RESTORATIVE-YIN YOGA involves supported body/mind relaxation. This is gentle, gentle yoga that promotes deep relaxation for stress reduction while also stretching and rehabilitating connective tissue.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Beyond Yoga Registration/Certification

Notes: A Sample Of Thinking About Yoga /Registration/Certification, With Follow-up Comments

Author’s note:  This is a more negative, long post in what is otherwise a rather optimistic and more specifically focused blog.  However, it may be helpful to consider.

[These notes were written/gathered around two years ago,
and the material around this issue continues to expand.]

In a recent good book, The Science Of Yoga, William Broad argues strongly for more regulation and certification in yoga facilitator training.   Broad suggests injuries resulting from yoga practice as a “game changer”—and yoga as “the basis for an inexpensive new world of health care and disease prevention,”
….yoga must come into closer alignment with science—with clinical trials and professional accreditation, with governmental authorities and their detailed evaluations, probably even with insurance companies and their dreaded red tape.  Yoga could become a major force.  Or it could stay on the sidelines, a marginal pursuit, lost in myths, looking to the past, prone to guru worship, fracturing into ever more lineages, increasingly isolated as the world moves on. [217]

In Awakening The Spine, Vanda Scaravelli writes of yoga as freedom of the body rather than control of the body [106], and of the need to be open supple rather than rigid or tied to traditions or patterns [109].  Her orientation is toward the art of yoga as an expression of beauty.  She writes,
BE CAREFUL, VERY CAREFUL about organizations.  Yoga cannot be organized, must not be organized.  Organizations kill work.  Love is in everything, is everything.  But if you confine it, enclose it in a box or in a definite place, it disappears. [110]
She envisions yoga as something quite different, not even traditional vs. modern.  She writes,
The mind should not be rigid or tied to traditions and patterns, but open and supple, even ready to change directions. [109]

In The Science of Yoga, William Broad envisions yoga as having arrived at a turning point.  It has reached not only a critical mass of practitioners but also a critical juncture in its development [215].  Broad writes, The timeless image is a mirage.  Yoga has changed many times over the centuries and needs to change again [216].  To really become a force in addressing the global crisis in health care, Broad sees the first step as overcoming the barrier of a lack of reliable information about the discipline’s pros and cons [217].   While Broad sees many vigorous styles and the wide efforts of young professionals to make their discipline safer [217], there is also the din of competing styles [217] and commercialism adding to the confusion.  He argues that just making good information available has a long way to go[217].  Ideally, Broad would like to see an impartial central repository that summarized information.
            Broad acknowledges, The science of yoga has only just begun [221].  And were the science of yoga to really fill out, Broad acknowledges that science can only—yet importantly—show the bottom line [222].  Science can see without prejudice, but even with its powers of discrimination and discovery—[science] is extraordinarily crude [222].
He writes,
So while the science of yoga may be demonstrably true—while its findings may be revelatory and may show popular declarations to be false or misleading—the field by nature fails utterly at producing a complete story.  Many of yoga’s truths surely go beyond the truths of science.
Yoga may go further, and its advanced practitioners, for all I know, may frolic in fields of consciousness and spirituality, of which science knows nothing.  Or maybe it’s all delusional nonsense.  I have no idea. [222]


So, Scaravelli opposes regulation for reasons of freedom, and Broad would like to see regulation but sees limits with regulation due to a lack of reliable information, and he notes limits to the kind of scientific knowledge that he proposes, beyond providing a bottom line.  Both presume that yoga can contribute to health spans [immanent health] and life spans.

