An Open Response from Yoga Alliance. ~ Richard Karpel

Via on Aug 2, 2012

Chris Courtney wrote a thoughtful “open letter” last week in which he offered several excellent recommendations for improving Yoga Alliance (“YA”).

His missive provides me with a great opportunity to introduce myself to the readers of elephant journal and to the yoga community at large.

I’m now in my fourth week as president of YA, and so far I have found what I expected: An organization with tremendous potential that has suffered from instability and governance issues in its formative years. I have also learned that we have a dedicated staff that cares deeply about the organization and has done excellent work under difficult conditions.

In his letter, Chris focused primarily on member services and YA’s role in setting standards for yoga teacher-training programs. I’ll address both issues here.

Yoga Alliance’s Credentialing Role

YA operates a credentialing system that has approximately 35,000 yoga teachers and 2,500 yoga schools as active registrants. Chris and many others in the yoga community have expressed frustration with the limits of the registry, which is understandable. It’s credentialing at its most basic: YA promulgates a set of standards for yoga teachers and schools; applicants send us documentation to prove that they have met those standards; and if their paperwork is in order, we register them.

On one hand, we know the system has enormous value because demand for it continues to grow. Revenue generated by the registry increased by approximately one-third last year, from $2.4 million in 2010 to $3.2 million in 2011.

On the other hand, it’s obvious that there are limits to its utility and problems with the way it’s presently administered. Nobody is more aware of the limitations than YA staff, who spend almost all of their working hours reviewing applications and answering questions from applicants. During my interview for this job, I was asked to make a presentation on what I would do to enhance the credibility of YA’s registry, so it’s clear that the YA board of directors have concerns as well.

There are other types of credentialing systems—for instance, certification for teachers, accreditation for schools—that are more rigorous than a registry. They are also more complicated and expensive to operate. Can these types of systems be applied to yoga—a highly complex discipline with hundreds of different styles? We’re going to find out. We began a search this week for a director of credentialing, who will be charged with helping us improve the registry and investigating the potential of adopting other types of credentialing processes. (If it is determined that they are feasible, for legal reasons these new programs would most likely be operated by YA’s sister organization, YA+.) In the meantime, we also have embarked on an internal project to improve the current administration of the registry, focusing first on the low-hanging fruit—problems that are important yet relatively easy to solve.

Chris and many of the people who commented on his letter focused on the issue of compliance. Although compliance must play some part in any meaningful credentialing system, it’s clear that it presents huge systemic and logistical challenges. Since it was formed in 1999, YA has emphasized mutual respect, sensitivity and support of different yoga styles and traditions. Skillfully managing the polarity between compliance and yoga’s beautiful diversity will be a constant challenge.

It’s important to step back for a second and remember that YA isn’t in business to operate credentialing systems. Our role as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization is to confer credibility on qualified yoga teachers and schools so the public can have confidence in the quality of the yoga instruction they receive. So we’re also thinking of ways that technology can help identify the yoga teachers and schools that merit public trust. Technological solutions have the potential to offer more nuanced information than the simple registered/not registered or passed-the-test/didn’t-pass-the-test paradigm of traditional credentialing systems. This is a special interest of YA Board Chairman Brandon Hartsell, a big-picture leader who is always three steps ahead of the rest of us.

Member Services

Chris also urged YA to begin delivering member services like liability and health insurance programs. The short response is: We’re working on it. (These programs also will be offered under the YA+ banner.) The staff has already done a lot of work identifying insurance providers who can offer liability insurance for yoga schools and teachers. That project was put on hold for the past eight months while YA conducted the search that led to me being hired. Getting it to the finish line is a priority.

There may also be ways that we can help yoga teachers procure health insurance at better rates than they would get on their own. It will be next on the list after we nail down liability insurance.

We have also begun looking into other potential member services, including some that involve helping yoga communities at the state and local levels. The potential for this organization to help yoga schools and teachers (and eventually, perhaps, yoga studios as well) by providing member services is immense. However, it’s worth taking a step back for a second to understand why it has taken so long for YA registrants to have access to these services, and why this state of affairs won’t change overnight.

