National Yoga Certification Debate

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 preceeded 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 dialogue 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 imposible 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 discusssion “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 follows:

“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 practitoners 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.





P.S.  If anyone on e-Sutra wants to know how to qualify thier clients for insurance reimbursement, e-mail me and I’ll tell you.



From:  Jane Vogel, PT, PCS


When I refer to licensing and it sounds confusing, it is because I am confused about the conversations that are happening here.  I do not believe that licensing equates with high standards.  In fact, licensing usually equates with minimum, entry-level standards, ie, new graduates take a licensing exam.


In some professions they are not allowed to see clients unsupervised until they pass that licensing exam. This should tell any fool that a professional with a license is a professional who can pass an exam, not necessarily the same as a professional who is good at what they do.


This gets to my question about what are you talking about licensing yoga teachers for?


Are people saying a yoga teacher can go through a licensing process and then offer their services, group or individual  to anyone that comes through the door? Are you considering the type of stepwise certification that American Council on Exercise has, where someone get be certified as a Personal Trainer and then after further coursework and work experience take an exam to certify for Special Populations.  If your profession goes to licensing, there will be restrictions on what you can and cannot do because that is what a license is about.


Because of the legislative process, yoga teachers can expect to have a presence at state legislatures because all kinds of odd things can happen to a practice act in committee that have nothing to do with what you want or what is good for your students.  Some of these same questions apply to certification, except this is regulated within the profession and you have less concerns with state legislatures.


Please don’t take my comments as throwing cold water over your plans.  I think that this forum is taking on some hard questions and there are pros and cons to both sides.  One of the reasons I did not post to the general discussion board is  that I am not sure if I am confused because there are still many things about yoga that I do not know or if I’ve missed part of the discussion that would have answered my questions.


Jane Vogel, PT, PCS



Leslie responds:


No one I’m aware of is currently pushing on a national level for licensing of yoga teachers.  There is every likelihood, however, that this will occur in the near future.  It will occur either through the direct action or the passive indifference of people in the yoga community.


Mala Cunningham has come out in favor of licensing on e-Sutra and I have offered a refutation of her ideas.  If anyone on this list can find an error in the points I have made, they are certainly welcome to do so.


From the very beginning of e-Sutra, I have repeatedly argued against doing anything now that would make it easier to create licensing in the future.  The National Registry of yoga teachers that has been proposed falls into this category.


Insurance regulators and their cousins in the government can currently only deal with individuals who choose to deal with them.  I say leave it that way.  A registry would put into the hands of the regulators a powerful tool for creating an exclusionary framework that woud put non-registry teachers at a serious disadvantage in the marketplace.  These people would put a regulatory noose around the neck of any yoga teacher they deal with; I see no reason to offer them a collective neck and tie the knot for them besides.


Make no mistake about it…there are insurance and government bureaucrats in the U.S. who see it as their job and duty to regulate ANY professional practitioner or educator – including yoga teachers.  Why should we make it any easier for them to do that?


I, for one am in favor of actively opposing regulation.  We can do this by strongly stating that we, as yoga teachers, value the integrity of the student-teacher relationship and will protect it against any forces that would compromise that relationship.


The following is a section of a post I wrote on Nov. 23, 1999 on this very same topic.  I stand by it now as much as I did then.  I would only add that however benign and inclusive you may try to make the registry, there in no way to avoid the fact that a registry would put one group of yoga teachers in the position of judging the qualifications of another group of yoga teachers.  That’s why I say to the Yoga Alliance that they should establish the standards, publicize them, disband, and then leave it alone; with no administrative structure to turn over to the regulators.


11/23/99 Post:

((If we are going to create a registry of teachers and hand it over to HMO’s, etc., we had better realize what they are going to do with it. They will regulate us in the same way they regulate any healthcare providers. They will immediately impose price controls and time limits on yoga instruction. Eventually, if they ever get around to reimbursing teachers directly, we can expect demands that we carry insurance (premises and professional liability), lists of prohibited postures (e.g., headstand, plow), and lots of paperwork (ask any healthcare provider what it’s like to deal with insurance reimbursement).  Is this what we want to help them to do to yoga teachers in America?


I respectfully suggest that the Alliance do the following:

** Complete it’s task of creating 200-hour standards for instructors, 500-hour standards for teachers, and maybe 1500-hour (or more) standards for yoga therapists.

** Recommend the number of those hours to be spent on the various practices, subjects, apprenticeships, etc.,

** Make it clear that training programs and individual teachers will comply with the standards on a completely voluntary, honorary basis…No enforcement or verification.  It will be up to the students to determine the honesty of their teachers (it always has been, anyway).

**Publish and thoroughly publicize the standards and the terms of compliance to the entire world.



We don’t need another yoga organization in the world.


Yoga in America has done just fine up until now without the benefit of a registry.  A registry should be created and maintained by whoever will benefit from having and using it (e.g., HMO’s).  Let them do the work; they already employ professional bureaucrats, and we don’t need more of them in the world either.))




Why National Yoga Certification Standards is a Bad Idea


A critique in progress prepared by Ganga White, Tracey Rich, Joel Kramer, Diana Alstad and other teachers and friends of White Lotus Foundation.)


Last Updated: October 8, 1999


This letter is posted at and may be updated and modified as it evolves. Unedited copies may be shared in their entirety with interested parties.


A group of yoga teachers have formed an organization, The Yoga Alliance, and are pressing teachers and organizations to agree to certain national standards for yoga teacher education. They have also proposed a registration mark or seal, “RYT” (Registered Yoga Teacher), to be issued by them and used nationally. There is good reason to want to improve the quality of yoga teaching in America. Questionable certification programs, self-appointed masters with little or no training and instances of abuse have been reported. This cannot be disputed, but the real question is whether regulations will change or improve things at all. We argue that it will not only fail to do so, but will probably make things worse.

The Purpose of Setting Standards

Some overt reasons why people want national standards for teachers include: 1) improving quality and ensuring that people don’t go to teachers who are harmful or destructive; 2) giving a baseline for helping people choose teachers; 3) giving a specific meaning and standards to teacher certification. Presumably, the whole idea behind this is “consumer”-oriented—giving students better choices. It assumes that now the consumer could be getting poorly trained teachers. It is also hoped that standardization will allow good teachers to connect into established systems, like insurance companies, to get benefits and payment. Another rationale is that standards will construct a certain kind of professionalism in the field. Point-by-point it can be shown that this is not a good idea and will actually rebound and have a negative effect. A number of things the Alliance plans to do, like dissemination of information, do not need an exclusive or standard-controlling organization of teachers at all. All one needs a Web site. Another stated purpose is “to nurture the yoga community”. Do we want to create a bureaucracy to nurture yoga students? When has a controlling bureaucracy ever nurtured anyone other than its own members? Having standards neither guarantees nor is required for any of these types of things to happen. If one wants to do these types of things, one can simply do them—national standardization isn’t needed.

“To educate about the Yoga Alliance” is another stated purpose. Even if this national registry comes about not every teacher and organization will join. This means there will be teachers who operate under their seal of approval and those who do not. Would this education by the Alliance then basically take the form of propaganda that says or implies that only those with their seal are the good guys and those who do not have it are the bad guys? Creating the Alliance will force the Alliance to claim themselves the best and most qualified—increasing division and conflict.

Blurring the Secular and Religious

The Alliance’s standards cross the line from the secular to the religious. By including meditation, chanting, instructions on how to live, right livelihood, lifestyles and ethics, they have crossed the boundary into sectarian, religious perspectives. What differentiates yoga from professions with licenses and standards, such as the medical, the dental, chiropractic and even massage professions, is that in many people’s minds, yoga has two levels—the physical/technical and the spiritual. Unless they want to divorce these two levels from each other—which it appears they do not, then it is not the same thing as, say, the medical profession which has fixed standards of scientific knowledge, practice and procedures that can be tested. One reason you can certify a doctor is that there are these objective standards of knowledge that one has to demonstrate and fulfill. Basically, as soon as you begin to combine these two areas, like bringing in right livelihood and meditation, there is no agreement as to what these things are. The Alliance has not yet defined these things, but requiring them without definition is meaningless. Defining them would confine them to one group’s belief systems and opinions. The Constitution of the United States specifically states that no government laws will be established regulating religious beliefs or practices. But in order to be certified by the Alliance we must accept the values, mindsets and beliefs that they set. There is no one yoga philosophical standard. Some yogis are vegetarian, some are not. Some Raja yogis (followers of Patanjali) believe in Hatha Yoga; some believe it a trap and pitfall. Some say that one should only or mainly do yoga in classes in order to be corrected and sure of doing it right. Others say yoga is an inner exploration that can only truly be done on one’s own and that a personal practice is therefore a more essential “training” than classes. Some believe celibacy is absolutely necessary; some think a free sexuality is necessary. Some say yoga is a path to truth; others that there is no path to truth. What then is right livelihood, right diet, right ethics? And most importantly, who decides—and on what basis?


Mininum hours of training as a Standard?


Standards could possibly make sense if purely physical practices were separated from the spiritual aspects of yoga. Asana and pranayama would then have to stand alone. But most yoga teachers would not wish to see the context of yoga stripped down and shifted in this way. Say one decides to limit the standards to the physical aspect of teaching.