Into this discussion, it might be valuable to look at critiques of yoga registration, certification and licensing: 

J. Brown, in “Yoga Alliance Approval, My Ass,” in the blog Yoga Dork, November 8, 2011, criticizes the Yoga Alliance as being an organization that aspires to set some standards for yoga teacher training, but that has no approval itself to do so.  Completing an initial 200 hour program that is approved by YA results in the “credentials” of RYT after one’s name.  One can then add additional programs to this to refine knowledge.  This implies that one is then REGISTERED with YA, but not certified or licensed.  Brown argues that there is no oversight on YA.  And the training does not meet standards of most professional licensing programs, such as colleges that are themselves held to accreditation, or national testing of candidates or mandatory CEUs following certification.   He cites an example of a requirement for 20 hours of the 200 hours to focus on yoga history that he equates with reading the chapter and answering summary questions in my 9th grade social studies class. Brown concludes, 20 hours of profound diversity of texts and interpretations means absolutely nothing.


Tara Stiles, in “Tara Stiles, Yoga Rebel,” argues that yoga certifications
are “rubber stamps.”  She asks who it is that makes the rules as to what yoga is.  Tara Stiles, herself, has been criticized for stressing physical health rather than spiritual or philosophical dimensions as well as for various claims, such as weight reduction through yoga.


Jane Shure, in “To Regulate Or Not Regulate Yoga Teacher Training, Huff
Post, 7/28/2009, suggests that registry, licensing, inspection requirements represent the business end of yoga.  The traditional guru/student aspect is largely absent in modern yoga, so there is a striving toward credentials.  She feels that it impacts negatively upon the spiritual essence and art of yoga practice.


Swami Jhaneshvara Bharati, in “Modern Yoga vs. Traditional Yoga,” is
critical of modern yoga as having become “gymnastic practice” that has come as much from the West in 1800-1900s rather than from ancient traditions where it was taught orally.  He sees modern yoga as individualized and commercialized.  He sees modern yoga as fitness-oriented “posture classes,” not yoga classes.  He considers the term “yoga classes” to be an oxymoron.  “Yoga” is “off matt” perhaps more than it is on matt.


Georg Feuerstein, in Yoga Day USA And The Distortion Of Yoga In
America, suggests that the modern focus is on strength, flexibility, weight management, improved circulation, cardiovascular conditioning, better body alignment, present moment for stress relief, pain relief, …

Modern yoga tends to dismiss the 5000 years of development of yoga and precursors that are integral to not only spirit but health that are not present in modern yoga that is essentially a posture class.

Website: Traditional Yoga Studies


Brian Costellani,, is critical of  Yoga Alliance:

[Yoga Alliance [YA], Arlington, Virginia: A melding of two groups that decided to provide standards for teaching yoga, organized into 200/500 hour training components.]

·      notes that YA does not claim to represent yoga, and represents their registrants.
·      Represent only a fraction of yoga practitioners
·      Issues with how those who become trainers are identified other than completing training hours
·      Multiple organizational issues: YA has a small staff, have had staff turnover/resignation, lack transparency with regard to what they do with the money, how was governing board selected [some national open process?], lack consumer input [e.g., rating of instructors], cannot demonstrate that their credentialing products are valid or helpful, no tangible measures
·      Exist because of a commercial demand for certing, especially for fitness programs and state licensing attempts
·      No external oversight on YA and no internal oversight on registrants
·      No open input from larger yoga community
·      A “deplorable reputation” in yoga community


Patricia Kearney, “Proposal for a national exam for yoga teacher certification,” Yoga Requirements.

Critical commentary following presentation:
·      Schools disagree on many points [e.g., how certain asanas should be performed and what constitutes proper alignment—viniyana vs. Iyengar [KINSETH—and some alignment stresses meridians and charkas which can differ from physiology]; no universal agreement among highly regarded yoga teachers about anatomical principles [KINSETH—just exam various yoga anatomy books, stretch anatomy books, medical anatomy texts]; legitimate disagreement with regard to sequencing [yoga fitness tends to emphasize “warming up” and “cooling down.”]
·      Rather than national certification, “Health Freedom” may be a better thing for yoga to pursue/ advocate.  A “Health Freedom” focus presents yoga as a traditional health practice and, therefore, emphasizes consumer knowledge about safety concerns.  For example, a national/state licensed psychotherapist who wants to use complementary practices with clients informs clients that this practice is different and not supported by the professional discipline.
·      Be aware that certification produces additional costs/risks:  For licensing, may need insurance bond, state and national fees, CEUs required and costly, inspections, etc.  Modern societies are increasingly more litigious.
·      Certification, licensing tend to be pursued because yoga has become an “industry” and there is a drive for certification to “certify” a level of skill, primarily for safety [KINSETH—much of the injury from yoga practice may be coming from certified teachers and even involves injury among certified teachers]
·      National testing or YA registration does not begin to come close to meeting standards of most professional certifications.
·      Were a national test to be devised, it would be modified regularly by practitioners writing questions, which introduces a bias that is present in other national professional certification as well.


