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Make Up or Break Up: Yoga Alliance, What Have You Done for Us Lately?

in Business of Yoga, YD News

Our latest article for YogaCityNYC:

So it goes with many a great relationship, when sheen starts to lose luster, and that dreaded shroud of doubt creeps in. A woeful, ‘We just don’t talk anymore’ leads to ‘Where has the romance gone?’ to a resentful ‘You only love me for my money!’

No, we’re not lamenting an old flame, but referring to our strained engagement with daddy mack, Yoga Alliance. The students and teachers have grown tired of YA’s empty promises, lack of communication, and little in return for our investment.

YA, this diamond ring doesn’t shine for us anymore.

There have been changes: a new president, a new twitter and facebook image, a shiny new website featuring staff bios for some 20 or so program specialists, program managers, and program associates, which would be even more interesting if they told us the difference between each.

Yoga Alliance has a new face, but can they deliver? And what exactly are they delivering again?

Founded in 1999, Yoga Alliance’s current mission statement claims to be a “support organization for yoga in the United States.” What’s clear is the party of ‘99 is over and a new era of yoga has ushered in thousands of practitioners and instructors, and millions more in industry profit. We’d like to trust that Yoga Alliance, the largest yoga organization in the country, to whom many dutifully send their registration checks every year, would have our backs in a fight, standing up as ethical champions rather than slinking away like greedy gold diggers.

Yet, for a teacher at the 200hr level your $80 registration fee ($55 yearly renewal) and an optional $25 for additional training such as pre-natal, yields nothing more than an “RYT” suffix and your name in the directory.

“It’s just a rubber stamp, there’s no oversight,” says J. Brown, of Abhyasa, who points out that just about anyone and everyone can register. Trained at a non-registered school? No problem! That’ll be $155. For your convenience, major credit cards are accepted and submitting online takes just two days. That is, if the database is functioning correctly.

It sure seems like a lot to shell out for paperwork processing, which is where all the money goes, according to freshly appointed YA president, John Matthews, when pressed about financial transparency at a Yoga for NY meeting this past November, shedding light on the subject like a lit match on the dark side of the moon. (And we are still wondering how rubber stamping paperwork can cost that much.)

Yoga schools can pay a minimum of $350 for a new registration to show they meet the minimum training standards as approved by Yoga Alliance, but more studio owners like Mel Russo, of Yoga High, remain unconvinced of its real value. “I love the idea of having standards and regulations, I think that’s very important.  Clearly YA set out to be that organization, but obviously failed on so many levels,” says Ms. Russo who runs teacher training and has no plans to register.

“It’s just a middleman, a place to give your money to seem relevant, when it’s actually not,” says Bryn Chrisman, a director at Yogamaya, even after admitting to registering the studio’s new 200hr training in order to appease public opinion. There has to be some bar to measure from, doesn’t there? Even if to quell the fears of potential students or a hiring manager at a gym looking for a mark of credibility, to act as starting guidelines for yoga schools with teacher training, or as Bryn points out, to obtain certain liability insurance.

Not if you ask Leslie Kaminoff, of The Breathing Project, who informed us of playing a part in the original YA standards-setting team, though is now regretful. “If there are people out there who want to set high standards, then do it,” he says, in support of word of mouth and reputation over registration status. “What the hell do you need the Alliance for?”

Contrary to popular belief, Yoga Alliance presents the standards, but does not, repeat, does not enforce them. This may come as a surprise to those who assume Yoga Alliance follows up with a program after fees have been paid. But, in fact, John Matthews was at a loss in answering who had created the standards in the first place (we suppose he doesn’t know Leslie), how they keep track of a studio’s integrity, or who might convene to reassess guidelines in the future. To be fair, various initiatives have been presented in idea phase for improved oversight and readdressing standards, but choosing officials to perform these duties is as murky as trying to set the same rules for power vinyasa and kundalini.

Still, there may be hope! Alison West, founder of Yoga for NY, and strong believer in the communal/service aspect of YA ‘s potential, shares her “guarded optimism” on their success “if they’re willing to listen more to what members and nonmembers have to say.”

“Many people have felt in the past and still do that their comments have been completely ignored. It’s an essential ingredient in improving their relationship,” says Ms. West, who created Yoga for NY out of the state licensing crisis, a battle that was fought without the help of Yoga Alliance, who some say caused the debacle by leaking the database of studios to the government.

