or, the ongoing debacle of what the Yoga Alliance ISN’T

Sitting in my inbox recently was this article from DoYouYoga (DYY) on what to look for in a yoga teacher training. The author seems to have a sweet, inspiring story and the piece has some good points. So, great – right?

Except the article did something that drives me (and a lot of other teachers and trainers) crazy: It conflated the marketing site Yoga Alliance with the status of a credentialing body in our industry.

The Yoga Alliance is not a credentialing body in yoga. Let me be clear –

The Yoga Alliance is not a credentialing body.

One more time: The Yoga Alliance is not a credentialing body.

It does not set the standards for yoga teacher training in yoga, though it suggests its own guidelines. It does not guarantee compliance to its suggested guidelines (which it confusingly still wants to call “standards”). Though they create an opportunity to advertise yoga teachers and schools, and do create structure around how people present themselves (this teacher has X hours of training, this training promises to teach the following material, etc.), being “registered” with the Yoga Alliance in no way means the same thing as being, say, a Registered Massage Therapist. Yoga does not have a credentialing board, legal guidelines for training, an agreed-upon scope of practice, or a governing body. So, let’s all say it together again, one more time:

The Yoga Alliance is not a credentialing body.

I’m not saying anything the Yoga Alliance won’t tell you themselves. Hear it from the former Yoga Alliance CEO himself HERE.

What *is* the Yoga Alliance, then?

The Yoga Alliance (YA) is an American, fee-based marketing business (and a “non-membership public charity”  in the form of their voluntary, unregulated registry). People pay yearly fees to advertise themselves and their trainings through the YA website.

Now, the Yoga Alliance has been doing some interesting things lately. I’m very much for having standards in the yoga field. I’m happy to support any progress being made in that arena. The YA has been at least attempting to provide this through their guidelines. As well, I’ve been Yoga Alliance certified for the past few years in part because they’ve finally included a Canadian insurance option, and have offered a few discounts that essentially negate the registration fee for me. I’m cautiously optimistic that what they’re doing may be of some use to professional yoga teachers and schools.

I’ve also recently registered my yoga teacher training with them, as they’ve finally integrated social credentialing as a way to check that what schools say they offer is in fact what they offer (this was not done previously; it was an honour system). I’m offering online teacher training soon and I want to promote it to a larger audience; now that they offer social credentialing, this is a reasonably good way to drive traffic to my online YTT (in much the same way a site like Trip Advisor helps drive traffic to well-rated restaurants or hotels).

I support what the Yoga Alliance stands forI would love for yoga to be regulated such that trainings had to be certified according to standardized, confirmed requirements in areas of competency in at least anatomy, kinesiology, biomechanics and basic clinical ethics. I would love for there to be a governing body to create and uphold a clear scope of practice for the physical practice of yoga, strong definitions of what we do – and what we don’t do – as yoga instructors with people’s bodies.

I would also love there to also be a union-esque governance in the industry that protects yoga teachers with standards that allowed yoga studios to build business models around enforced expectations for labour costs, rather than take poor risks and bank on paying their teachers shit in order to make up the difference (#notallstudios).

And I can appreciate that all of this is contentious and complicated, and met with stress in the yoga community. It’s a big, hairy issue that deserves more time to talk about than I’ve given here.

But let’s pare back down to yoga teacher trainings and how the Yoga Alliance does NOT set credentialing standards for them.

None of this kind of regulation and credentialing is what the Yoga Alliance actually does.

What does being Yoga Alliance Registered mean, then?

That’s a great question. Essentially, if a training is registered with the Yoga Alliance, it means it’s told the Yoga Alliance that its training complies with the Alliance’s guidelines for teachers and/or schools. So, for example, in a 200-hour training, a Yoga Alliance registered training has told YA that they’ll spend 25 of those hours as such:

Teaching Methodology: 25 Hours

Topics in this category could include, but are not limited to:

  • Communication skills such as group dynamics, time management, and the establishment of priorities and boundaries
  • How to address the specific needs of individuals and special populations, to the degree possible in a group setting
  • Principles of demonstration, observation, assisting and correcting
  • Teaching styles
  • Qualities of a teacher
  • The student learning process
  • Business aspects of teaching yoga* (including marketing and legal)

[and I would like to draw attention to this “special requirement”:

*Special Requirement: A maximum of five hours related to the business aspects of teaching yoga may be counted towards the Yoga Alliance Contact Hours requirements for this category.

Good luck surviving in the world of yoga teaching with a MAXIMUM of FIVE HOURS spent talking about the business aspects of teaching yoga. If the training you’re considering is abiding by these guidelines, that’s all you’re getting. I include more time on the biz of yoga in hours designated outside of these categories in my own YTT, as I define on my YA YTT page.]

Being registered with the Yoga Alliance also means that the teacher or school has paid a fee to have a public page within the YA website. As I’m testing this year, this allegedly means the Yoga Alliance is putting me and my training in front of a large, targeted audience.

