The Anatomical Gifts That Keep on Giving

University of Massachusetts anatomical gift donor form

In a temporal twist of fate, last week I got the news that my father, Harvey Kaminoff, passed away about 5 minutes after I returned from the local FedEx office to overnight his anatomical gift donor forms to the UMass Medical School. Although my father’s death was sudden, it was not unexpected. Fortunately, I had just organized a family visit with him the day before his death at the nursing home where he had been cared for since last October. Over the decades of my anatomical study, Harvey expressed interest in donating his body to help others gain the same kind of experience he’d seen deepen my knowledge and practice.

I am extremely grateful to Amanda Collins, the Director of Anatomical Services at the UMass medical school, and her colleagues, who helped expedite the donation process in record time. The fact that Harvey’s body will be helping first-year medical students learn gross anatomy this fall in Worcester, MA tremendously brightened an otherwise sad occasion. You can read more about my father’s influence on my life and work in this Facebook post. It seems to have struck a chord, garnering more engagement than usual.

In my decades-long study and teaching of anatomy, I have been personally and professionally enriched by the generosity of many donors like my father, and it has been an honor to facilitate an anatomical gift – this time from the family’s perspective.

My dad in his youth, on the left, and with my three sons and me in 2017.

While I’m on the topic of anatomical gifts, I’ve just learned that two spots recently opened up for our previously sold-out Movement Anatomy Hands-On Cadaver Lab in Colorado Springs March 14-18. We are limiting participation to 6 students per table, so if you’ve ever dreamed of learning anatomy in this amazing format, our lab will be as up-close and personal a setting as you will find.

I will be teaching alongside the amazing Lauri Nemetz, MA, BC-DMT, LCAT, ERYT500, C-IAYT, a yoga and movement educator who specializes in myofascial anatomy as well as one of the lead dissector on the international team at the Fascial Net Plastination Project, and past faculty dissector for Anatomy Trains Dissections®. Once these 2 spots are taken, the course will be full, so reach out soon via the KNM Labs website.

I have provided links below for those inspired to learn more about anatomical gifting, which serves a different purpose from the organ donation choice on the back of most drivers’ licenses. They fill a vital educational need, and many regions across the United States are chronically short of full-body donations for the kind medical study we do in our labs.

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Hey, 2022…I’m back!

Well, a fresh set of Covid-19 antibodies wasn’t on my Christmas wish list, but I got them anyway. Between my original March 2020 battle with Covid, three vaccine shots, and a holiday bout with the Omicron variant that had me quarantining instead of festivating, I now assume I have sufficient immunity to get through 2022 with no further incident. I am very much looking forward to resuming teaching events scheduled for the first quarter.

The next in a series of popular 2-hour online workshops I’ve been doing for our U.K. friends at Keen Yoga is coming up at the end of this month on Sunday, January, 30 at 9:00am EST, 2:00pm UK time. The topic is something we could all use right about now: “Introduction to Healing Through Breath-centered Yoga.” The workshop is rooted in the perspective that there’s always more going right for a person than has gone wrong – something I’ve had to remind myself more than once in the past couple of challenging years. The recording will be remain available to replay for 14 days after the event.

Lauri and Leslie dissecting
Lauri Nemetz and me during the livestream of our first KNMLabs dissection workshop in October 2020

Looking ahead to March (the week of my 64th birthday!) Lydia, Lauri Nemetz and I will be back in Colorado Springs at the anatomy lab of our good friend Gil Hedley to lead a unique week-long cadaver dissection March 14-18. KNM Movement Anatomy Labs focus on interests of yoga educators, movement and fitness professionals, bodywork and massage therapists and artists.

A unique aspect of this hands-on lab is the opportunity to apply some of what you see in the lab in your own body during evening movement labs. There will also be opportunities to observe one-on-one work related to structural observations during the day’s cadaver lab.

We still have room for a few more participants, so click on the link above to find out more about this very special opportunity to experience human anatomy first-hand with an amazing group of individuals.

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Miami, Memories and Me

Here we are at the cusp of September 2021, well into a second year under the looming threat of the Covid-19 pandemic. I, for one, really didn’t think I’d be saying that. Many of my workshops got rescheduled from 2020 (one even postponed multiple times!) but I am truly thrilled and eagerly anticipating a fall season of travel teaching.

