Heart of Yoga Teaching Standards
Yoga is taught within a completely unregulated market. There is legitimate concern within and outside of the industry of the danger of individuals claiming authority and expertise who are not qualified to teach. There is an urgent need for standards by which the public know they are safe, as is the norm in other healing modalities. The following standards are for Yoga teachers of all brands and styles. Together, we can gradually redefine what Yoga is perceived by the public to be: from exaggeration, stimulation, and manipulation, to participation in body movement and breath and relationship of every kind.
You can download the poster form of these standards at the bottom of this page. We encourage all who adhere to these standards to display the teaching standards poster in your teaching circumstance where students can see it.
Yoga Teaching Standards:
Teachers are themselves guided by a competent teacher. Teachers have given themselves to the conditions of actual and mutual relationship with their own teacher.
Teachers are practicing Yoga themselves on a daily basis in an actual, natural and non-obsessive way.
Teachers understand that for it to be Yoga, breath participation must be the central feature and purpose of the asana.
Teachers understand that alignment in asana is created and guided by the breath movement and by the student’s participation in the union of the inhalation with the exhalation as a whole-body integrated activity.
Alongside the breath-centric asana, teachers offer their guidance on the intelligent cooperation of muscle groups known as bandha in the upper and lower body. The enagagement of bandha keeps the muscular and skeletal system safe and well-aligned. Bandha are easefully applied and released within the practice of asana.
Teachers have studied the practical ways to adapt asana to individual needs, according to body type, age, health, and cultural background. The teacher adapts Yoga to the student, not the student to the Yoga.
Strength in asana is taught with equal emphasis on receptivity. This is achieved through teaching participation in the inhalation and exhalation. This is the most essential empowerment and therapeutic means offered to students.
Teachers respect the student. The teacher has through their own practice developed attitudes of caring for students, embodied in tolerance, non-reactivity, patience, courtesy, and friendliness in all circumstances.
There is no need for teachers to adjust or touch students in any way, aside from very light directional indication occasionally. Teachers do not interfere with students’ physical or energetic process. Physical assists deny students their own intimacy with breath, bandha, and energy. Students need to be carefully instructed on the principles of practice using words and, if necessary, gestures or moderate demonstrations can be made.
Any demonstrations a teacher makes of asana and pranayama avoid creating any idealisms for the student to emulate or pattern themselves upon, as this distracts the student from their own process of Yoga.
The teacher-student relationship is equal, negotiable, and non-hierarchical. Social assumptions of a teachers’ seniority or authority are actively dismantled in the understanding that ‘hidden hierarchy’ is the main problem in Yoga. Hidden hierarchy makes a student feel inadequate and causes them to inappropriately strive for external ideals rather than simply participate in their own inherent perfection as Life. The teacher takes responsibility for dismantling the ideas of hierarchy that students bring to class from the cultural conditioning of wider society.
Teachers understand that teacher-student relationships are always, in all ways, equal. The teacher shares Yoga from their own experience, and carefully adapts it to individual needs. The mood of teaching is always friendship. Not necessarily personal friendship, but friendship as Life. The method of teaching is always respect, equality, and caring.
Furthermore, teachers are informed of the principles of Yoga practice that make it Yoga, rather than gymnastics or stretching. These are:
The body movement is the breath movement. The movement of the body is consciously linked to the movement of the breath, so that body, breath and mind are felt to be a unitary movement.
The breath envelops the movement. Breath starts slightly before and finishes slightly after the movement. The breath initiates the body movement.
The inhalation is from above as receptivity, the exhalation is from below as strength. On inhale, the principle activity is the expansion of the lung cavity, the ribcage, expanding the front and the back with the diaphragm moving down and the abdominals expanding secondarily of their own accord. The exhalation is from below as strength. The principle activity is the abdominals moving inward, lifting the diaphragm, with the chest settling secondarily of its own accord. The entire range of asana—forward bends, backbends, twists, lateral movements and inversions—all serve this breath process.
Asana creates bandha (the intelligent co-operation of muscle groups in the polarity of the breath). Bandha are approximated during the breath, and engaged gently and naturally in the kumbhaka (pause) after both inhale and exhale.
