or involvement with yoga other than to own the studio. That was his description of himself, not a criticism. I don’t know how that happened but apparently the thing is thriving and he is about to open a second location.

I guess you don’t have to like cookies to open a cookie franchise as long as you can hire people to make the cookies for you. You don’t even have to be able to recognize a cookie. You just have to be able to recognize who your baker is. If they say it’s a cookie who is a stockbroker to argue. They’re the cookie expert.

I only recognized all of this when I saw this fellow stretching. He described it as yoga but he is simply doing runners’ stretches the way any normal athletic person would. Finally I got the whole story – literally, he just wanted them to help him create a useful sequence of stretches for himself. “Maybe I could teach my own sequence of stretches to other people.”

Somehow that simple goal of putting a few appropriate stretches together with someone’s assistance led to his being talked into taking the teacher training and certification course.

Sure, he is beyond naive, but if he finishes the course in the next few weeks he can register as a teacher with the Yoga Alliance. For an additional $105.

I called them this morning. No – they have no standards of any kind for the level of experience or skill or anything else with regard to the person being certified. All of their standards are about the curriculum and the documented hours of experience of the people giving the course. If those people want to certify that a zebra or a poodle sat through their course hours then that animal can register as a yoga teacher with the Alliance and a person looking for a yoga teacher can find them on the Alliance website.

Doesn’t this bother the organization that this fellow will soon be a “certified yoga teacher” even though he has really never done much yoga other than the amount he will be shown in this seven-week course?

“It doesn’t bother me,” said the young lady on the phone.

“Do you do yoga?” I asked her. “No I have nothing to do with that. I’m just an employee here.”

“Why do they put so much emphasis on koshas and doshas and all that yoga philosophy?” he asked me. “Isn’t yoga supposed to make people ethical? Wouldn’t it make more sense for them to have just answered my question about the stretching instead of selling me this course? Why did they talk me into a course I have no possible reason to be in?”

Yes, obviously this overly enthusiastic person who normal sits at a poker table for many hours a day approached this with the mind of a child. It sounded like an entire alternate identity and for him that sense of something new seemed to cry out for more commitment. He kept using that word. I pointed out that you could use the word “committed” to describe a person driving in the wrong direction who refused to turn around as they ended up farther and farther out of town. And I asked him if he thought such a person was a “quitter” when she finally ran out of road and had to turn around.

“I guess not,” he said. “I wish I had talked to you before they got my money.”

Blows my mind. I started doing yoga in the seventies and I couldn’t even find much information about it at first. And now it has become some sort of regulated industry without any meaningful standards of any kind with an organization that presides over this nonsensical labeling system that has no actual significance.

“I’m really sore,” he kept telling me.

Now that he read your article he is waking up from the belief that he was showing “devotion to yoga” (whatever that is in his mind) by “not being a quitter” and staying with the daily nonsense – for him it is all nonsense – as long as he did.

“So it’s really ok for me to stop this? Don’t you think I’m quitting if I stop.” I asked him if he would feel that way about walking up a down escalator or whether he would realize he was on the wrong escalator for that point in his ‘journey’ and just turn around and get on the right one. “So I should just be in a beginners’ class right now, right? Not a teacher certification course.”

“Yes”, I told him.

Of course it is pretty extreme that he went along with this whole thing but that isn’t really the point. The point is that it is remarkable that a person with virtually no yoga experience of any kind can go into a yoga studio, be talked into or simply sign up for a seven-week certification, and come out the other end with virtually no knowledge other than what was taught in that seven weeks, if anything, and then be able to state that he is a “certified yoga teacher”, and be backed up by a seemingly official documentation from an organization that almost anyone would assume is doing at least something to check that the person knows something about yoga. It’s bad enough that there are no minimal standards for these “certified instructors” but when he described the sequence of poses the teacher had the class doing it astonished me. He is unusually powerful from years of Crossfit so he can somehow tolerate an hour of warrior variants and triangle poses all strung together but he is puzzled how it is helping him in any way.

“And I still don’t get get the koshas,” he added. “What does that stuff have to do with anything. I keep asking the teacher for help designing my own flow but she seems more and more angry with me every day. I don’t get it – isn’t yoga supposed to make you calmer.”

Actually he would probably make a pretty good yoga teacher. Assuming he eventually begins to practice yoga. Some day, after he shakes off this disappointing experience, he may.