Me (L) and my brother Rick, Key West circa 1963

There’s a lovely synchronicity that my re-entry to live, in-person teaching includes a weekend workshop at Kino McGregor’s new Miami Life Center, titled The Anatomy of Yoga, the Yoga of Anatomy. This topic will provide a solid grounding to the yoga I teach, and practice but – separately – I consider South Florida my ancestral home.

In the early to mid-60s, I lived in South Florida, splitting time between an apartment above my grandparents’ bar in Key West and Miami Beach, where my mother relocated as she rebuilt life with two young sons after her split from my father. Far from being the fashionable, hip enclave it’s become, the South Miami Beach I knew in the 1960s was almost entirely the province of an aging Jewish population that had found refuge from the cold Northeast and the ravages of the Holocaust. Thinking about that time span now, it’s incredible to realize that for the people I was living with in Miami, the end of World War II was as recent a memory as 9/11 is for me.

And now, after nearly two years of pandemic-separation, I will get to visit with my mother who lives back in the region, as well as teach in Miami! With so many memories intertwining on this return, I anticipate having a very resonant, heartfelt experience on this journey.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to help Kino open her beautiful new facility, and for all the hard work her team has put in to make it possible, in spite of nearly overwhelming challenges. It takes a lot of guts to open a new yoga facility these days, and I’m happy to support anyone who’s willing to take it on. If you or anyone you know is in the Miami area, I’d love to have a chance to connect.

This will be a hybrid event, with a limited number of vaccinated or recently negative-tested students attending the sessions in person as well as virtually, and filmed for replays by Omstars, a great online resource. I’m very much looking forward to connecting with the community there – even with all the challenges intrinsic to gathering with a group of people for an in-person learning event.

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2-hour Bandha Workshop available to everyone online, November 29

Back on September 29, UK-based Adam Keen posted a wide ranging podcast interview with me that covered a lot of interesting ground. We had such a great chat, he invited me to teach a 2-hour online workshop to his students at Keen Yoga who practice mostly Ashtanga Yoga. He selected one of my favorite topics: “Demystifying The Bandhas,” and registration is open to all. Here’s the workshop description:

The popularity of vinyasa-based yoga practice has created a wide interest in the theory and practice of Mula, Uddiyana and Jalandhara Bandha – the “yogic locks.” In this workshop, Leslie applies his unique, experiential approach to clarify and, above all, simplify the practical, anatomical basis of these powerful, yet widely misunderstood tools.

One of the few benefits of the COVID-19 pandemic is that my teaching is no longer restricted by geography! Come join us online for some breath-centered practice with a strong focus on anatomical and personal inquiry.

illustration ©The Breathing Project and Lydia Mann

Sunday 29th November
2.00-4:00pm (UK) / 9.00-11:00am EST
Cost: £25 ($32) 
Click here to book now

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A bright spot for 2020…a live-streamed Yoga Anatomy cadaver lab!

Hello Everyone.

I hope you’ve been staying safe and healthy in the upside-down dumpster-fire that has been 2020 so far. I’m writing to let you know about at least one pretty awesome thing coming up.

In a couple of weeks, Lydia and I travel to San Diego to produce a Yoga and Movement Cadaver Dissection Lab along with Soul of Yoga and the fabulous Lauri Nemetz, with whom I’ll be co-teaching.

This week-long lab was originally designed to be in-person only but after the pandemic hit it was reconceived to also include a livestream, online event. Reimagined for a much wider online audience, it is now a 20-hour professional training that has been fully approved by Yoga Alliance and IAYT for CEU credits. 

We’ll be streaming this training from a state-of-the-art anatomy lab in San Diego and I’m offering a special $50.00 discount code for online registrations. All you have to do is enter Y-AN.ORG50 when you sign up. Once registered, you’ll be able to access the livestream in real time, or review the recordings for up to one month. That means if your schedule doesn’t permit you to view the training during the livestream, you’ll be able to watch, pause, rewind, and review for up to one month following the lab. We look forward to answering your submitted questions, if possible during the next day’s session. The daily schedule of topics is attached below and on the Soul of Yoga site.

If you are interested in attending live, we have a waitlist in case extra spots open up at one of the tables. To get on that list or to ask about any aspect of the lab, please contact me.

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The Return of The Breathing Project!

