You might have noticed that I don't have any initials or credentials noted after my name - i.e. "Michelle Ryan, E-RYT500". Please note that, although it's sometimes helpful to have those hours listed after a yoga teacher's last name, those initials are not an indications of how many years an individual has spent practicing yoga - nor are they an indication that the teacher has studied with veteran/highly-qualified teachers.
While I've dedicated at least a thousand hours over the past 20 years of yoga practice and study to learning how to teach asana from senior teachers in the modality known as Ashtanga Yoga (and more recently, Supreme Release Yoga) I've also simultaneously sustained a consistent study of other Vedic systems of knowledge over those years, too, with a variety of highly qualified teachers of Yoga, Ayurveda, Sankrit and Mantra, too. YA letters after my name don't clearly point to the extent of my studies.
All of the teachers I've studied consistently with demonstrated a dedication to teaching traditional yoga or Vedic traditions, and all have decades of experience and scholarship within South Asian/Indian (SA) lineages of yogic knowledge - lineages that all pre-date the American Yoga Alliance (YA).
While the YA was created back in the 90's to ostensibly make the teaching of yoga "safer" through "qualification" standards here in the US, the YA has a history of ignoring and even actively denying the legitimacy of both living and deceased Indian yoga teachers and/or students of those teachers. Case in point: when I first sought to gain my E-RYT 500 credentials a decade ago after accruing over 500 hours of teacher study, I was told that because one of my teachers, Nancy Gilgoff (a gifted, qualified, wise teacher with decades of experience) was not affiliated with the YA, my hours studying with the first Western female student of Pattabhi Jois were essentially worthless in their eyes. Because Nancy Gilgoff didn't register with the YA (that is, pay them their annual dues) the YA refused to recognize her as a "legitimate" teacher. And thus, they wouldn't recognize my study with her as "legitimate", either.
As well: the teaching standards the YA have set historically for studios desiring a teacher training program have often been criticized as less rigorous, and in fact, dilutions of yoga. They are arguably culturually appropriative of Indian yoga traditions because of this dilution. The YA lowered the bar for studios wanting to create a YTT (Yoga Teacher Training) and thus, lowered the level of proficiency and education needed to teach yoga, too. The lowering of standards created both a proliferation of YTTs and a proliferation of yoga teachers, too. One sad result of so many inexperienced "yoga teachers" trying to attract students is the reliance upon gimmicks (i.e. beer yoga and goat yoga) as a means of marketing one's yoga classes.
Here's the thing: while I can't knock anyone for wanting to teach yoga, it takes mch more than 200 hours of study over the course of a year to become a really good, well rounded, informed and wise yoga teacher. It took me at least a decade of teaching yoga to become a good "yoga teacher" - and I still don't consider my self a "yoga teacher" so much as a student of yoga and a teacher of asana.
In truth, the YA is not an entirely legitimate authority on a particular person's ability to effectively and safely teach yoga. It is simply a teacher registry, one that teachers must pay dues to each year in order to remain on said registry.
So, I boycott the YA; I ended my affiliation with the organization in 2012 when they refused to honor the hours I studied with Nancy Gilgoff. You will not see a series of letters after my name, as these initials are not an indication of the ability to effectively and safely share traditional yoga or yoga practices.*
What underlies the proliferaton of YTTs here is an onerous economy which makes it nary impossible to sustain a yoga studio on the proceeds of yoga classes alone. The main problem/cost of doing business lies in the skyrocketing cost of rent in most urban areas. And so, to keep their doors open, many studios are reduced to enticing earnest, wellmeaning, and unsuspecting students with comparatively little yoga experience, onto a premature pathway towards "teaching."
Now, I know first-hand how hard it is to keep your doors open when you are running a yoga studio, so I don't want my studio-owning friends who run YTTs to think I'm a huge jerk that doesn't understand the situation (especially when you are trying to both keep your studio doors open AND a roof over your head and food in your belly teaching yoga.) I owned two different studios in ten years, and it was a struggle to keep our doors open most of the time. Rent went up every year, competition was fierce, and what money I did earn went right back into my own studies. It was a labor of love, but like most studio owners, I got fairly burnt out after a few years - so depleted by studio ownership that all the yoga in the world could not replenish me. But, I am stubborn, and kept going "for the students" and my fellow teachers (and, mea culpa, I did have another income source that made it possible for me to keep my doors open without resorting to a YTT - and we teachers ran the studio as a collective, too, which made the strain easier to bear.)
But, it was month to month, always. I got very burnt out to the point that it affected my health, but struggled on regardless. It only took a global pandemic to force me to close down!
The model of the Western Yoga studio simply does not work, for a variety of reasons, including:
-the folly of monetizing the very thing that brings you joy;
-the questionable ethics of commodifying a sacred indigenous knowledge system that has not been a part of your own ancestral heritage and/or your long term personal history;
-capitalizing on said system prematurely simply because it seems more fulfilling than a 9-5 job in corporate America. ("Follow your bliss" does not mean it's a good idea to commodify that bliss.)
It is far more lucrative to open up your studio one weekend a month for 10 months and provide a "teacher training" charging (last time I checked) an average of $3,000 for 200 hours of yoga teacher training. Register ten or so students, and that's $30,000, which really takes the pressure off.
And, it is the YA that has made the YTT as cash cow model possible for struggling studios, through endorsing a very basic 200 hours of teacher training as constituting "qualification" for the enormous responsibility of teaching "yoga" (really, what most of us teach is asana or yoga fitness, but that's another rant.) Read the YA's 200 hour standards here.
I must reiterate that there are many, many excellent, highly qualified yoga schools and yoga teachers offering YTTs here in the US, and I have partaken of them! But, Caveat Emptor. Because of the YA's lower standards, (which have only in recent years been updated to be a tad more stringent) there are also many schools that are NOT excellent. And with the pandemic came the rush to online YTTs, so the situation became much worse, with offerings abounding of 200 hour YTTs that provided little to no hands-on practicum, being advertised widely on social media by teachers looking to cash in. (I know of one online 200 hour Yoga Alliance Certified virtual YTT during 2020 that was billed at only $200! You get what you pay for, people. It was a money grab, plain and simple.)
Here's the thing: I get it, you want to teach yoga. That's great! My advice:
-Be a student for a long time. With one or two teachers who resonate with you. Go to their classes every week, multiple times a week, for several years. Support them as teachers, with your attention and money, for several years BEFORE you take their YTTs, if they do offer one. If you can, study with their teachers, too!
-Cultivate discernment. Seek out the highest quality schools with compassionate, veteran teachers within one lineage or modality of yoga, not several styles. Dig your well in one place.
-Be patient and make a committment to a consistent and reverent daily yoga practice, for years. Learn how to look within, self inquire into true motives for teaching, and ask someone whose opinion you trust to be honest for their advice, preferably someone objective within the yoga world who has also studied for a long time.
*More information on the YA and this who issue can be found here in the WSJ, here in The NY Times, and here on Ideafit.
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Michelle Ryan, yoga practitioner and teacher.