Ekachakra [author], in Om Shanti: A Yoga Blog,  reviewing a 7/10/09 NY Times article concerning a NY state regulation of yoga teacher training: “Gov’t  Regulation Better Or Worse?”:

Conclusions: Yoga cert tends to be certified with far less than a year’s practice—typically done as a fitness variation.  And often, a four week intensive, and then one is a registered yoga teacher.

10,000 hours and a five-year apprenticeship may be required to become a plumber.

Several years of yoga regular, intensive yoga practice might be recommended, then years of training, then 1-2 years apprenticeship, plus 1-2 years of class work.

Then, examine how yoga teacher training has little to do with training to deepen one’s own practice, because this modern certification cannot begin to compare with ascetic practices of Vedic priests to control senses/mental activity or meditation, or the relationship between thought and breath, or the Upanishads or Bhagavad Gita and their relationship to yogas of actions, devotion, karma, bahakti, jnana, and to an overall sense of developing a path of awakening. 

Modern teacher training is likely to only scantly reference the Pali canons.

“Yoga” has become a form of exercise/ stress relief.


Overall, there is a very clear sense that there is nothing in current yoga teacher training that comes close to approximating professional certification or licensing.  Two to four week “intensives” result in a participant being able to “register” as a “yoga teacher” at best.  There is lack of inspection, standardized testing, and extensive training by accredited bodies [e.g., universities].  There is no oversight, no common agreement on what practices are effective or biased.  One may be a fitness teacher, take an intensive training and be a yoga teacher, much like one “certifies” to teach TRX or zumba.

Certification and licensing require oversight, and lead to extensive costs for applicants,, because they are typically done for services that can draw insurance compensation or that involve service that could require medical intervention if done inappropriately, such at tattooing, hair styling/cutting and manicure, etc.  Simply on a cost/benefit analysis for the yoga teacher alone, the cost of training almost outweighs any financial remuneration.  And certification/licensing, especially if limited, may place both the fitness center and teacher at legal risk when an injury either occurs or is perceived to occur from yoga practice.

It is clear that yoga registration and certification and licensing are all driven by the popular explosion of interest that has lead to the commercialization of “yoga.”  Fitness centers that incorporate yoga want to be able to say that their yoga staff are “trained.”   That which is being registered as yoga is a de-spiritualized fitness program/ health program.  Registration following course completion somehow becomes equivalent and acceptable as “cerification.”  Certification is essentially a marketing point that aspire to assure participants are safe in a class with a trained yoga teacher.  And yet, safety is not assured by having a “certed” yoga teacher as injuries are fairly common, with injuries even occurring to certed teachers.   Injuries may be less common [but possibly quite significant] than injuries resulting from running or other activities, so that to focus on yoga is perhaps overkill.

In yoga, unlike TRX training or the latest fitness craze that someone develops and then teaches and “licenses,” there are profound issues—not simple differences—as to who decides what is appropriate yoga training.

Who has the right to decide appropriate training, regulation, and inspection?  Is
yoga even primarily oriented toward fitness and health?  And is “health” physical or psycho-spiritual?

What might be crucial in the public arena with regard to yoga, is advocacy to assure for a freedom/art of practice, or the deepening of bodywork or mental work or meditation which are fundamental to “yoga.”   As an art form, yoga cannot be organized.

