It's a wild world out there in yoga-land, with every style of on-/off-mat work from hot yoga to aerial acrobatics. Many newly minted and established teachers and schools want an affiliation to connect them to each other and to "prove" their bona fides. That's where Yoga Alliance (YA) comes in.
About the Alliance
YA is the largest nonprofit organization representing the industry and teaching individuals in the business of yoga. It's been around since 1997 and during those two decades, the alliance has mushroomed into a national registry with 85,000 teacher-members and more than 5,700 yoga schools.
The alliance is an advocate for professional yoga standards and industry best practices. It is not, however, a certification agency; it does not set or enforce regulations and criteria for the teaching of yoga, either to yoga students or yoga teacher-trainers.
What YA Offers
Once you register with YA, you have access to listing in their extensive searchable registry, the right to claim membership in your marketing materials, and networking opportunities. You are eligible for discounts for liability insurance and legal services, continuing education courses with registered schools, and yoga-centric apparel and equipment. YA takes a public stand on issues of importance to the industry; for example, it has a publicly stated zero-tolerance policy for any "acts of sexual harassment, assault or criminal activity of any kind by any yoga teacher…" Periodically, the alliance schedules seminars and webinars to discuss current issues and developments with members. In addition, the general public gets a centralized location for a large and growing searchable list of registered teachers, studios, and schools.
The Question of Standards
The alliance is currently accepting recommendations from member teachers, studios, and training programs to revise and clarify a universal set of standards. The registration process initially was run on an honor system, with applicants to the registry claiming their own course completions at the various levels. YA standards were fairly open-ended with no in-depth examination of course content or teacher preparedness outside of the total hours logged in training or teaching. As yoga and the number of applicants for all categories of YA registration have grown, the need for a comprehensive set of criteria to support the perceived value of the registry has grown, too. Future YA standards will deal with a scope of practice, teacher qualifications, an ethics code, core training curriculum, best practices for online training courses, and other relevant topics.
Pros and Cons of Joining
An active industry affiliation is a career plus that can save you time, provide you with benefits, and look out for your interests. There are good reasons to join the alliance and valid reservations about the advantages it claims to offer.
- Credibility: Adding the YA mark to your name (RYT for "registered yoga teacher") confers a stamp of approval that reassures both students and employers (yoga studios).
- Networking: The professional network keeps you in the loop for job opportunities and informed about important industry news.
- Advocacy: YA works to influence decisions about mandatory (government-imposed) standards and professional requirements that affect yoga teachers, studios and schools. It has the credibility to weigh in on court cases and the reach to assemble a group of professionals for expert opinions.
- Discounts: There are discounts. Think Gaiam, Manduka, Patagonia... Discounts are always good.
- Cost: Registration for the designation "RYT" (registered yoga teacher) is $115.00 for the year 2018, application plus dues. Upgrading from a 200-hour trained teacher to a 500-hour trained teacher carries a $50.00 fee. Once registered, annual dues are $65.00. Yoga teacher training school registration is a $400.00 application, and another $240.00 for the annual dues. Independent online continuing education providers may pay $20 additional (they must first be YA registered yoga teachers) for a YACEP designation. Yoga is rarely a get-rich-quick scheme, so all professional dues must compete for an often limited expense allotment.
- Confusion: The public assumes the YA registration equals a certification. It does not, even though YA calls it "credentialling." Registration requires a minimum number of hours of training at a YA-registered school. The teachers who join are neither vetted nor observed and rated as they would be in a rigorous certification program. Critics maintain that the 200-hour minimum training, now an accepted entry benchmark for teaching, is not sufficient to prepare someone to teach safely and effectively.
- Criteria: Some traditional teachers and programs do not qualify for YA registration, specifically those ashram-based yoga training programs which often go far beyond minimum hours of training for their students. Teachers who've spent years training with masters all over the world have no 200-hour certificates from YA-registered schools. That means a direct disciple of someone like Ashtanga's Pattabhi Jois, with years of training and teaching to their credit, might not make the cut.
Reviews and Ratifications
So is it worth it? Here's what people in the know are saying.
- Southwest Institute of Healing Arts (SWIHA) posted praise for YA from yoga professionals on its blog. Duane Armitage, instructor and teacher trainer at Spirit of Yoga said, "I find that I am acknowledged in the general yoga community for having the knowledge and experience that meets the standards...This has greatly enhanced my credibility when seeking a teaching position."
- In a blistering online critique, Yoga Detour, a teacher training program, had this to say: "Yoga Alliance has replaced the importance of skill and tenure with an over-valued logo. The process of becoming registered is time-consuming, frustrating and a perfect example of disorganization and lack of credibility."
- Teacher-trainer Rachel Stott offers this practical advice on her blog: "...choose a training that is registered with Yoga Alliance...While hiring managers won't necessarily care if you yourself are a member of YA, we often care that your School is registered."
- Anna Parker, owner of Bay Area Banana Split Yoga says: "…provides a false sense of security for students...does more harm than good. The problem isn't with setting standards - it's with setting them so low. A yoga school doesn't have to be any good to be registered with Yoga Alliance..."
- Yoga Journal, the world's largest yoga publication from 1975 and a mainstay of the industry, partnered with YA for a landmark 2016 Yoga in America Study to track the explosive growth of yoga and the demographic and economic state of the art.
Yoga studios come in all flavors, from hot and humid tropical to gym-rat-speed-and-power cardio to traditional no-frills to trendy celebrity-spangled spas. Locking down yoga's unfettered varieties runs the danger of losing the art and spirit of yoga in a process of homogenization and commodification. But 37 million yogis need some way to sort through the limitless options. An association like YA is reassuring to the neophyte and can even be helpful in screening for useful schools and teachers. In addition to the membership benefits YA offers, registration shows you made the effort to align yourself with professionals in your industry, possess a modicum of capability, and may be a good candidate for a studio job - or a good school to check out for an interested student.