An Update to “How Yoga Alliance is Ruining Yoga”
My intention in posting “How Yoga Alliance is Ruining Yoga” on January 7 was to encourage the organization to raise their minimum yoga teacher training standards, which are followed by most US schools. On that front, the article failed. The standards remain, with little editing in the decade and a half since they were originally introduced. Yoga Alliance’s public responses to the post, on their site and elsewhere, have focused on everything but the teacher training standards that the article questioned.
I never imagined that, five months later, “How Yoga Alliance is Ruining Yoga” would be one of the top results when “Yoga Alliance” is searched on Google, often in the number two position after Yoga Alliance’s own site. It’s been viewed over 50,000 times, with the average user lingering for over six minutes- ample time to read it all the way through. Over a hundred readers, many of them experienced yoga teachers who have undertaken yoga instructor training, have contributed thoughtful responses that either support or disagree with some or all that I’ve voiced.
Another surprise in the post analytics was the relatively microscopic amount of traffic driven to the article from Yoga Alliance’s own online responses to it. Together, their published posts have driven a total of 151 people to the original article, slightly more than one a day. That statistic, taken with their off-target messaging around the issue tells me that Yoga Alliance has become irrelevant.
People just aren’t that into you, Yoga Alliance.
In the time since publishing it, I’ve taken in all that the post has generated- from teachers, students, prospective teacher trainees, and from Yoga Alliance themselves. As a result, I’ve made big changes in what I am doing and saying. Here they are boiled down into a short list.
1. I am openly requesting that Yoga Alliance gets out of the business of setting standards.
Yoga Alliance membership has become considerably more valuable to its members in the past few years by adding benefits such as conferences, online seminars, group discounts for yoga professionals and healthy and safety courses such as Cpr training Brampton. It seems to me that Yoga Alliance is doing a good job in this role.
However, the original 1997 mission of Yoga Alliance founders , to develop “non-binding guidelines” for teachers and schools, has stagnated. If their response to the wave of criticism that my article generated had been more along the lines of, “Here is what we are doing to change the standards”, I’d fully support the change. But, their response was a far cry from what I’d hoped for, and web analytics reveal that few people care about their response anyway. So, it’s time for them to step away from their perceived legitimization of course curriculum, including designating skill levels for yoga teachers.
I am not hopeful that this will happen. When I toured the Yoga Alliance offices last September, I saw that, if you took out all the rooms there that are dedicated to processing applications, collecting fees, and printing and mailing certificates, there would not be much workspace left. Yoga Alliance probably isn’t about to give up that part of their business.
2. I support the creation of multiple credentialing systems, with voluntary membership by schools who share a common sets of core values.
One of Yoga Alliance’s oft-repeated responses to challenges to their standards is that the wide diversity among yoga schools limits their capacity to add rigor to the current standards. However, when I asked them in September 2013, how many registered schools focus primarily on teaching something other than asana, they said there was only one.
Nonetheless, I do agree with Yoga Alliance here. I do not think that one set of standards can possibly cover every yoga training. So, instead of using the lowest common denominator as the guide for standards, as Yoga Alliance has done, I would like to explore having multiple sets of standards for the multiplicity of practices that yoga teacher trainings teach.
The trainings I offer and the practice I do are built entirely around asana as part of the system that is laid out in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, as are many other contemporary trainings. My original post was specifically about how inadequate current standards are, if the aim is to educate people on using the physical body as a means to become more present. Classes taught at Yoga Alliance’s required level of skill don’t teach how to use the body to find the soul. Devoid of needed skill, Yoga Alliance-caliber asana class classes are often disguised as yoga behind masks of Indian fetishism, entertaining playlists, and a “whatever feels good” attitude. Those “let’s look like we are doing yoga” classes can be fun, interesting and helpful … but they are not asana. And that is because of Yoga Alliance.
We can certainly come up with a set of standards specifically geared toward actually teaching asana as yoga. And we can create unique sets of standards for different kinds of asana, and for non-asana training content. In addition to creating an opportunity to get more specific about what gets taught, having multiple designations will break up the monopoly of the current single registration option, which would create more space for some training curriculum to not be registered at all with any organization.
