Thursday, June 9, 2011

Might Yoga Teacher Certification inadvertently give the impression that yoga knowledge is terminal?

This post is inspired by Bindy's latest post. In a recent class, a student came up to her and asked, "Do you think your yoga knowledge is terminal?"

To which Bindy answered, "NO. I’m learning something new every single day. every single practice. just because I don’t attend classes anymore does not mean I am not still learning."

I think most of us will agree with Bindy's answer. To me, the practice of yoga is the practice of being in this world in a self-realized way. The world is changing all the time. So are our minds, bodies and emotions. This being so, there is always something to learn, something to discover, both on and off the mat.

But what would prompt this student to ask such a question? Is there something that might be giving him or her the impression that yoga knowledge is supposed to be terminal? If so, what might this be?

Here's a seemingly unrelated incident that might shed some light on these questions. A couple of years ago, I was standing in line in a grocery store somewhere. While waiting for my turn to check out my groceries, I randomly picked up a fitness magazine from the magazine shelves. I can't recall which magazine it was now (it might have been Men's Health, Fitness Today, or any one of those generic fitness magazines out there). As I was flipping randomly through the pages of this randomly-picked magazine, an article caught my eye. The article was a brief rundown of the different kinds of yoga classes out there, with a brief synopsis/description of what each style of yoga is like. Nothing out of the ordinary, I remember thinking to myself: Given the profusion of yoga classes everywhere in recent years, it is totally unsurprising that there would be a similar profusion of such well-intentioned guides to yoga classes and styles for the totally uninitiated (and presumably, bewildered) beginning yoga student.

But then something else caught my eye. Towards the end of the article, there was a short paragraph on certification which advises the reader (in so many words) that there is a national organization called the Yoga Alliance which certifies and guarantees the quality of yoga instruction, and that the reader would be well-advised to ask to see the Yoga Alliance certification of any person who claims to be a yoga teacher, lest the reader be led astray by charlatans who pretend to the exalted offices of such an exalted profession.

Well, I am such a charlatan. I have never completed an official Yoga Alliance sanctioned teacher training: The reasons for this are many and varied, and will take up another post by itself. Despite my charlatanhood (or maybe precisely because I am such an effective charlatan), I have actually succeeded in getting myself employed as a yoga teacher at several studios over the last few years (in order to protect the identity and reputation of these wonderful establishments, I shall not name them, but if you know me personally, you will probably know which studios these are). Of course, I can list all the teachers I have studied with over the years, but that doesn't count for anything if you don't have that piece of paper saying that you have 200, 500 or however many hundred hours that are needed, does it? Uh oh, am I starting to sound like some disgruntled old person bitter with the ways of the world? Well, then, let me correct this impression: I have nothing against Yoga Alliance or whatever organization that is out there trying to certify and ensure a certain quality of yoga teaching. I'm sure these organizations have wonderful intentions. In fact, at least a few teachers whom I greatly respect either teach such teacher training programs, or are graduates of some such program.

But here's where I need to stop digressing so much (bad habit!), and come back to what I was trying to say at the beginning of this post. Here's my concern: Could it be that having Yoga Alliance around, and encouraging both students and teachers to look upon its certifications as a hallmark of quality teaching, is actually fostering the perception of yoga knowledge as something that is terminal? After all, if the popular perception in the greater fitness community is that somebody who is Yoga Alliance certified is a "good yoga teacher" or an "expert in yoga", just as somebody who has a PhD or some kind of terminal degree in some field is generally considered (rightly or wrongly) to be an expert or authority in that field and (perhaps even more dubiously) a good teacher of that field, can we blame people for having the perception that yoga knowledge is terminal? Can we rightly lament the fact that so many people who are new to yoga see being certified by Yoga Alliance (again, I stress that I have nothing against Yoga Alliance) as a (rubber?) stamp of "yoga expert" or "yoga authority" status?

Just thinking aloud here. I am only a purveyor of very-non-expert opinions. But if you have any opinions, thoughts or comments (or whatever), I would love to hear from you.            


