Knock, knock

“Who’s there?”

“Control freak.”

“CONTROL freak? who?”

“NO! You didn’t say that right. Try it again, Control freak WHO?”

I heard this little ditty on a chairlift at Okemo this past weekend, and it popped into my mind as I read the first few lines of this blog entry from Leslie (it’s a guy named Leslie) Kaminoff’s e-Sutra.com. Apparently, dude is passionate about this topic. But I have to say, I don’t get it. I just don’t get it at all. I have tried and tried to understand his point of view. I have gone so far as to research the topic online (actually, that’s not going very far, but hey, I really did want to know what constitutes “yoga therapy”, and by the way, I still don’t know, so if you could enlighten me….?). And I cannot for the life of me understand what the big deal is.

The issue at hand is state-licensing of yoga teachers. Or “yoga therapists”, as Kaminoff calls himself. Again, not sure what that means. And I’m not sure why anything involving “therapy” shouldn’t require licensure…but let me not get ahead of myself. So…licensing. We’re talking about the same kind of licensing that is required of school teachers. Or psychologists. Or social workers. Or hair stylists. Or manicurists. Or masseuses. Or attorneys. Or doctors. Or electricians. Or elevator repairmen. I could go on…

I had a Constitutional Law professor at NYU law school, Professor Bernard Schwartz, God rest his soul (he was hit by a bus some years after I graduated), who liked to intone in class (often), “The power to tax is the power to destroy.” I get that. I do. If you tax cigarettes at a high enough rate, eventually, you’re going to destroy the economics of the tobacco industry. Or hopefully you are. But is the power to license, likewise, the power to destroy a profession?

Kaminoff objects to third-party interference in the yoga teacher-yoga student relationship. I say, bring it on.

See, I believe that there is a serious problem with the notion that yoga teachers are NOT required to obtain a license to teach. If you want to teach yoga, you can. Without having taken a single yoga class, without having ever unrolled a yoga mat, you can call yourself a yoga teacher. Sure, you might have a hard time finding students who are willing to be taught by you, having no credentials.

But then again, you might not. Scary.

As a student, if you want to take a yoga class, you have to put your trust in the teacher. You hope that they’re going to be teaching you actual “yoga”, as opposed to pure calisthenics or pure stretching. You hope that if they touch you, they are not only trained to do so, but understand what is and is not appropriate (e.g., it is appropriate to point to where a student’s hip flexors are; it is NOT appropriate to stick your finger INTO the student’s hip flexor to demonstrate how it attaches to some other muscle, and yes, I am talking to you, former yoga teacher of mine who shall go nameless).

You hope that the teachings your receive are not only authentic but trustworthy, useful and safe on every level (I, for one, would be perfectly happy if state licensure prohibited partner exercises in non-workshop settings). You hope that your teacher isn’t going to say things in class like, “If you have a healthy spine, you will never get cancer”, or, “If you practice this posture, it’s the equivalent of eight hours of sleep”. And that’s only the minor stuff, the stuff that doesn’t perpetuate cult-like irrational behavior (see, e.g., Dahn yoga and the death of one of their students participating in some teacher-mandated quest).

But how do you know what you’re getting when you unroll your mat in front of someone who calls him or herself “teacher”? If you’re taking a yoga class at a reputable yoga center, then most likely, your teacher has graduated from a teacher training course that lasted at least 200 hours and has spent some time apprenticing for an experienced teacher. Nevertheless, teacher training courses can vary widely in their quality. And even those teacher training courses that offer a comprehensive foundation in teaching may allow students to graduate who can’t give a decent adjustment, who don’t really grasp the philosophical concepts, who haven’t even practiced yoga for more than a few months. In fact, I would venture to guess that close to 100 percent of all students who attend a teacher training in 2007 WILL graduate, regardless of whether you would want them standing in front of you teaching a class. Thus, even having graduated from a seemingly reputable teacher training course, your teacher might be utterly worthless or even dangerous, physically or emotionally.

On the flip side, some teachers aren’t graduates of formal teacher training courses, but are more than fit to teach, after having spent extensive periods of time studying with senior teachers, as well as engaging in self-directed coursework on physical adjustments, anatomy, ethics and the Yoga Sutras.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of less-than reputable yoga centers and plenty of fitness centers where you can take a yoga class with a teacher who has no idea what he or she is doing, or worse, a teacher who has no idea but thinks he/she does. In my opinion, this reflects rather poorly on yoga and leaves the general public with, for the most part, no idea of what yoga actually is.

I would love for yoga to be taken seriously enough as a physical and spiritual practice and as a healing and complementary medical modality that its teachers are required to obtain licensing from the state and to maintain their licensing on an annual or bi-annual basis (as is the case in New York with regard to lawyers) with proof of continuing education, continuing teaching or some combination of both. I would be happy to submit to a written test or a practicum. I would be happy to show evidence of my teaching-related studies (in my case, it began with a teacher training course and has continued from there, but for others, it would be extended periods of study with Guruji or apprenticeships with disciples of Iyengar or Yogibhavan, etc.) and of my continuing education.

Why shouldn’t yoga teachers be licensed? If lawyers have to be licensed to so much as write a letter on law-firm letterhead, if manicurists have to be licensed to polish your nails, then why not yoga teachers? After all, it’s not just your legal problems or your fingernails at issue here: we have your physical, spiritual and emotional well-being literally in the palms of our hands.

YC

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2 Responses to Knock, knock

  1. DK says:

    Great post YC.

    The challenge is WHO decides what teacher training programs are worthy? The same thing happened with personal training–where anyone can call themselves a trainer. Most gyms require SOME form of certification and insurance, but that can unfortunately be bought online. So it is up to the consumer.

    In my teacher training program, there were three very lovely women who had less than 3 months of practice. Not their fault, but the fault of the program which took their money.

    When I study with my Iyengar teachers I know how many years of training they have had. Iyengar certification is a multi-step process within itself. Plus they are all required to keep studying with senior teachers.

    My two ashtanga teachers (here In NYC) are not listed on the ashtanga.com website as they are both direct students of Manju. I trust them completely. And I would trust them to teach my mother.

    Although my preference would be to send my mother to the great Mary Dunn.

    Neither my ashtanga teachers nor my Iyengar teachers are registered with Yoga Alliance. Yet the three lovely women from my teacher training program are.

    So it is complicated. And worthy of discussion.

  2. Debpc says:

    Yoga therapy as I have heard of it is a lot like physical therapy except it uses yoga instead of weight lifting or other exercises to help heal the body. Presumably it also capitalizes on yoga’s mind/body stuff to help the person accept their body as it gets better. I have also heard of yoga used in conjunction with therapy, especially for people with eating disorders.
    Here is a sentence from the first paragraph of the first chapter of the book I have to read for my class on addictive disorders: “Acute drug reinforcement appears to share a final common dopniergic pathway from the entral tegmental area of the brain to the nucleus acumbens.” It gets worse.
    Oh yeah, when are you coming to Steamboat? That’s nowhere near where I live. Will you be coming through Denver? Maybe we could have dinner or you could even come to our house in Colorado Springs.

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