After much research about the best method by which to deliver high quality, accessible online content at a reasonable price, I am very excited to announce the launch of a digital version of The Breathing Project Studio on the innovative Union.fit platform.

Although the groundbreaking programming at The Breathing Project studio ended in the summer of 2017, TBP has continued as an educational non-profit through which I have developed material via many live events I’ve facilitated around the world.

Now, all this new and updated material will be available for live and archival streaming beginning Monday, April 20, 2020.

I have reproduced a weekly schedule that feels very much like that of the much-beloved physical studio in New York City. I will teach 1-hour practice and theory sessions Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, with an exclusive live mentorship group every Wednesday afternoon. The full schedule is available at this link.  Once taught, all classes can be streamed at your convenience.

Class sessions can be paid for singly on a drop-in basis, or through a discounted 8-class pack. But, the best deal is the unlimited all-access community pass that includes the weekly live mentoring sessions. Registration details are available here.

At the above registration link, you can try out your first session at less than half-price (only $7.00) by entering this exclusive access code: LKYoga1. Please feel free to share it with anyone you know who’d be interested.

I am so very happy to be able to connect with you all using this amazing platform. Please reach out to me directly via email if you have any questions about these new Breathing Project classes. I very much look forward to sharing this new material with you.

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Greetings from my self-imposed isolation in New York City!

Stale Peeps-on-a-stick pair very nicely with a fine rosé.
CREDIT: Lydia Mann 

I hope you and your loved ones are faring well and staying safe during this challenging time in our shared history. Lydia and I are nearing the end of a self-imposed 14-day quarantine after returning from a month-long teaching tour of Australia. 

The trip home was….well…a trip. Our original flight on Cathay Pacific was canceled, so we enjoyed a 15-hour layover in Hong Kong. We wore our N95 masks, did our best to sequester ourselves in the near-deserted airport lounge, and we had a whole bulkhead row to ourselves on the half-empty flight back.

In spite of all our precautions, I got off the plane from our 44-hour journey with a cough, sore throat and a bit of a fever.  Ordinarily I’d expect to be a bit under the weather after such a travel ordeal and would have paid it no mind but, given the current concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, we exercised an overabundance of caution and self-imposed the quarantine at home. My fever went away in a couple of days and I was feeling myself a few days later, consistent with my ordinary recovery from a trip down under.

Unsurprisingly, several of my upcoming live workshops have been rescheduled for later in the year. We’ve got wonderful hosts who are doing all they can to accommodate the changes needed during these chaotic times. There is still so much unknown, but please refer to my calendar page for updated workshops.

Much yoga teaching has moved online in the past few weeks, a rapid and wonderful alternative during this crisis. I have made sections of my online course “Practices” and selected resources from “Fundamentals” available for free as part of a larger project called “Studio Relief.” This initiative by Mark Walsh, founder of The Embodiment Conference, brings together teachers from many styles who have donated online resources for the house-bound public. You can access my classes at this link.

As wonderful as these heartfelt and generous offerings are, I feel the need to point out that it is imperative not to permanently de-monetize our value.  If a studio is offering free classes in hope that members or card-holders do not cancel ongoing payment plans, that’s a valid business strategy. But if you are an independent teacher putting classes online for free to stay connected, consider asking students to pay on a sliding scale. It’s simply a matter of offering value-for-value. After all, internet service isn’t free nor are your electric or food bills, so neither should the yoga instruction you offer.

Wishing you and yours well,

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Old Friends, New Places, Special Spaces

I was very sorry to read about Yoga Yoga closing in Austin, Texas – not only because I had my annual workshop scheduled, but because I’d grown close to the yoga community there after a decade of teaching. Fortunately our friend Chris Totaro introduced us to Jeff Chen, and his team at PURE Yoga Texas who gamely provided a new home  for my October 18-20 workshop. I’m looking forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones as I continue my yearly Austin visits.

I rarely get to teach both the anatomy/physiology of meditation and my OM workshop in one weekend, but it’s auspicious those are the topics my friend and honest-to-goodness astrophysicist Tammy Bosler chose for our November 2-3 return to the Zen Center Regensburg! This is the same location I taught in 2017 and I was taken with the atmosphere of a space created by the practice of serious meditators. If you or anyone you know is interested in these topics and able to get to this beautiful part of Bavaria, please join us!

