Alliance: "A union or association formed for mutual benefit"

You know in some ways I should probably count myself lucky that for most of my life I was blissfully unaware of the existence of the ‘yoga body’ that is Yoga Alliance and their so-called ‘standards’. This is largely because my initial pathway into yoga was Bikram Yoga and it was this intense 9-week long 500-hour training that I first completed five years ago. Early in 2014 I discovered yin yoga and began that journey - and many trainings - over the course of the next four years. 

This time last year I started to move into the teacher-training sphere in the yin yoga world. It was a step, but a very natural and easy one. I am lucky to have teaching experience in a large variety of settings. I look after the induction of newly qualified teachers in school. I have all the university qualifications. And to date I have completed a total of 860 hours of yoga training. So, you can imagine my surprise when I recently learned that Yoga Alliance wouldn’t consider a single one of them. 

Well, surely there is a very good reason for this, Grace?

Eh, not really. 

The reason for Yoga Alliance’s rejection of my training portfolio comes down to one highly questionable reason - I have not yet completed a minimum entry 200-hour yoga training with a school which is registered with Yoga Alliance. And because of this I am not allowed count anything over and above this as continuing education. My 500-hour Bikram training doesn’t fit. My 60 hours with Sarah Powers, upcoming 50 hours with Bernie Clark, and 30 hours with Josh Summers can’t be counted either. The remaining 200 of my hours – completed in two two-week sessions two years apart with Paul Grilley’s assistant in Australia - are actually acknowledged by Yoga Australia (super!) - but that’s not the same thing as Yoga Alliance (oh). 

First and foremost though, let’s be very clear about what Yoga Alliance actually does. Understand that Yoga Alliance does not have it in its power to ‘accredit’ a damn thing. This ‘not for profit organisation’ – which is still managing to clear a few million dollars in profit each year since 2012 – is a registry. A glorified ‘list’ if you will. Yoga Alliance allows you to resister with them in one of three categories: teacher, school, or continuing education provider. Most people who complete a 200-hour Registered Yoga Training will go on to register as a teacher and gain the title RYT (Registered Yoga Teacher). This privilege comes at an initial price, of course, followed by an annual renewal fee.

Should you wish to register as a school and deliver your own 200hour training – which is more and more common to the saturation of the yoga market, and the fight to get a share of it – not a problem! You just submit online a proposal of the curriculum you intend to teach and ensure that it ‘loosely’ fits to Yoga Alliance’s very loose framework. You needn’t worry for it’ll likely never be checked. Hand over the cash and voilà!

Finally there is a third category you can register under. Yoga Alliance claim that the YACEP designation is ‘designed for experts in the yoga community to set themselves apart and teach courses that qualify as Continuing Education hours for RYTs’.

Super, I think to myself as I read from the website. Maybe that might be a way in for me… 

Alas no. A few lines further down I see that only an Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher can register as a YACEP. And I’m not an E-RYT. I am not even an RYT in their eyes yet. 

The craziest thing about the whole E-RYT title is that any RYT who has been registered with Yoga Alliance for two years can claim the ‘experienced’ add-on. Who doesn’t love a yoga teacher with experience! And an RYT who has ‘clocked up’ 1000 hours of teaching experience – or claims she or he has – can just log those hours online, pay the fee, and hey presto, what d’ya know?! Yup, you’re seeing the pattern now too, I’m sure.

So there you have it. Yoga Alliance, as far as I can tell, is essentially nothing more than (very long!) lists of teachers - 85,500, schools -5,700, and continuing education providers, who may (or may not) have the credentials and expertise they claim, and may (or may not) be best equipped to offer the training they are offering.

Sounds a bit like a bog-standard Google search to me. 

Now, in case you’re thinking I’m annoyed that I can’t just register now as an E-RYT with all the hours and trainings I have ‘clocked up’ at this point, let me say this; you would be absolutely right. I am annoyed. And I am not the only one. I have spoken firsthand with teachers here in Dublin who have their own tale of woe to tell. A quick Google search will soon show that issues with the organisation are plentiful, and extend far beyond our little green isle. But, make no mistake about it. Annoyance is good fuel for writing. 

Yoga Alliance is in a position of power despite its many flaws. It has the majority vote. Registration with them still seems to mean a lot to many people. My research initially was driven by the fact that people want to ‘claim hours’ when they are signing up for continuing education. But I wonder if these new yoga teachers have even the slightest idea of just how detached this organization is. I wonder if they fully understand that a Yoga Alliance stamp does not a quality training make. 

The full reality of the situation and, in my humble opinion, the biggest problem with Yoga Alliance is that through its dumbing down of alleged ‘standards’ in the yoga world and its one-dimensional and altogether illogically prescriptive definition of what constitutes a minimum entry requirement, it is actually excluding a whole range of people who have much to contribute and could actually improve the organisation’s ‘standards’ which have been dismally dropping in the last 15 years.

Yoga Alliance? Oh the irony… There’s little in the way of ‘mutual benefit’ in this arrangement. You barely understand your own name.

Ultimately, and this is the absolute bottom line, the quality of each yoga teacher training comes down to the integrity and experience of the teacher training team and the extent to which its expertise and knowledge live up to its claims. Many brilliant yoga trainings and continuing education offerings exist, but just as many mediocre and extremely worrying ones do too. Teachers with the bare minimum 200 hours are leading teacher trainings, yet teachers who have years of experience and buckets of expertise are excluded from the Yoga Alliance family.

So do your research. Train with the teachers whose classes you love. Train with the teachers you know are teaching from their own personal experience. Train with the teachers who teach from a place of conviction, but never arrogance. Value their acknowledged credentials by all means, but not more than you value their person. And question the way things are. Ask why. Always. Never trust a teacher who doesn’t drive that last point home.