What kind of standards can be set other than the number of hours of training? Certainly standards of strength, flexibility or how many positions one can do cannot be the measure. There are acrobats, dancers and gymnasts who can do more than many yogis who have practiced all their lives. Does this mean they understand or can teach yoga? Suppose we use numbers of hours of class attendance. Does this ensure the person is a good teacher? Does a massage certificate (a profession with standards already set) ensure a good massage? Some great and renowned yoga teachers have never taken a class—this means they could not make the registry! Many teachers who have taken hundreds of hours of classes haven’t practiced in depth on their own. Can one become a good teacher without a personal practice? Should minimum numbers of hours of personal practice also be required?


The problems are endless.


It could be argued that while a minimum number of training hours won’t be a guarantee of teaching quality, it would be a bottom line of basic training. If one attended a certain number of classes, it would at least show exposure and supposedly increase the likelihood of becoming a better teacher. Then does it matter what kind of training these hours offer? Can it be eclectic and broad? Is this the same as focused and specialized hours? Which is better, how do we decide and who sets the standards behind this? What if the standards are totally open (as the Alliance is presenting them now) with only specific numbers of hours of any style of training. What does it really mean to have the seal of approval? Does it mean one is qualified to teach yoga to anybody? How does choosing a RYT teacher protect people from getting injured by teachers using techniques that are inappropriate or improper? How does the Alliance protect the consumer who sees the RYT seal and feels this assures good instruction? The seal certifies or implies that a person is a trained professional meeting the standards. This would open the Alliance to lawsuits for the acts of registered teachers. Many doctors regard certain yoga practices as dangerous and harmful and could testify as such. These are other ways registration can rebound.


Do standards prevent abuse?


It’s unfortunate that some teachers seem to lack ethics and there are instances of abuse. There’s no question that various types of abuse, both physical and mental, occur. But abuse won’t be eliminated by regulations which attempt to control it. Does anyone seriously think having rules against it will stop it? Yoga abuse is often between consenting adults, one of whom is naive. Abuse covers a whole spectrum of interactions that depend on the context, motives, and many things—it’s not just a clear-cut act that can be externally regulated. We must educate people’s understanding so as to reduce naïveté. This movement to regulate is power-oriented and is trying to institutionalize yoga by making it into a static, defined, structured, hierarchically controlled activity.


The government already has protection, laws and punishments against fraud, sexual abuse and injury. We don’t need the Alliance for this. Furthermore, a few of the swamis and yogis on the list of supporters have already been exposed for sexual and other forms of abuse, but they are now the champions of ethical standards! Imposing ethical standards is very precarious, especially in the arena of dating and love. Many fine teachers are happily married to former students! Will a teacher and student’s falling in love be stopped by a rule? People will still do what they do and just make it more secretive. The vast majority of yoga practitioners are adults. Are we to treat people as adults or children?


What we must do instead is make people more aware. Yoga at its best is an activity that brings more self-awareness. The teacher’s job is not so much to legislate what’s right and wrong, but to help people move into realms of greater awareness. It is not the job of the teacher to tell people what to do, nor how to live, nor how to be, but to allow them to gain more self-awareness so they make the decisions for themselves that are right for their lives. The solution to complex, knotty problems is not regulations. Such attempts at problem-solving through bureaucratic control neither work nor are conducive to growth—on the part of the student or the teacher.


What is the Essence of Yoga?


In delineating between the physical and measurable content of yoga and the immeasurable spiritual-religious content, who are the watchdogs of all this? Who will supervise the supervisors? Once the door is open to standardization and legislation, how far will it go? Yoga is at least as much an art as it is a science. Do we register artists and musicians? Dance schools are just lineage affiliated. Yoga is not just a mechanical process. Even though it has a mechanical and measurable aspect, it is a non-mechanical, living thing at its core. Basically it has a very creative, non-mechanical essence that people tap into. Do we really want to turn yoga into a mechanical structure that a bureaucracy regulates? This so goes against the very essence of yoga that it cannot be permitted!


Yoga has been free and unregulated for eons. India has every manner and type of yogi and no government or other regulation. For millennia the tradition has been that the student chooses the teacher, and the choosing is part of the growth. Now our Western conditioning wants to try to control it. Why not educate students in intelligent choices instead? We should let the public decide who they want as teachers. Keeping the field free and unregulated keeps people aware that they must choose wisely. This is wiser than making the choices for everyone by registering a small group of teachers as “the good ones.”


Fundamentally, the abuses that will come from attempting to regulate something that essentially cannot be regulated will be greater than the abuses occurring now. Let’s not synthesize the worst of both East and West, combining old authoritarian tradition with modern authoritarianism—bureaucracy. Rather, wouldn’t it be better to take the best from both worlds? Take the questioning, free spirit and scientific wherewithal from the West and combine it with wisdom and insight from the East. Making a bureaucracy of yoga and trying to regulate it goes against the core of what yoga is.


Should we put yoga into the mold?


Much of the mind and reason of these standards is trying to mold yoga into the Western medical-insurance model in order for some people to make a living. Do we really want to try to make yoga fit into the flawed, Western bureaucratic health care system, dictated to by corporations and insurance companies? (If insurance companies want to have rules or standards, let them make their own.) Every one knows this model is highly flawed to begin with. We may not totally accept the Eastern worldview but we don’t want to mold it into non-viable Western structures. Is the RYT to become the AMA of the yoga world?!!! Even the goal of getting yoga into the school systems would be weakened by these proposed standards because they promote the religious parts of yoga such as chanting, meditation, ethics, lifestyle and study of Hindu scriptures like the Bhagavad Gita and Patanjali.


Yoga is not about professionals making a living. It’s fine if people make their living with yoga but this is not what it’s about! It’s more about self-exploration and the self-knowledge and insight into life one can glean from this study and practice. It can be deeply personal and private. Are we going to treat people like adults or children—the latter, incidentally, is what the Western bureaucratic model does. It takes people, plugs them into the system, tells them what to do, and says, “Don’t ask too many questions. We know what’s best; we know the way.” The issue is really about economics, control and power. Many people are fighting hard against this dysfunctional approach and here the Alliance is trying to fit yoga into it!


Fear of the “Outside”


A good part of the motivation for the registry is justified by a fear that regulation will be imposed upon us from the outside. There also seems to be a subtle interest here in controlling the inside. We feel that fear of government control is unwarranted and specious. The government has as much interest and ability in controlling yoga classes as it does dance classes! You can’t control this kind of thing. The same reasons we would fear government control from the outside should be applied to governmental control from the inside. It will still be “government” control! Inner government or outer government regulation of yoga are both undesirable. Though their motives might be sincere, what types of people want to establish this kind of controlling body? Additionally, it is not now, and could not possibly be, a democratic government. Did all yoga students or even all yoga teachers decide to do this, vote on it and elect this group? This group does not represent even the inside of yoga! There is neither agreement nor acceptance of this—it is being imposed. Even if it were democratically decided upon, we still find it ill advised for all the reasons already stated.


Haven’t we learned that power corrupts? No matter how sincere and well-intentioned people may be, once put in a place of bureaucratic power they face the danger of being attached to the power that that gives them. Controlling ourselves out of fear of being controlled by the government, is in fact being controlled by the government. Postulating that the government is going to control us is specious because they can’t—if for no other reason than the Constitutional prohibition.


Let’s not institutionalize Yoga


Some teachers or organizations may qualify for the proposed seal and, being unaware of implications and repercussions, feel there is no harm or loss to join and sign on. Even though White Lotus’ teacher training meets the proposed standards we are not joining this movement. We feel this whole movement is contrary to the feeling and inner spirit of yoga. We feel it will cause far more harm than it will correct. We feel this movement is attempting to institutionalize, bureaucratize and police yoga. We do not want to see such yoga politics created. We’ll have the same number of good and bad teachers with or without national standards. Yoga is far too big to be put under one umbrella! We ask, is it good for yoga at its core to be both institutionalized and bureaucratized? No, it’s in our best interest to oppose strongly all such attempts to institutionalize yoga. We must educate students in right choices and what to look for in teachers instead. Education and awareness is the only answer!



from Rama Berch, President of Yoga Alliance


Dear fellow Yogis,


In serving as the volunteer President of Yoga Alliance, I have made contact

with many different people.  One great connection is with a Feldenkrais

practitioner who offers his volunteer work on a legal committee with their

national organization.  He offered me a lot of information based on his

experience in this volunteer role, so I asked him to write it up to share

with all of you.

If you would like to communicate with him, please email me — I forgot to

ask his permission to give out his contact information!






Rama Berch

Master Yoga Academy

7592 Fay Avenue, La Jolla CA 92037

phone 858-454-6978  fax 858-454-5541



Dear Yoga Friends,

It has come to my attention that yoga practitioners are being concerned

about the possibilities that yoga might become legally regulated. I have

also heard that there is an organization that has developed standards for

yoga teachers. Let me say right away that I am not a yoga teacher, or even a

yoga practitioner, but I have a great deal of respect for any good yoga

teacher/practitioner. I am a physical therapist; massage therapist and

Feldenkrais(R) practitioner.

The reason I am writing is that I have followed the dealings of the massage

board in Arkansas in their attempt to regulate “any hands-on practice”. That

would include Feldenkrais, even though our guild specifically says that we

do not do massage. Trust me — it took a long time, and involvement of

attorneys (one who luckily enough was very competent and a Feldenkrais

practitioner) to solve the situation in Arkansas.