That same tour takes us to Wiesbaden – a city near Frankfurt I’ve only heard about – to teach for Jang-Ho Kim at Now Yoga, November 8-10. I have a special interest in mixed martial arts and I’ve heard Jang-Ho is an expert in Taekwondo, so I’m looking forward to learning more about how that connects with his yoga.

After Germany, we’re returning to London for a whole week of workshops, this time in both the Camden (November 12-13) and Soho (November 15-17) locations of triyoga. I’m particularly excited about the midweek sessions in Camden, targeted to practitioners using yoga for healing. This material gives me a chance to reference and honor the work of my teacher, T.K.V. Desikachar, who was acknowledged as one of the greatest exponents of individualized, breath-centered, therapeutic yoga.

The final leg of this trip takes us to B. Yoga, November 23-24, in Basel, Switzerland, another place I’ve never been. Meeting new places and people is one of the perks of my job, and my upcoming schedule certainly provides that.  Lydia and I hope to meet up with you on some of our journeys!

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A very full (Mr.) September!

Well, the month I’ve been waiting for is finally here: September 2019 is when everyone who purchased the Jade Yoga Calendar gets to look at my bare chest for a whole month. Being a calendar model is now something I can check off my bucket list, along with being on the cover of Yoga Journal (although it was the back cover, when Jade used my calendar photo for an ad in the May-June issue). A big special shout-out to the amazing photographer Francesco Mastalia, whose wet plate collodion work is truly gorgeous.

Now, Lydia and I are off on the first of two fall European teaching trips, and we’re excited to be starting our tour by visiting three new cities, as well as returning to some old friends in the fourth. That makes four workshops, in four countries, in three weeks.

First stop is Stockholm, Sweden to teach a weekend workshop for Yoga Shakti titled Breath-Centered Yoga and “Reimagining Alignment,” September 7-8.

Next, we land on the beautiful coast of Ireland in County Clare’s Lahinch Yoga for a midweek (Tuesday-Wednesday, September 10-11) program focused on integrating body, mind, and breath as well as non-linear teaching methods and arm supports.

Then, we hop over to Amsterdam where we recently added a Friday evening masterclass to accommodate the waiting list for our sold-out weekend program for Global Flow Yoga. The weekend will touch on some cool topics like fascia, fluids and creative chaos in the classroom, September 13-15.

From Amsterdam, we fly to Valencia not to teach but to visit the home of one of our favorite dishes – paella! It’s a trip we’ve wanted to do for a while, and we’re very happy to have a couple of days there before we wind up the trip in Madrid. This will be our fourth time teaching for our good friends Blanca and Pablo at Dhara Yoga. We really enjoy teaching in Madrid, and during this visit we’ll cover some more advanced topics related to Hatha Yoga theory and practice like Shushumna Nadi and the physiology of meditative states, September 20-22.

After all that, we will be more than ready to come home just in time for some rest and fall foliage. Enjoy the beginning of your fall!

ANNOUNCEMENT: For those of you who have been following my Wednesday night online classes on OmPractice, please note that due to my travel schedule, I am suspending those classes until further notice.

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Yoga Alliance Behind the Curtain: Regulation Battles, the Death (and Rebirth?) of Social Credentialing, Top-Down vs. Bottom-Up Inclusion

A dialogue between Brandon Hartsell and Leslie Kaminoff

In the wake of my previous post – inspired by the release of the Yoga Alliance’s updated standards – I’ve had many interactions with people deeply invested in the future of yoga teaching and teacher training.

The most notable conversation has taken place, via email and text, with my friend Brandon Hartsell, and we agreed to turn it into this post. I have inserted a good number of links, so if the topics we cover are of interest to you, feel free to dive down this rather deep informational rabbit hole. You will learn about Yoga Alliance’s anti-regulation history, their attempt to generate useful, community-based data about the effectiveness of TT programs, and most importantly, the unintended exclusionary consequences of YA’s updated standards for teacher trainers.


Brandon:  I read your 4th of July post this morning, and found it to be spot on. Thanks for taking the time to articulate it.

Leslie:  That means a lot coming from you.  Thank you for taking the time to read it.  I know that a lot of the positive changes I saw at the Alliance happened during your board tenure, so I’m keen to hear if there’s any inside information you’d want people to know about the history and importance of YA’s anti-regulation stance.

Brandon:  Sure.  I could add some additional context from my own experience as an RYT, RYS, Texas studio owner, and as a member of YA’s board.

