Whence Credibility Comes

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As the evolution of yoga in the modern world continues its slow-motion metamorphosis from ancient wisdom culture to fitness craze to no-one-knows-what-yet, expertise has become a highly sought after premium. The 200-hour teacher training model has managed to bring in enough revenue over the last 7-10 years to make up for shortfalls and keep pace with gentrifying rents, but now that the meme of certificate mills producing ill-equipped and injurious teachers has become ubiquitous, everyone is feeling the need to step up their game. The question is, how?

After 17 acquiescent years, the Yoga Alliance announced that it is undertaking a review of the 200/300/500 hour standards. However, it’s important to note that the organization has stated that it does not intend to assume authority but rather is looking to the yoga community, and experts in related fields, to have input and inform the process. Who will end up being heard, and how any sort of final determinations will be made, remains entirely to be seen.

Among those who remember a time before hours, a sly nod is often shared.

What a gross irony it is that most of the people considered to have expertise in yoga did not participate in a yoga teacher training, certainly not as we have come to define them. And if they have been through a registered training, it was usually an afterthought based in fear, formality, or financial interest. The convention of structuring yoga teacher training according to hours has largely become accepted as a necessary evil. As a way to provide some sort of objective metric that allows people to have an idea about what they're paying for. 

The stubborn paradox is that no one really knows what they’re going to get when they enter into a study of yoga. And the marketing of yoga instruction, too often divorced from the purpose behind the product, colors perception in ways that lessen the value of sincere practice based on individual discovery. Only through the courage and profound trust in one’s own ability to make sense of their thoughts, feelings, and experiences does anyone come to an understanding of yoga, and perhaps be in a position to teach it. There is simply no way to break it down to hours, and we may have done ourselves a grave disservice by succumbing to inertia and convenience.

Silver linings weigh heavily in the calculus.

Despite the restrictions and fallacy of hours-based training, there is still lots of deep learning going on in yoga spaces. In many instances, yoga teachers are finding ways to be true to their practice and still provide value to the people who pay for their efforts. But, to be clear, this is readily accomplished more by way of tacit agreements among teachers and students. The standards have little to do with it outside of placating misconceived notions of legitimacy. When it works, the teacher trainer earns the right to assume leadership by being held accountable for doing so, and can back up whatever claims they make through the example and testimony of those who study with them.

The conventional teacher-training model has become an integral part of the financial health of yoga centers and senior teachers. This is a matter of necessity more than greed. No one is making much money off of drop-in yoga classes. That people are more willing to spend thousands of dollars for a clearly defined piece of time, instead of simply attending classes regularly, is why group classes have shortened in length and become less about education. Yoga centers have been forced to find ways of scheduling training programs that emphasize convenience over commitment. 

Credibility can’t be measured in hours, and the most effective yoga is often a result of intuition more than knowledge.

People are convinced that more hours is the answer. Everyone is looking to distinguish themselves from the pack. But the wisdom holders that we look to model in this regard have obtained their abilities not through intensive weekends or month-long retreats. The yogic expertise that they posses came through undetermined periods of time, marked by unstructured self-inquiry, intuitive decisions, and unplanned life events.

Cultivating the intuition necessary for self-empowerment and yogic understanding has become overshadowed by the need to protect ourselves against magical thinking, the adverse effects of crumbling authority figures, and the socioeconomic obstacles created by the business of yoga teacher training. Those who demonstrate a degree of competency know that their studies and practice are only so good as they serve the intuition that is the doorway to the unexplainable something that makes yoga work. Placing value on intuition makes people nervous because there is no way to measure it. 

Truth can set us free, but is entirely subjective.

In the upcoming conversations about yoga teacher training standards, the impulse will likely be to expand upon the hours-based regime we currently live under. When bottom lines and financial survival are at stake, imagining something else feels too radical a departure and impossible. However, if we do not entertain other means to establish credibility and expertise in yoga, merely continuing to propagate the subtle dishonesty that hours-based training imposes, chances are we will likely bring about unforeseen consequences that are far worse.

I owned a yoga center for ten years. I have been a yoga teacher trainer for the last nine. Anyone who has assumed those roles, or is considering it, knows that there is a sham element to the way we are conducting yoga teacher training. The reason is because we are stuck on the hours model. What would it mean if we were to just let go of hours? What if teachers were to structure their trainings however they felt was best and YA got out of the business of standards altogether? Schools and teachers could still register and be subject to the same scrutiny and accountability that “social credentialing” currently offers, the only level of enforcement that the YA is able to provide. Really, the question is: are we capable of imagining something new, or will we merely continue to enable the shaky ground from which our credibility is strained.

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J. Brown

J. Brown is a yoga teacher, writer, and founder of Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn, New York. A teacher for 15 years, he is known for his pragmatic approach to teaching personal, breath-centered therapeutic yoga that adapt to individual needs. His writing has been featured in Yoga Therapy Today, the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, Elephant Journal and Yogadork.