Traditionally, yoga was handed down through teachers who spent years with their students. Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois and Desikachar all spent many, many years with Krishnamacharya before they became teachers through their own understanding of yoga. As yoga blossomed in the west, so did the number of teachers and different interpretations of yoga.

Even as recently as 10 years ago, students — myself included — would sample multiple trainings with multiple teachers out of curiosity. The idea was that yoga is a lifelong path and practitioners would learn for a long time before teaching and picking a preferred practice. But since we change all the time, our practice will have to change as well, so our learning never stops. I am sensing a huge shift today. For example, I have students who expressed interested in my training but they did not want to take it since they “already took a 200-hour training.” Yoga Alliance’s classifications have changed how we look at trainings.

Yoga Alliance means well, I do believe that. And on the positive side, if you want to work in a gym where they don’t know much about yoga, Yoga Alliance provides a platform for basic qualifications. They are also starting to offer more and more perks to members. But their classification has inadvertently, I believe, harmed yoga a lot more than it has aided. Desikachar in the “Heart of Yoga” said:

[su_quote cite=”Desikachar”]Because yoga is not fixed. Yoga is a creation. I know the way that you teach will be different from the way I teach, and the way I teach is different from the way my father taught… The yoga concepts of svadharma means ‘your own dharma’ or ‘your own way’. If you try to follow somebody else’s dharma, trouble happens.[/su_quote]

In essence, what he is saying is that yoga is art. It is not a pure science that can be classified and measured; it is ever-changing. Yoga is much more like a painting. An artist will tell you that painting is a way of life, so will a yogi. We never stop learning.

Our brain trips us up though. There is a Buddhist saying that once you label a tree as an “Oak,” you will stop seeing its uniqueness. This is exactly what happened to teacher trainings. Before Yoga Alliance, we had no classifications, so we would read about the teacher and curriculum, then decide if we were interested in the training. All trainings were different in our eyes so we would take multiple ones.

Once Yoga Alliance started labeling trainings as “200-hour certificates” we all stopped looking. It has a three-week intensive in Costa Rica, a one-month via long weekends, or my training; a nine-month extended course where you get to read books between meetings. They all offer the same certificate so students never look twice anymore. But that is false, they all have something amazingly unique about them, yes they are all 200-hour trainings, but just like in Costa Rica within three weeks you could not read seven books, I cannot teach you the emotional experience of an immersion program. They each teach something unique, something that will enrich you in different way as a teacher. And even if they cover similar topics just having a different teacher with different perspective will open new worlds for the student. If yoga is a lifelong journey, we should be seeing the opportunities for different lessons from these trainings and have an open mind for taking multiple courses.

Yoga teacher trainings and the reality of the yoga job market:

And then there is the economic reality. We have an over-saturation of teachers with 200-hour certificates who think they are done. They think they got the certificate so they should teach now. We have at least 10 studios just in the Seattle area offering trainings. Some of the studios offer training sessions more than once a year. Let’s assume the average class size is 15 people; that is at least 150 new teachers each year. I am pretty sure the actual numbers are much higher. Are there 150 new positions open every year? Jobs depend on the basic laws of economics. I guarantee that supply and demand will still affect your chances. Not that we shouldn’t be excited, just know the reality of the situation.

This brings me to my final question: given the economic reality of employment and our current classification system, how can students look beyond the training title and remain curious about learning even if there is no job in sight? And how can experienced teachers create new curriculum and remain artists in a field that forces us to play by rules that fit the corporate world but not the yogic path?

Going beyond the current yoga teacher certification classification:

I am proposing changing the way we title our training courses. If we would all add a main title to our trainings and then in parenthesis mention, “this training will get you 200 Yoga Alliance credits,” we may start to shift our perception. We have to put the emphasis back on the uniqueness of what each training has to offer, not on Yoga Alliance classifications. I started calling my teacher trainings: “Self Enrichment – Teacher Training.” I decided to market it as a self-enrichment program because I think that is what yoga trainings are. This not only sets different expectations for those who wish to teach, but it also opens the door to students who want to deepen their practice. Sometimes it’s those students who initially never wanted to teach, who become the best teachers.

Yoga studios look beyond Yoga Alliance training when they’re looking at a potential employee’s resume during the hiring process. How long someone has studied yoga and with whom has always been more important than a certificate. This is something that students who came into yoga post Yoga Alliance may not even know. They now take it for granted that a certificate is sufficient in every studio no matter where they graduated or what style they teach. Again, this false expectation comes from the uniformity of naming these courses. Notice how your perception shifts if you say; “I studied with X in Y style in Z training earning 200 Yoga Alliance credits” versus “I have a 200 Yoga Alliance certificate.”

Yoga Alliance should remain a club and not a regulatory body. Their function should be to provide members with perks and provide gyms with the ability to recognize whether an individual has had basic training. For this purpose, the current 200 and 500-hour trainings will do the trick. To give more power to Yoga Alliance will not only limit the creativity and self-expression of yoga, it will kill the essence of what yoga is about. Yoga Alliance also creates a false expectation for students by positioning yoga trainings like any other job training.

Yoga is a lifelong path of physical, mental and emotional learning with many teachers and lessons along the way. A certificate should never be the goal, so why do we keep emphasizing it?

[Photo by Sudhamshu Hebbar – CC BY]

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