Flipping through the catalog for a big name yoga and retreat center, I was shocked to notice that they advertised their yoga teacher training programs as "Yoga Alliance Approved." Misrepresentations like this are the dirty little secret of the yoga industry. No one really wants to admit there is no accreditation for Yoga.
Anyone who claims to be "approved", "certified" or "licensed" by the YA is either grossly uninformed or disingenuous. The YA maintains a registry of yoga teachers and training programs. In filling out the paperwork and paying the fees, yoga teachers and training programs purport to follow a vague set of curriculum guidelines that are posted on the YA website and assume a service mark of RYT (Registered Yoga Teacher) or RYS (Registered Yoga School.)
What no one ever seems to acknowledge or mention is that the YA provides no oversight whatsoever. No one checks to see if anyone is actually doing what they say. Everyone is on the "honor" system. Consequently, the registry amounts to a digital rubber stamp or paid advertising. Not to mention, the YA does not disclose what they do with the money they collect from the Yoga community.
Even if everyone is being true to their word, referring to the YA guidelines as "standards" is quite a stretch. For example, being registered at the 200 hr level is said to have 20 hours of yoga philosophy. Generally, this entails a cursory reading of Patanjali's Yoga Sutra's and a written test, kind of like reading the chapter and answering the summary questions in my 9th grade social studies class.
Given the profound diversity of texts and interpretations that exist within Yoga philosophy, simply designating 20 hours of time means absolutely nothing.
Don't get me wrong, I feel strongly about Yoga teachers and schools being held to high standards. My point is that Yoga is not an academic pursuit. Attempts to standardize Yoga training into a set of requisite hours completely undermines yoga pedagogy, which is not contingent on time.
"Standards" implies greater quality, not a specific quantity of time spent on who knows what. If we want to encourage more qualified yoga teachers, lets start talking about "competencies" instead of hours and, more importantly, lets be straightforward with the public so they can make informed choices.
Brian Castellani, founder of yoganomics.net, has been leading a personal crusade to hold the YA to account for its misgivings. Initially, he was hoping to bring integrity back to the YA but, as he has continued to dig into the YA's activities and policies, his sentiments have changed. He recounts a conversation with Jeanine Frest, the longest standing employee of the YA up until she quit in 2010, where she said, "Maybe it would be better to scrap everything and start over."
I can already hear my wife's criticism of this post. When I mentioned to her the topic I was taking on, she said, "Oh really? I think its better when you stay 'positive' like last month's thing on Nurturing." She thinks I do myself a disservice by inviting controversy and she is probably right.
I almost heeded her call until a recent exchange with an editor at the megalith of yoga-related publishing. She told me that the credo for their bloggers is "What are you adding to the conversation?" I didn't think it wise to speak my mind as freely as I might but what I really wanted to say was, "What conversation?"
As far as I can tell, there is not much of a real conversation happening. In risking the ire of others, I suppose I'm hoping to get one started. I don't think holding the Yoga industry's feet to the fire by shining a light on hypocrisies and inconsistencies is negative. In fact, Yoga encourages this sort of discernment.
Yoga also encourages truthfulness. The fact that the only trade organization offering a title to Yoga professionals is not an example of being truthful does not speak well to the profession of Yoga.
At the very least, any trade organization that wants to represent the yoga community must operate with complete transparency and accountability. Members of that organization must also do the same. Anything less is a discredit to Yoga and deserves scrutiny.
Read the follow up: Giving Yoga Alliance a Chance