It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not an arrival. When a yoga teacher is “registered” with the Yoga Alliance, it means they’ve made public what they teach and have paid a fee to have a public profile with the site, in hopes that it generates leads for them.

So, to summarize …

If you’re looking for this little symbol on a yoga teacher or yoga school’s page:

Yoga Alliance Registered School 200 hours

understand that it means that the school or teacher is really just doing their best to display credibility in a professional space that struggles to clarify what that credibility might be. It may indicate a good training with excellent internal standards – and it may not. It certainly won’t guarantee that those standards are being met in any way.

Because … let’s say it together again (and again):

The Yoga Alliance is not a credentialing body.

I encourage you, if you’re Yoga Alliance anxious, to go to the Yoga Alliance for what it does do; namely, it gives your face/school some visibility through their website, and may send some clients your way. You may also get a few discounts on yoga clothes or insurance, and you can sign up for some of their webinars or peruse through their teaching resource videos. There’s some cool stuff in there.

But don’t look to the Yoga Alliance for credentials. That’s not what it does.

 


J Brown, as usual, has some fascinating things to say on this subject, should you wish to explore it further:

The incendiary initial rant: Yoga Alliance Approved My Ass – J Brown

The follow-up, when we all felt like Giving Yoga Alliance a Chance – J Brown

And the wonderfully straight-forward summary of why that follow-up hasn’t worked for him: What Now Yoga Alliance? – J Brown

 

For the record, Pranalife Yoga Teacher Training is an ESDC Certified Institution in Canada, meaning it’s federally recognized by our government as a professionalizing institution with standards that can be checked by a governing body. It’s not a perfect solution either, but we’ve taken steps to become an accredited school that provides skills in the profession in which you’re signing up to be trained, as defined by federal standards. It also means we can issue T2202A tuition tax receipts for our training.

Learn more about Pranalife Yoga Teacher Training HERE.

It’s one of the ways we’ve grown accustomed to interacting, particularly in online spaces: A casual conversation or a post about some interesting tidbit degrades (rather quickly) into aggressive accusations, misunderstandings, agitation, personal attacks, and a generally shitty feeling about the whole encounter. After a decade of social media staining every facet of our (modernized and technologically privileged) lives, we’ve likely all gotten sucked into the mire at some point. Some suffer it more, and more intensely than others – and the overall effect is that we’re left feeling less safe, less happy, less respected … we’re left with a lot LESS.

There aren’t good signs that this situation is improving anytime soon. Political poles repel people into their corners, gender/race/economic/social/religious topics are like dry grass just *waiting* for the hot fire of one incendiary comment to be made or misunderstood. Hell, even in the yoga “community” space, allegedly full of free and loving folk, there are oft-devolving threads dripping with a vitriol that seems downright unnecessary. We’re really not good at being gentle with each other.

It all makes me feel sad … and old. I find myself responding with sentences that start with, “In my day …” Which of course isn’t true. Bullying is actually the oldest human profession, shrouded in some vacuous subconscious mess of craving for parental approval/discipline, a drastically misguided striving for alleged “alpha” status, or perhaps just the basic primal urge to distance ourselves from the weak in the pack by acting like aggressors to signal relative strength. Or none of that, who the fuck knows. What’s clear is that humans have an embarrassingly short fuse when it comes to anger, insecurity, and aggression.

So what’s a yogi to do?

Well, I have no real idea. I haven’t found anyone who does. There are likely better ways of being a good person, but is there an actual “yogic protocol” for how to handle all of this suffering? NOPE. There’s so little consensus on what yoga even is, never mind how to subscribe to it as a system by which to live, I say good luck to anyone who tries to do so in any formal way.

So … what’s a yogi to do?

Here’s what I think (since this is my space to share my thoughts; you’re free to have your own thoughts that you can express in your own space, of course): Anything can be used as a tool to support our greater intention(s). Whether or not what I’m doing is considered (by whom?) to be the “right” (by what standards?) “yogic” approach (what’s that?), is it actually helping me be the person I want to be in the world? I’m tired of trying to do battle in the world of titles and constructed categories intended to calcify organic adaptation. As well, people have used the titles of “yoga” and “yogic” to hurt as well as help, so there’s no magic in the water, y’all. In that vein, I think “what’s a yogi to do?” is the wrong question. Here’s a better one:

What do YOU/I WANT to do?

Behind this question is, I think, an even more piercing and insightful one, from the world’s Jann-Arden-of-life-guides, Danielle LaPorte: How do you/I want to FEEL?

Roll with me for a bit here. I recently became unintentionally embroiled in one of these innocuous-turned-unnecessarily-aggressive online comment thread blatherings. You know the ones: It starts with a posting about some thing, then is followed by people spouting opinions, unearthing a feast of conflict, and then promptly devouring it with fierce rigour. I got caught in the gravity of the comment event horizon and was half a dozen retorts in before I pulled myself back from the adrenaline rush and race for the last word. Two egos duking it out, looking for that conciliatory moment that never NEVER comes, punching the commentary shit out of each other until indeterminate defeat declares the winner to be … exactly no one.