It is really quite facile—too easy, too superficial—to assume that you can cert yoga.  To do so reveals a sense of really not understanding yoga.  It is like certifying zazen, if you really get a sense of what yoga is about.   You might try because you feel that there are “measurable” physiological aspects {and you would be correct] but this is true of all body work.   And now, even those findings are inconclusive, whether, for example, 30 minutes three times per week or 30 seconds 3 times per week provides fitness (as well as variations in how exercise affects individuals, with some showing super gains and others next to nothing).

We don’t cert gymnastic studios, although they are much more risky, or harmonial gymnastics, or, really, even stretching, such as “classical stretching.”  The books on the anatomy of stretching are likely to not even mention yoga.  We don’t cert circus training, although contortionists can likely outdo almost any yoga practitioner with respect to flexibility or strength.  And bottom line, yoga is trying to do something that is beyond sport and exhibitionism [although the archaic flexibility and yogic feats of breathe reduction likely arose to some extent as a source of income--a sort of court jester in the kingdoms of early India].  We don’t cert the variety of marital arts.  And we really don't cert tri-athlete training or marathon training.  We may try to establish a center that has particular resources that might measure this aspect or that aspect.  And increasingly in modern litigious cultures, anyone can sues anyone irregardless of training.

Good Directives: Broad is very correct to encourage alignment with science to continue to contribute to an understanding of potential health benefits and, especially, risks as popular interest expands.   Science has been especially good at measuring physiological changes that we might not sense, and give guidance to how to optimize, for example, flexibility.  Interestingly, I do not see the science that we do know being applied or taught in registration classes.

Not-So-Good Directives: It is too easy to presume that science will be really enhanced by certification and legislation.  And to expect people to practice only what becomes “certed” as effective yoga for either direct health benefits and/or to validate insurance claims is also facile.  Perhaps the largest current problem is the co-optation of yoga into mass fitness experience where most practitioners, registered or not, have everyone doing the same sequences [with, of course, a nod to be careful] despite differences in weight, strength, and, if really a filled-out popular class, with no ability to be everywhere at once.  But the income is too attractive and the dictum that “anyone can do yoga” and that “pain is gain” rationalize the poses.   Less people and likely less problems, but always dependent upon the facilitator, certed or not.   

Yoga is, really, by almost anyone’s standards, something that is not purely physical, or purely kinesics, or, on the other hand, not something purely spiritual.   When you do the most purely fitness-oriented yoga practice, even the hard-edged profane person has a sense of something else going on that is not occurring on a treadmill or in an “abs class” or in uber-sports training.  That “something” is un-certifiable, “un-registrar-able,” or non-licensable.  It is an essence found in a mastered martial art or in Zen, or in yoga.  To cert or register or license disgraces yoga, steals yoga, culturally robs something that is thousands of years in evolving development, and “fitness” is not the penultimate pinnacle of yoga.  It is a rip-off, shallow, and not even resulting in optimal flexibility, but remarkable in its capacity to generate income.

We don’t cert true art.

The final comment involves a sense of an obvious value for experience and training and interaction with other practitioners.  If you choose to use some level of training or some level of registration or certification or licensing, you would likely benefit from keeping a sense that such processes may not do any of the things that you presume that it does [and you will always presume that they do those things.  If you become convinced that some sort of process is crucial, you should likely continue to explore this belief.  If you presume that some process is critical/essential, you will be revealing your bias more than your wisdom.  Certed yoga teachers don't know this and they don’t know that.  Uncertified people, the same.  If you become a true believer rather than try to be continually self critical, registration and certification and training ad infinitum will tend to reinforce your assumptions rather than really challenge them.  Authenticity is not certifiable, nor does refusal to be certified make one better.  However chasing certification rather than practice is generally misdirecting in ANY body-mind-spirit practice.  And overall, as Vanda Scaravelli suggests, will impede freedom rather than optimize it.  Paradoxically, now there are practitioners who will certify you in Vanda Scaravelli’s methods.

No comments:

Post a Comment