Over the last 12 years, I’ve gone from being blinded by love to questioning the value of my relationship with Yoga Alliance. Today, I’m letting the world know that it’s time to make this breakup official.
“But why do you have to be so dramatic, Nigel?”
Well, the truth is, I’ve been quietly talking about this impending breakup in my Teach Your Truth™ yoga training programs for several years now. Even though I’ve known deep down that we weren’t meant to be, I convinced myself over and over again that it was just me. That the Yoga Alliance was doing their best, and that if I just waited it out they would become everything I knew and wanted them to be.
Without further ado, here are my five reasons for the breakup along with many questions that have gone unanswered:
1. The Cost Is High But the Standards Are Low
First of all, let’s talk about money. Here is what it costs to become a member and maintain membership (all prices are in USD)**:
Initial Fee: $115
Annual Renewal: $65 (PLUS $20 if you want to register as a continuing education provider)
In addition to this, you’re required to take further training that is Yoga Alliance recognized to maintain your registration status. Which, you guessed it, means more money for Yoga Alliance.
Now, if you’re like me and also run a Registered School, you also pay:
Initial Fee: $640
Annual Renewal: $240 (PLUS $50 per location you run your program in)
I did some quick math, and over my career so far I’ve spent over $3,000 in dues to Yoga Alliance. As you may be aware, teaching yoga is not the most lucrative career out there, so that number starts to add up fast.
In terms of standards, the Yoga Alliance claims to have standards but they have no way of truly verifying or upholding them. Time and time again, teachers and trainers like me have spoken about the lack of evaluation or a way to uphold the standards the Yoga Alliance claims to represent. As far as I can tell, nothing is being done to improve this issue, and it’s too little, too late.
**numbers taken from Yoga Alliance website August 2020.
2. Where Is the Money Going?
Upon closer inspection, I discovered that the US-based Yoga Alliance is the largest non-profit association representing the yoga community.
With over 7,000 Registered Yoga Schools and over 100,000 Registered Yoga Teachers as of April 2020, I got to thinking. How much money are they generating?
I did some quick math, and if all of those people and schools registered for only one year, the Yoga Alliance would generate close to $16 million USD in a year. If all of those people and schools continued to renew annually and no one new joined, that would generate a minimum of $2 million USD each year.
In their latest financial report, the year 2016 brought in $7.1 million USD in revenue, with $1 million in surplus.
Why isn’t this money being used to audit yoga teachers and schools? There is clearly the money to do it, so what’s the issue?
3. Yoga Alliance is a Registry, Not A Regulatory Organization
When you register with Yoga Alliance, you are literally doing just that. Registering. You are listed as a Registered Yoga Instructor (RYT) and are granted permission to use their registry stamp on your website or other marketing materials as a way of promoting yourself.
Yoga Alliance has done an incredible job of marketing themselves as the gold standard for yoga teachers and they’ve managed to get their stamp on almost every modern-day yoga program you can find.
Unfortunately, this stamp is misleading. It implies that the organization is somehow regulating the yoga industry and ensuring that certain standards are being met and upheld.
I can tell you from over a decade of experience that not once have I had a Yoga Alliance representative check in on me as a teacher, or interview any of the students I have trained under my school.
As the founder of a Registered School, I was required to present a syllabus with learning objectives and demonstrate how the learning hours would be divided and the teaching methods I would use. Beyond that, they have simply taken my money and asked for me to continue to pay for a shiny Registered Yoga School (RYS) stamp every year.
4. How is Yoga Alliance Handling Inequity, Racism and Sexual Abuse in the Yoga Industry?
The honest answer? Poorly. In a letter titled “Black Lives Matter | A Community Invitation to Address Racism” written by the President & CEO of Yoga Alliance, Shannon Roche, there is zero mention of the inequity, racism and ableism that exists in the yoga industry.
A simple google image search for the term ‘yoga’ will show you predominantly white, thin and flexible women in various poses. When I hear from my Black friends about their experiences in yoga studios, they talk about feeling different or singled out. Many of them were never comfortable showing up in the first place.
A colleague recently did a survey of the representation in yoga studios in Ottawa, Canada, and found that the vast majority of studios had a 90% white-passing team of teachers.
