Friday, January 16, 2009

Yoga-nomics: Yoga Certification

Students are often puzzled when choosing a Yoga teacher. I'm often asked in my classes at Canyon Ranch(r) in Lenox, a resort in the Berkshire mountains, where to go for classes when they return home. My short answer is to ask friends for recommendations, attend a few classes and follow their instincts as to what they are looking for.

As with most topics, there is more to the story.

In the USA we have a blossoming Yoga industry that is seeing more 'new' forms of Yoga all the time. Usually they are defined by an adjective, such as "such-ness" Yoga or "this-ness" Yoga.

When viewed from the broader perspective of the history of Yoga one sees that it's all Yoga. No franchises, no factions, no Yoga celebrities. This, however, isn't a helpful perspective when beginning a practice of Yoga. But, an overview of the styles of Yoga available with a brief description how they mold the basic principles may be of use. You can find a modest attempt at this by clicking and go to the Archives at the bottom of the page. There is a .pdf file to download that describes many, but not all, styles currently popular in the USA with click-through's to the websites.

There is no College of Yogi's in Yoga as there is a regulating body called the College of Physicians in Medicine. This leads to a more robust, dynamic and fluid delivery of the teachings of Yoga. It also means it may be harder to grasp, get started or just navigate in. puts the situation this way on their website:
"There are no federal standards for yoga teacher certification. As a way to provide the highest teaching knowledge and skill to teacher trainees, YogaWorks has devised its own certification system. Experienced YogaWorks instructors recognize new teachers who are mature, creative, thorough and compassionate and who offer appropriate help to students, creating well-organized classes."

So, in order to bring some order to the chaos, groups of individual teachers have gotten together and devised their own systems. They then "certify", according to their own criteria, that teachers are now qualified to teach others. The strength of the certification, then, depends on the reputation, skill and qualifications of those who set up the system and keep it going.

I'd like to point out that this is "moment in time" system, as are all certification programs. That's why one sees continuing education programs giving out credits in an attempt to keep teachers learning and not stagnating. While I'm talking about time, it should be noted that there are different levels of training now used by some schools that categorized by hours: 200, 300, 500 hour programs.

Relatively recently, another layer has been added by the Yoga Alliance. They have initiated a "registry" of teachers. In their own words:
"Yoga Alliance® registers both individual yoga teachers and yoga teacher training programs (schools) who have complied with minimum educational standards established by the organization. "

Here the Alliance is registering, not certifying, teachers. The organizations founded by teachers devising their own systems decide and establish their own educational standards. The Alliance then creates a Registry of these programs so that they can be listed in one place.

Today this is being interpreted as "Yoga Alliance Certified." So we start to get more confusing by now interchanging "certified" and "registered"; no wonder students are confused! The strength of the training is derived from the individuals doing the teacher training, not the Yoga Alliance, which they are careful to point out on their website.

Let's wrap this up with a look at a Newsweek article from October, 2007, titled "When Yoga Hurts." The author lists 5 guidelines that I think are helpful when used with the background information of this blog.

  1. Ask an instructor for credentials. And don't be afraid to leave if you're not satisfied.
  2. Alert your instructor to your condition. Talk about past injuries and current weakness, and ask for any necessary modifications.
  3. Beware of stationary instructors. They should be monitoring participants and making adjustments for those who need them.
  4. Avoid positions prone to cause injury. These include, lotus, chaturanga or plank, headstands and downward-facing-dog.
  5. Stop if it hurts. Yoga should not cause pain.
As one progresses, the list in number four changes. This is a good list to consider if you are inexperienced, an older student, have had injuries or aren't in good shape. Consult a health care professional before beginning a new exercise regime, to be sure.

Yoga is a lot of fun. In Sanskrit it is often translated as "discipline", "control", or "communion". Some of us have to learn these skills early on in finding a teacher we look forward to going to weekly. Some find it easy and go to the local Yoga studio.

I grew a lot over the years learning about what I've written here and encourage my students to question me. Another view on this topic and additional information can be found at

Since I'm a certified Iyengar Teacher, I thought I would include our process description. It is a bit different from other styles, requiring a dedicaiton to teaching only in the Iyengar method.

"Becoming an Iyengar Yoga teacher begins with long term, thorough and dedicated practice. One is a student of Iyengar Yoga for many years before becoming a teacher. Only after three years' study, and after developing a relationship with a Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher who agrees to become a mentoring teacher, may the candidate begin the application process. Then comes two years' teaching, exclusively in the Iyengar Method -- all before the actual testing begins. In the assessment process itself, candidates are carefully observed and evaluated as they demonstrate asanas and Pranayamas and as they teach a class of students."