On June 25, 2019, Yoga Alliance (YA) revamped its requirements for its 200-hour credential, the first major update to its standards since its formation in 1999.
This initial outcome of YA’s community-led Standards Review Project (SRP), which was (according to a recent press release) “a comprehensive and inclusive 18-month-long effort to adjust its yoga teacher training credentials to meet today’s cultural, societal, and environmental needs,” comes at a critical time.
Although yoga has been a healing practice for millions across the globe, it has not been immune to unethical practices and misconduct. The lack of equity and diversity in yoga spaces and abuses by prominent teachers and gurus are among the larger issues that have compromised yoga’s reputation as a therapeutic modality. “The community’s charge to Yoga Alliance was clear: Step more fully into the role of a professional association, not only in reference to our standards but also in how we support our members and the broader yoga community,” says current YA president and CEO Shannon Roche.
The community-led project included surveys completed by more than 12,000 respondents, recommendation papers from eight working groups (which included experts in the fields of yoga therapy, trauma, conflict resolution, body image, and social justice as well as other relevant areas), a multi-country listening tour, and virtual town hall meetings.
The significant changes to the foundational 200-hour teacher training requirements include a compulsory course on equity in yoga for all registered yoga teachers (RYTs). Additionally, 100 percent of the minimum requirement of 200 classroom hours must now be devoted to the instruction of a “core curriculum” (no more “contact” and “non-contact” hours).
Another important change: As of February 2020, 40 of the 200 classroom hours can be delivered online in a virtual classroom. (Anatomy and physiology and the “yoga humanities” are approved content for this category, with 10 hours of each still reserved for in-person learning only.)
The changes also include an enhancement of the standards underlying YA’s Registered Yoga School (RYS) designation in an effort to make yoga schools more accountable to the core curriculum and to their students.
“The community was asking for an up-level in terms of curriculum, competency, and assessment,” says Christa Kuberry, vice president for standards at Yoga Alliance. “In some instances and spaces, there didn’t seem to be a foundational understanding of what a yoga teacher should know upon graduation from a 200-hour teacher training because there was so much room for interpretation, and while we are not the definers of yoga nor should we be, we do want the public to know that if you hold a YA credential when you graduate at the 200-hour level that there’s knowledge, experience, and accountability.”
“The community was asking for an up-level in terms of curriculum, competency, and assessment,” says Christa Kuberry, vice president for standards at Yoga Alliance.
The changes coincide with yoga’s ever-growing popularity and the proliferation of online platforms. According to recent studies, there has been a huge increase in the number of people practicing yoga (36 million as of 2016 compared to 20 million in 2012). “We recognize yoga’s popularity and Yoga Alliance’s responsibility as the credentialing body to not only make yoga accessible to as many people as possible, but to ensure that yoga is practiced with as much safety as possible,” Kuberry says.
So what are the changes, and how will they affect YA credential holders?
New Ethical Standards
A highlight of the new standards is a pivotal “shared ethical commitment,” which includes an updated Code of Conduct (CoC) for RYSs and RYTs that signals a commitment to proper behavior; a Scope of Practice (SoP) for RYTs that clearly defines the role of a yoga teacher, including responsibilities and limitations; and the shared responsibility for awareness of and commitment to change the inequities that exist within yoga, beginning with the aforementioned Equity in Yoga course—a free online course developed by YA with consultation from field experts.
Beginning in February 2020, all new and renewing credential holders will need to sign the commitment and take the course, which will count toward ten continuing education credits with Yoga Alliance.
(The CoC and SoP will be available in February of 2020, but the recommendations and working group papers are available now.)
“I like to think about it as creating not just safe spaces, but courageous spaces,” Kuberry adds. “Courage—from the French word coeur—originally meant wearing your heart on your sleeve, being able to stand up and stand for things. We don’t want to be the definers of those conversations, but we want to stand up for those who have not had a voice, who have not been able to be platformed,” she explains.