Dana Flynn of Laughing Lotus echoes the cautious, yet positive vibe: “The beauty of Yoga Alliance disappearing on us is that all of us got together. We all felt the bigness and potent roll that we all have coming together, finding the unity and diversity, the power of being together.”

United we stand? And together we will go forth to navigate ongoing debates on standards, credibility, and the hairy, imminent topics of yoga therapy and healthcare, continuing ed. in specialties like prenatal and kids yoga, government regulation and increasing anatomy requirements – the one thing just about everyone seems to agree on! Is that worth your yearly dues?

Yoga Alliance, an organization founded so “the public can be confident of the quality and consistency of instruction” has a lot still to prove. They have categorically refused to speak to the press, even Yogacity, the news organization of the NY yoga community, so we can’t ever actually find out whe they are doing.

So we’ve arrived at a crossroads in our relationship, left to ponder their commitment and our investment into a relationship that, lately, has produced little more than bureaucratic headaches and an RYT rubber stamp. But even naysayers agree, what we want is clarity, communication, and support. And a truthful answer when we ask the question, “So, Yoga Alliance, what have you done for us lately?”




34 comments… add one
  • Lots of food for thought…I send in my registration every year and I often wonder why. I guess I like having a card in my wallet that says I’m a yoga teacher next to my grocery store club cards. Maybe I should start taking that out to see if I will get a discount like when I show my AAA card…

  • Amen, sister. The only thing YA has done for me is taken an inordinately long time to process my paperwork. I hope that between the restructuring of the YA and fired-up yoga teachers, we can create a system that gives well-trained teachers proper street cred, which is pretty much all I’m asking for.

  • The usefulness of YA is absolute fiction – the more so when you flip through the Yoga Journal Yoga Directory and see how many courses around the world are YA approved. The organization is solely set up for the United States, as it says in its mission statement. Yet all over the world people want to kowtow to the supposed US authority of Yoga…

    Yes, standards of education are good. But so is enforcement of those standards. What is the point of having one without the other? I understand Mr. Kaminoff’s concern about regulation and legislation by the government and I do hope that the fantastic teachers who’ve banded together when YA was absent will find a way to move forward with the idea of the YA put into better practice and use. In the meantime, it’s up to those who choose to chuck YA to set their own goals and standards for learning and practice self responsibility in that sphere.

  • Thank you for posting this! I personally feel that YA is not the solution to date for a providing standards and regulation accreditation, as the lines of communication are n/a. YTT standards are clearly a deep and dirty issue, especially with respect to gaining the status there is true potential for: becoming a credible therapeutics system . I strongly agree that there is a lack of basic kin, physiology and knowledge of functional anatomy/bio-mechanics with teachers in the mainstream. Its this that leads to injuries and …well..we can see the fuzzy future. 200 hours is a sliver of time to touch on all the elements of the human experience that yoga takes a bite into. Anyways – before taking over the comment section – a link: torontomindbody.com has a video of a recent community meeting covering this topic.

  • Tomako

    Thank you for your honesty in putting this article together. Its about time Yoga teachers recognized what registration really is. It’s not worth the card that arrives 3 months late.

    Worse yet, how many registered Yoga teachers are running around with an expired certification? Oops! In the case of expired certification: Your liability insurance company has a huge loop hole, if you ever need protection.

  • Thanks for this very thorough and informative update.

    Bob W., Yoga Editor
    Elephant Journal

  • Excellent! Thank you, this is just the post I needed to read re my renewing with YA. I have been a yogini for forty freakin’ years. Somehow have felt obligated to be a part of YA to increase my credibility? in the yoga world. I am part of the Kripalu family of creating excellence in this ancient field and they deliver the goods! I will ‘sit’ with this and pass on your Yoga DORK, not so dorky, words of wisdom. Thank you. xoxo

  • Paulette

    Registering individual instructors has always seemed redundant. If one graduates from a training that meets YA’s standards then the only advantage I can see to being a member is the opportunity to support YA financially.

    • Missy

      Exactly. I completed 230 hours from a reputable program. I dont need to keep proving that by sending money into an abyss every year. I have my graduation certificate from my teacher if anyone wants to see it 🙂 And have completed plenty other trainings and workshops since. I do see the benefit to YA receiving financial support so they can uphold standards and sanction legit TT programs, but that $ should come from the studios, not me.

    • Sam

      Precisely. And that is why I don’t ever bother with YA. If someone were to question my credentials I could very quickly and easily point to the yoga studio that I was trained at to show they’re YA approved.

