Yoga Moving Forward
Where is Yoga Headed (in the U.S.A.)
By J.J. Gormley, MS, C-IAYT
Yoga studios may have started with good intention, I know I started mine in 1992 in order to help people feel better and to find calmness of mind. But many yoga studio owners soon found that simply offering classes to the masses wasn’t a viable business. Simultaneous to discovering the need to have more teachers on staff so burnout didn’t happen to the studio owner(s), they also discovered that they could make more money training new teachers than teaching classes. Training Programs generated the output of more teachers which then flooded the market, and yoga studios and teachers both found that there were too many teachers who could not make a living teaching regular yoga classes to the masses. All these new teachers begin to get creative and start to offer some type of new class to market themselves uniquely, to serve a niche community in order to make a living (e.g., yoga mixed in with the latest fad: from Pilates and dance back in the ‘90s, to goats, wine, beer, and more today). Yoga is now seen diluted with whatever the newest teachers can come up with as they try and find a way to make a living and spread the goodness of yoga.
In some cases these newest teachers were trained by teachers who themselves were new to yoga and therefore weren’t really qualified to be teaching teachers. These newbie teachers to training others simply don’t have knowledge of all that yoga has to offer, and often are not even teaching teachers how to keep students safe. The evidence of this is seen by the increase of yoga related injuries. Added to this mess, is that the newest popular yoga teachers are those that have come up through the internet. These internet yogis and yoginis may have beautiful poster-like images of gymnast style yoga poses on the beach and have you-tube channels, but these young teachers are usually not well-trained in yoga—meaning they do not have knowledge of all that yoga encompasses. They may simply have a flexible body, as they often have a gymnastics or dance background—but not years of training in all that yoga has to offer. They simply haven’t put the time, money and energy into training and studying yoga—that’s the way yoga was meant to be from ancient times.
Mr. TKV Desikachar wrote in his book, Health, Healing, & Beyond: Yoga and the Living Tradition of Krishnamacharya, “Whatever place, whatever time, the ancestors have framed Yoga practices to suit them all. Only the attitudes and circumstances of human beings change.” Yoga historically was taught in person and one-on-one: that is, an experiential practice was given to a student by a practitioner of yoga who themselves had been trained for years by a well-seasoned yogi(ini). Today, folks who learn yoga from you-tube videos may be changing the way yoga moves forward. The question is, do we adapt to the internet-focused way of teaching and learning yoga, or make some effort to reframe the attitudes and circumstances of human beings to get yoga back to its roots?
Many long-time, seasoned yoga professionals have turned to Yoga Therapy as the field that offers all that yoga has to offer, and keeps the tradition closer to long(er) time studying with someone who themselves has been studying yoga for a long-time. Yoga Therapists trained using the standards set by the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) have a minimum number of hours that could be from distant learning (online classes, and the internet). Yoga Therapy focuses on keeping students safe and wishes to improve the quality of yoga teachers and the teachings.
As a profession (including both Yoga Teachers and Yoga Therapists), we need to begin to think about how we can preserve the sacred teachings and not dilute these ancient teachings passed down through the ancestors of yoga. Through the IAYT, Yoga Therapy can keep yoga in the hands of the “professionals”, the seasoned professionals who honor the way yoga was and has been traditionally taught. The field of Yoga Therapy knows that well-trained yoga teachers takes years of study and the IAYT has set the bar much higher than that set for yoga teachers by the Yoga Alliance decades ago (www.yogalliance.org). Today, we can see that many yoga teachers are realizing this, and jumping on the band-wagon and doing what they can to become a Yoga Therapist.
Yoga Therapists invest many hours and thousands of dollars to study and learn how to use yoga safely and effectively. When students are ready for real yoga, the yoga closer to the ancient teachings, then the hope is that they will search out yoga teachers with training in Yoga Therapy through a program that is accredited by the IAYT (www.iayt.org).
A word of caution to serious students of yoga looking for a training program. Before signing up with yoga studios, teachers, and teacher training programs that may have designed their training program or their brochures with emphasis on the “therapeutic” aspects of yoga, check to see if they are on the accredited schools list on the IAYT website (www.iayt.org). There are shysters who say they are teaching “yoga therapy” without being trained and without having an accredited program. There are shysters in every field, including yoga (in fact yoga has a history of attracting shysters—but that’s another blog-post), anyways, these shysters see that by including “yoga therapy” in their 200 hour trainings, they will gain students. These decisions may be based on profits and not about truly keeping students safe. These decisions are not based on the benefits for students who need yoga therapy, instead it is about people with more good marketing sense then morals and ethics. They themselves may be insufficiently trained if they are not a C-IAYT—again, check the IAYT’s website.
Serious students of yoga should then look for a training program that is an accredited training program by IAYT. The IAYT has set the standards and is accrediting programs, right now there are only about 32 programs accredited (see the IAYT’s website: www.iayt.org). These schools are not to be confused with the 175 “member” schools—which are schools that simply pay a fee each year to the IAYT. Many of these member schools are able to make it look like they are an official school, even accredited with the IAYT, but they are simply a member school. (The serious student of yoga needs to do their homework, look for schools that are both a member school and have an accredited program. If the serious student simply wants a yoga therapist for help with an issue –that is they want a private session with a yoga therapist, then they should look for someone who has their C-IAYT (Certified with the IAYT as a Yoga Therapist). These folks will have C-IAYT initials after their name on their business cards and brochures and websites.
The more the public is educated about the difference between a yoga teacher and a Yoga Therapist, the better off our profession on the whole will be. But more importantly, there is now a need to let go of the yoga teacher status at the 200-hour level. The yoga teaching profession as a whole needs to move toward certified Yoga Therapists. This is a similar move that has happened with Physical Therapists over the years—which is now at the doctoral level for training. On the whole, the 200-hour training programs (and the RYT200 status) needs to be dropped as they really do not train someone enough to be considered as serious designation. These 200-hour training programs can be entry points for further study to become a yoga teacher. These entry-level (200-hour) programs could be called something like advanced yoga training program, and be a pre-requisite for the 300-hour to follow. Perhaps the 500-hour study could be the new entry-point for becoming a yoga teacher. And the 500-hour a pre-requisite for Yoga Therapy studies. These serious students with a current 500-hour would continue toward becoming a Certified Yoga Therapist (C-IAYT) with an accredited program. Even the 500-hour designation (RYT500) will eventually need to be dropped as we continue to move the profession in the direction it was meant.