For a long time, I was a firm believer in the Yoga Alliance and I’m not sure why. I practiced yoga for years before deciding to become a teacher, and never thought to ask any of my teachers if they were registered with YA; I didn’t even know what that was. If I asked anything, it was about where they learned what they knew. I gravitated to teachers who had grown up with yoga in their lives, or those who were very interested in current movement research. I wanted to learn from people who loved yoga.
When I finally decided to take a teacher training, it was because I was planning to become a psychologist, and I knew that the mindfulness and breath work I had learned from yoga would be invaluable to my future clients. I never intended to teach in a yoga studio, or even to teach public classes. I am a person who does not typically like to be the centre of attention, and who usually becomes extremely nervous speaking in front of a group. With this in mind, I started looking into professional yoga trainings. At that time, I learned about the Yoga Alliance. It appeared to be an organization that ensured that the minimum standards to become a yoga teacher were met. With my academic background, it made sense to me to take a program that met or exceeded the standards of an organization like this. I wanted to be sure that I would be able to get professional insurance, and that I would be offering the very best to the people I would work with.
When I carefully selected my first yoga teacher training, I made sure that the studio offering it was registered with YA. I looked on the YA website and read all of the reviews about the program. I was confident that I made the right choice based on everything I saw. When I completed the program, I felt less prepared than ever to teach yoga. I felt as though the program had barely scraped the surface of so many topics, and made me question a lot of my ideas about what yoga was. This program was very focused on fast-paced flowing yoga, making sure to touch students a lot, and throwing in inspirational phrases here and there. I was used to quiet, slow paced, inquisitive yoga. The kind of yoga that puts you in touch with the internal workings of your body and allows you to focus on the present moment. (Please know, I am not saying that these fast-paced classes are inherently bad, I am just saying they are not for me, and they are certainly not the only way to practice yoga asana). Rather than blaming Yoga Alliance for setting their standards to low, I blamed myself for not knowing enough.
I subsequently took a number of other trainings, including a 100 hour prenatal yoga training, an extensive trauma informed training, a philosophy and history focused 300 hour training, and too many one-day trainings to list. Many of them were YA registered, so I racked up the Continuing Education Credits (YA requires the equivalent of a whopping 10 hours a year in order to maintain registration). I continued to learn by reading books, attending trainings, listening to podcasts, and attending classes with more experienced teachers. I began to feel more confident in the innate knowledge of yoga I had developed over years of practice, and more confident in sharing the style of yoga I appreciate.
Each year, I would pay my dues to YA, pay for my insurance policy, and continue to update my teaching experience and qualifications in their directory. Every time I was ready to upgrade my title on their site, there was another fee to pay. As time passed, I began to read more and more about how the YA was taking peoples’ money and not providing anything in return, but I held out hope that change was afoot. There was a committee formed within YA to investigate the current standards. A survey was sent out to members and non-members alike to find out what we needed from our organization. Meetings were held. It was ruled that people could no longer claim they were offering yoga therapy if they were not also a licensed therapist under some other body. It seemed that care was being taken to improve, so I continued to support the organization.
I currently teach mainly prenatal and postpartum yoga. For about the last year, I had been offering prenatal yoga twice a week and mom and baby yoga twice a week, and classes were full. I continued to receive requests for more classes, but the studio I teach at has only one room, and there is only so much time in the week. I knew that it was time to find someone else I could work with to refer clients to when I was booked up. I went to the YA website, and found that there were no other Registered Prenatal Yoga Teachers within the area. I knew that there were some people who were teaching after having taken a weekend training, but I felt that the training I had taken (which was the equivalent of 5 weekend trainings with additional reading a projects in between) had adequately prepared me, and I didn’t know that the same could be said for a weekend training.
I decided to offer my own training to make sure that I was referring clients to people who had similar knowledge to me, a thirst for learning, and a focus on current research. As such, I wanted to set up a Yoga Alliance school so that people would be able to obtain the same credentials as I had. (Again, the prenatal training I took was fantastic. I was very happy with it, and at the time, felt that the YA standards had contributed to the excellence of the program). I began to follow the steps that YA required. I had upgraded to an E-RYT membership (which meant I had over 1000 teaching hours that I had logged in the system, and over 2 years of experience) and I had previously taken an Alliance approved prenatal training program. I was required to set up and submit a course summary which would indicate the number of hours spent on each topic (they actually give you this in the requirements section), along with a copy of the certificate I would hand out. The application indicated that if the YA needed any further information, they would get in touch to clarify the details.
The summary section looked something like this:
Anatomy – 5 hours – lecture
Postures – 5 hours – practice
Practicum – 6 hours – students teaching classes
It was very informal, and required that I input an absolutely minimal amount of information. When I submitted it, I felt certain that I would receive a call or an email asking me what I would actually be teaching, or how I would actually be teaching. I thought maybe I would be asked for a copy of my manual, or the diagrams I would share. Instead, I did receive an email – asking that I change the format of the date on the certificate of completion. They also requested that I clarify whether the students would be teaching each other, or teaching public classes. I responded that it would be a mix of both, altered the certificate, and they approved my school.
I was dumbfounded. It has taken me a long time to finally write this blog post, because it took me a long time to come to terms with just how false the YA “Standards” are. I kept waiting for them to call me, or email me and tell me they made a mistake. I needed to know nothing about yoga at all to be approved. All I needed was a certificate saying that I had done a training that met the minimum standards, and 1000 hours of teaching that I input myself. I was never asked about what I actually knew about yoga or about teaching.
I have since allowed my membership with YA to expire and I will not be renewing. I have switched to another insurance company. In the entire time I have been teaching, I was asked just once if I was a member of YA by a prospective employer, and never by a student unless he/she was considering taking a training. I don’t think I will miss it. I wanted to write this post in the hopes that it will help someone like myself in the future. I wanted people to know what the YA standards really mean. If you are considering taking any kind of yoga training, I hope you come across this post and reconsider supporting YA. Instead, look for a teacher who has been immersed in yoga, who espouses the values you hold dear, and who teaches a style that you enjoy. Look for someone who is willing to take the time to help you learn what you need to know, even if that takes more than 200 hours. (Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a very fast learner and that I am very good at academic pursuits. 200 hours was not half enough for me, and I had been practicing yoga regularly for years before even considering myself ready to move to the next step).
If you are a member of the YA currently, please ask yourself what the organization has done for you. Consider what might happen if you do not renew next time, and consider that the only thing that has happened to me is that I have saved the fee I would normally have paid. If you come across someone who still believes in the YA, please be gentle with them. Keep in mind that people don’t know what they don’t know, and that sometimes the only way to learn something truly is to experience it. If you are a studio owner, gym owner, or other type of business owner that employs yoga teachers, please consider what I have written. YA does not do anything to guarantee that a teacher is a good teacher, and not being a member does not make a person a bad teacher. Most of all, if you are ever doubting yourself because of something you have been taught in a yoga teacher training, trust your gut instinct – it is probably not wrong.