Purpose of Setting Standards
Some overt reasons why people want national standards
for teachers include: 1) improving quality and ensuring
that people don’t go to teachers who are harmful
or destructive; 2) giving a baseline for helping people
choose teachers; 3) giving a specific meaning and standards
to teacher certification. Ostensibly, the whole idea behind
this is "consumer"-oriented—giving students
better choices. It assumes that now the consumer could
be getting poorly trained teachers. It is also hoped that
standardization will allow good teachers to connect into
established systems, like insurance companies, to get
benefits and payment. Another rationale is that standards
will construct a certain kind of professionalism in the
field. Point-by-point it can be shown that regulated national
certification is not a good idea and will actually rebound
and have a negative effect. A number of things the Alliance
plans to do, like dissemination of information, do not
need an exclusive or standard-controlling organization
of teachers at all. All one needs is a Web site. Another
stated purpose is "to nurture the yoga community".
Do we want to create a bureaucracy to nurture yoga students?
When has a controlling bureaucracy ever nurtured anyone
other than its own members? Having standards neither guarantees
nor is required for any of these types of things to happen.
If one wants to do these types of things, one can simply
do them—national standardization isn’t needed.
"To educate about the Yoga Alliance" is another
stated purpose. Even if this national registry comes
about, not every teacher and organization will join.
This means there will be teachers who operate under
its seal of approval and those who do not. Would this
education by the Alliance then basically take the form
of propaganda that says or implies that only those with
their seal are the good guys and those who do not have
it are the bad guys? Creating the Alliance will force
the Alliance to claim themselves the best and most qualified—increasing
division and conflict.
Blurring the Secular and Religious
The Alliance’s standards cross the line from the
secular to the religious. By including meditation, chanting,
instructions on how to live, right livelihood, lifestyles
and ethics, they have crossed the boundary into sectarian,
religious perspectives. What differentiates yoga from
professions with licenses and standards, such as the
medical, the dental, chiropractic and even massage professions,
is that in many people’s minds, yoga has two levels—the
physical/technical and the spiritual. Unless they want
to divorce these two levels from each other—which
it appears they do not, then it is not the same thing
as, say, the medical profession which has fixed standards
of scientific knowledge, practice and procedures that
can be tested. One reason you can certify a doctor is
that there are these objective standards of knowledge
that one has to demonstrate and fulfill. Basically,
as soon as you begin to combine these two arenas, by
bringing in right livelihood and meditation for instance,
there is no agreement as to what these things are. The
Alliance has not yet defined these things, but requiring
them without definition is meaningless. Defining them
would confine them to one group’s belief systems
and opinions. The United States Constitution specifically
states that no government laws will be established regulating
religious beliefs or practices. But in order to be certified
by the Alliance we must accept the values, mindsets
and beliefs that it sets. This goes against the very
essence of yoga because there is no one yoga
philosophical standard—nor should there be!
Some yogis are vegetarian, some are not. Some Raja yogis
(followers of Patanjali) believe in Hatha Yoga; some
believe it a trap and pitfall. Some say that one should
only or mainly do yoga in classes in order to be corrected
and sure of doing it right. Others say yoga is an inner
exploration that can only truly be done on one’s
own and that a personal practice is therefore a more
essential "training" than classes. Some believe
celibacy is absolutely necessary; some think sexual
fulfillment is important. Some say yoga is a path to
truth; others that there is no path to truth. What then
is right livelihood, right diet, right ethics? And most
importantly, who decides—and on what basis? Once
you define and legislate yoga or religion it is the
beginning of institutionalizing it. Regardless of the
intentions, this move in effect would give power to
the more traditional and fundamentalist wings of yoga.
Mininum hours of training as a Standard?
Standards could possibly make sense if purely physical
practices were separated from the spiritual aspects
of yoga. Asana and pranayama would then have to stand
alone. But most yoga teachers would not wish to see
the context of yoga stripped down and shifted in this
way. Say one does decide to limit the standards to the
physical aspect of teaching. What kind of standards
can be set other than the number of hours of training?