I got interested in working with YA during John Matthews’ tenure as Executive Director. The Texas Workforce Commission became interested in regulating Yoga Teacher Training Schools, and John had the forethought and relevant experience to recognize the long-term disaster this would create.

Leslie:  So, opposing the regulation of yoga trainings is what originally got you involved with the Alliance. That’s back when a bunch of state vocational licensing boards were taking their lead from that guy in Wisconsin.  I actually spoke with him once…Pat Sweeney. I call him “Regulator Zero” because he started it all.  He actually created a PowerPoint to teach regulators in other states how to deal with their local yoga communities.  He called it “Licensing a New Sector of Schools: The Yoga Experience – Creating a Win-Win Relationship” (PDF link). I still have that slideshow.  It’s hilarious and harrowing at the same time.

My recollection is that Texas actually started enforcing the licensing law in 2010, and it got reversed a year or so later.  I know Jennifer Buergermeister, founder of the Texas Yoga Association and Conference was instrumental in getting it overturned.

Brandon:  Yes. Texas teacher training schools had already organized to oppose this action and with John’s leadership, YA assisted in successfully getting Yoga excluded from state regulation. John also had the foresight to establish the 501(c)(6) allowing YA to lobby and oppose regulation effectively.

Leslie:  Right.  As I pointed out in my article prior to that, even if YA had an anti-regulation policy, its 501(c)(3) non-profit status would have prevented them from doing much of anything about it.

Brandon: What’s interesting is that we found out the reason the Texas Workforce became focused on regulating Yoga Teacher Training Schools in the first place.  It was because they saw it as a source of income and they felt they could make the argument that YTT Schools fell under their regulations. 

Leslie:  Same in New York, except, as far as I know, YA was not helping us.  It was Alison West and others who came together, and started Yoga for New York.  We found out that the Bureau of Proprietary School Supervision (BPSS) had no direct funding from the state budget, so they supported themselves entirely from the licensing fees they collected from their targeted schools.  Back in 2009, the economy was tanking, and a lot of the schools were closing down, so they were highly motivated to find new sectors to license.  Contrary to what they claimed, it had nothing to do with consumer safety and everything to do with them finding new sources of funding.

Brandon:  That’s right.  In Texas, they had received no complaints or outcries about unsafe classrooms or unscrupulous training programs. Thankfully, Texas legislatures ultimately found this absurd – both in the Texas Congress and Senate. It may be worthwhile to discuss why the legislatures were absolutely correct from a legal perspective, which would articulate additional support for your principle-based argument, but let’s leave that to another discussion, when we could invite others who were involved to share their perspective.

Leslie:  Absolutely.  I’d like to hear from anyone who was involved, and who’s familiar with the legal arguments that led to the reversal of the licensing.

Speaking as a studio owner, can you say what it was like to have been targeted for licensing by the state?

Brandon:  As one of the larger teacher training programs in Texas, the state contacted my school (Sunstone Yoga) very early in their push for regulation. We were given the option of closing down our program or beginning the process of being licensed by the state. We began to comply in order to buy time in the hope that new legislation would pass. 

Beginning the process of compliance exposed me to how unqualified and unprepared the state was to regulate our industry. Programs have to be very cookie-cutter in order to meet the state’s standards. There are dozens of requirements that are fundamentally incompatible. 

“Beginning the process of compliance exposed me to how unqualified and unprepared the state was to regulate our industry.”

BRANDON HARTSELL

One example that stands out to me even after all these years is that a classroom hour is considered to be 50 minutes. If you hold a student in class for longer than 50 minutes you violate the law. You are literally a criminal. Now of course, there is nothing naturally criminal about a student voluntarily learning for more than 50 minutes, but if you are a licensed career school in the state of Texas, it becomes a criminal act. 

It takes about a thousand hours to get them the information they request.

Leslie:  Yikes. One thousand hours, just to file the paperwork! Even if your time was only worth the Texas minimum wage 10 years ago…[checks iPhone for minimum wage in Texas in 2009 – $7.25 X 1000]…that’s $7,250.00.00!

Brandon:  At minimum wage in 2009.  Unfortunately, you can’t just hire someone at minimum wage to take on the task. It takes a program director level person (and they will struggle). One of the studios that was a little ahead of us completed the project and spent about $20,000. That person did it on their own. We would have had to spend more.

