For SYTAR attendees: The original e-Sutra "Certification Manifesto"

I’m posting this in anticipation of my presentation at next weekend’s Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research in Los Angeles. This is the first, longest, and most important e-Sutra thread. It’s the whole reason I started the list/blog.

The original context of the discussion was based on the work I had done with the ad hoc committee that set the 200 and 500 hour standards for Yoga Certification in the USA. At the time I started this thread, the Yoga Alliance had not yet been formed. Since similar fundamental issues now face the Yoga Therapy community, I offer this information both as a look back, and as a preview of what’s to come.

What I’ve posted here is just the beginning of the thread, which features my original post, followed by my in-depth replies to a few of the early responses. The entire thread is available here.

National Yoga Certification Debate
4/14/99 thru 2/9/00

from Leslie Kaminoff
re: National Yoga Certification Standards

((LK: This was the very first posting to e-Sutra..))

This is, in my judgment, the most vitally important issue currently facing the yoga community. What we do or don’t do about this process will affect the teaching of yoga in America for the next several generations….and the clock is ticking. Just recently, Yoga teachers in the state of Arkansas narrowly avoided state-mandated certification.
I have been personally engaged in countless discussions relating to this topic for at least the past seven years. In those seven years, my fundamental views about certification standards have not changed, although my arguments supporting those views have become simpler and clearer with each new discussion.
I have become convinced that any discussion of the practicality of enacting National Standards must be preceded by a discussion of the *ethical principles* underlying such actions.
I will now present to you what I hope will be a clear and persuasive overview of my position.

In 1993, while serving as Vice-president of Unity in Yoga, I authored the following position statement that UIY subsequently released:
“We enthusiastically support the ongoing dialog addressing higher personal, professional and ethical standards for yoga teachers and therapists.”
“We are in support of a process that results in the establishment of yoga as a respected personal and academic pursuit, and any certification or accreditation that may result.”
“We are, however, opposed to the establishment of any entity that assumes the authority to license or regulate yoga teachers as professional practitioners and to enforce it’s standards on the yoga community.”
Actually, my former colleagues on Unity in Yoga’s executive board saw fit to release only the first two sentences, leaving out the final one. I did not agree with the omission.
Now, six years later, my former associates on the Ad Hoc Yoga Alliance (operating under Unity in Yoga’s nonprofit status), are in the process of making a similar error in collective judgment.

***The error is this: It is not enough to say that I am supporting and establishing high standards for yoga teacher training and certification. I must also state clearly, consistently and defensibly what I am NOT SUPPORTING–on ETHICAL grounds.***

Yoga ethics are very clear on this point. In fact, the teaching concerning what we should avoid (Yama) is presented BEFORE we are given the teaching concerning what we should pursue (Niyama). Furthermore, the first injunction is AHIMSA…the avoidance of doing harm.
In the context of National Standards, what exactly is it that we must avoid harming?…………….The process of teaching yoga.
What is the vehicle for the process of teaching yoga?………The student-teacher relationship.

The simplest way to put it is this: “I avoid engaging in any action that will lead to third-party interference in the student-teacher relationship.”
The positive counterpart to the above is: ***”I support and protect, through my actions, the sanctity, integrity and freedom of the student-teacher relationship.”***

The above statements serve as the fundamental core of my ethical and practical values as a yoga teacher/therapist. It would be impossible for me to overstate their importance in my life. Those statements are fundamental principles, and as such, they tell me which actions to avoid, and which to pursue. Without consciously identifying those principles, and validating their truth through my life’s experience, I would be lost and confused. My actions could proceed from fear and ignorance, and I could end up doing harm to myself, my students and my profession.
Those principles, once again, are:
“I avoid engaging in any action that will lead to third-party interference in the student-teacher relationship.”
“I support and protect, through my actions, the sanctity, integrity and freedom of the student-teacher relationship.”
These should be the guiding Yama and Niyama of the Ad Hoc Committee, because the Ad Hoc Committee is comprised of yoga teachers. If this is not their ethical core, they will be lost and confused; their actions will proceed from fear and ignorance, and they will end up harming themselves, their students and their profession.

In all the discussions I’ve had with people who support national standards, I have not been able to discover what serves as the core of their ethical and practical values. Many people profess to agree with me philosophically/ethically, but when it comes to practical implementation, they go off and argue in favor of “compromise”; meaning that they would allow “some” interference with the student-teacher relationship in order to preserve “some” semblance of freedom or control in our profession.
You, as a yoga teacher or student, should know that this seems to be the current unchallenged attitude regarding “compromise” among the members of the Ad Hoc Yoga Alliance. I know for a fact that this is the attitude of the president of the Alliance, Rama Birch, because she told me explicitly and unconcernedly that: “We are right in the middle of the student-teacher relationship” (Rama, please correct me if I in any way misunderstood your statement).
I have been called “extremist” and “impractical” because of my refusal to compromise–ie: because of my unwillingness to separate my ethical and practical values. There can be no mistake about this: if a value is correct philosophically and ethically, then it is also correct practically…period. Any other view does not constitute a compromise, it amounts to a total surrender of principles.
Again, I have Patanjali behind me on this one. Yoga’s ethical principles, the Yamas and Niyamas, are expounded in the second chapter; “Sadhana Pada” –the chapter on PRACTICE.