Asana, pranayama, meditation and life are a seamless process.Asana allows for pranayama, and pranayama allows for meditation. Meditation (clarity of mind and connection to life) occurs naturally as a result of asana, pranayama and intimate connection to all ordinary conditions. Without these, attempts at meditation practice cause dissociation and are dangerous.
All asana are threaded on a general template, whereby there is an appropriate inversion in the mid-point of the sequence. Teachers should have education in the importance of preparation for inversion, the inversion, counter-poses after inversions, and the conclusion of the practice sequence.
Physical practices are essentially about free participation in the breath. To be with the breath is to be with that which is breathing you. The body remains soft and structured around the breath movement and the moving anatomy services the breath process. The body movement is the breath movement and vice versa. The mind naturally participates in this process and becomes clear as it links to the whole body, the intelligence of Life. This may be a challenge but not a struggle. The challenge is within the breath limits, not in the musculature. Practices are designed for the individual and real Yoga is within everyone's capability.
Why do we need standards?
There is an urgent need to create standards to ensure that the public are safe in Yoga activity. Yoga is an unregulated, low-investment business that has spread throughout the world. It has largely taken the form of practices and psychologies that are unsafe for the public. In particular, there are popular brands of yoga that are gymnastic cults founded by dominating personalities who did not have an actual yoga education. They gave license for people of similar disposition throughout the world to control others and impose forceful practices on students that cause sudden or gradual injury, whether physical or psychological. Celebrity authority figures claim their techniques of aggressive gymnastics or dissociative meditation will deliver a future idealism for the student. This reinforces the students’ sense of inadequacy, creates disempowerment, and thus is the supporting grounds for outright abuse.
There are many very well-meaning teachers who are unwittingly complicit in perpetuating these limiting patterns. Expensive teacher trainings comprised of arbitrary information is the pervasive business model of yoga today. Yoga has effectively been branded as the exaggerated gymnastics of the founders’ original bravado and business determination, whether this basic aggression is left intact or softened with additional modalities. These courses are backed by the marketing device of celebrity and authority and the creation of a myriad of derivative brands and styles of so-called yoga. As a result, there are an ever-increasing number of mostly well-intentioned yoga teachers with little actual yoga education.
Perhaps we could say that what is currently branded as Yoga is a brave new creation, a worldwide hobby unrelated to ancient origins. People enjoy it, and fair enough. The concern is that the public think this is what Yoga is, leading many to practice without receiving the real benefits Yoga can offer, and far more to dismiss the entire thing. And the issue is that much of it is physically dangerous, psychologically disempowering, and appropriates ancient poetry to claim alliances to ancient teachings in an obsession with authenticity.
What is required is an actual education of teachers, otherwise the limiting patterns of patriarchy in yoga will be perpetuated. Yoga Alliance is well-aware of the abusive practices inherent in the traditions of the dominant schools of modern yoga. For example, the habit of teachers making physical adjustments to force students into idealized exaggerated postures. The more socially correct term “assists” is the same imposition re-phrased in gentler language and remains the dangerous grounds for abuse in yoga. By continuing to legitimize these practices by listing these schools and styles in their public databases, Yoga Alliance is complicit in promoting false authorities and hidden hierarchy as the social norm. They are not interested in establishing a serious association of education standards. Their principle motive is collecting the database listing fee. These regulatory institutions themselves become a hierarchy and are therefore part of the problem.
It is our intention that the education standards outlined above will be adopted by all sincere Yoga teachers and institutions. There is no doubt that actual Yoga is extremely helpful to our lives. But it must include the principles of breath, bandha, etc that make it actually Yoga. There must be an education to do this. The attempt to create safety standards without understanding the systemic flaws is fruitless, and the hidden hierarchy of the teacher as the ‘knower’ and the student as the one trying to ‘know’, must be eliminated for Yoga to start. When the principles of Yoga, such as were brought through by Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, are taken on, each person’s Yoga becomes entirely their own, powerful, efficient, and safe. Krishnamacharya was the origin point of so much of modern Yoga, but his teaching that Yoga must be adapted to the individual, not the individual to the Yoga is hardly available. When Yoga is adapted to individual, it becomes what it always was, each person’s direct intimacy with life. In this relationship, healing occurs in every way. May we get the job done together, and bring an actual yoga education to the world.
For further discussion see this accompanying blog post, “The Urgent Need for Standards in Yoga Teaching.”
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