I think that I can say that the only reason that we were not regulated

under the massage board (!) is that the Feldenkrais Guild has trademarked

the term Feldenkrais, and has VERY CLEAR EDUCATIONAL STANDARDS. I know that

at this point it would be impossible to trademark yoga, but I think you

would be very wise to have some kind of internal standards.

One question that kept coming up when we met with the massage board is

“what are your standards of training?” and “How do you regulate yourself?” I

can guarantee you that we would not have the freedom to practice in Arkansas

if we had said that anyone can call themself a Feldenkrais practitioner, or

if we had no central regulating organization.

To be a certified Feldenkrais practitioner you need 800 hours of training.

That is more than the 500 hours of training that many massage programs seems

to advocate. I am not saying that yoga teachers need 500 hours, but I think

it would be beneficial if you could show some kind of internal standard,

even a voluntary internal standard. The important point is that you have

some standards to point towards.

Trust me, sooner or later yoga will be dragged in to the regulation game.

Right now yoga is big, but there is still not enough money to be made in

yoga. As yoga continues to grow, or maybe I should say explode, the

financial incentives for regulation will also grow, and the government will

want a piece of the cake. The states will claim that they are protecting the


Please be preventive and put some regulations in place before the

Government does it for you. At that point the yoga community will have lost

control of their future, and legislators with little or no knowledge of yoga

will decide your future.




Staffan Elgelid



From:  John Kepner


I appreciate the thoughtful, experienced and helpful words from my good friend and extraordinary teacher, Staffan.  Still, I would like to draw some distinctions between Yoga and Feldenkrais that have some relevance for standards and regulation.


Loosely speaking, Yoga can be taught in group classes for fitness, awareness and related, privately for therapeutic application and in many different ways as a spiritual discipline or for spiritual support.  Feldenkrais is practiced only for the first two.  (Yes, I know there are many gray areas here and many problems with the word “therapy” for both Yoga and Feldenkrais.)


For better or worse, states are regulating most therapeutic practices, from massage to medicine.  Some “alternative” health care practices such as Acupuncture have purposefully established regulatory boards to set standards of practice and training in order to achieve professional recognition, consumer safety (and economic protection say some economists).  Some would like to apply that health care model to Yoga.  Indeed, there was an ill-advised effort in Arkansas to mandate the state certification of Yoga teachers based upon this perspective.


However, Yoga is still a spiritual practice for many in America.  For example, when the efforts to regulate Yoga were publicized in Arkansas, many spiritual practitioners “came out of the woodwork”, so to speak, to oppose such regulation on classic first amendment grounds.  This was in addition to opposition by the many, ostensibly “asana only, keep your spiritual practice to yourself” practitioners.


The Yoga Alliance appears to be keeping to a fine line by establishing a voluntary means to recognize teachers whose training meets certain minimum standard but leaving alone the many practitioners that don’t want anything to do w/ standards and regulation and especially leaving alone the many “spiritual practitioners.”


One could say the current minimum standards by the YA are far too low for anything as formal as a national registry or worthy of initializing.  (Contrast the 200 hours w/ the 500 hours for massage).  Still, the history of professional standards in many disciplines is a steady increase in training requirements so perhaps this will increase over time for Yoga as well.


A more difficult challenge for Yoga will be standards for therapeutic practice.  This is where Staffan’s comments may have the most relevance.  Yoga does not have any common standards for therapeutic application.  Instead, we have widely different notions of even the dimensions of such therapy.  Some say Yoga therapy must have a spiritual dimension if it is to be authentic Yoga-cikitsa, others say “why?” if the therapeutic practice is limited to back care.  Part of the problem is the word therapy itself and the diverse implications.  Probably, however, if Yoga therapy, whatever it is called, is to have the respect and understanding in the health care field along the lines of massage therapy, physical therapy, psycho-therapy, etc, some common standards will be necessary.  Especially if insurance reimbursement is desired.  Whether respect and insurance is worth the cost is still debated.


I trust, however, most would not debate the necessity to preserve and not interfere with the efforts of many to practice and teach Yoga as a spiritual discipline or for private spiritual support.



From:  Paula M. Tepedino


Equating Yoga with religion evokes memories of ‘having to go to

church on Sundays’ back when.

The sheer word ‘religion’ has emotional charge to it.  And it’s one

of those subjects we were advised not to delve into at parties

(along with politics).


Of course, now that I’m all grown up the realism of what religion

means to me now is quite different.  I don’t go to church because

sitting in front of my altar in my Yoga room gives me more peace

and insightfulness than any church ever could.  It’s my conscious

choice to stay at home versus join the congregations who flock

to practice their religion every Sunday.


I’ve never considered Yoga to be a religion for me.  It’s something

I study, practice, and live every day.  For me it’s a way of being

in right relationship with myself and others.  It’s a way for me

to connect to my higher self and the realms of the Divine.


Call it what you like.

Personally, I want less Government intervention in my life –

particularly my spiritual life.



Paula M. Tepedino




from Rama Berch, President of Yoga Alliance


in response to John Kepner


Dear John,

Thank you for your thoughtful comments on this subject.  It is a pleasure to consider your well reasoned offerings and considerate comments.


Yet, I think you have not fully addressed Staffan’s primary point.    Ignoring it does not make it go away!  In fact, it is Yoga’s popularity and effectiveness that brings it to the attention of the medical professionals and government regulators.


In addition, Staffan’s point is that the existence of their professional organization helped to prevent government regulation in this case.  Historically, the professional groups that define themselves also protect themselves.  I find myself in the middle of the attempt to do this, and would willingly give the job over to someone else.  Still I do it, in my best attempt to follow Krishna out there and do what needs to be done.


Regarding the Yoga Alliance, we do walk the razor’s edge.  How do we serve the Yoga community without regulating it?  How do we define ourselves when Yoga is so broad that there is always someone outside of any definition we offer?  How do we set up standards without creatind “standardization” or “homogenization?”  Our starting point in the dialogue over 3 years ago was – historically, what have we been doing as Yoga Teachers in America, because it has obviously worked!  We looked at the programs that have been training teacher for over 20 years, then looked at the newer programs, and found common elements, along with great areas of diversity.  So we worked with that paradigm, and set up standards at a 200-hour level, as well as the 500-hour level.


The good news is that some people think the standards are too high, and others think they are too low.  This means we haven’t been too extreme!


Any Teacher is welcome to exceed the minimum standards – in fact, most teachers I know are “lifelong learners.”  Also, anyone can teach without becoming a RYT (Registered Yoga Teacher) – I support their right to do that.  But who is going to support the organization that supports your right to be outside the organization?


I personally do not have a hidden agenda that Yoga Alliance standards increase over time.  I hope that the Board members who follow me and the others who have been doing this work for 3 years will agree.  But I can only promise you one thing — the ones who offer their time and energy, the ones who put their hearts and minds into it (along with their body and soul – and a piece of their budget), are the ones who will determine where it goes.  It’s easy to stand on the sidelines and take potshots!


And – John – you are one who puts your heart and soul where your mind and body go – and I thank you for that!







From:  Leslie Kaminoff


Rama said about yoga: “the likelihood of it being included in legislation or regulation…is high.  If we Yoga Teachers ignore this, we are like ostriches with our heads in the sand.”


I am not ignoring this issue, or sticking my head in the sand, but I also refuse to base my actions on fear of what the government can do to me.  If I do that, I have lost before I’ve even started; and so have my family, students, clients and friends.


I have said from the beginning that the movement to create National Standards should be based upon something other than the fear of someone else doing it for us;  as yet, I have heard no justification for National Standards other than this.


The goal of Yoga is freedom — on all levels of our existence: physically, energetically, emotionally, mentally, intellectually, spiritually.  How can any of these be attained if we neglect our freedoms politically?  Living in fear of what your government will do to you is not living freely; it’s agreeing to play by their rules, and that’s the same as losing the game before it’s even gotten started.



From:  Rama Berch


Dear Leslie,


Your assumption that my actions are based on fear (“I also refuse to base my

actions on fear of what the government can do to me..”) is inaccurate.  I

see what is happening, and make a choice to act, but it is not out of fear.

I prefer to be proactive rather than reactive.


In other words, I agree with you when you say, “the movement to create

National Standards should be based upon something other than the fear of

someone else doing it for us.”  It is not fear, but a clear assessment of

the external reality!  Of course, levels of reality can be discussed



I also agree with you, The goal of Yoga is freedom… How can any of these

be attained if we neglect our freedoms politically?”  What I do in

volunteering my time is my way of speaking out politically (not in “yoga

politics”, but making a personal statement that will carry weight with

government officials).


Actually, more important to me, the questions raised at the Yoga Journal

Conference 3 1/2 years ago provided an opportunity to step into relationship

with yogis from all backgrounds and practicing all styles.  This is

important to me — it’s not easy to do, I grant you, but for some deep

reason, it is important.  If we yogis cannot find a meeting ground, who can?






((LK:  Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t the whole motivation to create standards a reaction to the idea that others were already doing it for us?  Anyway, my point about fear was mainly addressed to the letter from the Feldenkreis practitioner; which was basically saying that we’d better get ourselves organized, or the government will be knocking on our doors.  Now, I’m not saying that’s not true; I’m just saying that I’m not willing to base my actions on the fear of it happening.  If I do that, I’m already playing their game, and it’s a no-win situation.