I could elaborate on the various details surrounding this issue, but I would prefer to see what you think about it.
I know that I’ve jumped into this discussion “midstream”. Do you need more context regarding the Certification Standards process?
Maybe someone from the Ad Hoc committee could post some background information about the history of the dialogue, and the progress to date.
If I have misrepresented the views of any of the members of the Ad Hoc Alliance, I will gladly be corrected, and I will post the corrections.


From: Leslie Kaminoff

I am (finally) responding here to an objection raised by Stefan Armstrong regarding my assertion that the integrity of the student/teacher relationship would be destroyed by any sort of insurance or government regulation of yoga in America.

Stefan summarized his objection as f
“It is a fallacy to claim prerogatives from the guru/disciple relationship in the context of yoga teaching as “healthcare delivery” — your felicitous term.
“If you see yourself as a traditional healer, you should eschew posing as a healthcare provider. If you promote yourself as a healthcare provider, then the burden is on you justify why you should be exempt from the restrictions and obligations placed upon other healthcare professionals.
“If, as you claim, the Western model of healthcare delivery is somehow bankrupt, you should not trade on the credibility of this model by calling yourself a yoga “therapist.” The therapist/client model is a product of Western healthcare, and relationships within this model should not enjoy the same freedom from regulation that the more traditional teaching and healing models can rightfully lay claim to.”

My response to Stefan:

I can see that I was not clear or complete enough in my original postings about this subject, so I will state my view as broadly and unequivocally as I possibly can.

**I am opposed to the government regulation of ANY consensual, contractual, voluntary relationship between adult persons.**

This includes doctor/patient, guru/disciple, yoga teacher/yoga student, yoga therapist/yoga therapy client, priest/parishioner, prostitute/john, and an infinite number of other possible relationships.

I need to backtrack a bit here.
This thread originally developed because I saw the need to refute the views held by some prominent yoga teachers who are influential in the current debate surrounding national standards for yoga teachers.
I disagree with Judith Lasater and others who are in favor of licensing for yoga teachers.
Licensing is very different from certification. In this context, licensing is the governmental control of the field of yoga for the supposed benefit and/or protection of the public.
Certification is the necessary foundation for any profession. It denotes the successful completion of a specific course of study in a given field. The higher the standards are for certification, the better (we hope) will be the professionals who graduate. I am concerned, though, that in the process of developing these national standards for yoga, we are (intentionally, or through indifference) inviting eventual regulation and licensing of our field.
In a previous post, I suggested that insurance reimbursement for yoga equals insurance regulation of yoga, and that there is no essential difference between the way the insurance industry or the government would regulate yoga.
In a future post, I may want to show precisely how government licensing has the exact opposite of it’s intended effect; for now I’ll just simply say that the negative effects of licensing are a good example of what happens whenever the government takes on a job that it was never meant to do.

What (if any) IS the government’s proper job regarding the above-mentoned relationships (e.g., yoga teacher/student)?
In order to answer that question, it is first necessary to define the nature of governmental power.
In a society, “the government holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force.” In a FREE society, the proper application of that force is to use it to protect the rights of it’s citizens from all forms of violence. The specific governmental institutions that do this are: the police, to protect us from domestic criminals; the army, to protect us from foreign criminals; and the courts, to protect our property and contracts from breach or fraud by others.
How does this apply to certification vs. licensing of yoga teachers and therapists? It’s simple to show that we don’t need licensing at all.
If a teacher/therapist lies about their qualifications, we already have laws against fraud; if a teacher/therapist abuses a student, we already have laws against assault and rape; if a teacher/therapist unintentionally hurts someone, we already have liability insurance available (thank you, Judith and CYTA).
What other protection does the public need?
I think we can all agree that licensing is no guarantee of competence; even certification is no guarantee of competence; in fact, there can be no such thing as a guarantee of competence.
The only relevant judge of a yoga teacher’s competence is that teacher’s students.
If enough students judge a teacher to be incompetent, that teacher will be prevented from teaching by virtue of having no one left to teach. If they have violated anyone’s rights on the way to becoming unemployed, they can be held accountable for any laws they have broken.
If we, as yoga educators are concerned about protecting the public from unqualified teachers, then we should focus our efforts on training qualified teachers. What anyone else is doing in the name of yoga is actually none of our business; it certainly isn’t the government’s business.
Creating a new government regulatory agency for each new profession is a gross reversal of the government’s true role; here it is actually *initiating* the use of force against certain professionals, instead of protecting them against force. It is also initiating the use of force against the citizens it is supposedly trying to protect by establishing what is, in effect, a government sanctioned monopoly of a profession; e.g., the American Medical Association. Truly coercive monopolies like the A.M.A. and the health insurance industry are only possible with the government’s power to wield force behind them, and they always lead to the degradation of the quality of what the public is being offered.
Is there any doubt that this has already occurred in the field of medicine in this country?
Do we want the same for our profession?
People have been seeking out yoga teachers by the millions because we offer an inexpensive, useful, healthy alternative to mainstream medicine. I’m certainly not against broadening the medical applications of yoga (it’s something I specialize in); I’m simply against any person, organization or institution that will destroy my freedom to offer that alternative on any terms other than my own.
If this be treason, then make the most of it.