On YA’s more robust sexual-abuse policy, which went into effect in March 2018, Kuberry says, the organization wants to provide a platform both for people who have been abused in yoga spaces and field experts to offer an open dialogue about what a safe and “courageous” space is, with the goal of preventing abuse and holding abusers accountable for their actions. (To date, they have worked with RAINN [Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network] and NSVRC [National Sexual Violence Resource Center] to provide resources, and there is a private Facebook group for survivors of sexual misconduct in yoga that launched in early 2019.) “Let’s name the problems, let’s talk about them, and let’s not make talking about them taboo,” she says.
What you need to know if you plan to take a 200-hour teacher training:
YA says that within the new 200-hour model, RYSs still have the flexibility to honor the authenticity of lineage, style, and methodology, but they are now required to teach trainees the foundational yoga concepts outlined in the core curriculum and assess the knowledge, skills, and experience of their trainees before they certify them. Each school can determine how best to test their students.
Along with the new ethical standard and allowance for 40 online classroom hours, other substantial changes to the RYS 200 standards include a common core curriculum across four categories (techniques, training, practice; anatomy and physiology; yoga humanities; and professional essentials) and thirteen competencies that emphasize key learning goals and desired outcomes (asana, pranayama and subtle body, meditation, anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, history, philosophy, ethics, teaching methodology, professional development, practicum [i.e., practice teaching], and elective hours).
What you need to know if you plan to teach a 200-hour training:
In YA’s effort to ensure that trainees will be guided and supported by well-qualified teachers who have a deep knowledge of yoga, beginning in February 2022, all lead trainers of any RYS 200 will be required to hold the E-RYT 500 credential and teach at least 150 of the minimally required 200 hours of the foundational teacher training program.
And if you’re a yoga school, here’s what you need to know:
To provide for greater shared accountability to meet or exceed the new standards, YA has also tightened up their overall application process for RYSs. They say that a more in-depth application process will provide for a more thorough evaluation of schools based on a number of inputs, such as the syllabus, manual, copies of policies, trainer-to-trainee ratio, and more.
In addition, YA has adopted several new processes that are considered best practice and common among credentialing organizations, including an academic-style peer-review panel that will help to ensure a thorough vetting process and a re-credentialing process (every three years) that an RYS 200 must enter into once it operates under the updated RYS 200 standards.
Community Conversations, RYS 300 and RYS 500, and What’s Ahead
Additionally, Yoga Alliance’s goal is to step into a leadership role as a membership and trade association by providing an inquiry-based forum for its members and as such will facilitate community-wide dialogues in support of yoga’s challenges and growth. Later this year and in partnership with members of the yoga community, they will host conversations about what yoga is, the roles of power and empowerment within yoga, and the broader issue of inequities that exist in yoga.
In June 2020, YA plans to announce enhanced standards to the RYS 300 and RYS 500 credentials. Until those standards take effect, their credentials will still allow for the current educational categories and contact/non-contact hours as defined and outlined prior to the June 2019 RYS 200 changes.
YA will also evaluate future needs for additional credentials, such as one for more experienced teachers or for additional specialty areas. (The current specialty areas are continuing education provider, prenatal, and children’s yoga.) And they will evaluate the role of mentorship in fostering quality, safe, and accessible yoga. Seventy-five percent of survey respondents reported that mentorship was “equally if not more valuable” than the number of training hours.
All of these changes are bound to incite feelings of excitement as well as discomfort. YA has emphasized that they’re aware of how the forthcoming changes will impact the livelihoods of schools and teachers and has built in time for the community to implement them in the roll-out of the upcoming changes and is committed to guiding and supporting that process.
Kuberry is optimistic about the future: “The standards review project and the standards in general are hopefully forever ongoing from this point forward. We are continuing to be in conversation with the community while continuing to be supportive of it and also up-leveling the profession without disrupting the industry too much.”
And since you, our readers, are that community, we invite you to use the comment section below to weigh in about the updated standards—let us know what you think!