Incedentally, I’d like to hear more about the positive experiences of the people who have been working to create standards.  We’ve already heard how hard it’s been…what are some of the other things that’s made it worthwile on a personal level?))




From Rich McCord:


Dear Friends,


I appreciate Rama Berch’s reply to John Kepner and her further comments on

Yoga Alliance’s work. As a member of the Board of Directors of the Alliance,

I am completely with Rama in saying that I have absolutely no interest in

(she used the words, “commitment to”) making the Alliance’s standards

stricter over time. I’ve observed no “hidden agenda” within the Alliance.


I wanted to share with you a recent comment of Swami Kriyananda’s about the

Alliance. Since the beginning, he has been VERY skeptical about the Alliance

— and even more skeptical about standards. He feels that organizations, by

their nature, tend toward bureaucracy, control, loss of vision, and

suffocation of the spirit. When I told him what the Alliance has done so far

— and the spirit in which it has been done — he was both amazed and

pleased. He said, “If the idealism of the Alliance’s founders can continue,

it could be a good thing.”


Granted, that’s a big “if,” but the Alliance seems to be off to a promising



I also want to comment on Leslie’s response to Rama’s letter. Two of

Leslie’s paragraphs follow, referring to possible government regulation of



)) I am not ignoring this issue, or sticking my head in the sand, but I also

)) refuse to base my actions on fear of what the government can do to me.  If I

do that, I have lost before I’ve even started; and so have my family,

)) students, clients and friends.


)) The goal of Yoga is freedom — on al levels of our existence: physically,

)) energetically, emotionally, mentally, intellectually, spiritually.  How can

)) any of these be attained if we neglect our freedoms politically?  Living in

)) fear of what your government will do to you is not living freely; it’s

)) agreeing to play by their rules, and that’s the same as losing the game

)) before it’s even gotten started.



Leslie, are you looking for total and absolute freedom in this relative

plane of existence? Even  Self-realized masters work within the laws of this

universe: gravity, aging, other people’s free will, etc. (At times they

choose to transcend some of these, but not often). And if, as those masters

often tell us, the entire cosmos is subject to the will of God, where is

absolute freedom to be found?


Only in one’s own heart. To me, finding that inner freedom is what Yoga is

all about. Trying to preserve outer freedoms can be a good thing — a

service to others, for example — but the nature of reality limits what one

can do outwardly.


One can act with fear or without fear. But not acting when one believes that

action is appropriate seems to me to be, well, inappropriate. I don’t fear

government regulation of yoga, though it would be sad news indeed. I simply

want to avert it. Therefore I act in the best way I know. Nor do I feel that

Yoga Alliance is acting from fear; we simply are acting in the best way we



To those who don’t believe that what Yoga Alliance is doing is appropriate,

I say, “You may be right. In fact, I wish I agreed with you, because I have

lots of other things I’d rather be doing with my time and Ananda’s money.

But neither one of us knows the future. We can only perceive likelihoods.”


The likelihood I perceive can be expressed in analogy: Imagine a small

country with a huge, powerful neighbor that had a very consistent history of

overrunning its neighbors once they became “visible enough” to be worth

thinking about. And lately, the small country has become quite visible.

Suppose that a group of citizens in the small country felt there was

something they could do that might help their country stay free of that

neighbor, without lessening their fellow citizens’ freedoms. Would it be

appropriate to act?


I think “Yes,” and that’s why I’m working with Yoga Alliance. The Alliance’s

accomplishments to date have been worth the major tapas of committee work,

conference calls, Board meetings, memos, significant expenses and all the

rest. It’s been inspiring to see the growing respect and cooperation among

the participating teachers and traditions.


As Rama stated, the Alliance walks a razor’s edge. How well it continues to

do so remains to be seen. I will do my part to help. And if ever I see the

Alliance fall from its initial high-mindedness and try to limit freedom

within the yoga community, I will not only depart the Alliance, but oppose



At that time, I would have the choice to act with fear, to act without fear,

or not to act at all. I don’t think I would be afraid, and I would, I hope,

choose to act.


It would be appropriate.


Blessings to all,

Rich McCord

Director, Ananda Yoga

Ananda Village

Nevada City, Calif.


Leslie responds:


It sure saves me time when you ask and answer your own questions.  Let it suffice to say that I disagree with the dichotomy you are making between what happens in “this relative plane of existence” and what happens “in one’s own heart”.  That way of thinking leads ultimately to the renunciation of material values in favor of “spiritual” values…very prevalent in the yoga world, and very dangerous.


Values and actions in the material and spiritual realms are linked in the same way that the values and actions of our bodies and souls are linked.  I can’t help thinking of one of my all-time favorite quotes from Ayn Rand:  “You are an indivisible entity of matter and consciousness.  Renounce your consciousness and you become a brute.  Renounce your body and you become a fake.  Renounce the material world and you surrender it to evil.”


As to the “large country, small country analogy,” it doesn’t quite apply to this situation.  We (in the U.S.A.) are all living in the same country, a free country–well, let’s say at least the freest one in the world.  Even if full-blown regulation/licensing came to yoga, I’d still have any number of ways of dealing with it so I could keep on doing what I’ve always done.  I don’t intend to paint a large target on my back by elaborating on this, but I have given it a lot of thought, and I know what I would do in that situation…that is why I don’t fear the government.



From Clare Fleming.


Leslie…you have summed up my feelings on this just beautifully – heartfelt

thanks for your succinctness and clarity.  Let’s get some real proof of

monsters (or even an Aussie bunyip) under the bed, rather than just beating

up a story and preying on reaction.


Cheers from the land of GST, where the sun still rises afterall!


Clare Fleming, Melbourne






From:  Leslie Kaminoff


Teachers in the American yoga community have had a few years’ experience with national standards for yoga certification.


I’d like to hear from those of you who have had any of the following:


*Dealings with the Yoga Alliance

*Dealings with the insurance industry

*Dealings with the medical profession

*Dealings with employers who request/require certification for yoga teachers

*Dealings with certifying yoga schools who have adopted the Aliiance’s national standards.


I’d like to get a thread going on this topic.


Rama Berch, and any other member of the Alliance is welcome to send in their comments about the current state of affairs regarding national certification standards.









From:  Kausthub Desikachar


dear Leslie


thanks for raising this thread…this has also been a topic that i wanted to

share with our friends in esutra….before i write more on this (i am

preparing to leave for europe and the US) in a few days…. i just wanted to

present a teaser on which our friends can reflect on……


my grandfather, t krishnamacharya, used to say this. *”when a doctor gets

his degree, he usually stays a doctor for his life… but a yoga teacher has

to earn his yoga degree every day…..” *


I really would like to share this and let people think about it… I have

been wondering about this for a long time…. and it makes a lot of sense to



much love…






From Steeve:


Yes Leslie I’ve got some thoughts for you today.  Straight off however I

would like to offer an additional sub-heading to the list you had given

in the seed post.


*Dealings with students / prospective students

(asking about accreditation / registration status, etc.)


-First a case of one industries indifference to an others?

I had a health club employer for a time last year in San Francisco.

They were REQUIRING of all group activity teacher to be certified by one

or more of a list of ‘national’ bodies which over-sees well aerobics

teachers mostly.  Amongst some other skills we’d have learned to

synchronize movement elements with 4/2 & 4/4 music time I believe.

Given the loss of work time and effort involved in retraining in

teachings less-than-parallel to yogasana and classic pranayama and

although the club is attracting a lot of clients, the result of the

policy is that either yoga classes go untaught, or ‘body action’

insiders are going for  the condensed courses we’re hearing about to

fill the void.


-A case of partial knowledge?

More recently, the Foundation of Pathanjala Yoga Kendra is a traditional

yoga school in Bangalore where I am studying just now…we receive

inquiries from students interested in the teacher training programs

offered here where they sometimes ask about our affiliation with the

Alliance, but more generally they want to know how  our certification

differs from that which they have seen in the US, etc.  My sense is that

at least some students who are shopping for a YTT course have the

impression that all “certification” offered in the US at least, is



Just two bodies among many for the Alliance lobby to reach.


Yours in Yoga,


Steeve Buehler


From: Zack Kurland


My biggest concerns with the alliance are.


1) Who is setting the standards?

2) Why are they in a position of authority?

3) Who is being represented by the alliance?

4) Who is not?

4) What criteria makes certain paths, lineages, centers or certification

programs more acceptable than others?

5) Whose  financial interests are being represented in the process?


At times it seems like a perfect opportunity for certain individuals or

lineage holders to obtain control and power over the entire domain of Yoga

as a profession. On the other the current atmosphere in the marketplace

lends itself to allow any teach and train others without any prerequisites

other than desire for power or financial gain.


I’m curious to see the posts and looking forward to hearing from members of

the board of the Yoga Alliance. I think that if you put yourself in the

position of judging others you yourself need to stand up and be judged. I’m

not saying I’m for or against any of the individuals involved in the process

but I don’t recall anyone being democratically elected to lead the Yoga

community do you?


((LK:  Democratic votes don’t ensure fairness.  Just because a majority of people vote for something doesn’t make that thing right or desirable.  Besides, in a truly free society, the outcome of votes would never threaten our inalienable right to life, liberty, property, or the pursuit of any path of yoga teaching you choose.