P.S. Does it upset me when I hear about the latest lunacy perpetrated by some newly-certified “yoga teacher” with a weekend’s worth of training? Sure, it upsets me; but human stupidity in any form has always upset me. I’ve learned to live with it, and have committed myself to not adding to the stupidity by going around mumbling that there ought to be laws against it.


From: Leslie Kaminoff
Responding to: Mala Cunningham, Ph.D. – founder of Cardiac Yoga
Re: Licensing and Certification

Dear Mala,

This is a somewhat belated response to your thought-provoking post from December 7, 1999. I’ve quoted the passages that are relevant to my counterpoints. For the sake of clarity, I’ve rearranged the order of your quotes.

I can’t disagree with your strong stand for high standards among yoga teachers – particularly those of us who specialize in therapeutic applications. I have always said that the higher the standards, the better.

My disagreement with you stems from the fact that you make the common error of conflating issues of certification with issues of licensing. They are not the same thing, and should not be treated the same way. You also seem to have forgotten what the true nature of licensing actually is.

High standards are created by those of us who train professionals and certify that those professionals have successfully completed a certain course of studies. Your following statement is a good example of that:

((Students who go through my course in Cardiac Yoga are thoroughly trained in the anatomy & physiology of the heart, psychosocial aspects of heart disease, contraindications of certain postures and heart disease, modifications of postures, breathing
etc., as well, they are trained in how to interact with medical professionals and in understanding medical protocol. This is vital and important information, and students need to pass a rigorous competency test in order to be certified as a cardiac yoga instructor.))

The final sentence of that statement is the only one that doesn’t make sense to me:

((The standards I have set for this program are similar to the standards I had to pass when I applied for state licensure as a psychologist.))

You make it sound as if the standards for your training were based upon licensure, rather than the other way around, as you yourself assert in an earlier statement:

((…any state board that regulates professionals has usually implemented their standards and testing with the input of the experts in that field (in this case yoga teachers).))

You say the same thing near the end of your post as well:

((…These issues all fall under the realm of competency and standards and proper training. Please bear in mind that the standards that would be set by state boards would really be developed and coordinated with yoga experts from various traditions…the experts in the field of yoga will be the ones supplying information and recommendations to the state boards on standards, qualifications, testing, etc. etc…))

So, rather than saying: “…the standards I had to pass when I applied for state licensure…” it would be more accurate to say: “the standards that the state licensure board adopted that were based upon my certification process.”

Only yoga trainers like you can test the true competence of the people you train. You assert this when you say: “…students need to pass a rigorous competency test in order to be certified as a cardiac yoga instructor.” You’re the one who wrote that test. The people at a state or federal regulatory agency know nothing about your specialty, and could only copy their test from what you have already done. How could passing their licensing test do anything to assure further competency?

What shows me that you’ve really missed the boat regarding licensing is the following:

((I believe licensure is a very positive direction to go in. It would enable yoga teachers to teach in medical arenas, it would provide an avenue for yoga teachers to receive insurance reimbursement, and it would elevate the field of yoga into a professional arena for those individuals who would like to pursue yoga in the medical and therapeutic areas and bring the light of love and compassion into those areas.))

All of these things are already happening without the benefit of licensing, and will continue to happen. Many of my clients have been reimbursed, and I’m not licensed…I’m not even certified…in fact, now that I think of it, I never got my high school diploma. Who, then is to judge my competence, you may ask?….My clients, of course. If I lie to them or abuse them, there are already laws against that; we don’t need another government agency to police my professional behavior.

((For those who are not interested in this area, that is fine…I don’t believe it is wrong for yoga teachers who are interested in these areas to pursue the concept of licensure…. I would only ask that if you are not interested to please not stymie the process for those of us who are.))

No, it’s NOT fine. Can you name any other medical field where the practitioners who decided it was fine not to be licensed are allowed to practice? You seem to have forgotten that LICENSING IS NOT VOLUNTARY. You are asking me to leave you alone so you can pursue an agenda that would make my current professional activities ILLEGAL. In other words, you want to be left free destroy my freedom!

No, Mala.

I will continue doing everything I can to “stymie the process” of anyone who is working for licensing in the field of yoga; and if I fail, I will never submit to licensing and will continue to practice illegally if I have to.

Please realize that people like you could land people like me in jail…is that what you really want to stand for? You can take a stand for high standards without advocating licensing.