Should teacher training programs be regulated?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Foxtongue

For only $99 and four hours of time you too can teach yoga!

Or at least that’s what one flier I saw at LA Fitness promoted, but it’s not exactly true. Technically speaking anyone can teach yoga, with or without a certification.  Unlike massage therapists, athletic trainers, or dietitians, teaching yoga is not regulated by the states. Granted most individuals and businesses prefer a yoga teacher that has completed teacher training, but what exactly is a teacher training program?

With programs like YogaFit (which certifies you to start teaching after just 2 days of training) and online options like Yoga Teacher Training In-A-box (allows you to become “certified” from the comforts of your couch), I am starting to question the legitimacy of yoga teacher trainings.  It seems to me these programs are neglecting the safety of their students, as well as their student’s students.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Foxtongue

Currently the primary standard for the yoga industry is set by Yoga Alliance, and its standards are minimal and optional.  Through Yoga Alliance, an individual may offer a 200-hour teacher training program only having the E-RYT 200-hr (experience registered yoga teacher) status themselves.

The Yoga Alliance 200 hour program only requires a training programs include a combined 10 contact hours of anatomy and physiology. To give you a standard of comparison, massage therapists in Texas are required to take at least 75 hours of anatomy and physiology. They’re required for good reason, as an inexperienced therapist could inadvertently fracture bones, and even cause internal bleeding with out proper knowledge of the body and it’s functions.

It’s true that some yoga instructors choose not to adjust or assist their students. But can someone really safely guide a student through asanas such as plow or headstand, which can damage the spine if done improperly, with only 10 hours of anatomy and physiology?  Moreover, it concerns me that many yoga instructors advise students on health related issues. They promote yoga as a way to prevent, aid in treating, and even heal a wide range of ailments.

Human Anatomy Skeleton Models in Classroom free creative commons
Creative Commons License photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography

So why is there not a higher standard for teaching yoga teachers? 

Many states have tried to regulate the yoga teacher training programs, but have failed to do so after yoga teachers and students petitioned against it.  Why the fight against state regulations?  Many suggested that it would negatively impact the community, and would interfere with teachers’ ability to teach effectively.  Or was the fight against such regulations due to the fact that with state fees, higher standards, and more paper work many studios would loose a large source of money brought in from teaching future instructors?

The thought of studios having to close their doors or loose a profit is not appealing to me or their owners, and I certainly am not thrilled with the idea of spending more time and money to get re-certified to meet new standards.  But I fear that if the yoga community does not reform it’s standards of education, yoga and it’s instructors will lose all credibility, and have consequences far greater than temporary losses in profit.

Do you think teacher training programs should be regulated?

Is our system for training teachers designed to protect the safety of others, or our own financial security?

Posted by:

- who has written 21 posts on Yoga Modern.

Patience Steltzer is the Assistant Editor for the World Affairs Current at Yoga Modern. She spends her time drawing, painting, sewing, writing, and practicing/teaching yoga in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas. After a lifetime of having no idea what to do with her creativity and energy, she discovered yoga allowed her to find the beauty and excitement in stillness. Since then, she has dedicated herself to sharing her love of yoga with others to help them find the joy she has.

12 Responses

  • Krystyn says:

    I have this idea that having state or federal regulations means that there will be some board of stuffy politicians that don't really know anything about yoga setting standards for a industry that ultimately benefit some other non-yoga related industry or businesses. This happens all the time in other state and federal regulated programs. If Yoga Alliance speaks for us (yoga teachers, studio owners, etc…) than we should speak to them. Tell Yoga Alliance that their set of standards isn't good enough and demand that they do better. Creating a community of people who support these kinds of changes and who are vocal and communicative about it I think could go a long way.

    • I agree stuffy politicians don't exactly speak yoga, but again looking at massage therapy they have several "styles" deep tissue, accupressure, swedish, etc. and that diversity is not what is regulated, but rather the foundations such as anatomy, kinesiology, etc. and yes Yoga Alliance may raise their standards, but what about trainings outside of yoga alliance?

  • Lara says:

    Really good questions, Patience. I've had many a conversation about yoga teacher trainings and Yoga Alliance; the opinions out there are both diverse and complex. I don't have a strong opinion formed yet, honestly. I just finished a 200-hr teacher training with one of the larger nationwide programs, and I felt Ahimsa was stressed in everything we did. I also feel it was presented as just one of the many phases of a lifetime of practice, and at no time were we given the impression it was appropriate to assume since we had our 200 hours, we were immediately ready to teach every pose.

    I think studios who supervise teachers and those of us who teach have a responsibility to proceed in a way that offers healing rather than harm, and I don't know that regulation will help that. Good training, honesty, and humility will. I don't know that it won't either, though. But my first instinct is to say I don't like the idea of regulation, particularly. It reminds me of the problematic health insurance industry. And since yoga means something different to each person, I can't imagine how the regulation process can provide a seat at the table for every voice.

    • While I agree most teach non-violence and also try to practice it, but I wonder what is non-violence with ignorance? What I mean exactly is just because I have the best of intentions to help someone if I am ignorant to the body and how it works I am still capable of harming someone whether that was my intent or not. Like the law for example ignorance is not an excuse just because I didn't see the speed limit sign doesn't mean I can't get a ticket for going 20mph over.

  • Shayla says:

    I'd like to clarify that YogaFit doesn't certify you to teach after a weekend of training. It's up the the facility that you're teaching at to make sure that you have a 200 hr certificate – if they see that to be mandatory… I just feel like people have put YogaFit down because it's "easy". I did the full 200 hr teacher training program with them and found the process to be intensive, thorough and all about student safety.

  • marty crocker says:

    I have been teaching yoga for 11 years as well as practicing massage. I have recently run into some challenges with yoga studios given the fact that I am not certified. They would rather put someone into a class that has a fraction of my experience and limited anatomy education……. simply because they can hang a 200 hour certification on the wall. No matter what the training is, safety is key. Anytime I approach teaching yoga, I always ask the studio owner to give me a trial run and critique what I am offering. Don't pay me for the first few classes and just see if I have what it takes to teach this wonderful practice we call Yoga.

  • Nina says:

    I think it is obsurd to think that 200 hours of training is enough for a yoga teacher and yet most places are indeed happy to have a newbie because he/she looks great in their Lululemons, than a seasoned teacher with over 1000 hours of training. That just isn't enough time spent understanding the body the way it is necessary to do when doing adjustments on students. Perplexing to me for sure but I think this is the main reason yoga teachers, unless you are the high ranking stars like Shiva Rea, are grossly underpaid. To say that $50 per class is enough, even if there are 20-30 students in the room, is crazy but it happens every day at gyms and studios around the country.

  • Elaine says:

    II think if you've taken college courses in anatomy, physiology or biology that should count further in addition to a 200hr Yoga Alliance Cert. I have a BA in Sociology and Psychology. I've studied biology, anatomy and physiology full semester college courses due to the circum. req.; plus a number of other courses. I am also certified under the yoga alliance standards for 200hr; which courses for their standard were a refresher course in anatomy and physiology. You would think I would have a job as a yoga instructor.

    Not to impugn any other instructor but, I have more to give than any standard yoga instructor with my background. Plus a semi- background in PT due the fact I've had back issues and went through several yrs on PT training. Some of those exercises look like yoga exercises. I know ways to mortify asanas to relieve back pain and not to trigger back pain.

    Unfortunately, in yoga world some people are misinformed they think you need to look anorexic to be healthy. When they see someone broad , lean and muscular they think that person needs to lose weight. Every frame is different it's how you are in the inside that counts and what you can bring to the table.