A valid definition of Democracy is “rule by the mob.”  Does anyone remember how a majority of Athenian citizens democratically decided that Socrates should drink poison for corrupting their youth?  Speaking of Greek Ideals, I think that the yoga community should only elect a governing body if it ever becomes an Olympic sport — an idea which doesn’t seem so farfetched these days.  How about it…anyone willing to support Yoga as a demonstration sport for the Athens Games in 2004?  I’d be happy to start a petition on the internet.  ; )  ))



From: Faith Minton

RE: National Certification


Hello E-Sutra


I am a Kripalu trained teacher living in rural NH., (towns 2000-5000

people) teaching yoga since 1990. I am glad The Kripalu Center worked with

the National Alliance and is a certified school.

I am a member of the Yoga Alliance. As a Registered Yoga Teacher, R.Y.T., my

students are able to  be reimbursed by their insurance company if it is

covered under their plan. This was the first question the insurance company

asked. Is the yoga teacher a member of the Yoga Alliance? When I prepare a

presentation package to a new organization to teach I am able to provide

information an certification and the Yoga Alliance.


In one school district where I teach all the teachers are covered for

reimbursement under their plan. I teach after school in four public schools

and all the teachers are reimbursed. I think this offering by this insurance

company motivated many of the public school teachers to try yoga. I

recommend other yoga teachers to investigate this. It has worked very well

for the public school teachers and for me.


Faith Minton




From: Stefani Pappas


I am new to esutra and I am enjoying it already.  I have been certified as a

500 hour level school for 2 years(Soma Yoga Teacher Training) and now a 200

hour level registered school (Devalila Yoga Teacher Training) with Yoga

Alliance this year.


I feel really good about being registered; it insures high standards and

quality for yoga certification. For a teacher trainer it is a good, balanced

format to use to cover all aspects of yoga teaching.


Potential students DO ask about whether or not you are registered with the

Yoga Alliance.  One of my current teacher trainees works for an employer for

paid for her training, but would not have if I were not registered they



Employers, yoga studios and corporations have asked myself and my trainees

about their status.


Overall my experience is that having a national registry is highly benefical

to teacher trainees AND to the public; ensuring that both get quality,

in-depth exposure to the many facets and dimensions of the yoga practice

(not just postures/asana).


I am proud to meet the Yoga Alliance standards for a training program!



Stefani Pappas



From:  Cathy Guerra


Hi Leslie,


I am writing to you as the owner of Yoga West, a school which provides a 200-hour training course which meets Yoga Alliance’s standards.


When I first learned of Yoga Alliance and its requirements for individual yoga

teachers, I was a bit dismayed.  I was not sure if I met their standards, and I

was concerned about my future as a yoga instructor if I did NOT meet their

standards.  One well-known yoga instructor in my community was circulating the

opinion that Yoga Alliance had NO RIGHT to set standards for ANYONE.  My own

thought was, “SOMEONE needs to set standards.  If not Yoga Alliance, someone els WILL.  I’ll see what they are proposing and make my own decision.”


After reviewing their requirements, I felt and feel that Yoga Alliance’s

requirements are reasonable, appropriate, and well-rounded.  I believe much care

and thought went into their work and I am grateful for them.


Yoga West’s program provides students with much practical experience and/or

information of anatomy and asanas, teaching techniques, breathing, philosophy,

meditation, class plan preparation, public speaking, etc. — but also in dealing

with ethical situations.  Ethics is critical in yoga.  During our training, we

not only introduce hypothetical ethical situations, but have certain ethical

situations “going on” which give the students an opportunity to think — and

possibly respond.  We have guest teachers who introduce anatomy, Sanskrit, and

information on chakras.  This is practially non-existant in some teacher training

programs.  Asking teachers to have a certain level of knowledge and ability to

handle situations well is a GOOD thing!  Having certain standards and

requirements is a GOOD thing!  Excellence is a GOOD thing!


I believe Yoga Alliance will continue to grow, learn, change, and respond to the

needs of yoga teachers and the public. They have a big job to do, and are doing

it well.  It is my hope that the yoga community will support them.



Cathy Guerra






From: M.R. Smith  Director, Morningside School

of Yoga & Physical Culture, Syracuse, NY.

Re:   Standards and the Yoga Alliance


Building a legitimate presence for yoga in Central New

York has been an uphill battle.  For my school, the

Yoga Alliance is a lifeline to a source of legitimacy

and professional support.  I am personally

grandfathered at the 500 hr level and my school will

hopefully become registered within a few weeks.


Regarding the fears and concerns about standards for

the Yoga profession, I offer the following:

*You cannot create a healer, but you can require

that someone complete medical school.

*You cannot create a spiritual leader, but you can

require that someone complete a Masters of Divinity.


No educational system is airtight with regard to the

ability of persons of deficient character to slip

through the cracks.  Moreover, no regulatory system is

totally immune to bureaucratic meddling by those

uninformed about the profession they regulate.  But I

can tell you there are individuals operating in my

area who have neither the training nor the

professional maturity to accept money for Yoga

instruction.  I believe they should be steadily

replaced by a new generation of individuals fully

accountable to science, tradition, and to the nascent

profession of Yoga itself.


I will soon be lobbying representatives of the

insurance industry regarding the place of Yoga within

the medical mainstream.  The Yoga Alliance association

gives me credibility and a sence of moral force as I

build my argument.   Thank you Yoga Alliance.




From Beth McCarthy


I’m currently working towards my 2nd certification through the Temple of

Kriya Yoga which is Yoga Alliance approved.


I have mixed thoughts on this subject.  How can one become an

outstanding teacher simply by becoming certified through one program.

Yoga is a life long journey of learning.  What alliance might we form to

truly measure the riches of a teacher’s learning experience?


More important than any certification, there is an ever present flame

that must be measured and measured by the teacher alone.  This flame is

called learning.  Love of study, love of yoga.  When a teacher stops

learning, the flame looses its light.


So how can an Alliance help us? Their presence is possibly enough.  A

quiet reminder that many unprofessional, questionable certification

programs are on the rise. A reminder to continue to keep your flame

bright. To do your share in the yoga community and uphold your

responsibilities as a yoga teacher.  Will I become a member of the Yoga

Alliance?  For now, no.  And I feel that the Alliance would support this




Beth McCarthy







From:  John Kepner


Some observations on American Yoga standards


1. Technically we do not have certification standards.  We have a volunteer registry of students and schools whose training and certification processes meet recommended standards by one organization.  ((LK:  How does that differ from Certiciation Standards? ))


2. The standards for registration are very low by almost any other professional registration standard.  Massage for example is ~ 500 hours.  They are also low relative to average European standards.


3. Despite the standards, there appear to be “market forces” to stretch the boundaries at the low end.  Some organizations appear to be able to fit 160 hours of contact hours into 14 day stretches.  It’s not clear to me how much students can really absorb and integrate in stretches of such intensity.  There is at least one advertisement in the Yoga Journal that offers a YA approved course in 10 days.


4. The YA is a young organization, not well funded, with well meaning intent to be inclusive.  Some “challenges” w/ quality control are to be expected.  Especially where quality is so subjective.  Despite all the problems, I have personally elected to try and be part of the solution.


5. Of course, there are other well-known teachers and traditions that have certification requirements far beyond the YA recommendations.  There are complementary market forces for more depth, but these appear to be more driven by personal interests in the breadth and depth of Yoga.  Thank God.


6. Yoga therapy is a field where there might be stronger arguments for higher and tighter standards.  Standards for most health care providers are much higher than existing YA recommendations.  For example, almost all require a year’s worth of A&P.  Throw in the psychological and spiritual dimensions of Yoga practices and one could see much high standards for well-trained, well-rounded Yoga therapists.  We are all familiar w/ the problems of the health care industry but it will be difficult for Yoga therapy to be part of the solution w/out high standards for those claiming to be therapists.


7. Despite the pros and cons of standards, I believe there will always be room for teachers and students who want to stay outside this bureaucratic system w/ its necessary evils.


John Kepner

Little Rock



Yoga is an, a science, a philosophy, a way of life–Can you certify these?

Do you certify ballet, violin, jazz?


I think not.

Thank you, Yoga Alliance, but no thanks–I have been teaching since the 70’s

and have my own trademark.


Shirley A. Weisenburger



From Wendy Green


I appreciate what yoga alliance is trying to do. I think it’s important to be a well trained yoga teacher.  I’m not sure if national certification is the way to monitor that. According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika…one becomes an adept at yoga after 12 years of daily practice with a teacher. Let lineage, experience and depth of practice be the yardstick.


I have heard of teachers that have had a weekend of training thru the aerobics assoc. and now are “certified” to teach yoga, how meaningless.  but, yahoo, they can get a “job” at the local gym because they are “certified.”  I also know of teachers that have “certification” thru vigorous month long trainings….but still,  can one learn yoga in a month? or even a year?? If Sri K Pattabhi Jois came to teach at a facility or corporation here in the states…would he be denied because he had no certification?


everyone knows quality can not be certified.  It is said when the student is ready the teacher will come. Let the students decide. Experience, dedication, sincerity and expertise speak for themselves.  If the student isn’t interested in those qualities in a teacher, they just might deserve what they get.


om shanthi



From:  Andrea Cione


National Certification vs. Personal Responsibility

Readiness is the First Sutra of the Yoga Sutra


My feelings on this subject are also highly personal.  But here goes.