Certainly standards of strength, flexibility or how
many positions one can do cannot be the measure. There
are acrobats, dancers and gymnasts who can do more than
many yogis who have practiced all their lives. Does
this mean they understand or can teach yoga? Suppose
we use numbers of hours of class attendance. Does putting
in time ensure the person will be a good teacher? Does
a massage certificate (a profession with standards already
set) ensure a good massage? Some great and renowned
yoga teachers have never taken a class—this means
they could not make the registry! Many teachers who
have taken hundreds of hours of classes haven’t
practiced in depth on their own. Can one become a good
teacher without a personal practice? Should minimum
numbers of hours of personal practice also be required?
Who is to judge the quality or depth of a private practice
and on what basis? The problems are endless.
It could be argued that while a minimum number of training
hours won’t be a guarantee of teaching quality,
it would be a bottom line of basic training. If one
attended a certain number of classes, it would at least
show exposure and supposedly increase the likelihood
of becoming a better teacher. Then does it matter what
kind of training these hours offer? Can it be eclectic
and broad? Is this the same as focused and specialized
hours? Which is better, how do we decide and who sets
the standards behind this? What if the standards are
totally open (as the Alliance is presenting them now)
consisting only of specific numbers of hours in any
style of training? What does it really mean to have
that seal of approval? Does it mean one is qualified
to teach yoga to everybody? How does choosing a RYT
teacher protect people from getting injured by teachers
using techniques that are inappropriate or improper
for them? How does the Alliance protect the consumer
who sees the RYT seal and feels this assures good instruction?
A seal that certifies and implies that a person is a
trained professional meeting the standards could open
the Alliance to lawsuits for the acts of registered
teachers. Many doctors regard certain yoga practices
as dangerous and harmful and could testify as such.
These are other ways registration can rebound.
Do standards prevent abuse?
It’s unfortunate that some teachers seem to lack
ethics and there are instances of abuse. There’s
no question that various types of abuse, both physical
and mental, occur. But abuse won’t be eliminated
by regulations which attempt to control it. Does anyone
seriously think having rules against it will stop it?
Yoga abuse is often between consenting adults, one of
whom is naive. Abuse covers a whole spectrum of interactions
that depend on the context, motives, and many things—it’s
not just a clear-cut act that can be externally regulated.
We must educate people’s understanding so as to
reduce naïvetë. This movement to regulate
is trying to institutionalize yoga by making it into
a static, defined, structured, hierarchically controlled
activity and under the guise of being consumer-oriented
is really power oriented!
The government already has protection, laws and punishments
against fraud, sexual abuse and injury. We don’t
need the Alliance for this. Furthermore, a few of the
swamis and yogis on the list of supporters have already
been exposed for sexual and other forms of abuse, but
they are now suddenly upheld as the champions of ethical
standards! Imposing ethical standards is very precarious,
especially in the arena of dating and love. Many fine
teachers are happily married to former students! Will
a teacher and student’s falling in love be stopped
by a rule? People will still do what they do and just
make it more secretive. Are we to treat people as adults
What must be done instead is make people more aware.
Yoga at its best is an activity that brings more self-awareness.
The teacher’s job is not so much to legislate
what’s right and wrong, but to help people move
into realms of greater awareness. It is not the job
of the teacher to tell people what to do, nor how to
live, nor how to be, but to allow them to gain more
self-awareness so they make the decisions for themselves
that are right for their lives. The solution to complex,
knotty problems is not regulations. Such attempts at
problem-solving through bureaucratic control neither
work nor are conducive to growth—on the part of
the student or the teacher.
What is the Essence of Yoga?
In delineating between the physical, more measurable
aspect of yoga and the immeasurable spiritual-consciousness-religious
aspect, who are the watchdogs of all this? Who will
supervise the supervisors? Once the door is open to
standardization and legislation, how far will it go?
Yoga is at least as much an art as it is a science.
Do we register artists and musicians? Dance schools
are just lineage affiliated. Yoga is not just a mechanical
process. Even though it has a mechanical and measurable
aspect, it is a non-mechanical, living thing at its
core. Basically it has a very creative, non-mechanical
essence that people tap into. Do we really want to turn
yoga into a mechanical structure that a bureaucracy
regulates? This so goes against the very essence of
yoga that it cannot be permitted! Yoga can only thrive
and evolve in a context of freedom, including free inquiry
into its very nature.
Yoga has been free and unregulated for eons. India
has every manner and type of yogi and no government
or other regulation. For millennia the tradition has
been that the student chooses the teacher, and the choosing
is part of the growth. Now our Western conditioning
wants to try to control it. Why not educate students
in intelligent choices instead? We should let the public
decide who they want as teachers. Keeping the field
free and unregulated keeps people aware that they must
choose wisely. This is better than making the choices
for everyone by registering a small group of teachers
as "the good ones."