Leslie:  And, that’s just the cost of your labor, let alone the legal and licensing fees, Certificate of Occupancy cost for each location, the surety bond – it goes on and on.

Brandon:  Needless to say, complying with licensing would have meant that most of the teacher training schools in the state of Texas would have been eliminated. We were one of the few programs with enough scale and resources to have survived the application process, not to mention the ongoing requirements which were also time consuming and burdensome. I point this out to highlight how easily regulation can be abused to the benefit of a few. There are several individuals in our industry who feel that only the State can give yoga teacher training programs validity and credibility.

Leslie:  And not surprisingly, those would be the bigger programs.  Yoga is not the first industry to have big players who would use a government cudgel to kill their competitors.  It’s sad, but true.  One of the other big programs in Texas was Yoga Yoga in Austin. I asked Rich Goldstein (the owner) about what happened in 2009, and he told me that he gave his lawyers a large chunk of change, and asked them to tell him what he should do about licensing – submit, or oppose?  He didn’t have a personal opinion about whether licensing was right or wrong, he just wanted to know the cost/benefit of either decision.  His lawyers told him it would be cheaper to comply than to fight, so he complied.  I’m sure he was aware that some of his smaller competitors would go under, so win-lose, right?  That, to me, is a good example of the difference between pragmatic and principled decision making.

Brandon:  I should point out that Barbara Dobberthien, who was leading the organization after Richard Karpel, saw the same thing happen when chiropractors pushed for regulations in the hope that they could capture more healthcare dollars through increased regulation. Well, they got it, and most of the smaller practitioners didn’t like it.

Barbara was a strong advocate for not letting this happen to our yoga community, as small mom-and-pop yoga operations are even less able to survive the disproportionate impact of licensing. It was her leadership, during and after Richard, that led to YA becoming an efficient and effective anti-regulation organization. If those skills have been lost or are being lost inside YA today it would be disappointing to say the least.

Leslie:  I guess that remains to be seen.  There are still a few potential battlefield states that are known for having a more activist regulatory stance.  As you know, I had this same concern – that YA might take their eye off the advocacy ball because of how much resource and focus will go into administering the new standards. If, for example, California goes after yoga trainings with vocational licensing, that would require quite a large legal war chest to fight properly.  California has already been hassling studios about employee vs. independent contractor tax compliance.

So, back to history: after the battle against regulation in Texas was won you stayed on with Yoga Alliance, served on the board, and eventually became the chair of the board.  As far as I know, on your watch, there were nothing but victories as far as YA vs. Regulators is concerned.

Any other inside perspective you could give?

Brandon:  Yes.  I agree with you about the importance of the relationship between the trainee (becoming a teacher/instructor) and the school that’s training them. I also agree that the certificate the school issues is the only valid credential. 

“…the certificate the school issues is the only valid credential… the relationship between a teacher holding a certificate and their students is what validates the effectiveness of the school.”

BRANDON HARTSELL

I would go further and say that the relationship between a teacher holding a certificate and their students is what validates the effectiveness of the school. 

It was this very insight that lead to Gyandev McCord and the board to support the development of Social Credentialing. Trainees providing feedback to and about their trainers and schools was implemented. 

The next step would have been for students to provide feedback about their teachers. This would help close the loop on quantifying the effectiveness of the relationships. If the newly minted teachers are happy with the schools and the students are happy with the teachers, where is the problem? 

Each of these steps has challenges but I have never heard a principled explanation from YA as to why they gave up on Social Credentialing. The few times I asked, I got convoluted answers that basically came down to a lack of trust in graduating trainees and in the public.

Leslie:  I thought Social Credentialing was an idea that was great in theory, but was executed poorly by YA. After hearing how it was going to work, I remember pointing out to Karpel that unless the graduating trainees could provide their feedback anonymously, it would never be truthful.  After all, those new instructors would graduate wanting to get teaching slots so would be disinclined to honestly answer questions about the quality of their training for fear of pissing off studio management.

Brandon: Yes, we got that feedback and I think it is a valid concern. I recommended they quantify it. It is not hard to do. Ask the question: “Is there feedback you were afraid to share because you believe there may be negative consequences?” If they reply yes, you let them know that the remaining feedback will be anonymous and not shared with the school. Then you get the details. We would then have been able to see patterns and could have adjusted.

