License to Teach

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In another sign of yoga's growing mainstream popularity in the United States, a group of yoga teachers drafted the first national standards for their profession. The standards are due in part to the increased interest in yoga, and the desire by health insurance companies and health clubs to figure out what qualifies someone to teach yoga.

An experienced yoga student may know what to look for, according to Rama Berch, a teacher in La Jolla, California, and president of Yoga Alliance, which drew up the standards. "But how does a supervisor at an athletic club who's hiring a yoga teacher have a clue?"

While the standards may lead to better pay and working conditions for yoga instructors, they have also caused controversy. Some teachers have questioned what impact the standards will have on their freedom to teach yoga. "Teacher standards is a touchy subject because a lot of teachers are resistant to being regulated by anyone," says Berch.

The Yoga Alliance proposal has sparked criticism from New York City yoga therapist Leslie Kaminoff, who says "Insurance reimbursement equals insurance regulation of the yoga field. The core value that needs to be focused on in the standards debate is the integrity, sanctity, and freedom of the student-teacher relationship. Of course I say yes to higher standards, but I must also say no to any forces that would destroy that relationship." Noting that health insurance companies have devastated the freedom of medical professionals through cost-cutting HMOs and managed health programs, Kaminoff points out that the industry will also cap teacher fees or set time limits on how long it will pay for yoga classes. "Yoga is a lifelong study," he says. "It's just a myth there are unlimited funds out there waiting to be paid by third parties for yoga teaching."

Judith Lasater, president of the California Yoga Teachers Association and a supporter of the standards, notes that if change doesn't come from within, "It's going to come from the outside." According to Lasater, "If we want acceptance to be paid as professionals...we need to follow standards that other professionals do. That's just the way our culture does it."

Teachers who meet the Yoga Alliance standards will be entered into a national registry as a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT), and can present these credentials to prospective employers and to students. The standards cover yoga teachers from all schools and traditions of yoga; there will be credentials for teachers with 200 hours and 500 hours of training. A teacher with 200 hours of training, for example, will spend 100 hours studying yoga techniques, 20 hours on teaching methodology, 20 hours on anatomy and physiology, 30 hours on ethics, philosophy, and yogic lifestyle, 30 hours on electives, and 10 hours on internships or practicums.

Yoga Alliance, which includes representatives of different yoga schools, merged with the Unity in Yoga organization earlier this year in light of their common goals. The alliance worked with approximately 20 people in developing the standards, and representatives of Yogi Bhajan, B.K.S. Iyengar, and Swami Satchidananda attended its meetings. The creators of the standards intend for the registry to serve as a networking and fellowship organization for teachers, with information on such subjects as how to open a yoga studio or how to work with students with specific physical problems. The standards should be fine-tuned by the fall, and, according to Rama Berch, there will be support for existing teachers who will not qualify under the new standards.

For more information, call (877) YOGA-ALL, or write to Yoga Alliance, P.O. Box 861, Indian Hills, CO 80454.