A Response to James Brown and American Yoga School Blog Post

January 9, 2014

Yoga Alliance® is far from perfect. We have acknowledged repeatedly that we have much work to do to add rigor and credibility to our credentialing system. But James Brown’s blog post, claiming that “Yoga Alliance is ruining yoga” is misinformed about our role and the real challenges we face; makes broad assertions about sweeping trends in yoga, and provides nothing more than anecdotes to support them; and mischaracterizes the changes that we are presently making to add rigor to our credentialing system.

It is especially surprising to read such harsh criticism from an individual whose RYS 200 school has been registered with us since 2009 and also recently completed our process to register a 300-hour teacher training program.

Mr. Brown notes that Pam Weber, our director of standards, told him that we would not review our current Standards until “next year.” What he fails to mention is that the interview was conducted in September 2013. It is now “next year.” In 2014, our Standards Committee will develop more robust ethics Standards and will begin the process of revamping our Continuing Education program and undertaking a thorough review of our current training Standards. As part of that review, the committee may decide to consider a certification program for yoga teachers, as Mr. Brown recommends.

But our first objective, which we have been working towards for the last 18 months, was to ensure that there is meaningful oversight of our current Standards. That’s what our new Social Credentialing system, which was just instituted last month, is designed to do.

Oversight is critically important for the credibility of our system, because until now we have had no meaningful way to monitor the actions of Registered Yoga Schools (RYS®s). Just as traditional yoga was passed from guru to student, Yoga Alliance system entrusts the Lead trainers of our RYSs to be responsible for delivering a quality program. (Mr. Brown neglects to mention that in addition to the training Standards, our credentialing system establishes minimum Requirements for training and experience for the teachers at our RYSs.) In the past, there has been no way for us to respond to complaints from students of teacher training programs that are registered with us, even if the information we received was troubling.

Let us share with you an example of a RYS that we have received multiple complaints about over the last several years. In the span of three weeks, we received three separate complaints after the school’s most recent training this fall.

[Editor's note: When initially published, this article contained three examples of complaints we received about an unidentified RYS.]

While these three complaints certainly strongly suggest that the RYS in question falls short of Yoga Alliance Standards in multiple ways, our organization does not have the staff or infrastructure to conduct the kind of expensive, time-consuming investigations necessary to verify the accuracy of these complaints. For an organization of our scale (44,000+ Registered Yoga Teachers [RYT®s] and 2,900+ RYSs in 76 countries) and level of resources, there was nothing we could do but grit our teeth.

Under Yoga Alliance’s new Social Credentialing program, the schools’ own trainees will be our “investigators,” providing feedback about their training experience in the form of ratings and comments. The system will provide a wealth of information to potential trainees, along with insight into the school’s culture and training experience. The system will shine a light on the schools that are delivering quality programs as well as those that are not meeting their students needs and might consider a different yogic path.

Mr. Brown mischaracterizes our Social Credentialing system and says it is too little too late, but imagine how the school mentioned above would have to change their business practices if these complaints were brought to the light of day. It will take time, but our new system will provide the public and the yoga community with a much clearer picture of the quality of the teacher training programs that are registered with us.

“Instead of telling trainings what should be taught, “ Mr. Brown complains, “Yoga Alliance simply requires that a certain number of hours be spent covering each of five areas of study, with no specificity given on how to fill those hours.” He also complains that “no specific curriculum is required to be taught.”

Mr. Brown is apparently unaware that most yoga teachers and schools don’t want a credentialing organization to tell them precisely how to teach yoga, or that it would be impossible to forge a consensus in the yoga community about a “specific curriculum.” In fact, one of Yoga Alliance’s guiding principles since it was founded in 1999 is protecting the rich diversity of yogic thought and style. That diversity and flexibility is precisely the reason that yoga has survived for 5,000 years and has transcended boundaries of geography, religion, language and culture and spread to every corner of the globe.

“There are great teachers out there,” Mr. Brown notes in one of his statements that we agree with. “But they are great in spite of Yoga Alliance, not because of it.”

It is not Yoga Alliance’s role to “create great teachers.” We were established by the yoga community to set minimum standards for yoga teacher training programs. It is up to the schools that register with us to provide the training that enables their students to flourish, and it is the responsibility of individual RYTs to practice and study their way to greatness. Perhaps it is this fundamental misunderstanding of the role of credentialing organizations that leads Mr. Brown to lay the blame for all of yoga’s perceived ills at our doorstep.

Mr. Brown praises William Broad’s column about injuries in yoga that appeared in the New York Times Magazine and his book on the same subject, and quotes him as follows: “Yoga’s exploding popularity — the number of Americans doing yoga has risen from about 4 million in 2001 to what some estimate to be as many as 20 million in 2011 — means that there is now an abundance of studios where many teachers lack the deeper training necessary to recognize when students are headed toward injury.”

We disagree. We think that the explosion of popularity in yoga means that more people are interested in pursuing the practice for health and wellness and that more people than ever are eager to spread the power of yoga by teaching others about its beauty and the fulfillment and growth it can bring. Does this mean that we think there isn’t room to improve the quality of yoga teaching? As the largest support organization for yoga in the world, no group is more concerned about spreading the power of yoga in a safe, professional and competent manner than Yoga Alliance.

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