Richard Karpel Walks the Talk with Elephant Journal's Waylon Lewis

May 27, 2014

What is the future of yoga? Why did Yoga Alliance® set teaching Standards? How can the organization make sure Registered Yoga Schools (RYS®s) meet those Standards?

Yoga Alliance president Richard Karpel (2012  – 2014) discussed those topics and more with Elephant Journal founder and "Walk the Talk" host Waylon Lewis during an hour-long, online video chat streamed live on April 30, 2014 for a segment called, "How can we help ensure that Yoga Teachers know what they're doing?"

Watch the video below, or read on for our key takeaways.


Registration is not certification or accreditation

One of the first topics Richard and Lewis discussed involved the type of credentialing system Yoga Alliance offers. Richard pointed out Yoga Alliance does not certify teachers; it registers teachers. The Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT®) designation indicates that someone has completed a set number of hours of training on a variety of course material with a RYS. The RYS designation indicates that a training program’s curriculum meets a set of Standards and that training is led by qualified trainers registered with Yoga Alliance.

"We have a set of Standards that we apply equally to everybody," Richard said to Waylon, later adding, "We set up a system, and everybody has to go through it." Yoga students, teachers and studios can identify RYTs listed in the Yoga Alliance Registry knowing they:

  • Attended a training program that met a minimum standard of education;
  • Trained for at least 200 hours; and
  • Are expected to maintain their registration through Continuing Education.

Additionally, the Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher designation (E-RYT®) indicates extensive on-the-job experience that thousands of other yoga teachers have not yet earned. "If we don't operate a credentialing system that people like and works at some level, people will stop registering with us," said Richard.


Yoga Alliance credentials teachers; other businesses hire them

Waylon asked Richard whether 200 hours is enough training time for someone to become a competent yoga teacher. Richard noted 200 hours "is just the teacher training program. Most people come into it with some experience before they get into the program."

The yoga teacher training tuition rates of $3,000 or $4,000 at many RYSs also serve as a potential deterrent to someone who is not committed to the practice. Yoga Alliance does not advocate that schools train anyone who is willing to pay, but it's not the place for Yoga Alliance to dictate this and trusts schools to determine their own entry admissions requirements. Likewise, it is up to the RYSs and the studios hiring teachers to make sure RYTs are qualified to teach at their studios.

"For some people it's enough. For some situations and others it isn't," Richard said about RYTs meeting the 200-hour standard. "The last thing is… it's not up to us to decide who gets hired. All we do is credential people. Ultimately, the studios or the people that are in the yoga business, in the business of providing yoga teaching and classes, they're the ones that do the hiring."


Completing 200 hours of teacher training is the beginning, not the end point for RYTs

Richard also mentioned the founders of Yoga Alliance, who were all members of the yoga community at large in 1999, decided that 200 hours would be "a foundational start for someone who wants to teach yoga."

Even if someone completes a training curriculum beyond 200 hours, Yoga Alliance cannot guarantee that RYT will teach safely and competently. "Our goal here is to create that system in a way that has the highest likelihood of producing safe, competent yoga teachers," said Richard.

Waylon made the case that just because a teacher is charismatic, he or she may not be a quality teacher. Richard countered that charisma does matter as well as competence. Liability concerns compel yoga studio owners to hire safe and well-educated teachers, but business concerns about attendance numbers and retention mean they also need teachers who can keep students coming back and grow their business.


Four benefits of using Social Credentialing as an enforcement tool

There is no yoga police to enforce Yoga Alliance's teaching and school Standards, but Yoga Alliance is taking steps to add rigor to its credentialing system. Yoga Alliance last year launched Social Credentialing for RYSs so that trainees can give feedback about their teacher training experience. They and can also verify whether the Lead Trainer listed by their schools actually taught the prospective teachers and whether the school followed the syllabus submitted to Yoga Alliance.

Unlike for-profit review sites such as Yelp and Google, Yoga Alliance is a non-profit organization designed to specifically serve the yoga community. "Our system is designed to promote objective feedback," said Richard. He pointed out that through the Yoga Alliance Social Credentialing system:

  • All users are verified as actual trainees, who completed a teacher training program at a RYS;
  • There are no anonymous comments;
  • Trainees do not only rate schools—they must also answer a series of questions that target specifics about their experience; and
  • The feedback is systematic—to register with Yoga Alliance all teachers must answer the same set of questions about their school.
Richard Karpel was president from 2012 – 2014 of Yoga Alliance, the largest nonprofit yoga credentialing and advocacy organization in the United States. Prior to joining Yoga Alliance in July 2012, he was executive director of the professional organization that represents daily newspaper editors, and before that he led the trade association for alternative newsweeklies like the Village Voice and Chicago Reader for 14 years.

Waylon Lewis is the founder of Elephant magazine, and host of Walk the Talk Show. Named No. 1 in the U.S. on Twitter for #green content in 2010, he's been named Treehugger's Change Maker & Eco Ambassador in Culture & Celebrity, Discovery Network's Planet Green: Green Hero and a Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun.

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