After fifteen years of affiliation with Yoga Alliance, I have decided to revoke my registration. I will no longer be individually associated with Yoga Alliance as an RYT yoga instructor nor will I register any further yoga schools with Yoga Alliance.
I will continue to teach workshops, immersions, retreats, and courses. They simply will not be associated with Yoga Alliance. I will also no longer call my immersions “Teacher Trainings.”
There are several reasons for this decision. I encourage other yoga instructors to read this and consider the best way forward for themselves and for the practice of yoga.
1) Yoga Alliance is based on a faulty premise, and this is hurting Yoga in a big way.
Yoga Alliance, for all its talk of standards, is built around a fabricated standard based on an inherently false premise — the idea that 200-hours of training is a sufficient minimum level of yoga education for a person to become a yoga teacher.
Simply put, 200 hours of training is not an adequate baseline standard.
I say this not to disparage any of the great up and coming teachers out there or the hard work they’ve put in. This is not a criticism of the enthusiastic practitioners of yoga or of their desire to share the practice.
But it is important to understand point by point what the inexcusably low 200-hour standard — and the fact that, thanks to Yoga Alliance, it is the centerpoint around which the modern yoga world is constructed — is doing to yoga.
The yoga world is facing a massive glut of under-qualified teachers (There are currently 90,000+ RYTs within the Yoga Alliance system). The overall quality of yoga being offered and the connection to the actual roots of yoga has plummeted exponentially. While a certain level of watering down is to be expected any time a tradition jumps an ocean and turns into a commodity, in the yoga world it has reached ridiculous levels.
It is currently possible, within Yoga Alliance standards, for a person to take their first yoga class ever on the first day of a certain month and to be a Yoga Alliance registered yoga teacher by the end of that same month.
There is no discipline that I know of — in any field — in which one can claim the level of mastery necessary to teach other people that discipline within 200 hours. This isn’t a thing. This cheapens the practice, distances the practice from its roots, dramatically lessens the quality of what is being offered, and opens yoga up to criticisms of cultural insensitivity.
2) Yoga Alliance standards were fabricated without any connection to how Yoga is traditionally taught, and this is culturally insensitive
Beyond the devaluation and commercialization that comes with such a glut, it is important to understand that this 200-hour standard bears no resemblance to how yoga was traditionally taught and transmitted from teacher to student.
Basically, in creating standards for the yoga world, Yoga Alliance adopted a bodywork model — similar to the certification program one might take to become an LMT (licensed massage therapist). As far as I know, no Indian teachers of any of the major lineages of yoga were consulted in creating the 200-hour standard. The progenitors of modern yoga, all of whom were Indian, never intended for yoga to be taught by people who had very little practice experience. If one knows anything about Indian tradition, one knows how laughable the idea of someone teaching after mere months of practice is.
Yes, traditions change. We don’t live in the era of guru/shishya transmission in which a student probably wouldn’t teach until after 30 years of practice, nor, necessarily, should we. But in a time when issues of cultural sensitivity are front and center in public discourse, and the yoga world has come under increased scrutiny for appropriation and commodification, it is irresponsible for Yoga Alliance to continue to forward a system of standards that do not remotely reflect how yoga was traditionally transmitted and taught in India.
3) Low Yoga Alliance standards encourage studios to churn out low quality trainings, and Yoga Alliance does nothing about it
The 200 hour standard has become the hub around which the yoga world revolves. Again, this is not the students’ fault — they are products of a system. A system that Yoga Alliance created and that yoga studios buy into because for studios, offering a 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) is the most feasible way for them to stay financially afloat.
Such studios may be staffed by people who themselves only have a couple of years of experience. (It is also possible, within Yoga Alliance standards, for the same student who became a yoga teacher after a month to train other teachers after a mere two years). Studios offer teacher trainings with little thought as to whether their training staff can accurately answer questions on yogic history, present even a rudimentary knowledge of the Indian spiritual culture which birthed yoga, convey where yoga fits within systems of Indian philosophy, represent the physical practice well, truly understand or explain pranāyama, mantra, etc. Less tangibly, but no less importantly, teachers who are training other teachers may not have even started to truly embody the practice themselves.