A very great yoga teacher once told me that being a yoga teacher is, above all, to care.  To strive help your students any way you can to became healthier and more whole.  Of course, you need some technology to do that.  But, being a yoga teacher is also to put your ego second after their needs and betterment.


Being a yoga teacher is to embody the teachings yourself – and this represents a life-long search within your own heart for who you really are.  If you are striving to answer this question yourself, you can teach yoga.  You don’t have to have all the answers, but that you are sincerely searching.


In the old days, a disciple would live with the teacher for 20 years, then the teacher would say you are ready to teach.  Let us not be too quick to forget this tradition of the teacher passing on the teachings and determining the readiness of the student.


The first sutra of the Yoga Sutra is Atha Yoga Nusasanam.  You could study it for the rest of your life.  It is about readiness.  It’s taken me 16 years of studying yoga to understand readiness – and I’m still not ready, I’m still searching to understand.  The first sutra is about having a deep respect for the teacher and the teachings.  This manifests as a state of readiness to receive and also to pass on these teachings having fully practiced them, experienced them and understood them.  Many of us think we are ready and yet, we are not.   But to care, that is what matters most.  To care.  Who can set standards for that?


I teach because I want to pass on that which I have been fortunate enough to learn.  I traveled far and studied many years devoting myself to a teacher and tradition until I felt that teaching was a part of me.  I started teaching when my teachers said I was ready.  Now, I have to write letters and beg an organization who doesn’t even know me for their blessings to continue to do what I have been doing for myself and others for 16 years.


Yoga is a personal journey.  Your students will find their way.  And if they find their way to you, your blessed interaction with them will determine the learning to take place.  Not a certificate.  But the yoga world is changing and the personal relationship with a teacher is no longer possible.  Thus, the need for standards.


Upon returning from living in India last Spring, I asked my doctor, who specializes in Chronic Illness if I could teach a class to her patients with chronic fatigue syndrome.  We are involved in a study now, the results of which will be presented, hopefully as some conferences with medical professionals next year.


The students are all doing well and now see yoga as a part of their regime of taking care of themselves.  Step by step, little by little, we are making progress.  I asked my doctor if I could teach because I felt readiness.  That gave her confidence in me.  Each individual teacher needs to ask themselves, am I ready for this?   If not, they will find out soon enough, and that will compel them, if they are meant to pursue teaching, to go and get the knowledge necessary to continue.  Personal responsibility.  Isn’t that what yoga is all about?


Good luck to all on your journey.  May we meet along the way and discuss these great subjects and help each other to become better human beings.

Love and light,





Re:  National Certification

From:  Jerry Hoff


I’m presently taking an Iyengar based Yoga Alliance teacher training course with plans to be both Iyengar and Yoga Alliance certified.



From: Zack Kurland


I was giving the subject some more thought. What is it that really concerns

me about the Yoga Alliance. Perhaps I’m a bit uneducated so I will put this

out there and perhaps someone from the alliance can shed some light on it.


I currently make my living teaching Yoga at Haelth, Yoga People and Yoga

Zone in New York City. I am certified at the 500 hr level by Mark Whitwell

and the Heart of Yoga Association, as far as I know not currently recognized

by the Yoga Alliance. I have two teachers both of whom are or have been long

time students of T.K.V. Desikachar. I have spend several years and countless

hours learning from my teachers, Leslie Kaminoff and Mark Whitwell.


My learning of Yoga and teaching Yoga is the result of a natural evolving

relationship between my teachers and myself. My experience does not fit so

easily into standardized definitions. My training as a teacher has been

ongoing, less formalized and more organic.


I’m not putting this out there so much to get some clarity on my specific

situation, although that would be nice, but I am concerned that the Alliance

does not allow for teachers/students of Yoga who have choosen paths that

fall outside of the conventional Yoga center certification program model.


Is there still room within the Yoga World for the age old tradition of the

teacher/student relationship as a valid and acceptable path to teaching and

learning Yoga?


((LK: There is room, as long as participation remains voulntary.  Government regulation — at any level —  would lead to the death of voluntary participation.))






From:  David Kahn


Re:  National Certification


Being an M.D., I’ve been certified, recertified, and meta-certified by several agencies, governmental and non.  They purport to protect the public from imcompetence, but my competence has not been tested once as a physician.  What has been tested has been: my memory, my endurance (of physical, mental, and emotional stress), and my allegiance (or appearance thereof) to conventional medical protocol.  The only test of my competence has been an ongoing one, based on each patient’s evaluation of their results.  So what function do these certifying bodies serve?  I can’t imagine any other than that of concentrating power and wealth in the hands of a few.  And the saddest consequence that I’ve witnessed is, in my estimation, exactly the opposite of  the stated purpose:  more practicioners motivated to develop “certificationmanship” skills (which I mentioned above), and relatively less interest in competence.  In my opinion we get more practitioners “going through the motions.”


David Kahn




Hats off to your comment.





This is one hundred percent true.


LK, please enlighten people,  often and again.









From:  Chuck Miller


((Dr. David Kahn said: …the saddest consequence [of certification] that I’ve witnessed is, in my estimation, exactly the opposite of  the stated purpose:  more practicioners motivated to develop “certificationmanship” skills…and relatively less interest in competence.  In my opinion we get more practitioners “going through the motions.”))


I completely agree with the comments of David Kahn.

Chuck Miller

Yoga Works

Santa Monica, CA



From:  Vishwanath Mysoreshivram


I agree with thew views of David Kahn on the subject

National Certification





Deborah Cohen

Re: National Certification


While I read this thread quite regularly, I have never felt that motivated to respond or contribute.  The certification issue definately pushes my buttons.  I thought that Dr. David Kahn’s letter was a very accurate portrait of certification.  His outlook puts the responsibility on the practitioner.  That is where it should be.


The idea of certification largely leaves the one being certified powerless to be the master of their own self-motivated practice.  The whole imbalance of the import of certification in the U.S. and I am afraid, soon to be the world, has produced a lot of ill qualified mimics.  The authentic practice of yoga is antithetical to certification.  Period, the end.  Without accusing, many of the ancient lineages have been thoroughly co-opted and corrupted by this completely out of control certification mania.


I was in fact “certified” to teach about 4 years ago.  Certification practically ruined my practice.  It did a whammy on my ego and created a false sense of my abilities.  I have now returned to an almost 100% home practice and feel like I am back on the road to being able to help others.  I think that the yoga community needs to chill out on the frightening direction that this practice has taken.  Encourage your students to teach themselves.  That is ultimately the only way.





From:  Al Bingham


My one experience with the Yoga Alliance was positive.


A few years ago I was in the position of  “directing” a Yoga teacher

training program. My primary objective was to do my best to anticipate

and meet the needs of the teacher trainees who would be enrolling in the

training program (with the awareness that these trainees might one day

have students in front of them, who would themselves have various

needs…) A secondary objective was to design a program that satisfied

the standards advocated by the Yoga Alliance (as some of the enrollees

desired to be “certified”).


The program I ended up creating was multi-disciplinary in approach.  It

included people from within the “Yoga community” as well as some from

“outside” (a psychologist specializing in trauma, an m.d. who was also

an ayurvedic doctor, et al).  These people were selected because of

their expertise and because of their ability to transmit that expertise

to the trainees.  (Each “faculty member” was asked what he/she needed in

order to be at their best – what hours they taught best during, how many

breaks they needed, what size group they preferred working with, etc.;

my hope was that if these faculty were supported they would be more able

to meet the needs of the trainees).


Once all of these details were in place – and I saw that the faculty

could be fairly compensated and the program could be affordable and

profitable – I contacted the Yoga Alliance.  In speaking with Ramananda,

I found him very open to my creativity.  I discovered that the

Alliance’s required “categories” were elastic. He supported my

interdisciplinary approach and did not object to having “outsiders”

participate in the training process.


From the feedback I received, the students who went through this

particular program found that it met their needs.


Thus here is one case where it was possible to tailor a teacher training

program around the needs of the trainees in such a way that the Yoga

Alliance’s guidelines were not an obstacle in that process.



from: Sandra K. Nicht


My path to yoga evolved from my work in the fitness industry as an

aerobics instructor and program director.  I’ve experienced first hand how

certification has perverted that industry (and contributed to my decision to

leave it).


Fitness certifications are now a dime a dozen, all requiring continuing

education to remain current.  Instructors who become certified can ask for

higher pay, but then spend a great deal of money taking approved

workshops to get enough CE credits, obtaining specialty certifications to

improve their marketability, etc.  Walk into any facility now and you see few

aerobic exercise programs targeted to the masses who need to learn

basic skills;  most of them are targeted to more skilled athletic people

who need all kinds of bells and whistles to keep them from being bored.

The beginners who take those classes do so risking serious injuries.


