Accountability is Cool

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.



Pose of the Month: Virabhadrasana III

Life seems to be an endless game of trying to figure it out.  If you are walking on the path of soul discovery, then what you are trying to figure out is how to live every day in alignment with your highest purpose (or Dharma).  To live in this way is INTEGRITY.  Sounds easy enough in theory.  Why would you want to live out of alignment with your highest purpose?  It would be like trying to fit into clothes that are too small.  “Man, that outfit is cute, I must wear it even though I can barely breathe or walk.”  The outcome is restricted life process, and to the observer, well let’s be honest, probably a bit of humor at the absurdity of the attempt.  

So what does Integrity look like and feel like? The word has connotations of grandeur, like something that is unattainable.  But, In + to + gritty = Integrity.  When we live in integrity things are rough, gritty, sometimes abrasive.  We are so committed to staying true to our highest purpose that we stand in the middle of the sandstorm while the force of friction rubs us raw.  We move in ways that might seem strange or slow or circuitous, because we are always trying to engage from a stable foundation, if the ground is shaky, we question the motivation.  So, often that which seems easy is disregarded for that which is RIGHT.  Refinement (however minutely) is the endeavor until the solid ground of Dharma becomes the foundation, and the stillness becomes wholeness.  

People of integrity often question the world around them (trying on lots of outfits and analyzing the finest details), not because they doubt it, but because a solid foundation requires perfect alignment.  The questioning uncovers true alignment (in self and others).    Integrity is defined as “the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished,” in essence unified, the definition of Yoga.  

In practicing asana, there are many poses that allow us to explore the experience of Integrity.  Virabhadrasana III, Warrior III, is an asana that is at once expansive and fully integrated in a way that allows the feeling of Integrity to be fully embodied.  In this pose, you are called to establish a firm foundation and continually refine and readjust until the pose becomes whole. When practicing and teaching Vira III,  it is important to pay attention to the ways that we undermine our wholeness.  To stand in Integrity means to stand in the fullness and strength of essential Self,  undivided, tenacious, solid.  The definition of Integrity is the synonymous with the definition of a Warrior.  You can’t fake it. You can fake flexibility, you can even grip to create the illusion of strength, but the fullest expression of integrity is one of total openness.  Raw, vulnerable, and committed to the path of truth.

When practicing Warrior III, it is best to approach it from a place where the strength of the core and openness in the shoulders, hips and legs are well established.  The role of the feet in Virabhadrasana III is also essential to fully arriving with Integrity into the form. The more time that is spent preparing the body, the more Vira III will feel like an experience of completeness rather than disintegration.  The journey of the pose begins with the ways you discover your own strength, poses like Navasana and Chaturanga Dandasana are powerful to unfold the path to deep strength without gripping or bracing against the effort.  You can establish the foundation through the feet in poses as basic as Tadasana, or you can combine the emphasis of rooting with an opening in the legs in many of the standing asanas (Parsvottonasana is one of my favorites to prepare for Vira III). The intent of your preparatory poses is to coax strength and flexibility out from a deep place within, so that when it’s needed for Warrior III, it’s accessed willingly and with a sense of profound ease.  

When the body is responsive and open, then you can move toward accessing the full expression of Virabhadrasana III.  When you step into this asana in Integrity, you will feel plugged-in, strong, balanced, unwavering, courageous, expanded, open and free.  All at once.  Completely.  

The experience of Integrity is one of pure recognition.  When the individual pieces unite, the feeling of completeness is undeniable, and radiantly beautiful. To be whole is the ultimate alignment of your life with your highest purpose.  Even though you may still encounter challenge, you feel equipped and capable of meeting it from a fully unified space and you shine.