The Yoga Alliance should be doing more (or at least something) to actively fight against this problem. Instead, they chose to sugar-coat their response to Black Lives Matter while passing the responsibility onto the community of teachers to do the work, without getting into specifics.
Lastly, out of 13 people on their board of directors, only 20% are Black or people of colour.
In addition to the racial inequity in the yoga industry, several high-profile yoga teachers and gurus have been exposed for years of sexual abuse, which in many cases is ongoing.
One of the most eye-opening articles I’ve read on this topic, “Yoga’s Culture of Sexual Abuse,” is a terrifying account of 9 women who experienced abuse at the hands of Krishna Pattabhi Joisn, an influential teacher who popularized Ashtanga Yoga, which is still affiliated with Yoga Alliance.
The Yoga Alliance has profited from and continues to profit from the work of gurus such as Yogi Bajan, the founder of Kundalini Yoga, who is currently under investigation for sexual abuse, and Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram Yoga.
In my own community, I have witnessed abuse first-hand and seen these same teachers continue to be registered with the Yoga Alliance despite complaints being filed.
These facts are a hard pill to swallow and impossible to unlearn.
We have a right to be disappointed with the way Yoga Alliance handles these cases. By silently paying our dues we are actively contributing to their lack of integrity and accountability.
5. They Are Not Recognized By Our Government
For those who don’t already know, I’m Canadian. When I set out to create my school, one of the first things I researched was how I could ensure that it was set up in a way that would benefit my students as much as possible.
One of those benefits was to apply for recognition as a post-secondary educational institution in Canada. With this designation, my programs would be considered vocational training and students would be eligible for tuition tax credits and other benefits that come with being a part-time student.
At no point during my application process was Yoga Alliance registration required or even mentioned. As far as the Canadian government was concerned, my Yoga Alliance registration had no bearing on my ability to qualify for the post-secondary educational institution designation.
I’ve also never been asked for Yoga Alliance registration when purchasing liability insurance or applying to teach at a conference or large-scale event.
So, What Benefit Is There to Registering?
So the question remains, why do we register with the Yoga Alliance? For one, as I alluded to earlier, I believe they’ve done a wonderful job of marketing themselves to the general public. The term Yoga Alliance is common enough that many prospective students ask me if I am registered with them before they apply to my programs.
Secondly, I believe there is a feeling of security and validation that we get from belonging to a large organization that, on the surface, seems to have our best interests at heart.
Lastly, if you live or work somewhere that absolutely requires that you be registered, then you may find that the cost of doing so is balanced by the income you can generate from your affiliation. After all, the fee is a business expense, and sometimes having that extra bit of paperwork means something to someone.
If you ask me, I’m sure you can find lots of opportunities to teach regardless of whether you have this designation. It’s more important to choose a school and teacher that you are aligned with and who cares about giving you the best possible education and support beyond the training itself.
From there, you’ll continue to grow and evolve and gain experience, which will eventually lead to opportunities that have nothing to do with Yoga Alliance and everything to do with following your truth, being open to making mistakes and learning from them.
While I don’t claim to have all the answers, I know one thing for sure: I can no longer support the Yoga Alliance in its current state, financially or otherwise.
That said, I do believe that the yoga industry would benefit from some type of regulation. The International Association of Yoga Therapists, for example, seems to be doing great work.
I am hopeful that a new option will emerge and we will one day have an organization that truly cares about the future of yoga and the betterment of society as a whole.
The reality is, yoga is evolving and growing faster than we could have ever imagined. With this growth comes the need for higher standards, more regulation and a certain level of accountability (as teachers and as a community).
My decision to leave Yoga Alliance was not taken lightly. I have decided to forge my own path with Teach Your Truth™ as we evolve into an Integrated Yoga, Movement + Lifestyle School with our own designation, standards and philosophy.
I’m focusing my energy on helping create teachers who are authentic, vulnerable, trauma-informed and equity-oriented to help shape the future of yoga and wellness.
I promise to keep working hard on speaking out against injustice, being a voice for the voiceless and learning how to navigate this wonderful world.
What are your thoughts on the Yoga Alliance? Let me know in the comments!
Keep living your truth,