The Debate on Yoga Teacher Training Standardization
Since September 2010, Toronto’s yoga community has been treading the murky waters of what is the highly contentious subject of Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) and standardization. Coming out of the dialogue stimulated at 2010’s Yoga Festival Toronto, the topic has since been taken up by Yoga Community Toronto (YOCOTO) in a series of Town Hall meetings through which the group hopes to actively engage and encourage feedback from local yogis.
In the following video, Matthew Remski, provides an overview of the discussion so far based on the previous town hall meeting.
It’s no wonder that the issue of YTT regulation has incited such controversy when it has raised so many questions without much consensus. It’s an issue perhaps most complicated by the practical considerations of regulation itself in which there arises a need to define and delineate industry criteria that will most effectively benefit all parties involved—students, teachers, and studios. Pragmatically, the systematization of yoga creates a number of complex problems—whether in the creation of pedagogical rubrics, the formulation of curriculum ratios of asana to philosophy to anatomy, or in coming to an agreement regarding the appropriate length of a foundational program. What is the baseline for what teachers need to know and how should they come to know it?
Part of the issue emerges from the fact that many in the western yoga industry are working within what is increasingly becoming a market-driven business in which some fear that yoga’s spiritual traditions are fast being trampled by a culture of fitness, fashion, and celebrity endorsement. Though this is a debate within itself, it’s also clear that YTT can function as a big money-maker for studios offering such programs. This becomes problematic when teachers or studios begin “training” prospective teachers through online, weekend-long courses that guarantee certification without a proper grounding in knowledge or pedagogical experience; the consequences of which can be particularly troublesome. Hasty and unreliable certification procedures can create circumstances more likely to be neglectful of a stringent culture of safety based in proper form or anatomical knowledge, and less accommodating of public forums through which to air grievances. Moreover, teachers may lack an awareness of specific populations that may require certain modifications or training methods. Finally, the potential growth of this group of newly-minted, yet poorly-trained teachers may also threaten to diminish the achievements and pedagogical excellence of well-trained and experienced industry yogis.
It seems that the glaring problem lies in the granting of certification itself: who gets to establish standards and how exactly will they be regulated? The considerable backlash by yoga practitioners in some US states against government efforts to draw yoga studios under the wings of state vocational training mandates is not only a demonstration against what many claim to be simply an easy revenue-building strategy through taxation and licensing fees, but it stands also in opposition to state intrusion in matters of spirituality. Problems arise, therefore, not only when establishing baseline practical standards, but also when regulation requires what seems like the definition of yoga itself. Asking a group of yogis to define yoga in a way conducive to the uniformity of standardization is not an easy task when practices vary so widely according to, for example, lineage, or because yoga is so deeply personal an experience. It’s also evident that any sort of regulatory authority cannot address the personal relationship-building aspects of yoga in which knowledge has traditionally been passed on from teacher to student over time. And if yoga is to build upon tradition and spirituality, should standards be confined to the definitions of a studio’s culture or a tradition’s lineage? Should certification be a matter of spiritual transmission rather than one of externally enforced guidelines?
Or, should regulation lie at the level of the industry itself, and in what ways is regulation by association an effective strategy? One might consider the example of the Virginia-based Yoga Alliance or the International Yoga Federation, both of which are bodies that seek to set standards and foster integrity within the industry through training courses and certification. Even more broadly, if yoga is indeed a market-driven business, then should not consumer satisfaction itself define its success or the merit of a particular teacher or studio? Such a question of course opens the door to an awareness of the students' experiences—both their rights to knowledgeable and experienced teachers as well as their responsibilities for themselves as students.
Are standards even necessary? One may question, for instance, whether regulation can in any way devalue the practice or limit the organic nature of yoga. Clearly, there are no easy answers. Yet, what is positive about the question of YTT standardization is the fact that so many yogis acknowledge that it is one which is critical to yoga’s future, and that so many are eager to participate in the debate. Whether the regulation of yoga seeks to better support its teachers through professional accreditation and training, whether it aspires to be more accountable to its students, or whether it aims to elevate the practice of yoga as a whole, the question of standardization and integrity in yoga teacher training is one that is likely here to stay.