  1. This is a pertinent and timely post! Lately I've been debating where/how/when to pursue further training. I'm not a 6-day-a-week Ashtangi, but for the last couple years Ashtanga Vinyasa is the tradition I'm drawn to most.

    This creates an interesting dilemma for a budding teacher. Do I want to dive deeper into the tradition? Or do I want to get a "RYT-200" credential?

    In my case, it's my ego mind that wants that stamp of approval -- I want a validation that I'm a "good" or "worthy" teacher. This realization is about a year in the making, and one I'm still coming to terms with. I couldn't put my finger on it before, but I think your post put it in words for me. The learning (and work!) is never done. Ever. I suppose it's just another painful-at-first truth that is better acknowledged than ignored... Of course the encouraging flip side of the coin is that there really is nothing to achieve or attain. It's just a process that keeps going.

    Now I think I've gone random with my thinking aloud. Anyway, I appreciate your help sorting things out a bit more. Peace!

  2. I think the purpose of certification is to protect absolute beginners from taking a yoga class with an aerobics instructor who has seen a few yoga asanas in a magazine and decide to teach yoga classes at a gym. I live in a city where there are almost more certified yoga teachers than there are students, so certification is almost like a high school diploma. Doesn't matter how much knowledge one has about yoga; if one wants to find a yoga teaching job here one should go through a teacher training program.

  3. i understand the need of such a certificate from the safety point - i guess it's an insurance for people that these teacher-individuals have been taught basics to ensure safely leading a class.
    personally though, i believe in the 'feeling' you have about the teacher. i heard/ read somewhere that you should go and look for teachers until you find a good one that you 'click' with. you feel they work for you. and this is something that has nothing to do with certificate.
    in regards to the terminal knowledge issue, i am of opinion that you never stop learning. this does not apply to yoga only BUT to everything in life. all people open to new experiences learn every day of their life. this is what makes us grow within ~ ivana

  4. Hi Nobel

    great topic. I an torned on it, for once I do understand that for people coming into yoga with no idea may as well check on a yoga alliance certification, on the other hand, I do realize that the yoga alliance has a little bit -a LOT actuall- of controversy around it and how much it actually gets involved...

    I do not have definite answers on the YA thing I am thinking about it too, glad to hear other's points of view here. But one thing I firmly believe is that yoga is never terminal, of course, just like you and Bindy argue, we are always learning...

  5. Hello Mike,
    perhaps there isn't really a dilemma here. At least in theory, it is possible for you to both dive deeper into the Ashtanga tradition and also get a RYT 200 credential. After all, if it is really true that more and more studios are (rightly or wrongly) seeing this credential as being important to being a good teacher, having such a credential might be a way to get your foot in the door, so to speak.

    But this is just my opinion. I know at least a few Ashtanga teachers who are suspicious of or even vehemently opposed to such credentialing. They see such credentially (and the pursuit of them) as at best a distraction from what really matters (one-on-one instruction, personal practice, and the guru-parampara tradition); at worst, it waters down and commercializes the tradition.

  6. Yes, Yogini, I think you are right about many studios in big cities seeing (rightly or wrongly) having the certification as being the "entry-qualification" for a teaching job. I really don't know is this is a good thing or not.

  7. Hello Ivana, I really like the points you bring up. Especially what you say about finding a teacher that works for you and establishing a relationship with him or her. I think such a relationship, and the rewards that it brings, transcends any certification. I also agree with you that no true knowledge is ever terminal.

  8. Claudia, yes, I have some awareness of the issues and controversy surrounding YA, although I am not YA-certified myself. I don't quite know what to make of all this either. But I think the (only) thing I can really do in the end is do my practice, and do my best to share it with all who would like to experience it.

  9. Hi all!

    The practice of Yoga and yoga courses that is concentration and meditation is included in the course under guidance of the Yoga Teacher Certification India and do best and true knowledge at normal day life.

    Thanks a Lots!!