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New Yoga Alliance CEO Aims to Win Back Trust with Professional Perks, Insurance and Actually Answering Phone Calls

in For Teachers, YD News

Yoga Alliance Registered

YA is sorry. Will you take them back?

Ask any ten yoga teachers in New York City how they feel about Yoga Alliance (YA) and you’ll find a pretty narrow set of opinions ranging from indifference to frustration.

Since its founding in 1999, Yoga Alliance has set baseline standards for teacher trainings and run a profitable registry of teachers who have graduated from certified training programs. Outsiders saw a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) as the equivalent of an MD or DPT – it meant that you’d been properly educated, trained, and knew what you were doing. But yoga teachers knew that those three letters were irrelevant when it came to enforcing educational standards of professionalism.  Even worse, YA didn’t seem to care about the interests of the community they represented.

Then, two years ago, things went from bad to worse in New York City when it became apparent that the studios who’d ponied up to be part of YA were specifically getting targeted for licensing and tax issues by the government – while studios who hadn’t bothered to join were not having any trouble at all.  When organizations like YogaCity NYC put in calls to find out what the heck was going on, a brick wall was thrown up.

In July, a new president and CEO, Richard Karpel, a lawyer with a strong background in the not-for profit world, stepped in to attempt to right the floundering organization. Alex Phelan sat down with Karpel to talk about the past and his vision for the future.

Alex Phelan: What are the biggest things that you are hoping to change about the way Yoga Alliance operates?

Richard Karpel: Two things are important to me: customer service and transparency.  The credentialing system is really all Yoga Alliance has done since it was formed in 1999. The biggest opportunity is to be the association for yoga teachers, yoga studios and teacher training programs. It’s a pretty amazing thing that yoga does not have an association to represent it.

This job is the best job I’ve ever had and it’s because of the huge opportunity to do great things for the yoga community. We’ve got the resources to do it, I’ve got a great staff, and financially we’ve got a healthy balance sheet. And also, the bar has been set incredibly low.

AP: That must make your job pretty challenging.

RK: YA has stumbled in the past, but what I’m finding is that people are pretty forgiving. All we can do is be transparent and answer questions and respond when necessary.  I was joking with people this weekend in DC, that expectations are so low that when I return phone calls or emails it’s already a surprising improvement.

AP: That’s funny.  It’s been argued that your finances have been opaque. Do you intend to make them more transparent?

RK: Transparency is really important to me. It’s an issue that YA has had real problems with. I saw that even when I was interviewing for the job, trying to get information about the organization, going online and just being a little disturbed about how the organization didn’t provide it.

AP: What services do you hope to offer through YA?

RK: At the beginning of the year, we announced a bunch of new benefits. Throughout the year, we’re going to be rolling out more – some for teachers and some for studio owners.

We’ve also formed a business development department, whose job is to create benefits for teachers and studios. We’ve already announced some smaller things like discounts on cellular service, Zipcar, etc. These were sort of low hanging fruit that was easy to put together. The harder ones are liability insurance, health insurance, discounts on yoga related products; that’s what we’re working on now.

We hope to announce something before the end of the quarter on liability insurance. Health insurance may take a little longer, but we will have a program at some point so that teachers will be able to get rates lower than they could on their own in the market.

AP: How is YA working to improve its role as keeper of standards?

RK: In terms of credentialing, we need to add more rigor to it. There are limits to what an organization like this can do in the credentialing arena, especially in regard to yoga because there is so much diversity and there are so many different ideas about what it is and what it isn’t, what’s proper and what’s correct. But there are lots of things that we can do to make sure that we are operating the system with as much integrity as possible.

AP: Will there be changes in the way schools or individual teachers are credentialed?

RK: There are registries, there is certification and there is accreditation.  The registry is the least intrusive, the least rigorous. I think that’s what people could agree to back in 1999. I’m not talking about adding more to that, at this point. I’m saying in terms of the registry itself, YA itself hasn’t been doing the kind of things it needs to do. We don’t always know what the schools are doing, we don’t know how to respond to complaints all the time, it’s hard for us to deal with people who may be qualified but don’t fit into our normal credentialing processes. There’s a lot of work to be done in this area.

AP: How can Yoga Alliance do a better job of guaranteeing that a registration mark from YA carries a promise of quality?