This further waters down the teaching pool. Under-qualified studios train under-qualified teachers. The next generation of under-qualified teachers start training other teachers, and the quality level plummets even further. Again, at a time when yoga is being questioned along lines of cultural sensitivity and respect, how is this justifiable? In such a climate, one would think that Yoga Alliance would be scrupulously monitoring studios to make sure that they are adhering to at least basic standards and offering a certain quality of program. But they are not (more on this later). It is fundamentally more profitable for Yoga Alliance to have MORE registered teachers and schools vs. really paying attention to the quality of programs out there. This is not yoga, it is capitalism.
4) The emphasis on the 200 hour YTT created by Yoga Alliance forwards a value system that runs directly contrary to the principles of Yoga
The cycle that has been built around the 200-hour Yoga Alliance certified YTT and is perpetuated by studios and bought into by eager students mirrors larger societal systems of consumption and non-sustainability which yogic teachings are inherently critical of. The entire premise of 200 hours of study, quick turnaround trainings, flip-of-the-switch lifestyle change (hey look, now I’m a yoga teacher!), is exactly the vritti-fueled mentality that traditional yoga seeks to balance out.
While Iyengar, Krishnamacharya and Pattabhi Jois certainly charged money for their classes, and certainly wanted yoga to grow in the west, the current reality is not what they envisioned. The construction of a yoga machine based on churning out of thousands of new teachers per year directly contravenes yogic principles of Satya, Svādhyāya, Aparigraha, and — when fledgling teachers with almost zero knowledge of how to work with bodies are actually working with people’s bodies — Ahiṃsā. It is fundamentally unyogic.
One of the primary gifts that yoga has to offer in a world focused on endless production and forward movement, in a society bent on accomplishment, is the opportunity to drop in and center without thought of goals or outcomes. Such centering, in what I’ve observed as a former teacher trainer, does not happen when a student approaches a training already thinking of yoga as a career change. There is a marked difference in how a student approaches an immersion, for example vs. how they approach a 200-hour teacher training. Is what is needed in the world right now more quick turn-around yoga teachers? Or is it more time for practitioners to truly calm and come to center?
The problems with this non-sustainable cycle are evident, both for the practitioner, the studio, and the yoga world at large. Yet rather than seek to remedy these issues, Yoga Alliance actively profits from this non-sustainable cycle and promotes it. The institution of a low standard is the perfect vehicle for Yoga Alliance to at once claim to be the standard setter and at the same time profit from the fact that when it comes down to it, there are basically no standards.
5) Yoga Alliance does not actually monitor and regulate the standards that it sets
Even if you buy that there should be a western organization regulating the yoga world along self-created (and inarguably low) standards, the sad truth is that Yoga Alliance doesn’t actually regulate.
I’ve helped launch 5 yoga schools. In none of my dealings with Yoga Alliance has there been a hint of monitoring or a question of standards. I could have frankly been teaching anything this entire time and calling it yoga and Yoga Alliance would keep collecting my annual fee and looking the other way.
In my dealings with Yoga Alliance employees, they do not seem qualified or empowered to care about anything other than whether the forms on their website are correctly filled out. That is the extent of quality control. Once a school is approved there is no follow up, no surveys, no communication other than a reminder to pay the annual fee.
Schools that are unquestionably offering teachings that are not linked to any yogic tradition whatsoever, schools that offer practices that by any definition are non-yogic, even schools that have accusations of mental and physical abuse are allowed to continue on with their Yoga Alliance certification.
If the counter argument is that the yoga world is too big to adequately monitor, this only proves all of the above points even further. How has it gotten this way? How have we ended up in the unsustainable situation we are in?
