How is one to make sense of a new move by state governments to regulate yoga teacher training? I have been a student of yoga for over fifteen years, and for the past ten years, have been leading weekend workshops on Calming the Inner Critic at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, in Stockbridge, MA. So when reading about a new trend toward cracking down on the self-determined, free spirited nature of training yoga instructors, in favor of licensing rules with fees, forms and inspections requirements, I wondered how this might set some up at an advantage and others at a disadvantage.
It all seems to have started when a volunteer registry was created by the Yoga Alliance, a nonprofit group interested in establishing teaching standards and having a say over regulating the instruction of yoga classes. The New York Times reported that the Alliance now believes that licensing of the business end of yoga might be inevitable. Those in favor argue that yoga training is like other training schools and therefore should be forced to adhere to standards. Patrick Sweeney, a Wisconsin licensing official is quoted arguing in favor of regulation saying that "if you're going to start a school and take people's money, you should play by a set of rules."
To the mental health practitioner part of me, accustomed to the existence of regulatory standards in psychotherapy training, such a move makes sense. But to the yoga student part of me, I have my doubts. I fear for what this means in small towns and for the small businesses providing yoga instruction. I fear for how this might negatively impact the spiritual essence of yoga practice. And I fear for how the effort to regulate yoga might set the yoga industry up to be like so many other industries -- controlled by the biggest and richest.
When asked about the issue, Sophie Simpson, owner of Blue Banyan Yoga in Philadelphia, said "Teachers and students of yoga in the modern West, are at somewhat at of a disadvantage because we don't part take in the traditional Guru/ student relationship where the sacred teachings get passed on. Therefore some sort of self- governing body could be helpful to ensure a foundation in the eight limbs of yoga, and learning of the sacred texts, Sanskrit, and study of both subtle (eastern) as well as gross (western) anatomy. Ideally this regulation would be founded in the yoga community."
In New York State, teachers recently formed a coalition to deal with this issue. Backed by state senator Eric Schneiderman of Manhattan, they succeeded in getting the State Education Department to suspend licensing efforts and instead lobby for legislation to make yoga exempt from regulation. While states like New York might reap economic profits from regulating instruction, there seems to be recognition that the art aspect of teaching yoga stands to suffer. It is heartwarming to see that officials in New York recognize this.
At this moment in time, there doesn't seem to be unanimous support to regulate or to not regulate. Clearly there are pros and cons for both sides that need to be further evaluated and perhaps policy will grow from that process. Whatever happens, I hope that the quality and variation of yoga instruction is encouraged and promoted. I would hate to dilute the creativity inherent in yoga instruction and its training as a result of standardized and homogenized requirements.
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