RK: We’ve got a lot of members who are interested in helping us sort things out so we’re optimistic. Technology can help, through websites we can do things like crowd sourcing. We don’t have the resources to send the yoga police around, but if we can get help from people who attend the teacher trainings I think that’s going to help us in the credentialing area. That’s an intermediate range goal, to build a new website that will work better than the one we have now – it’s really sub-par – and create a great directory that drives traffic to teachers and teacher training programs and ultimately to studios. That’s really the focus, let’s do what we are already doing as best we can and then look at how technology can help us to do even more.

AP: Given how Yoga Alliance mishandled the issues facing New York teacher trainings in the licensing debates, how can you repair the damage with New York?

RK: I don’t know exactly what happened, but I know that YA was working against the interests of the teachers in New York. This is not a position you want to be in, working against the interests of the members of your organization.  All I can really do is talk to people and lead the organization in a way that ultimately people will be able to begin to trust.

AP: How is Yoga Alliance reaching out to other yoga communities across the country?

RK: I think the negative feelings are throughout the country about Yoga Alliance, and it was definitely something I knew I was getting into. All I can do is talk about transparency and customer orientation and I will because I really believe it, but at the end of the day people will believe it when they see it.

We’re also doing a conference in August in Washington, DC on the profession of yoga. YA had been doing conferences but the model was wrong, because the programming was about the practice of yoga so it wasn’t a whole lot different from what other people, like Yoga Journal were already doing. Where people need help is with their businesses, so the profession of yoga is important and that’s where we’ll be focused. There are two tracks, one for teachers, and one for owners and managers of studios and teacher training programs.  The other thing that is really important is forming the community so that people can get together and talk to each other. It’s hard to get those conversations going because there’s no national organization doing that kind of thing. We are really providing a forum for communication. And we’re hoping to provide a safe space for business owners to learn from each other.

Alex Phelan teaches anatomically influenced and alignment conscious yoga in New York City.

This article was originally published on YogaCityNYC

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32 comments… add one

  • Honomann

    Meet the new boss…same as the old boss. Yoga Alliance has one agenda only: PROFIT! See financials http://www.yogaalliance.org/ya/a/Financials_2011.aspx

    As far as standards. 8.3 days of teacher training isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. What frustrates me is when other studios send their students to our studio to “observe.” The trainees get mad when our teachers don’t blow sunshine up their asses and then write bad yelp reviews.

    There is another health club in town were one guy is doing his own TT. He sent this menacing email stating that his trainees would come and observe classes whether the teacher in that particular class likes it or not.

    These TT certification mills are charging upwards of $3K per 200 hour course. They should be taxed! Not to mention they are oversaturating the market with poorly trained teachers (see Hilaria).

  • Freedom

    Amen to that.

    I received my “200″ hr registration with Yoga Alliance through “Independent Studies” from teachers of my choosing that spoke to my heart. Circa, 2001.
    Now, there are “Schools” that one has to attend and pay ridiculous amounts of money towards in order to bring the gift of health, love and healing to another. So I payed that money for the 500hr level mark. It makes me sad, as this is not what Yoga “IS”. Now, as a teacher for many years at a local yoga studio within my home town that offers “Teacher Training”, I often have teacher trainees “OBSERVE” my class with no compensation. HA! But………………..It is, what it is! I try to look at it as Karma Yoga and not let my EGO take over. Or at least, I try to. Blessings to all teachers of the light!

  • yogatrouble

    Its a troubling issue..the tennents of the practice call for all sorts of practices and restraints that are completely ignored in modern day yoga business..look at “Wanderlust” the name of the festival alone flies in the face of traditional yogic practice…and the beer and steak certainly has no place before or after a yoga practice. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery..if someone else’s trainees watch teachers trained by or working for you, they are there to learn ANOTHER way. Be wary of the teacher who says she/he has all the answers and there is only one way. When yoga becomes business (as it has), all bets are off, people lie, cheat, steal, etc just like they do in any other type of business. The less you let it affect what you do and how you feel, the better off you will be. No one changes from a dope to an enlightened person just because someone calls them a dope. YA has made mistakes, lets see if they can get back on track and start enforcing standards. It can be done. We have to want it.

  • Honomann

    I’m all about learning “another way.” Where things get hazy is when it’s required to attend another style’s yoga for “certification.” Here is a recent email I received:

    “I am writing to ask if you are okay with students completing their 200hr – YTT $$$ Yoga Teacher Training Program at the $$ Club observe your class. The students (6 in total) are required to observe 5 classes in order to receive their certificate. Please email me back only if you have any objections. If not, I will let the students know that they have your permission to observe your class. I will also ask that the students identify themselves to you before your class starts.”

