Yoga Teachers Fight Regulations

Yoga teachers in Virginia are fighting back against planned state regulations of Yoga schools.  Three yoga instructors filed a lawsuit in federal court to stop a state mandate which would regulate yoga schools like vocational classes.  The officials seeking to impose regulations see it as a way to protect the investments of the students who participate in teacher training programs.  Regulations are implemented on vocational classes that prepare students for a job.

Yoga teachers highly disagree. "Yoga is the study of the self through direct experience," said Suzanne Leitner-Wise, a plaintiff and president of U.S. 1 Yoga Teacher Training.  The teachers who initiated the lawsuit vehemently disagree with the notion that yoga teacher trainings should be regulated.  Conversely, they view the process as passing on a tradition that is millennia old, and to regulate it, goes against our constitutional right of free speech.  

Certification will require an initial fee of $2500, then ongoing audits, annual charges which can add up to as much as $500 and additional paperwork.  And ultimately, who’s to say that a yoga teacher certification prepares students for a job?  As a director of two Yoga Teacher Training programs, this really hits home for me.  Every year I have a fair number of students who participate in the teacher training programs just to deepen their practice and understanding of this ancient science of yoga.  Very few if any participants are involved just to prepare for a “job.”

All over this nation and the world, there are programs based in “self” education that support the current career path of the participants, and that cost thousands of dollars, but do not qualify for state regulations, yet.  If we support regulating Yoga Teacher trainings by an entity entirely unfamiliar with what we do, then how are we going to keep it authentic.  Vocational regulation could just be the beginning.  After the bureaucratic body steps into one aspect of the program, then the door has been opened for all the others as well.  Does this mean that teacher training curriculums will be subject to approval by the state, and penalized (usually in the form of fines) if non-compliant?

I am a believer in basic standards for all teacher training programs, and I believe that our governing standards organization, Yoga Alliance, is doing a fair job and raising the bar for yoga schools.  But to allow regulations to dilute the core of the teachings in order to meet some arbitrary standards set by governing bodies unfamiliar with the practice is dangerous territory.

On the other hand, some would say that being recognized by the state as an educational institution can give us more credibility as a “school” and more weight in the professional arena.  That through regulation we gain the ability to see yoga move away from the fringe and more into the mainstream.  I do not argue that it would be nice to feel more respected at my high school reunion when I respond to the question, “what do you do?” with “I’m a yoga teacher,” an answer that usually equates me with an aerobics instructor in the minds of my former classmates.  But at what cost would we seek more respect if we allow the government to regulate yoga?  

I would rather receive the disregard of those who do not understand my path, than the dissolution of this ancient science.  I would rather fight for the dignity of the practice and all that it represents than fold under the pressures of government regulation.  


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