The beauty of the yoga world is that there are so many traditions, so many

levels of physical vigor, so many paths to spiritual awakening.  To try to

make all these paths conform to one vision of competence is an exercise

in futility.  What works for one person may be completely inappropriate for





From:  Suzanne


((  And the way you really learn how to teach is by going

through the process of teaching.  The more experience you get the better

you get at working with those things that invariably come

up.  Once you are teaching your students are really your best

teacher.  And every day that you go out there and teach you have to be open

and receptive to the needs of your students and the messages that your students

are sending out.  You must be able to continually adapt your teaching

to the current situation.  As Kaustub pointed out, his grandfather

used to say “…a yoga teacher has to earn his yoga degree every day…..” ))


I think this statement of Carl Horowitz is really at the heart of yoga (or Yoga). Helping students learn to use their breath to move their bodies… & create  fluidity & strength with a joy & freedom in being is a continual process. My surgery last June brought home underlined even more, for me, the healing power of the breath with visualizing the asanas. Every student has a different perspective, & so may need a different way of communicating the breakdown of a form of a particular asana that is appropriate for them.


I have contemplated becoming Yoga Alliance certified. Can you recommend any programs that are on the West coast & that emphasize a “round table” approach with

communication & is preferably Viniyoga based?






From: Paula Tepedino, VP Yoga Alliance


If not self-regulation, would we prefer to be regulated

from outside the Yoga community?  What would that

look like?  How would a state be able to determine

who is and who isn’t qualified to teach Yoga?  Are the massage therapy

associations or fitness associations suitable headings

for Yoga to go under and be regulated by precedences

through those modalities?


Leslie responds to Paula:


You seem to be assuming that regulation is desirable, necessary and inevitable.  I do not.  To me, regulation equals the end of freedom; so your statement sounds like a death-row inmate choosing suicide over execution.


Let’s be clear about the terms we use.


First of all, the Alliance is NOT a regulatory agency; nor is it determining who is and who isn’t qualified to teach yoga.  All the Alliance does is to establish standards for hours of training in yoga, and accept or reject RYT applications from teachers and schools based on the payment of fees and compliance with those standards.


Furthermore. the only people who are qualified to properly judge the competence of a teacher are that teacher’s students.  After all is said and done, the students are the ones who determine whether or not a teacher will stay in business — not the government, and not the Alliance.


Additionally, regulation of a profession is the sole province of the government.  It is properly referred to as licensing, which is not voluntary.


If yoga professionals want to prevent government regulation, they need to take a strong stand for high standards and against licensing.  What they shouldn’t do is attempt to perform the regulators’ job for them.


If any branch of state or federal government decides to force licensing on the yoga industry, the existence of the Alliance will not prevent that from happening or lessen its negative impact — regardless of who gets to set the standards. In fact, I would argue that the Alliance would make it easier by giving the regulators already-established minimum standards and a single entity to deal with, rather than thousands of individual yoga teachers.


That is why I pleaded with the Alliance to disband itself after establishing and publicizing the 200 and 500 hour minimum standards.  Those standards could be voluntarily adopted by individuals and schools, without any need for review by a central body like the Alliance.  That way, the power to judge a teacher or a school’s compliance would remain where it really belongs — in the hands of the students (and decentralized).


For myself, I have decided that it is very important — both in the language I use and the actions I take — to make a strong statement against ANY regulation of the field of yoga; it’s simply unnecessary from the standpoint of protecting the public.  Think of all the bad things that could possibly happen between a teacher and a student — don’t we already have laws that protect the public against fraud, assualt, abuse and rape?  For injury caused by accidents or incompetence,  have premises and professional liability insurance.


Valid laws are based upon the presumption of innocence and only punish those who violate the rights of others.  Regulatory laws are based on the presumption of the potential guilt of an entire profession, and thus punish the innocent along with the guilty — while giving the public the illusion that the government is protecting them.  Remember, all the doctors who malpractice happen to be licensed by the government.  As Dr. Kahn so eloquently said it, passing licensing exams only proves you are capable of passing licensing exams.


For the record, I’m against government regulation of any professional relationship between consenting adults.  That includes doctors, lawyers, auto mechanics and hookers.


I’m defintely for high standards for certifying professionals, but that’s not the responsibility of the government — it’s up to the educational institutions that train practitioners.  Increasingly higher standards for yoga teachers and training programs would be encouraged by competition with each other, and by remaining accountable to their students.  Right now, by remaining accountable to the Alliance, training centers and teachers are competing to meet minumum standards.






From:  Jay Itkowitz


((LK said:  For the record, I’m against government regulation of any professional relationship between consenting adults.  That includes doctors, lawyers, auto mechanics and hookers.))




I am shocked. You lump us lawyers together with hookers?  Who are you insulting, the lawyers or the hookers?


((LK: That depends – whose clients are happier after getting screwed?  ; )  ))



From:  Christopher Morey


I was recently asked to teach a class on Pranayama and meditation at a

friends studio. We did a couple of workshops together  and had great success

so I thought why not?  I called the woman in charge of scheduling classes

and was confronted by a very nervous and aggressive ‘did you get a

certification or something!’ The ensuing conversation was exhausting and I

decided to forget it rather than deal with the chaff. Too bad because it’s

the best venue around here but the competition thing pretty much shuts me





From: Madelana Ferrara


It seems the overwhelming response among yoga teachers is NO to certification. So many wonderful points were raised by this astute group. Don’t  we teach our students to develop a “home practice?” That our personal practice is the only real practice??? It wasn’t until I began teaching others that I learned to teach myself. I learned to allow my own body to teach me rather than to memorize and spit back to my students what my own very wonderful teachers have taught me.


As teachers,we must develop our own words to communicate with our students. This comes from developing an inner dialogue with our bodies: physical, mental, emotional, energetic and spiritual! No one can certify us in that journey!


The real proof of our ability to teach will be directed and confirmed by our students. If we do our work and learn from our own study, practice and life, we will become effective teachers. Our students will continue to come back and to trust us. If we just become obsessed with credentials, no amount of letters behind our names will earn that trust from our students.


I”d rather have a wonderful following of students who know that I myself continue to be a student and from that vantage, I become a better teacher than to be credentialed and certified by an organization that is only concerned with whether I paid my money and attended a certain number of workshop hours!




From: Deb Medenbach


It’s been my observation that you could line 20 teachers up in a row and it’s not the paper on the wall that the students are attracted to. It’s the heart connection and sense of safety that allows the student and teacher to be capeable of having an exchange of knowledge and shakti. I’m grateful for the various certifications I’ve taken that help me become a better equipt teacher, but I kind of like the old fashioned way better. Iyengar studied with his teacher just a couple of months as a teenager and was sent out to teach. It was the grace of the lineage that carried him through his own healing and helped him impart his teaching to others.


Certification programs just breed more certification programs. Pretty soon someone will be certifying teachers for only a year at a time. Is the guru’s grace retractable like a pen cartridge? How absurd!




From:  Robert Moses


Reading all the accolades about Dr. David Kahn’s comments (with which I

agree) reminded me of that great book “Confessions of a Medical Heretic” by

Robert S. Mendelsohn in which he recounts how he taught medical students at

the University of Chicago Medical School. He taught them exactly how to pass

the exams to get out of there very quickly so that they would not be further

corrupted by the system. And a lot more common sense wisdom as well.



From:  Cathy Guerra




Maybe things are different in my part of the country, because what I’ve witnessed of people seeking certification is a deep desire to learn and well-serve their students.  At our school, upon registering, students submit a paper telling us why they want to teach yoga.   It is ALWAYS because they feel it is a “calling;” they have fallen in love with yoga and how it has changed their life — and they want to share it; they want to be the best teacher possible.


I have not witnessed — once — people motivated to develop certificationmanship”

skills vs. competence.  These lovely souls desire very much to be competent and ‘competent’ is defined differently by different people); to be excellent teachers;  to have skills that can assist others to find peace in body and mind.  These  people go through the training with a light of LOVE in their eyes, a vision of helping others, a hope that they can change their corner of the world in some way, and with a sense of great obligation to their students.


Please don’t generalize and label them as shallow certificate chasers.  I’d also like to add that through Yoga Alliance, each school designs its own curriculum and there is MUCH  room for creativity in each school’s program.


Thanks for listening.


Cathy Guerra

(Name of school omitted to avoid accusation of advertising.)


Leslie responds:


What’s wrong with advertising, Cathy?  People should know where they can find such a wonderful atmosphere to train in.  Here, I’ll do it for you:


Yoga West

21949-B Katy Freeway at S. Mason Rd.

Katy, TX 77450

Phone: (281) 392-5575


Yoga West, just minutes west of Houston, offers free introductory classes, beginning and continuing level yoga classes, meditation, supplies, teacher training. Yoga style is eclectic. Director, Cathy Guerra, is registered with Yoga Alliance. Studio has a fireplace and is lit throughout with candles; we use soft music and aromatherapy. Massage is available by appointment. Please contact us for a free brochure.


((LK:  By the way, back East, we spell “whoa!!!!” without the second “h”….must be a Texas thing.   ; )  ))




From:  Andrea Cione


Is there any other profession which has a “certifying board” which has “created itself” and “sets minimum standards” AND which is not government approved?  If so, does it have a history of working out to everyone’s advantage?


Just curious.

(I am against certification, by the way)



Happily Uncertified in New York


Leslie responds:


Just to be clear, I am not against certification.  I am against licensing.  “Government approval” is a slippery term.  The American Psychics Federation says on thier infomercial that they are “recognized” by the US government.  I suspect that this is because the IRS has issued them a Federal Tax ID number.