Yoga Alliance has no “members”

“I’ve been a member of several professional associations in my lifetime,” Chris notes in his letter, “so it’s 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.” But the reality is that the yoga teachers who are registered with us are not and have never been “members” of Yoga Alliance. YA was organized as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, which is precluded from serving “private interests,” or having members. YA acts in the public interest.

Recognizing the need for member services that go beyond the scope of a 501(c)(3), YA began the process last year of incorporating a separate 501(c)(6) organization to serve as a professional association for yoga teachers and a trade association for yoga schools and studios. In September 2011, YA announced that it would automatically make all of its registrants members of this new organization, which is called YA+. So until that moment 11 months ago, we had no membership organization to offer the yoga community, which helps to explain why YA registrants didn’t have access to member services.

At present, YA+ has no independent access to income; its operations are completely subsidized by loans from YA. As YA+ comes into its own, it will no longer need to lean on YA for its development.

The Future of Yoga Alliance and YA+

Our goal is to create a world-class organization that helps yoga teachers and schools fulfill their potential. We will do that not only by offering meaningful credentials, member services and group discounts, but also by creating a vital forum of communication where yoga teachers, schools and studios come together to:

• Learn from each other and receive emotional and creative sustenance;

• Promote their professions and businesses to the public, and advocate for their political interests; and

• Provide direction for the organization so it meets their needs and lives up to their ideals.

Stay tuned.

 

Richard Karpel will answer questions from YA registrants and YA+ members in a live chat that will be held later this month at yogaalliance.org. You can also reach him directly at rkarpel at yogaalliance.org.

Richard Karpel is president and CEO of Yoga Alliance, the charitable organization that provides yoga-training credentials, and YA+, a nonprofit association representing yoga schools and teachers. Prior to joining Yoga Alliance in July 2012, he was executive director of the American Society of News Editors, which represents daily newspaper editors and other news leaders. Karpel also was the executive director of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, and executive vice president of the Video Software Dealers Association. He received a BS in Business Administration from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, and a Juris Doctorate from Chicago-Kent College of Law.

~

Editor: Kate Bartolotta

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39 Responses to “An Open Response from Yoga Alliance. ~ Richard Karpel”

  1. cathy says:

    I am very glad to see an answer. Having worked in public education and also followed many 'city' efforts at change I know that goals and attempts are only that. I would like to see some concrete timelines and action steps which we can expect to be accomplished by certain dates.

    Also, compliance and handling complaints about teachers and studios where things are going wrong or unethically while this may not be YA's main function, are important areas to consider. While much brainstorming must be done, a simple process of sending a letter to studios briefly worded explaining the natur eof a complaint may be a first step.

    This letter and athe chat open some hard, deep doors into the profession. Right on! Pura Vida!

  2. @castellani says:

    I read Chris Courtney's "open letter" but felt it really misses the main points of what needs to be discussed, especially because it is pertaining to Yoga Alliance.

    Whether people want to know the truth or not is not my problem.

    However, I cannot in good conscience not state what I know to be fact.

    #1 What was the $336,325.00 actually spent on?
    #2 Why didn't anyone say that John Matthews was a contract employee for YA since 2004, or that he and Lynn were really the ones undermining Davis's decisions as acting president?
    #3 When John Mathews said at the 2011 TYC that he could "manipulate the yoga industry," what was he really referring to?
    #4 Why would Yoga Alliance openly tell both Susan Van Nuys & Allison West that they would not help New York Yoga or Virginia State Yoga Legal defenses and then turn around and help Texas Yoga?
    #5 Why did the Yoga Alliance Board and (the then contract YA employee) John Matthews, instruct ex-YA President Mark Davis to make a presentation to Pat Sweeney (State of Wisconsin's at a Board of Education Annual Conference) about the nature of yoga regulation?

    Thanks for listening,

    Brian

    • Richard Karpel says:

      Hi Brian.

      1. My understanding is that the $336,325 was spent on a website. I think our current website is very weak. Draw your own conclusions.

      2-5. I don't the answer to any of these questions. But John Matthews and Mark Davis aren't here any longer and I'm looking forward.

      I will say that I spoke with Alison West this week and she strikes me as an incredibly effective volunteer leader for the yoga community in New York state. She described some of the problems she has had with Yoga Alliance in the past, which were maddening. I promised her that under my leadership, YA will be an ally for yoga schools and teachers in NY.