6) It is difficult to reasonably conclude that Yoga Alliance exists for any other purpose than to make money
Within a system that from any objective perspective leaves itself open to plummeting quality, easily skirtable standards, and unsustainable growth, Yoga Alliance is in the position to actively monitor, to raise standards to a level that would change the face of the yoga world, to implement real and agreed upon guidelines for what it means to be a yoga teacher, to put their foot down on (or at least make statements condemning) such aberrations as ‘beer yoga’, to discredit schools that are clearly abusing the system, and on and on. With over $7 million in assets in the bank and an annual payroll of $1.2 million (I’d be interested to see a breakdown on that number by staff member), Yoga Alliance is certainly in a position to do more. All I can conclude is that they don’t want to.
Ultimately, I am leaving Yoga Alliance because I don’t want to perpetuate a system that runs contrary to yogic principles, that has exponentially lowered the quality of teaching and understanding in the yoga world, is culturally disrespectful, and that forwards the very type of consumptive and non-sustainable behavior that yoga fundamentally seeks to move us away from.
A personal note.
When I began offering teacher trainings 7 years ago, it was after a lifetime of immersion in Indian thought and tradition. I grew up in a Zen Buddhist community. I lived in India at age 13 where I encountered — and studied — the cosmologies of Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism. I studied Sanskrit. I practiced Tibetan Buddhism diligently for the next 8 years. I studied massage therapy and had a 1000 hr massage therapy certification. I taught advanced Anatomy and Physiology at the New Mexico Academy of Healing Arts. I had 5 years of martial arts experience and over a decade of dedicated yoga practice. Most importantly, I had actually studied yogic tradition. I could name the central texts of yoga. I understood where yoga sits within Indian tradition. I had done years of mantra practice within the context of direct lineage transmission and so I could at least reasonably explain what a mantra is. (You now have teachers prescribing mantras who’ve never themselves done any significant mantra practice.)
With all this, and given what I observed in the yoga world, I felt that I was in a place to offer something that was needed — a teacher training linked to the root texts and original intent of yoga practice.
Despite this level of study, I still felt trepidation when I began offering teacher trainings. I couldn’t put my finger on it. What I came to see was that the emphasis on churning out teachers was the problem. That if I truly wanted students to experience the space of ‘yoga’ — the calming of the consciousness — that I had to remove the expectation that trainings would lead to a goal.
As I mention in the opening paragraph, I will continue to offer immersions and retreats. I will no longer use the words ‘teacher trainings’. These immersions will not be associated with Yoga Alliance. Students won’t be able to be cash them in for pointless ‘hours’. Ultimately, what are hours? The practice is the practice of lifetimes. 10,000 hours is a number generally associated with mastery. Courses I offer, over time, will yield the result they yield based on the practice and dedication of the student. What matters ultimately is if a practitioner is able to embody the teachings in their lives. That is what will make them good teachers in the long run. Not a quantifiable number of hours.
For those students who took one of my 200 hour trainings, I’m sure you will remember that I always emphasized that 200 hours was merely opening the door. I hope that you benefited from the study that you undertook. I know some of you are teaching. I encourage you, in no uncertain terms, to keep studying, and at some point to study within one of the uninterrupted lineages of yoga practice.I encourage you to study, at some point, in India. I encourage you to study the source texts from those who truly study them and know them. And perhaps to consider withholding that which you are not truly able to claim that you deeply understand. Practices such as mantra, visualization based meditation, and pranāyama were traditionally not given openly to beginners. They were transmitted within a lineage context. Mantra particularly required very deep understanding. Do not let the drive to make your classes different or marketable take you into the trap of teaching that which you are not ready to teach.
It is always worth asking — have I mastered this well enough to teach it?
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for your attention. I will be following up this statement with several pro-active things that I will be offering in the coming months and years.
With deep respect for the practice of yoga,