Why we chose to leave Yoga Alliance, by Martha McQuaid

Many yoga teacher trainings (YTT) tout their membership in Yoga Alliance as their schools’ mark of credibility and legitimacy, yet most students considering enrolling in a YTT know little to nothing about what Yoga Alliance is, or its function.

Here is some history and background:
Yoga Alliance was founded in 1997 to establish minimum standards for 200-hour YTT’s.  Yoga Alliance is a U.S.-based nonprofit membership trade and professional organization for yoga teachers. The organization is headquartered in Arlington, Virginia.

Yoga Alliance registry is a voluntary credentialing system. The teacher registry is not a certification program, but a listing of teachers who meet Yoga Alliance’s Requirements for teaching experience and have completed their training at a Registered Yoga School.

Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT), is a title in the United States that designates a yoga teacher who has received a certain standard of yoga teacher training at a Registered Yoga School, as offered by the Yoga Alliance at the 200-, 300- and 500-hour levels.

Let’s take a deeper look; Yoga Alliance is a voluntary and non-regulatory trade organization. Meaning, they have no power to regulate schools, certify students, or even enforce their own standards. A registered school can basically choose to follow or not follow the standards set, because there is absolutely no regulation, oversight or follow up. Just because a school is registered, doesn’t mean they are following the rules. For example, a YA registered school is not allowed to include public classes as part of its YTT contact hours. If you are considering enrolling in a YTT, do your homework, as this is an important question to ask.

Yoga is a completely unregulated industry, with trainings varying widely with no guarantee that Yoga Alliance regulations and codes of conduct are being followed. In the state where we are located, the only industries where physical touch is legal are licensed entities; dental hygienists, massage therapists, barbers, and estheticians. Meaning, yoga teachers a not legally allowed to touch people. There is a wide spectrum of issues in yoga that can arise from this lack of regulation – undertrained teachers injuring students with hands on adjustments, abuse of power, sexual misconduct to name a few. While vocational schools are legally required to be licensed through the Oklahoma Board of Private and Vocational Schools, (this includes YTT) this licensing agency has no power to deal with the above-mentioned issues. In fact, Yoga Alliance is against any form of government regulation. Laws and regulations are in place for consumer protection, financial transparency, and recourse if there is a discrepancy in what is being offered and what is actually being received by the student. Licensing ensures a legal agreement between all parties and protects both the student and school. While Yoga Alliance talks a good game, the lack of oversight and enforcement is only adding to these and other problems.

I was a Yoga Alliance member in good standing for 20 years, and our school for 8 years.  We made the decision to end our affiliation with YA after they required up leveling of school standards. The up-leveling requirements included a reading list with several esoteric texts, which have their own importance and deserve to be read, but are not relevant for a 200-hour YTT student.  This, along with other required material more in line with Yoga Therapy, which is a different scope of practice, also are not relevant for a level one YTT. YA is also approving online 200-hour YTT, which carries the same weight as an in-person training, but with much lower costs- thus throwing brick and mortar schools under the bus. These and other issues were a red flag to us that the up leveling standards seemed to be more about inflating YA’s own standing, and less about the reality of teaching students how to actually teach yoga vs. lead a group exercise class, or even advocating for YTT students or schools. In reality, our standards actually exceed those set by Yoga Alliance. We could have jumped through all the hoops, and gone ahead doing what we wanted while ignoring YA set standards, which in my opinion would be dis-integrous. In the end, it has felt like the main priority of YA was to make money, and not to offer any substantial benefits, help, or oversight to those of us out in the world doing the job.

The bottom line to anyone considering enrolling in a YTT program is thorough research. Ask questions, compare programs, talk to other students and graduates about their experience. Then consider what you want to get out of the program- a quick certificate to teach a set sequence or two, or a meaningful educational experience that has the potential to transform your life and the lives of others?