The word “yoga” may mean the union of two things, but up until now yogis have famously not agreed on anything except this: we want the state to get out of our business.
We don’t agree on the alignment of the back leg, or if we should tuck the pelvis. However, this is changing in Colorado, where the world of yoga owes a debt to a Gina Caputo who has done something that no living person has done in history: She has gotten yogis to agree on something.
What? Really? Are we going to decide that the back leg inner spirals?
Don’t be ridiculous. We will never agree on that. But we can agree on this:
No matter our alignment, no matter our school, it should be the yoga community who self-regulates our business and not a state panel.
This all began when a student complained that she did not get what she was promised from her yoga teacher training. Now the state has temporarily shut down all independent YTT’s in Colorado and prohibited any diplomas to be issued until this is resolved.
That’s pretty serious.
However, this battle is not just about Colorado. This battle concerns yogis everywhere because it is only a matter of time before your state will be knocking on your studio door too.
What is Good, Pure and Virtuous Yoga?
Caputo, a national teacher and the owner of the Colorado School of Yoga, saw the danger in government regulation. She devoted many hours to getting yogis organized to write letters to the state. Through her efforts, Colorado is considering that it may be best if yogis self-regulate the world of yoga.
At issue is that yogis have not agreed to what counts as a “genuine” yoga teacher training and so the state does not know either. Wait, let me clarify. Our trade organization, Yoga Alliance, has created a template for what counts as a legitimate teacher training, but many yogis cannot agree that this is valid and have not registered with YA.
So what happens when anyone can offer a YTT, or call themselves “advanced,” or claim that what they offer is therapeutic? Shenanigans, that’s what.
No Regs means No Rules
Yoga at the present time is a $30 billion a year of often unregulated shenanigans. That means, wherever there is money and people desperate for help, there are often unscrupulous people waiting to take advantage of them. I’m sorry, but that’s not a fact of yoga; it’s a fact of life.
The Colorado state investigation has pulled the curtain back from the business of peace, love and happiness. And guess what? Some of us may be out of alignment with the honest practice of yoga.
I desperately want to believe that every single person offering a YTT is a highly-trained, skilled and decent person. I want to believe that every person taking teacher training will be equipped to find a job, or even safely practice yoga.
But that’s not how it goes.
This is what I’ve seen firsthand:
- There are YTT’s where the teacher and facilitators are recent graduates and do not know enough to lead a class, forgeddaboud a YTT.
- There are YTT’s where the teacher does not have an E-500 RYT from Yoga Alliance, or the equivalent of five years of experience, or has taken more than one training, or has any kind of certificate from any registered school.
- There are studios that do not register their YTT’s with Yoga Alliance, so their students cannot seek employment in a studio that does not recognize the training.
- Studios sometimes promise a job post-training, that the current glut of teachers cannot possibly make true.
- Yoga trainings support a studio more so than the weekly classes, and new teachers make less than established ones, so studios have an incentive to pump out teachers as fast as they can.
On the other hand:
- Some of the best YTT’s I’ve taken were not registered.
- Some of the most legitimate teachings I’ve received were from very wacky people.
- And some of the weakest YTT’s I’ve seen were YA registered and offered by “certified” teachers.
I don’t have a dog in this fight with the state of Colorado because I am uber-certified and registered with Yoga Alliance. But I do have concerns. Here’s the thing: If we don’t come together, agree to some standards, and self-regulate our industry, we will be unable to ensure the safety of our students and the future of yoga. The battle in Colorado is proving that to be true now.
It ain’t perfect, but it’s ours
The two most controversial words in yoga are not inner spiral. They are Yoga Alliance.
Yoga Alliance is a lightning rod for yogis. For years the community has argued over whether or not our de facto political and trade representation is fair, legitimate and meaningful. I have heard all the complaints. Here are a few:
Yoga Alliance is:
- Too expensive for teachers. The annual dues for a new teacher are $55 a year, which is $5 a month. The dues for the highest status to lead a YTT, is $125 a year. If you are not making at least $10 a month teaching yoga, then belonging to the YA is not for you.
- It’s prohibitive for schools to register. The annual dues for a RYS status is $200. If schools are charging $3,000 per student, I just can’t see how this cost is prohibitive.
- I have to argue that in Colorado, the YA has been there with the yoga community helping to rally us in the cause. It has also done countless measures on behalf of yoga on the state and federal level. Just because YA hasn’t done something specifically for YOU, like take YOU to lunch, or buy YOU a pair of yoga pants, does not mean it is doing nothing for our community.
- It is easy to scam YA. Yes that’s true. And given the spate of emails from Nigeria from lost relatives who need money, it is easy to scam all of us. Scammers gonna scam.