    How do the above trainees know that the teacher isn’t a 24 hour fitness graduate? What if the teacher is teaching a class as part of a series, and the class by itself would make no sense without the context of the previous classes?

    Too many holes in the 200 RYT certification process.

  • Angie

    We don’t allow TT students from other studios’ programs to observe classes at our studio. They can take drop-in classes, but not sit and observe. If the goal of a TT program is to have their students experience other classes, the students should take the classes, not watch others in them.

    From a business perspective, our students are not taking a class to be watched. Our teachers and our studio are not being paid to train other studios’ TTs.

  • How about

    I myself, “don’t want to have it”. Whatever it is that ya decides to be, to enforce, to regulate etc….none of it.

  • Years ago TT students from the studio where I taught had to observe classes. I always tried the get them to TAKE my class and experience what I taught. Watching can be instructive at times but EXPERIENCE is the best teacher (it has been for me – every illness, injury, and setback has taught me how to put my guru’s teachings into every day practice).

    Even though I have an e-RYT500 at least twice over and over 20 years experience teaching I still feel I don’t have enough experience and training to run a TT program. I’m more than happy to mentor newer teachers within my scope of experience, to have them in my classes but TT is really nothing more than a money maker for studios who are having difficulty making classes to the general public profitable. Most of them accept anyone into their programs, very minimal prior experience is required. In my case, I had been studying with a teacher for several years before beginning TT. Knowing what I know now I should have taken even MORE time cultivating my personal daily practice before actually teaching.

    I now study with a very traditional teacher in a system that has taken itself out of the mainstream for all the reasons mentioned above; this system has only around 50 authorized teachers and apparently no more TT’s are planned. It takes a lot of work to train someone well; Rodney Yee said to us once that, in turning down a request to do a one week TT in Japan), he had learned that it takes 10 YEARS to train a sushi chef in Japan – why would anyone want to entrust their physical, mental, and spiritual well-being to a yoga teacher with one week or even 1 year of training?

  • Sandra, I so agree with everything you say here. I’m now in my 27th year of teaching and the ONLY reason I’ve decided to accept invitations to co-teach a couple trainings in the next year is that I respect the individuals who asked me and feel good about participating in what they’re offering.

    Like you, I am baffled by the idea that anyone would want to entrust their spiritual, mental and physical well being to someone with just 200 or 500 hours of training. If you want to teach anything else, way more training is required. A good yoga teacher needs to know so much more than alignment cues. Even a great education in anatomy and physiology is not enough. They also need to have lived long enough and mindfully enough to understand what it means to live in accordance with the yamas. A good teacher also needs to have a healthy dose of humility. All these things require some hard, inner looking. You can’t acquire the wisdom and compassion to even understand what yoga is about simply by paying your tuition and attending a course.

  • Stephanie

    Dear Yoga Alliance, (be the change)

    I’m disappointed that YA lets 2 week RYT 200 -500 TT programs even exist. I’m currently working with 2 “graduates” of the two week TT RYT program who after spending 80 hours of training, still need to fulfill observation hours by a current YA RYT. Both of these students walked away overwhelmed and uninformed and in my opinion uneducated. Neither had idea on alignment and taught from the mat instead of conducting from the whole room. I took the program in a years time and had intensive homework that HAD to be turned in then presented to the entire class at the next meeting. I learned so much from this experience and even 2 years later I’m connected to the teacher and can call for questions, concerns and business advice. That doesn’t exist in these 2 week TT programs. I feel YA should step up and monitor these places, and the students graduating, what are they really walking away with…

    I also won’t allow these 2 students to come and observe my classes. They should have learned all this in their “teacher training”.

  • Elizabeth

    A two week teacher training isn’t enough time to learn how to teach. It is a fine way to learn additional teaching skills–say two weeks on sequencing, or two weeks on (more) anatomy, or two weeks delving into a yoga text–but not a way to gain even half the skills necessary to teach.

    I know a lot of people knock the “one weekend a month plus homework” model,
    but it was very important to me to have time between sessions to digest the material, attend more classes (from a variety of teachers, styles, schools) and do outside investigation.

    Students who want to teach yoga should be encouraged to constantly learn as much as possible about everything related to yoga (and if they are teaching asana, also group exercise principles, and in-depth study of physical training), even if they are not going to teach that. I finished two different (very good) YTT programs before I even thought about teaching. Even now, some 1,000+ hours of training and study later, I still believe I barely have scratched the surface. I owe it to my integrity, if not to my students, to keep immersing myself.

