Dear Yoga Alliance,

Lately, I’ve been hearing quite a few teachers tell me that they don’t see the YA as relevant to yoga in this country. They don’t see where their registration money is going and they don’t see you visibly advocating for member’s needs. The Leadership Conferences are a great idea but with a $1000+ price tag for registration and lodging alone, they remain out of reach for many of your members.

Recently, a friend of mine who is a well known yoga teacher in southern California, asked her friends whether they thought the Yoga Alliance was still relevant to yoga teachers and students and the feedback was less than encouraging. The few who offered any words of support tended to frame Yoga Alliance membership as a necessary evil  rather than an organization worth embracing. These views reflect much of what I hear from other yoga teachers all over the country, and I believe within their disappointment lies a great opportunity for growth and change which many would support.

My relationship with yoga began much earlier than my relationship with the Yoga Alliance (YA) and I remain a supporter of the YA since I believe you have great potential to serve the needs of your members and help us to further promote yoga to millions of people who have yet to experience it.

In this spirit, I offer the following suggestions that, I believe, can enable you to more fully fulfill the promises made in your mission statement:

“Yoga Alliance® is the national education and support organization for Yoga in the United States. We work in the public interest to ensure that there is a thorough understanding of the benefits of Yoga, that the teachers of Yoga value its history and traditions and that the public can be confident of the quality and consistency of instruction.”

Here are some things I’d deeply appreciate you and your staff look into:

>>Member services. I’ve been a member of several professional associations in my lifetime so its hard not to notice the lack of basic member services to Yoga Alliance members beyond listing as a registered teacher and the rights to use certain YA logos. As the support organization for yoga in the United States, I think you can do better than that. Here are a few suggestions of some member services you could look into providing:

>>Yoga Insurance. Virtually every yoga teacher needs insurance these days in the event of a mishap or student injury. Right now, we all purchase it from a variety of sources but if we could purchase it through YA, the profits could go toward promoting yoga programs instead of going into the coffers of some other entity.

 >>Health Insurance For Yoga Teachers. While some yoga teachers are (barely) making a living wage, I know few who actually have health insurance. Most studios are barely staying open and are unable to provide such coverage.With the buying power of the YA membership and the lower insurance risk of this health-conscious population, it seems that YA would be in a good position to bargain for a health care plan its members could afford. I know this is a tough one and health insurance is specific to each state, but even if you could get it started in a few states, it could be a real service to your membership.

Emily Hicks, a Portland, Oregon yoga teacher who has no health insurance.

>>Other Insurance. While you’re at it, you could probably also negotiate favorable rates on life and auto insurance and funnel any profits from these to fund some of the other programs I’m suggesting here.

>>Advocacy and Educational Standards. In addition, I’d also like to share some suggestions which are directly tied to the YA‘s mission of advocacy and educational standards which could have a significant impact on yoga in this country.

>>Promotion of Yoga in The United States. To many of us, it is not exactly clear how you are promoting yoga to the general public. The Yoga Health Foundation coordinates National Yoga Month each September but other than registering schools and teachers, its hard to identify any way that you are out there promoting yoga to the general public. At the same time, it is not clear to many of us whether you are also advocating for our interests with government entities on issues such as state moves to license teacher training programs and working with Congress and federal health officials to officially recognize the benefits of yoga and include them in the language of draft health care laws and policies.

It would also be encouraging to see the Yoga Alliance doing some of the things other professional associations and public interest groups do such as having its members write articles for placement in national publications, and collaborating with like-minded organizations such as the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT).

While you’re out promoting yoga to the general public, I would deeply appreciate your efforts to work with The Yoga Gives Back foundation to bring yoga to underserved populations across the country. A huge contribution could be the provision of YA scholarships to train teachers from underrepresented populations within the broader yoga community.

>>Educational Standards. It is clear that you have established paper standards which must be met for a yoga school to be registered with the Yoga Alliance and thus allow their graduates to become registered yoga teachers. That said, isn’t it time to take the next step and periodically do some quality control checks on yoga schools?

Otherwise, how do you know they are living up to the ideals laid out in your mission statement?

“…that the teachers of Yoga value its history and traditions and that the public can be confident of the quality and consistency of instruction”

Having teams of YA-empowered personnel out mentoring and engaging yoga schools to ensure quality standards could serve the community in other ways as well; to serve as a means of identifying and sharing best practices in teacher training and studio management but also as a great feedback loop to give YA a finger on the pulse of the American yoga community.

>>Greater Transparency. Finally, I think the YA could receive much more support and grow its membership with greater transparency, to include publishing an annual report so members know where their money went and how the YA staff is working to achieve the goals laid out in its mission statement.

I deeply appreciate your consideration of these ideas, thoughts, and suggestions and stand ready to support you in transforming the Yoga Alliance into an organization that better serves its members, our students, and the general public.

Namaste,

Chris Courtney

(A copy of this letter was forwarded to Yoga Alliance President and CEO Richard Karpel prior to publishing).

How about you? How do you think the Yoga Alliance could better serve yoga teachers, students, and the general public? Please offer your ideas, thoughts and suggestions in the comment section below.

~

Editor: Kate Bartolotta

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Chris Courtney is an Albuquerque-based yoga teacher, writer, and adventurer. His goal as a yoga teacher is to get as many people as possible “off the couch and onto the mat” so they can begin their own journey of self-discovery. Thus, his approach is focused on making the practice as authentic, safe, and accessible as possible. A former expat journalist, warrior and diplomat, Chris is forever finding new experiences to explore. Find him online on Twitter@CK_Courtney or check out his website at: chriscourtneyyoga.com

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