Because my job is training Yoga teachers, I am often asked my opinion on Yoga Alliance. In case you don’t know, Yoga Alliance is a not-for-profit standards-setting organization that has been in constant evolution since it’s inception in 1997. According to their website, the mission of Yoga Alliance is to promote and support the integrity and diversity of the teaching of yoga.
People have lots of differing opinions about the purpose and validity of Yoga Alliance just like there is a wide spectrum of opinion about any organization that intends to set a bar. I am a fan, and here’s why.
I joined Yoga Alliance in 2004, not long after completing my first YTT. I was excited to pay my dues and be listed as a Registered Yoga Teacher. It was a sign of my accomplishment, and a choice to hold myself in integrity as a teacher. The investment was meager, and the outcome was that whether real or imagined, I felt a sense of responsibility to uphold the standards that Yoga Alliance laid out (which back in 2004 was pretty basic). I was now a part of something bigger. Bigger than my training, bigger than my studio. I was aligning with the idea that we all of the members of Yoga Alliance are making an agreement of integrity in the practice and for the practice.
I like the system of checks and balances. I am always the best teacher when I remember that I still have so much to learn, when I honor that everything is in constant refinement, and when I value the perspective of others to help me see in my blind spots. That’s what Yoga Alliance membership does for me. They don’t follow me around, breath down my neck, put me through the riggers of fitting into a box of what they perceive yoga to be, but they are a foundation on which I can stand in times of confusion and a structure on which I can lean when I need support.
After my initial registration I didn't think much about YA until about 8 years later when I decided to register my first School. The organization was supportive and helpful, and NEVER tried to influence the way that I was offering Yoga in the world. They did, however, make sure that what I was offering met the standards that they set forth. We were assigned a “case manager” who helped us through the application process, and was available if we had questions or needed an opinion. I felt respected and supported in the process, and have registered 3 more schools since then, and continue to feel that the organization upholds and supports me as a teacher of teachers. As Yoga Alliance has evolved to become a more structured and systemized organization, we’ve all bitched about it a bit. We are now expected to do more to uphold our registrations both as teachers and as schools, and what an improvement that is. Registered Yoga Schools now have to account for what they are teaching and how it is of benefit to the students (and to the growth of Yoga in the world). To me, accountability is a great thing. To be held accountable for the information that you offer your students keeps you in check. It keeps you real. It keeps you from believing that you are the end-all-be-all authority in all things Yoga.
The fact that, as directors of Schools, we are held accountable for our own studentship is another boon that Yoga Alliance offers. As teachers and teachers-of-teachers, we are expected to continue to grow and learn. Many yoga teachers do this without the necessity of accountability, but not all. And the moment when you think you have it all figured out is the most dangerous moment of all. So I have deep gratitude that my decision to align with the standards set forth by YA keeps me responsible for my own growth and learning.
There are a LOT of Yoga teachers and teachers-of-teachers who diss on Yoga Alliance and their role in Yoga Teacher Trainings. What I would like to offer is this…why not? Yoga Alliance is not an arm-twisting dictatorship out to control what you offer to your students, nor is it a money hungry, power monger trying to rob you of your well earned prosperity. Yoga Alliance is simply trying to set a bar on what we are offering as Yoga in the world today without stifling our individual voices or expressions. Why not be held accountable in this way? Why not be responsible for keeping ourselves in check? Why not make sure we don’t get too carried away with our own knowing? Why not align with something bigger? Isn’t that the point of Yoga after all? To unite our individuated expressions with a bigger vision.
I think that Yoga Alliance, through all of it’s ups and downs, has successfully held on to this bigger vision. As it continues to grow and evolve as an organization, I hope it stays true to its mission. If you are a yoga student contemplating where to practice or with whom to study, I encourage you to find the answers to these questions, and make sure they align with your inner compass. As a yogi, check yourself. Are your choices coming from your integrity or your ego? Yoga is an endless practice, be wary of anyone who thinks they have it all figured out. Honor those who hold themselves accountable, and it is likely that they will honor you in return.