3. I am creating a space for dialogue.
While the profession that Yoga Alliance purports to represent has exploded in size and scope, the organization’s standards have remain little changed since they were written. Questioning the status quo should continue into and beyond whatever happens next. So, from the beginning, any standards-setting system needs a built-in tool that allows adaptability to changing times and increased understanding. Yoga Alliance has no such tool, unless they’re keeping it hidden- which defeats the purpose.
As a first step toward a replacement for Yoga Alliance, I’ve set up a page opening up this discussion to the people who are affected by it professionally, as students, teachers, and practitioners of asana and as business people. My next steps will be based on what I learn there.
It’s time for those of us who want a higher standard to begin to shape the specifics that higher standards might include.
4. I am phasing out my training’s Yoga Alliance validation for course curriculum.
Most yoga teacher trainings who register with Yoga Alliance do so because it makes marketing their program a little easier. But that marketing value is disintegrating. I no longer believe that the Yoga Alliance stamp of approval is necessary for any decent training.
The reality in the teacher training world is that, when prospective teacher trainees look for a school, they see Yoga Alliance’s name and seal on the websites of almost every training. Because of that, even training directors who don’t recognize Yoga Alliance’s authority over standards, like me, have decided that it’s easier to just register than it would be to educate users about Yoga Alliance and their minimum standards.
But, things are changing. Now, web searches for teacher training information yield results that expose the increasingly vocal criticism of Yoga Alliance standards. It’s less risky now to choose something other than the status quo.
However, teacher trainings are scheduled pretty far in advance. Because I have scheduled trainings through February 2015 that have been advertised as being Yoga Alliance-registered, I’ll maintain that registration until then. In the meantime, I am using their name and seal with stark minimalism in the materials that explain what my program offers. Anybody looking for information about whether we meet Yoga Alliance minimum standards will find it on our website, but it’s not front and center, and it includes an explanation of where American Yoga School stands on the whole Yoga Alliance issue.
And, for years, after educating my teacher trainees about Yoga Alliance’s impact on standards, I’ve asked them to consider holding off on seeking Yoga Alliance registration unless they need it for employment. The fact that very few of them have registered, even though most of them are employed as yoga teachers, further supports my observation that Yoga Alliance is irrelevant.
5. I am putting most of the content of my training online so that I can effectively increase the number of hours in my trainings.
Along with many other teacher trainers, I don’t think that 200 hours is enough time to create a competent asana teacher. However, adding a lot more hours to my course would create significant barriers of cost and time commitment and would make it less viable in the current 200-hour market that Yoga Alliance has helped form.
I’ve solved that problem by taking the curriculum part of my training online and using all of the live contact hours to apply what is learned online. Now, without raising tuition prices, we offer a 400-Hour training instead of a 200-hour; and a 1,000-hour training instead of a 500-hour. The live portions of each satisfy Yoga Alliance standards, and doubling the hours of training satisfies my standards. (Oddly, although every Ivy League school offers distance learning courses for credit, Yoga Alliance does not credit any online training toward any RYT status.)
When online instruction complements live training, we train a far more skilled teacher without adding much new cost. Further, there are other significant advantages that online training has over live training. The most important one is that, when the trainee learns the curriculum online, it frees up an equal number of hours of class time that used to be filled with lecture.
We use those newly liberated contact hours to apply the concepts learned online, something that there’s never too much of. So, instead of writing two or three sequences together, we write a dozen. And, instead of teaching just four times, trainees teach many more times. Instead of having one asana practice a day, now we have time for two. Shifting to online education doubles the knowledge, skill and experience of the graduate.
Life beyond Yoga Alliance can and should be shaped by the people who want to raise credibility for yoga teaching as a skilled application of a system that elevates quality of life for those who partake.
Whatever the style, a physical yoga practice is kept safe and on target only by a teacher who knows how to do those things. While there are plenty of teachers who do know these things, their skills exist in spite of Yoga Alliance’s minimum standards, not because of them.
Yoga Alliance has done nothing to raise, or even to maintain the standards of yoga teaching that existed before they came along. Their standards have not evolved at the pace that is needed in the current teacher training environment for a system that purports to classify yoga teacher training content. And they’ve responded to calls for change with statements explaining why they can’t do it, or what they are doing instead. It’s time for yoga professionals to move on.