  • Elizabeth

    Oh, and regarding “observing” classes… I agree that TAKING a ton of classes–from a wide variety of teachers, across all styles–is extremely important to TT. It is difficult for TT students, I think, to learn how to effectively observe a class (because they mostly don’t seem to know what they are looking for while they observe). I learned a lot from my observations, but I was observing my TT trainers, while TAKING classes from other teachers.

    I think any teacher should be able to refuse “observation.” If i want to go to another teacher’s class, I think I should be prepared to be a student. It strikes me as rude to assume I would be allowed to sit in a corner and take notes–that’s an imposition on the other students taking the class, too.

  • Freedom

    Yes, Yes, Yes!!!!

  • stephanie herrin

    Yoga is a very personal experience, one in which students are turned bottoms up. It’s a vulnerable position, easily exploited. I assist teacher training programs all the time, and I love to have TT come to take my classes…even suggest they take notes. But to require observation is inappropriate. It disrupts the energy of a group class and inserts a clinical feel where the love goes. TTs need to practice, be immersed, live yoga. Not watch the yoga go on around them. P.S. I gave up on YA a long time ago.

  • Freedom

    Perfect!

  • Angie Hall

    This is such a touchy subject in the yoga community. Certianly setting standards might suggest a quality teacher, that certain curricula has been covered, and minimum needs met, but it does not ensure compassion, understanding, and the more personal components that truly make a fine teacher. I wonder how we as yogis feel it is ok to judge another’s experience and the value someone may have to offer the greater community. This is a very Western mechanism, this “certification” need. I am sure , especially before teacher trainings were even in existence, many a fine teacher began by taking their love and passion for the practice and simply sharing it with others. I find my greatest teachers in any field, & in life in general, are often found in unlikely places, and are often not specifically “certified” in what I learn from them. And we who are teachers should know, even we who are certified, and RYT teachers should know, that the true knowledge comes in the actual doing, not in the studying about how to do.

  • elizabeth

    I used to be the yoga police…. in the UK CYQ – central ymca quals -regulates fitness quals including yoga and they do a really great job. There are other bodies – they have a free marked – so ironic in a “socialist” state??? I am American – I moved back – I am stunned that there isn’t anything like it here. YA is a total joke – they charge UK schools even more – and they don’t do jack for them. So why charge more? Same reason Starbucks does – Brits are used to paying more and don’t seem to grumble – it is such a scum move. Anyway – my point is this. It is easy to regulate and send out the “yoga police” or as we are called in the UK – assessors. We had a very clear and transparent set of standards and we made sure that portfolios and assigned work was being marked fairly and clearly and then we would observe them teach a class with specific requirements – just like they do for lots of fitness quals – and that was it. Sure – like a driver’s licence – someone might teach a beautiful and safe class for me as an assessor then do some crazy dumb stuff once they get their certification – how many people drive like they have an assessor in the car? but it can be done so YA— be quiet and go away.

  • Yoga Mama

    As well intentioned as Mr. Phelan sounds he is the captain of a sinking ship. Yoga Alliance has on its registry poorly qualified training programs and equally unqualified teachers. Pretty much anyone willing to fill out the paperwork and pay the fee is registered. There are tons of RYT200 teachers whose ENTIRE yoga experience is a hastily taught TT. Changes will not make those people go away, they are already on the rolls.

    YA certainly cannot guarantee the well trained, safety oriented standards that was the original intention of the organization. It’s actually embarrassing how inept they are.

    So…can we agree that it is time for this bureaucracy called Yoga Alliance to fade to black?

  • Stacey

    In defense of observations….
    I recently completed 250 hours of yoga teacher training and in order to get certified I had to take 25 classes and observe 15. I initially resisted the observations, until I actually did one and realized how much I could learn from watching a teacher teach. When I am taking the class, I focus on my breath and body but observing allows us to hear the teacher give a cue and then watch the bodies respond. I found it to be an invaluable part of teacher training.

  • How about

    Maybe ya could focus and concentrate their efforts on the all important playlist and proper yoga clothes.

  • Vision_Quest2

    Teehee! ;-)

  • honomann

    Based on some of the recent “graduates” I’ve seen, I thought that was part of the currriculum.

    Being entitled, self important, and offended by everything that doesn’t conform to 200RYT’s tiny slice of yoga are also what appear to be requirements for certification.

    Don’t even get me started on Lululemon ambassadors.

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