This timely piece in today’s NY Times discusses a recent trend of state governments trying to regulate yoga teacher training programs. This would involve a pricey certification process and fees, and would be conducted independent of Yoga Alliance, the current national regulatory body for yoga training programs.
Personally, I think it’s outrageous for states to try to make money off yoga studios. Maybe I’m just cynical, but I find it highly unlikely that state regulators have any real interest in ensuring the quality of yoga training programs–all they really want is to take a cut of the $6 billion yoga industry.
But will government regulation necessarily be worse than what we currently have? Yoga Alliance is the official certifying body for teachers and teacher training programs. Some people happily pay their dues to Yoga Alliance so they can remain “RYT,” but I have also heard a lot of criticism from people that such certification means very little in the end. The evidence seems to bear this out. Just about anyone can become a certified yoga teacher these days, as long as you have the time and money (thousands of dollars, usually). I’ve seen opportunistic people who have taken fewer than 10 yoga classes go and do a teacher training course so they can add “RYT” to their resume, and then reap the financial benefits by teaching yoga to unwitting students. There are even yoga teacher training correspondence courses that you can do entirely through the mail! These are extreme cases, but in terms of credibility (or lack thereof), it’s not all that different from the more common situation where people with less than a year or two of yoga experience become certified teachers, usually in just a few weeks. This is something that would never happen under the “traditional” system of yoga training. Before yoga became a multi-billion-dollar industry, training to be a yoga teacher was a serious undertaking that required years of practice and then years of training. As much as possible, training was kept free of all financial and profit-making elements, so that the motivations of everyone involved stayed true to yoga.
I know the “traditional” scenario I’m describing sounds hopelessly idealistic and infeasible for the current situation in the US, but I do think there’s some middle ground. At the very least, teacher training programs should be much longer than they are, certainly a lot longer than these “4-week intensives” that are all around. For comparison, let’s consider some other professions and how long it takes to be certified to work in them. To become a plumber in this country, you often need to do a 5-year apprenticeship (10,000 hours) plus nearly 800 hours of classroom time. The requirements to become a certified electrician are similarly demanding. If you want to teach at a university or even at a community college, you usually have to go to school full-time for 2 to 10 years to get a MA or PhD. So why should someone be able to teach yoga with just a few weeks of training? Compared to other sorts of professional training, yoga teacher training is kind of a joke. If Yoga Alliance, the state government, or whoever, is really concerned about maintaining quality among yoga teachers, then I don’t think it would be too onerous to require a 1 or 2 year apprenticeship and 1 to 2 years of classroom time to become a yoga teacher. This would vastly improve the quality of teachers out there, and would do a lot to weed out those who really aren’t committed and are just looking for a quick and profitable career change.
Of course, a lot of studios depend heavily upon teacher training programs for revenue, and they market these programs not just towards would-be teachers, but also to people who want to deepen their practice. Maybe these two groups should be split up. Teacher training programs should be conducted just for people who are serious about becoming teachers, and the “deepen your practice” programs should be advertised as something else. This way, studios could still make their money, while ensuring that teachers-in-training are both serious about yoga and trained well.
My last remark on this topic is that, under my proposal, I would not be able to teach yoga. This is fine with me. I enjoy teaching yoga, but readily admit that I would be a much better teacher if I had the opportunity to study under a “master yogi” for several years and apprenticed with him/her. While I lived in LA, I did something akin to this by practicing for five years, almost daily, with some of the best teachers in the country. And I’m confident that this experience is more valuable than any certification that I could get in 4 weeks, at the cost of $2000-$4000. But I also know that I still need to learn a lot more, and feel woefully inadequate at times in my knowledge and abilities as a teacher.