  • Elizabeth

    I’ve got my RYT 200, and am working on RYT 500. I investigated two RYT 500 programs, both YA registered. Neither of them meets the requirement that the program be advanced training that requires the 200-hour training as a foundation (though both require completing a 200-hour first) and not merely additional hours. One of them initially rquired repeating some of the 200-hour content–but that program also requires you take the exact same training hours more than once in order to finish (i.e. you take module 1, then you repeat module 1–exactly the same).

    The advantage of YA is that if provides a super minimal–and I mean super minimal–outline of requirements, and in theory protects the public from the “I read a book once and now I am a yoga teacher” crowd. It is a small advantage.

    Too bad there is even a need to ‘enforce’ or ‘police’ registered schools. isn’t there something in the yamas and niyamas about being honest? Shouldn’t a yoga school that agrees to follow certain guidelines/provide certain hours just DO IT?

  • I propose a new alliance. The alliance will be called The Teachers Circle. The Teachers Circle will include all the good parts of The Yoga Alliance. Unity, information, and continuing education are the important things. As a new teacher myself, this is what I look for. The Yoga Alliance has given me that. Speaking negatively does not and has not done anything to solve problems. Perhaps instead of listing everything we dislike, we should list all things we do like. If you have interest in becoming a part of The Teachers Circle go to yogi-dojo.com. No membership fee required!

  • Such a well written article and filled with so many of the same questions I have about Yoga Alliance. I belong, though am not sure what I’m really getting from it except that there is a modicum of credibility that they lend to my title as “yoga instructor”. However, in the end I think that credibility is really my own responsibility. I’m curious to see how this debate with YA goes and if they will be any more relevant going forward.

  • I’m just not buying it…YA or any other proposed set-up. When yoga therapy comes of age, these off-shoots should be handled by the medical community and come with standards of their devising. As for the rest of the yoga world, teaching to the general public, the standards should be and are imposed by the students. If you can build a student base, you earn your right to exist as a teacher, for better or worse. As the saying goes, cream rises to the top. Admittedly, sometimes the shit does too. Either way, I don’t think there is any book of standards or vote by committee that can oversee the industry to the degree that would justify the fees and paperwork. It’s just plain ridiculous.

    For the record, I have taught successfully for 7 years without the benefit of registering with YA and none of my training was YA approved. Set your sites on minimum requirements and that’s exactly what you get.

  • This is why I stopped sending YA money!

  • “Speaking negatively does not and has not done anything to solve problems. Perhaps instead of listing everything we dislike, we should list all things we do like. ” Ashley, there is great value in critical analysis. I find too many people in the yoga world dismiss all critical, intellectual debate and critique as base level judgment. Anti-intellectualism gets people no where. We need to think about these issues, not just say “this is bad” and “this is good.” In fact, I think discussions like this can help lead folks to the “things that we like” in a more thoughtful, thorough way. I’m all for digging into YA, and considering alternative approaches through that digging.

  • I’m really still not sure what yoga alliance does for me personally except give me some sort of “street cred” on the websites at the studios where I teach. I paid my money and it took them almost two months to send me a flimsy YA card. Yes, I can say I’m registered and yes I can be included in the directory, but I haven’t seen a single student who has come to me that way. Completing a 200H YA registered program is pretty much required to teach anywhere I live, but since all the programs are so different I’m not sure why.

    Connecting with my friends about what their 200H entailed versus mine it seems as though there is virtually NO supervision over what 200H means other than 200 actual hours of training. I’m aware of at least one 200H program starting this year that will be run by a newer teacher and I as stunned it was able to get the OK from YA to go at all.

    At this point in time I’m fairly certain that the only thing I get besides a wimpy card is a discount at several yoga stores. So really, YA hasn’t done a whole lot for me lately.

  • Well done, Yoga Dork -you’ve got YA so flustered they’ve dove deep into their email lists and sent something out about the ‘what’ they do for us…

    I’ve not been a YA registered teacher since 2007, maybe even 2006, and when I was, I wasn’t listed on the registry with my correct address despite several alerts to them AND I received a grand total of one email from them ever regarding anything.

    So, when they included in the email today ‘Because you are a Registered Yoga Teacher, YA Insider will arrive in your inbox every other Friday.’ I snorted very hard and ran over here to tell you all about it. YA…the only word I can come up with is wankers. I’m glad I don’t live in the US anymore.

  • Sangeetha

    Many thanks to Yoga Dork for bringing light to the need for honesty.

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