This 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.