Fundamentally, the abuses that will come from attempting
to regulate something that essentially cannot be regulated
will be greater than the abuses occurring now. Let’s
not synthesize the worst of both East and West, combining
old authoritarian tradition with modern authoritarianism—bureaucracy.
Rather, wouldn’t it be better to take the best
from both worlds? Take the questioning, free spirit
and scientific wherewithal from the West and combine
it with wisdom and insight from the East. Making a bureaucracy
of yoga and trying to regulate it goes against the core
of what yoga is.
Should we put yoga into the mold?
Much of the mind and reason of these standards is trying
to mold yoga into the Western medical-insurance model
in order for some people to make a living. Do we really
want to try to make yoga fit into the flawed, Western
bureaucratic health care system, dictated to by corporations
and insurance companies? (If insurance companies want
to have rules or standards, let them make their own.)
Every one knows this model is highly flawed to begin
with. Whether or not one accepts the Eastern worldview,
it would be counter-productive to mold it into non-viable
Western structures. Is the RYT to become
the AMA of the yoga world?!!! Even
the goal of getting yoga into the school systems would
be undermined by these proposed standards because they
promote the religious parts of yoga such as chanting,
meditation, ethics, lifestyle and study of Hindu scriptures
like the Bhagavad Gita and Patanjali Yoga Sutras. This
would most probably bring lawsuits from both secular
and religious people.
Yoga is not about professionals making a living. It’s
fine if people make their living with yoga but this
is not what it’s about! It’s more about
self-exploration and the self-knowledge and insight
into life that one can glean from this study and practice.
It can be deeply personal and private. Are we going
to treat people like adults or children—the latter,
incidentally, is what the Western bureaucratic model
does. It takes people, plugs them into the system, tells
them what to do, and says, "Don’t ask too
many questions. We know what’s best; we know the
way." The issue is really about economics, control
and power. Many people are fighting hard against this
dysfunctional approach and here the Alliance is trying
to fit yoga into it!
Fear of the "Outside"
The Alliance justifies its motivation for the registry
partly through fear, saying that if it does not do so,
regulation will be imposed upon us from the outside.
We feel that fear of government control is unwarranted
and specious. The government has as much interest in
and ability to control yoga classes as it does dance
classes! This kind of thing can’t be controlled.
The same reasons we would fear government control from
the outside should be applied to Alliance’s governmental
control from the inside. It will still be "government"
control! Inside government control or outside government
regulation of yoga are both undesirable. Though their
motives might be sincere, what types of people want
to establish this kind of controlling body? Additionally,
the Alliance is not now, and could not possibly be,
democratic. Did all yoga students or even all yoga teachers
decide to do this, vote on it and elect this group?
This group does not represent even the inside of yoga!
There is neither agreement nor acceptance of this—instead
it is being imposed, with urgency. Real democracy takes
time. Why is the Alliance in such a hurry to ramrod
it through as fast as possible? If nothing else, a lot
more debate is certainly necessary. Even if it were
democratically decided upon, we still find it ill advised
for all the reasons already stated.
Haven’t we learned that power corrupts? No matter
how sincere and well-intentioned people may be, once
put in a place of bureaucratic power they face the danger
of being attached to the power that that gives them.
Controlling ourselves out of fear of being controlled
by the government, is in fact being controlled by the
government. Postulating that the government is going
to control us is specious because they can’t—if
for no other reason than the constitutional prohibition.
Let’s not institutionalize Yoga
Some teachers or organizations may qualify for the proposed
seal and, being unaware of implications and repercussions,
feel there is no harm or loss to join and sign on. Even
though White Lotus’ teacher training meets the
proposed standards we are not joining this movement.
We feel this whole movement is contrary to the feeling
and inner spirit of yoga. We feel it will cause far
more harm than it will correct. We feel this movement
is attempting to institutionalize, bureaucratize and
police yoga. We do not want to see such yoga politics
created. Yoga is far too big to be put under one umbrella!
We ask, is it good for yoga at its core to be both institutionalized
and bureaucratized? No, it’s in our best interest
to oppose strongly all such attempts to institutionalize
yoga. We must educate students in right choices and
what to look for in teachers instead. Education and
awareness is the only answer