Leslie:  On the other hand, we have seen many examples of how anonymous feedback can be used to vindictively to attack people, with inflated or outright false allegations. It’s actually happened to me, so I have seen it first hand, and it’s ugly.

Brandon: Yes, we considered a lot of the potentials for abuse of the system. There was also a concern that schools and trainees would conspire. The trainees would know the program was garbage but “liked” it anyway for some reason and wouldn’t report accurately. I find this scenario unlikely, but this open loop would be closed if we had developed a system to survey the students of the graduates.

Presumably if a high ranking school was actually garbage, student feedback would eventually uncover that. As a school owner with multiple studios that hire as many of our TT graduates as we can and who surveys our students, I know for a fact this feedback loop works.

Leslie:  Maybe it’s not too late to revive Social Credentialing, perhaps under a different name – maybe Community Credentialing or something like that.

Brandon:  There is so much opportunity for YA to facilitate real value with a feedback-centric credentialing process that I still get excited today when I think about it being rolled out on a national level.  I truly get that any one graduating trainee or any one student of a graduate may abuse the system, or at least not tell the full story – but with time and quantity of responses, the data would be significant and meaningful.

Many trainee graduates have had other schooling, so they know what quality looks like. Same for students. They don’t live in a bubble. They have taken other classes, and their opinions tell us about the relationship. In a fairly short period of time, schools could really find out how to adjust their curricula, and prospective trainees (via YA collected data) would be empowered to see the schools that were doing the best job at setting them up to be successful instructors.

But, instead of gathering data, YA gathered opinions (via the Standards Review Project). Now they have “data” based on opinions and are taking action based on that. As you said in your article: “Majority opinion does not constitute a principled stand.”

Quoting Shannon Roche (current President and CEO of Yoga Alliance): 

“At the same time, we learned from all of the feedback shared by the yoga community through the SRP that there were concerns about whether this actually is an accurate interpretation of our credentials.”

What’s to keep them from having this very same concern in 2023? The only way I can think it would change is if the majority says “we still have no idea, but we can steer the standards by saying we are unhappy.” 

The truth is no one knows the effectiveness of the standards because no one has measured. 

Leslie:  Clearly, you’ve given this issue a tremendous amount of thought, and that really shines through in your analysis and recommendations.  What comes across to me is that if the kind of system you advocate had been in place several years ago, there would have been no need for the massive, expensive undertaking of the Standards Review Project, because the information the SRP was intended to generate would have been flowing in continuously via Social Credentialing.  And useful data would have been gathered from the ground up – where the real work of teaching and learning occurs – rather than top-down, from panels of “elders, experts and wisdom holders.”

If Alliance leadership could be persuaded by your argument to re-institute something like Social Credentialing, would you be willing to consult with them on the initiative, or are you completely done with your service to YA?  (NOTE: Executive Board positions are unpaid.) What if you could be brought on as a paid consultant?

Brandon:  If our community wants to see this project move forward, I would be happy to assist in any capacity. When I first came on the board, the primary community concern was that the Registry was poorly administered. YA addressed those issues excellently. Needless to say, often the reward for an organization’s success is new, more complex problems, and new complaints. 

For example, many people became upset when YA drew a clear line in the sand between Yoga Teaching and Yoga Therapy. There were lots of complaints, but the root objection went something like this: “We agree with the rationale behind the policy, but are mad at how it was executed.” 

What a lot of people didn’t know – or were never told– is that there was a clear and present reason this happened. When we fought regulation in Colorado, one of our own RYS schools fought against YA. Their argument to the regulators, in open session, was: “We practice Yoga Therapy under the Yoga Alliance registry. What we do – if not done correctly – is dangerous. Therefore, the government needs to step in to protect the public.” 

So complaints about the rollout of YA’s therapy policy take on a different perspective if you know this. YA needed to decisively get out of therapy to protect the greater teaching community.

Leslie:  I remember you telling me about this as it was happening, and it reminded me of how the whole state regulation effort got started in the first place over ten years ago, in Wisconsin.  Pat Sweeney (“Regulator Zero”) told me that he had never considered yoga teacher trainings as a target until a local school of Yoga and Ayurveda approached him and asked to be regulated as vocational training!  Like the Colorado school you mentioned, they made a similar claim about public safety, but it was clearly an anti-competitive move on their part.  Of all the TT’s in Colorado at that time, they were basically claiming they were the only ones qualified to be training teachers because they had the Ayurveda component.

