Yoga Teacher Training Programs Too Quick and Easy?

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Image via ~ yes, seriously.

If you want to become a yoga teacher, there are no shortage of training programs offering certification. Most urban studios offer a 200-hour Yoga Alliance registered training. You can get a generic YogaFit® training in no particular tradition. You can do a convenient online training program with Sadie Nardini, via streaming video/audio, newletters and downloadable PDFs. Or, if you’re in New York City, you can train with Tara Stiles to become a Strala Yoga-certified teacher in one month ~ 20 hours of workshop time for $2,500.

But the standards and quality of certification are inconsistent – and out of line with how yoga has been historically taught (“chest to chest,” through the relationship between teacher and student, and by personal, intimate experience). The yoga community in Toronto is getting together on September 30 to discuss the political and ethical issues around yoga training and standards. Some of the questions they will be asking: What does it take to become a teacher of yoga? What does the typical Yoga Teacher Training currently qualify one to do? Has business and profit taken over our tradition of passing on yoga and training teachers? What are the pitfalls of trying to regulate teacher training across lineages and traditions? Can we actually come up with regulations in a tradition with so many different points of view?

This is a conversation that reaches beyond Toronto and is relevant to yoga communities around North America. And based on what I saw at Geoffrey Wiebe’s Yoga Festival Toronto talk (which sparked the impetus for this event), it strikes a nerve in teachers and potential teachers. I asked Yoga Community Toronto mobilizers Matthew Remski and Scott Petrie to tell me a little more about their intention for this community conversation. Here’s what they had to say:

YTT has become an industry before our very eyes.  The number of programs and ubiquity of graduates would make it seem as though we were collectively training an army for some new and brighter tomorrow.  But really, there’s little cultural cohesion within the project of transmitting yogic knowledge.  And that’s because studios and lineages are doing their trainings based on business rather than communal models.  Business models by nature are limited in heritage and scope and sustainability.  But how else could it work here?  We’re not surprised, but wonder if there’s something better.  We would prefer that yoga not be used to polish the madding crowds of consumer culture. 

As we look around the yoga world we see the same fragmentation and dispersal of energy, meaning and coherence that fuels consumerism, leaving practitioners dissatisfied and feeling inadequate.  The more people comparison-shop yoga ‘products’ (trainings, workshops, certifications), the more disconnected they tend to feel.  Would a basic manifesto of standards, integrity, and worldview begin to shift this?  We don’t know, but we do know that the more disconnected we feel, the more we treat our yoga practice as though it were a commodity rather than a journey of self-discovery that occurs in relationship with others.

We are hosting this event because the market-driven standardization of yoga has made it difficult for yoga practitioners to connect with one another around a common language. It also serves to reinforce the ghettoization of yoga into its physical practices, which do not at least on the surface require philosophical and/or social cohesion.  Truly, our focus on the body will unify us to a point.  But if we take on the yoga tradition as a whole, from patanjali to bhagavad gita to tantrism, from ethics to cognitive science to worldview to neurology to energetics, we may begin to step away from the personal enclosure device called the yoga mat, and work collectively for the common good and the broadest intelligence.

Perhaps the only way we can begin to work together to nourish the relationships which are integral to the sustainability of our community may be through collectively constructing and adhering to standards that we aspire to throughout our lives rather than credential hurdles we need to leap over.

We don’t need yoga to be one thing or another, but in the absence of any real cultural cohesion the whole endeavour sometimes feels like every other postmodern magnet of interest – something that distracts us from our issues rather than addressing them. We need to figure out as a community how to base our teacher trainings in sustainable relationships, rather than available weekends and disposable income.  We need to come together and develop standards which will nourish not only personal practice (and personal income in an age of dwindling employment options), but the community in which we practice.

If you’re in Toronto on September 30, be sure to attend the conversation. And wherever you are, think about how these questions apply to your own community.