To further clarify the difference between certification and licensing:


Certification is the assurance that someone has completed a course of training or study.  There is nothing to stop anyone from issuing a certificate to anyone else for any reason whatsoever.  The process is voluntary.   I can certify that John Q. Yogi has completed 202 hours of training with me in yoga teaching methodology, and it’s only my reputation that would be at stake if I was lying.


Licensing is the permission that a branch of the government grants to a business or individual to engage in an activity that the government has chosen to regulate for the alleged sake of the “public good.”  Only the government can do this, because it is the only institution that holds a legal monopoly on the use of force in a society.  The ability to weild force is implied in the act of licensing, because a licensing agency must have the ability to punish those who conduct the specified activity without a license.  The process is, therefore, not voluntary.  This applies to everything from licensing a dog to a doctor.

Additionally, certification isn’t always a necessary prerequisite to licensing; sometimes just paying a fee is enough — as in the case of a dog license, or in the “Rhode Island” example written about by Suzanne Newton in the following post.


To sum up:


Certification = voluntary past actions asserted by private individuals and associations.


Licensing = non-voluntary future actions permitted by public institutions.


It really boils down to being able to do something by right, or by permission.



From:  Suzanne Newton


Hi Leslie,


I’m writing to you and anyone else who is interested in the topic of local government regulation. For several months I have been having an interesting and maddening struggle with Rhode Island’s attorney general’s consumer protection office.


Thru a certified letter I was informed that all yoga businesses in R.I. must be registered as “health clubs”. According to a state statute, ” a health club means any corporation, partnership, unincorporated association, or other business enterprise offering facilities for the preservation, maintenance, encouragement, or development of physical fitness or well-being in return for payment of a fee entitling the payer to use the facilities.”


The A.G. investigator informed me that this statute was passed in the early 90’s after an area gym with yearly memberships closed their doors in the middle of the night and made-off with the membership money.


Oddly enough, when I made calls to city hall 5 years ago to inquire of how to set-up my yoga “business”, I was told just to go to the bank and set-up an account. I informed the investigator of this and she just said, “I’m not surprised.”  But that comment has not saved me from an extensive process of proving that the place I rent teaching space from ( by the hour ) is up to code.


On one occasion I pointedly asked the investigator where this was leading. I pointed out to her that no where on the application form was there a question about credentials or liability insurance. “Why would we want that ?” , she asked.


I could give more details but I’d only be ranting. One official who issued a document for me asked, ” Are you part of a sweep?”


Perhaps this is happening all over the country ? And if it is, how does it feel to be officially designated as a health club ? I must say, I don’t feel comfortable about it. When I said this to the investigator she advised me to get a lawyer. Wow.


((LK:  Is it so surprising that a branch of the Rhode Island government is looking to collect protection money?  It’s really nothing new for that state.))


By the way, Re: Deb’s comment about Mr. Iyengar only studying 2 months. That is not correct factually. I believe he lived at Krishnamacharya’s home for approx. 3 years, altho not studying closely with his guru all the time. I would suggest 2 years rather than 2 months. But Mr. Iyengar certainly was steeped int the presence of this powerful teacher.




From Rama Berch, RYT


Dear Leslie,


This is a quick note to say —


Sorry for the delay in responding to this thread, and that I will put something together in the next few days.  I have been traveling a lot in the last few weeks, and am just catching up with all the comments – thank you to everybody.


Also – just to keep you all up to date – Yoga  Alliance changes over 1/3 of its Board every year, with new members.  We all serve 3 year terms.  As of March 1, I am now President Emeritus (immediate past president), and we have new officers, including Ally Davis from Florida as President.  They are just getting their feet on the ground, so I will serve in this communication capacity for one last time.  And I will give you all the new Board members names & contact info – I just don’t have it all with me right now.


Thank you for your consideration and patience.







From:  Christine Thompson


I thought long and hard about certification some years ago.  I decided that

it was important that if asked that I showed that I had been prepared to be

examined.  I chose a nationally accredited, broad based organisation which

emphasised ethics and encouraged a very basic general approach.

The wonderful thing about teaching is the opportunity to be creative, with

each class like a canvas on which to paint, looking at composition, and

allowing structure and intuition.

I love to teach for that very way of teaching.

Life is such that most students want the security of mainstream structure in

just about everything they do. I find that it is not so important after the

first class!

I agree wholeheartedly with Leslies opinion about regulations.

I do however think there is some responsibility to society to provide the

accepted levels of operating, which meant my doing the certificate.



From:  Jodi Taylor


I am really struggling with this issue because since I freelance around town, I am dealing with gymnastic studios, martial arts studios and pilates studios that want to hire what they perceive as a more ‘marketable’ teacher (i.e. someone with “credentials”) My desire to share yoga with my fellow human beings is strong enough that I might just be willing to meet their demands for paperwork just so I can get on with my calling.


Here’s an observation.  I recently got liability insurance as a yoga teacher.  (Why?  One of my employers asked me to.)  Not once did the  insurance agent ask me if I was certified or associated or anything.  If non-certified teachers pose such an enormous physical risk to students, I would think that would have been an issue.  Then again, the insurance agency may have only been interested in getting the money for my premium.  And that kind of cynacism haunts me when I consider training programs, certifications and associations.  For if there are unethical teachers out there (and there are) then clearly there are unethical schools and programs that will crank out a piece of paper if the price is right.


From:  Christopher Morey


Nice Dialogue,


I think many people seek certification as a way of getting solid training

and building confidence. This is good, obviously. But, and this is

happening, more and more we will see people who are merely technicians, or

who merely accumilate certifications. I ran into this in martial arts. I

stopped taking tests toward my black belt when I observed that skill had

very little to do with earning the belt. It became clear the process was

about gaining credentials.


My earlier post was about the competitive atmosphere which is fed by this

process. As a student of martial arts I can tell you the atmosphere in Yoga

Classes is sometimes MORE competitive – and worst yet it is

passive-aggressively competitive. This is what I ran into when I wanted to

schedule a class.


What I like about teaching yoga is the opportunity to be in ‘Presence’ with

others – Satsang. The competitive spirit has no place in that, nor is any

certification apt to invoke it.


On another level, however, Hatha Yoga is a healing technology. Training,

knowlege and experience are all factors contributing to skill. It is our way

of making reference to sense of lineage – but it has no meaning with regard

to spirit.


A couple of questions linger in my mind.


))Will the market continue to become the Definition of what Yoga is?


))When you ‘fall in love’ with Yoga – are you falling in Love with Yoga, or

through Yoga?



From:  Shari Davidson


I do believe that certification is a good thing. And I am registered with the Yoga Alliance.


My concern is the “group ” that controls all the decisions for the certification.  Isn’t it interesting that all of the controlling forces are schools that teach yoga to teachers to be certified. And this is the first group of people to state that say “Yoga is not a business!”.


So who is regulating the schools?  I been to several programs — at the 200 level … each teacher teaches something different. And I have taken advanced classes. And some of my advance training should have been at the 200 level.


Best of all the Yoga Alliance is deciding what keeps up the certification process. I received and email stating that there more credits needed to keep the certification.  I for one will always take as many classes with senior teachers and other teachers to learn and grow. My concern is that this organization will determined what I need to do to grow as a teacher, mind body and soul. And if I need to take classes to keep up a certification — time and money may only keep myself and other teachers studying what on their agenda.


From my studies — This is not Yoga. This is about big business.


The yoga alliance is doing a good thing in registering teachers. The public should know the teacher has taken training. However there needs to be a voice … our voices in what needs to be on the certification and the regulating of schools.


((LK:  Well, your voice gets heard here.  Many of the principal officers of the Alliance are on e-Sutra.))



from:  Mike Zolfo


i follow this thread with much interest for a couple reasons.


first, i originally studied hatha, raja, jnana, and bhakti yoga with a

man from india (here in the united states) who after several years felt

it was not best for me to begin teaching.  he often told me of the

tradition in india of spending several years living “the life of yoga”

in an ashram, studying self and sacred texts, and submitting to the

discipline.  now, several years later, after honoring his wisdom on

teaching and living the life of yoga myself, i understand what he meant

when he felt 5 years was not enough time for me to study the yoga system

and then teach it.  so, in one sense, i honor those who seek some sort

of lengthy period of study with an enlightened and inspiring teacher who

lives the life of yoga.  however, i do feel the yoga alliance standards,

while a good beginning, fall short of an acedemic/scholarly,

experiential, study of the yoga system.  georg fueurstein and others

have rightly shown that yoga has been “dummied” down here in the united



second, the yoga alliance would be a good organization to begin to

certify some HATHA yoga instructors.  hatha yoga has been minimized to a

physical practice spreading throughout american health clubs.  health

clubs and systems like them operate within the framework of several

levels of certifications amongst aerobic teachers and body workers and

personal trainers.  yoga instructors should have some system for

certification as well, within those systems.


also, maybe there needs to be other organizations created to guide,

maybe certify, some of the other schools of yoga.  (don’t ask me how to

go about this.)  those of us who react most strongly to certification

issues may have more a meditative bent to our practices and trainings

and wonder, “how do you certify me under the yoga alliance system?”

maybe we need a test to see who is enlightened and who isn’t.  then,

only let those whose E.Q.’s (enlightenment quotient) are the highest to

instruct the rest of us.  🙂


peace and blessings,

mike zolfo

the yoga room

crown point, indiana