I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this story, but back in September of 2015, a few months before YA announced the therapy policy, we just happened to be vacationing in Kauai at the same time my old friend Larry Payne (co-founder of International Association of Yoga Therapists) was leading a group retreat there.  He had with him John Kepner (IAYT’s Executive Director), and on the day they were all were visiting the Hindu temple there, we decided to meet up with them.

When I had John to myself for a minute, I reminded him – for what seemed to be the hundredth time – that IAYT was doing a great disservice to its membership by not having a policy about regulation.  I knew YA was getting ready to take some action, I just didn’t know exactly what, or when, so I told him: “If IAYT doesn’t take the lead on this issue, you’re leaving it up to the Yoga Alliance to frame the conversation on Yoga Therapy Trainings vs. Yoga Teacher Trainings – and they will.” That admonition fell on deaf ears – he just wanted to get out of the conversation.

“…we need IAYT to be empowered, and they couldn’t be with the Alliance in the way – nor can they do it until they clarify their position on regulation.”

Brandon Hartsell

Brandon:  Well, we need IAYT to be empowered, and they couldn’t be with the Alliance in the way – nor can they do it until they clarify their position on regulation. This all seems reasonable to me, independent of complaints abut how we implemented the therapy policy.

So what does the community want? If they want to know they are a good school, then they are going to have to validate that by asking their graduates. If the graduates want to know if they are good instructors, they are going to have to ask their students. And when the student data is rolled back up to the schools, THAT closes the loop on the effectiveness of the school. It’s simple, but any solution that can handle both complexity and diversity will have to be simple to be effective. 

Without providing a system for gathering that ground-up data, it is clear to that me YA is inadvertently pushing from the top-down towards less diversity – and the most disadvantaged members will be the ones that suffer the most.

Leslie:  To play devil’s advocate here, I’m sure the current leadership of YA would point out all the diversity and inclusion measures they’ve taken lately.

Brandon:  And I’m sure all those measures are coming from a genuine desire for yoga to actually be more diverse and inclusive, but here’s one example of how the new, higher standards could have the opposite effect: forcing all 200 hour programs to be taught by E-RYT 500’s gives us no actual assurance we are getting better outcomes. What it does assure is that those who can’t afford to become E-RYT 500’s are being systemically excluded from the training of teachers in their communities. Either that, or they will require the assistance of others, which they also probably can’t afford. This gives an unintended advantage to those who are already able to afford these trainings, and removes the agency of those who cannot – and all without a data-driven reason. There will definitely be some amazing trainers who are left behind simply because they cannot afford to become an E-RYT 500.

“…forcing all 200 hour programs to be taught by E-RYT 500’s gives us no actual assurance we are getting better outcomes. What it does assure is that those who can’t afford to become E-RYT 500’s are being systemically excluded from the training of teachers in their communities.”

Brandon Hartsell

Leslie:  That’s an excellent point. Even if there were data that proved upgraded standards would produce better outcomes, there will still be the issue of the prohibitive cost involved in the additional training.  In that scenario, if YA were truly committed to inclusion, they would need to provide a ton of scholarships. At that point, YA starts to really look like a federal agency actively involved in wealth redistribution –  the only difference being that participation in YA is voluntary.

Brandon:  Why have diversity measures from the top down when you could be supporting inclusion from the bottom up?  There could be many instructors who have enough amazing survey results to be a significant indicator of their quality as teachers. That says a lot more to me than hours, or money spent on trainings.

Imagine a feedback loop in which a teacher documents how they improved themselves over a period of time – and there is actual student feedback data that supports their claim. For example: “….some students found me gruff, so I worked on my approach, and stopped getting that feedback…..I noticed others were getting complimented on _________, so I developed that skill….etc…”

Leslie:  That’s exactly how it’s happened for me with the online survey we instituted for my workshops several years ago.

The critical feedback is hard to hear, but it’s the only way to find my blind spots.  I have definitely  improved as a teacher – and as a human – as a result of that kind of feedback.

Brandon:  Exactly, and if an organization like YA were supporting that process for you, it would be an exceptional relationship with clear value.

Leslie: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but if the Yoga Alliance were supporting the kind of ground-up feedback system you’re proposing, I might even be tempted to join.

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