I don’t know what that guy was feeling, but I know I had to consciously detach. I was hurt because the attack was (seemingly purposely?) done in a public thread meant to shame me in front of my peers and elevate (?) this person to a status of “greater know-it-all”. I was confused because the accusations seemed unfounded. I was angry. I wanted vengeance. I wanted to put this guy in his place. I wanted …

WHAT THE ACTUAL F. How did I go from being someone who adores being professionally passionate about freedom from suffering to some yogi Gollum in under a dozen back-and-forths here? My sense of calm and balance was shot, my energy was zapped, and I was feeling deflated. I was failing at being who I wanted to be. Big time.

I went to bed. And I woke up with a jolt at 3:30am. My mind was still chewing that bone, adrenaline still leaking into my body. I felt agitated. I felt like I’d missed an opportunity to be gentle, and had been self-protective instead.

So, I got up and had a glass of water, did a few stretches, and settled back into bed with a different approach: metta.

I laid in bed and sent this dude good vibes. And I felt better.

Who do you/I want to BE?

I don’t know if I’m being a good or bad “yogi”. I don’t even know anymore if I’m allowed to be a yogi, based on everything from where I was (and wasn’t) born, whether my position on forward folding in the mornings (I don’t do it, I don’t teach it) makes me worthy of basic respect from other yogis, right through to my stance (or lack thereof) on Hindu nationalism. I do, however, know what I wanted to do, feel, and be in this situation. Rather than angry, vicious, and vindictive, I wanted to be strong, gentle, and compassionate. I wanted to stop myself from feeling violence towards someone I didn’t know who seemed to mean me harm for no good reason. I wanted to stop feeling unsafe, at the mercy of his actions in an online space where I spend time. I wanted to be the change I was seeking from that encounter.

I set aside as secondary the semantics about labeling, definitions, ownership of titles, critiques, and abstract positions. I just repositioned myself as a person who could be gentle with another person.

What did I lose? Well, the anxiety, tension, and maybe that argument in his eyes. Who gives a righteous F.

What did I gain? Honestly, what I wanted to gain was my own sense of happiness and connection again. It’s tough to be gentle these days. It’s tough to generate a sense of optimism. It’s tough to stay centred amidst the storms of criticism and biting sarcasm, actual horrifying violence and aggression. But that’s who I want to be: gentle, optimistic, and unshakeable. This may be a strange statement from a person who calls herself a yoga teacher and yoga teacher trainer, but I don’t care that much about the title of “yogi”. I see yoga as another (rather excellent) set of tools to support our intentions. It’s my intention to be strong, free, gentle, bold, useful, successful … which all really boils down to how I want to FEEL. Every situation can be a tool to feel more free, or to fuel our suffering. I’m not really trying to be a “good yogi”; I’m doing my best to feel more free, to make gentler choices.

Set yourself 10 minutes to be undisturbed. Be comfortable. Turn your attention to your breath without needing to change it in any way; simply watch it flow in and out of you.

Imagine you are sitting across from yourself. Take a moment to look into your own eyes. When you’re ready, say to yourself:

May you be at ease in the world.

May you feel safe and strong.

May you forgive, and be forgiven.

May you love, and be loved.

Rest in that moment. In a few breaths, imagine now that someone you love deeply has sat down across from you, where you yourself just sat. Gaze into her/his eyes and make a connection. When you’re ready, say to this person:

May you be at ease in the world.

May you feel safe and strong.

May you forgive, and be forgiven.

May you love, and be loved.

Enjoy the feeling. In a few breaths more, imagine that someone who casually crosses your path (a teacher, a barista, the cashier at your local grocery) has sat down across from you. Make eye contact and settle into that space. When you’re ready, say to this person:

May you be at ease in the world.

May you feel safe and strong.

May you forgive, and be forgiven.

May you love, and be loved.

Allow the image of that person to leave, and take a few breaths to feel centred again. Now, bring to mind someone who is difficult to love. You don’t have to go for the jugular here; just someone with whom you struggle. Feel as though that person has taken a seat across from you. Look them in the eye. Allow feelings to come and go while you stay rooted in the movement of your breath and the safety of your own space. When you’re ready, say to this person:

May you be at ease in the world.

May you feel safe and strong.

May you forgive, and be forgiven.

May you love, and be loved.

Sit with the thoughts and feelings that come and go for as long as you need. Then, let that person go and return to the movement of your breath. Feel yourself safe, and perhaps repeat the metta practice for yourself again.

Gently inhale, exhale.

Metta meditation with Pranalife Yoga May you be at ease in the world/ may you feel safe and strong; may you forgive and be forgiven; may you love and be loved.