Just like yoga, Yoga Alliance is not perfect. But sometimes you have to work with the imperfect because that is all you got.
Can We All Just Get Along?
Until perhaps this moment in time, yogis have been determined to avoid any kind of regulation or standardization. We are an industry that celebrates our freedom and “otherness.” Yoga has always been a fringe activity, and we like it that way. If we became mainstream we might lose our “cool” factor.
However, our fringe activity is now being practiced by 20 million people a year, and many of them are seeking teacher trainings. But are they looking for jobs? Or just further enlightenment?
Colorado has no problem with people seeking enlightenment, I mean, we are the first state to legalize marijuana for medical and other “enlightening” activities such as exploring one’s aura. It gets sticky when people are becoming certified to provide health benefits and seek employment.
Colleges, universities and trade schools have certain standards for graduation. Would you allow a doctor who did not graduate, or register with a medical board, to operate on you? Would you hire an attorney to represent you if he was schooled by “life” and wasn’t admitted to the bar? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
The lack of standardization in yoga is unacceptable. I have had a slew of new teachers come to me who do not know a single sutra outside the Yamas and Niyamas. They do not know the basic form of Warrior One. There needs to be a set of standards that every YTT can agree upon before they can graduate teachers.
We can agree that we don’t want the state to regulate us. But can we come together and regulate ourselves? Part of the problem for Colorado, and the world at large, is how can anyone figure out a good YTT from a scam if they don’t belong to an organization like Yoga Alliance?
The situation in Colorado is terribly wrong. In a nutshell:
- It unfairly penalizes smaller studios, which may offer a more intimate and specialized YTT education.
- It unfairly benefits the larger, corporate studios which have the funds to comply with state regulations. Big is not always better, or it may be, but we don’t want to leave this up to some guy in the state capitol to decide.
- It puts the yoga world in the hands of bureaucrats.
- It takes control of our education away from us.
- It does not necessarily ensure the safety of students, which is the main intent. It only ensures that those who can pay, can play.
Having it Both Ways is Impossible
This situation has pulled the curtain back on our industry and it reveals that the peace, love and happiness business is sometimes out of alignment.
Having it both ways is not possible. We want to be free and unregulated to teach what we feel is important in a yoga education, and yet we want to pretend that everyone is honest and doing a good job. We don’t want to abide by even the most lenient of standardization rules held by Yoga Alliance, and yet we want the world to believe we are all legitimate and educated teachers.
Well, that’s just not how it works. A state bureaucrat cannot possibly tell a “good” yoga teacher from a dangerous one. Yet what can it rely on when citizens complain?
The future is… bright?
I believe that this battle in Colorado will be the turning point for yoga. Colorado is only the first of many states that will inquire about the safety of our industry. There will be other students who feel dissatisfied with their teacher training and will make a complaint. I’m sure of this.
I believe we are finally ready to stand together, no matter our philosophical or alignment differences in yoga. Sometimes it takes a common enemy to find a common cause.
We are an industry that celebrates our “otherness,” yet I hope that now we can see our sameness. We want the same things for our students: better health, spirituality, mindfulness and wellness. There are many, valid paths to enlightenment. It is time to respect each other’s yoga.
I believe that Gina Caputo and her efforts to unite us in Colorado will change us for the better.
On this we can agree (I hope): No one wants the government to impose regulations over yoga. No one. But that doesn’t mean we should stay a free-for-all for any yahoo who want’s in on the yoga rodeo.
We cannot ignore the government and its desire for safety as some yogis have asked. This isn’t about the big studios (which can afford the fees) versus the independents. This isn’t the time to vilify one kind of yoga over another. This calls for us to stand together as one community.
Perhaps it is finally time that we either support Yoga Alliance, or form a new organization that everyone will recognize as valid? I am sure a ready solution for Colorado is to defer to an organization that supervises our industry. If a yoga studio decides not to register with Yoga Alliance, then it will be up to the students if they want to participate, sort of like investing in a bank that is not FDIC guaranteed. It’s a free country, right?
No rules does not make it just right. No rules makes it a little scary, and I’m afraid that the people getting hurt this time will not be the students. It will be us.
Michelle Marchildon is The Yogi Muse. She’s an award-winning journalist and the author of Finding More on the Mat: How I Grew Better, Wiser and Stronger through Yoga and Theme Weaver: Connect the Power of Inspiration to Teaching Yoga. You can find her writing on Elephant Journal, Mantra Yoga and Health Magazine, and Sports Illustrated. She is an E-RYT 500 in Denver, Co.