8 Responses to A Dispatch from the Field: Why Yoga Alliance Must Go

  1. Claudia Wanessa Poletto July 13, 2018 at 6:59 am #

    I loved this piece, James Brown. Thanks a lot for this insightful reflection. When I was reading it came into my mind a recent experience that I went through. It was in the celebration’s Day of Yoga in Lisbon. Many of the keynoters in this event declared themselves that “they didn’t have nothing to do with yoga”, “never practiced it” (?). I wondered what they were doing there so. The great discussion of that very night was related to the professional standards — legal or not legal career in Portugal, lack of a local organization (like Yoga Alliance?), or absence of the government intervention in yoga matters, so on so forth — not a different discussion in Brazil as well. What really concerns me is that many take for granted institutions like Alliance without any deeper questioning.

  2. Allise October 10, 2017 at 2:17 pm #

    To get at the history of Yoga Alliance, contact Sandra Summerfield Kozak. Maybe she will tell you the truth. How it started with her, and her desire to uplift the yoga community (have money sent to her by thousands of yoga teachers looking for some sort of credential). Win win, I guess. The story starts with her.

  3. Christine Marcella July 5, 2017 at 10:15 am #

    Yoga Alliance is a Registry and hold standards of curriculum for schools who want to certify instructors… the integrity of the school is at the discretion of it’s director. The problem is that studios see schools as a way to make money so they churn out masses of inexperienced instructors into the community and flood the instructor market with newbies who will teach for a song in order to get a steady class.

    Most training programs do not hold any prerequisite in regard to experience or mentorship prior to coming to the yoga school for certification. This is not a problem with Yoga Alliance, it is a problem with the Yoga Training Programs and Schools. If you haven’t been practicing yoga for a minimum of at least three years you have no business attempting to become an instructor. If you want to “deepen your practice” as they often sell… then find a mentor or teacher to guide you! Then and only then, after serious consideration, coaching and guidance, should someone consider or be allowed to register in an Instructor Training program.

  4. Nina K June 8, 2017 at 12:50 pm #

    I just completed a 200 hour yoga teacher training program at a yoga studio approved by the Yoga Alliance. I performed all of the mandatory hours, took two exams and did well, tried 3 different styles of yoga, etc, etc. I taught my final class, and the teacher “failed” me because my 60 minute minimum requirement class time was short a few minutes. I was shocked. As I started to investigate, I learned that Yoga Alliance only has a suggested curriculum. I also learned that the Yoga Aliiance is not a license, simply an organization with a set of guidelines and dues paying members. Failing me was at the sole discretion of this teacher. I am off to teach this summer, and this studio/teacher cannot stop me. I am more empowered to prove that this studio is only interested in the money, and a bit of a power trip. I hope that as more people discover the joy of yoga, and more people want to learn about its origins and asanas, that the failure of Yoga Alliance as an overseer of Yoga will occur.

  5. BettyLou May 15, 2017 at 10:22 pm #

    I fail to see how the described situation is any different than the way Bikram Yoga teachers became certified 15 years ago and brought their own kind of autism to the yoga community. Yes, mass popularity has diluted the principals of yoga, it started a long time ago and will continue. Being instrumental in the 21st Century’s wave of the commercialism of yoga does not mean you get to dictate it’s progress, there’s too many other influences. There is a major disconnect with reality here that even a untrained Yogi can see.

    • Elizabeth August 9, 2017 at 9:20 am #

      I teach yoga to children with special needs. Kindly clarify your use of the word ‘autism” in your comment. I am sure you can find another word to illustrate your point. Please use” autism “only when you are actually referring to the neurological disorder. Autism is a serious disability and the term should not be used frivolously and in a derogatory manner. Show some compassion for those with autism.

  6. connieSue April 25, 2017 at 8:04 am #

    I don’t know much about Yoga Alliance’s process for approving a teaching class / curriculum, so it may vary by school that actually performs the teacher training. My studio had a twice a year program and a very extensive application to attend in order to assess whether the applicant was ready to be a teacher candidate. The application did require regular yoga practice and asked questions about why you want to become a teacher, relevance of yoga in your life, etc. While I never embarked upon the training there, I did feel that the school did try to vet out those who were not seeking certification without proper preparation.


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