  3. devacat says:

    Good to know. But I'm curious where our annual dues go. I've been a hard-working yoga teacher for ten years now, and my initial certification was worthwhile. Paying for it yearly, though, is just a tax on what is already more seva than subsistence.

    • Richard Karpel says:

      Most of the fees that you pay (they aren't "dues," for the reasons I described above in the section entitled "Yoga Alliance has no 'members'") go to support the infrastructure required to operate our credentialing system, including the salaries of our excellent staff.

      I don't have the time or space here to go into more detail, but I can promise you that in the future YA will be publishing its income statement and balance sheet, and I will be happy to answer any questions that YA registrants and YA+ members have about the financial reports that we distribute. The yoga teachers and schools who are our registrants deserve nothing less.

      • Dr. Katy Poole Katy Poole says:

        It's also required by law that as a non-profit you submit annual reports that are available to the public that clearly demonstrate where the fees have been distributed. Has Yoga Alliance ever done this? And if so, where can we can review these records? If YA hasn't, then why not? Millions of dollars of fees that you so boldly proclaim in the beginning of this letter to validate and justify the success of YA is actually quite shocking to the average yoga teacher whose salary is dismal at best. From the outside perspective, it seems outrageous to generate millions of dollars to pay the salaries of your staff while delivering rather minimal services to the yoga community of teachers and schools. And I think the yoga community should demand to see those figures asap. Not in the future. Now.

  4. Alice says:

    I will register again when you get this sorted out, for now I am keeping my money.

  5. Fabian says:

    I think that this still misses the point. I participated in a YTT program, affiliated to YA, in which there were numerous problems, including borderline bullying, questionable business/financial practices by the studio owner/head lecturer or whatever you want to call the role. The result has been that my love for yoga has been severely damaged and pushed to the limits. Yet there is NO recourse for students in that situation. If Yoga Alliance truly wishes to be a governing body, then it must BE one. In a university setting/academic setting, if you have a grievance, you can get arbitration etc, etc. You have a recourse. Yoga Alliance seems to want it both ways; to be a governing body without being one. And it is not good enough.

    • Richard Karpel says:

      Actually, Fabian, we don't want to be a "governing body." We want to be an independent source of information for the public so they can have confidence that the yoga teacher or school they select will be qualified to provide competent services.

      Having said that, I agree that we need to develop a mechanism to deal with yoga students' grievances. That is one of the many things that we will be looking at in order to improve our credentialing processes. However, as you can imagine, it won't be easy. We are a non-profit organization with 12 employees. We aren't a university.

      I am truly sorry about the problems you had with your teacher-training program. I will do everything in my power to make YA a great organization that works to minimize the potential that other yoga students have to face situations like the one you experienced.

      • janaki says:

        Aspiring teachers assume that the RYS designation means something, as you said, the RYS will be "qualified to provide competent services". I maintain my E-RYT YA credential because aspiring yoga teachers ask for it, not because I believe it means anything. (and I like the new forums).

        And, John Matthews and Mark Davis may be in the past, I am happy you are looking forward. I would like you to educate yourself about the things they said and promises they made, or will there just be a new president each year or two that can claim to be "looking forward?" I like John Matthews and the the things he talked about for the future of YA. I hope his ideas aren't being lost in the past. Please come to Texas soon! Maybe the Texas Yoga Conference March 1-3, 2013?

        • Richard Karpel says:

          Well, all I can tell you is that I hope to be here for many years!

          I would be happy to educate myself on things my predecessors said publicly, and to let you know if their statements are still consistent with YA policy. Please feel free to send my examples of their comments at rkarpel at yogaalliance.org and I will get back to you.

          Thank you for your invitation. Would love to visit with the yoga community in Texas!

      • Fabian says:

        Richard, thanks for responding. I appreciate you taking the time to do so. That said, i would say the following to you: You may not want to be a governing body, but rightly or wrongly, that is how you are portrayed,that was the impression given to me and others who participated in my course, many of whom have the same grievances re experiences had on the course as I do. Every school/studio i looked at for teacher training sent me an info pack, stating that they followed strict YA guidelines/rules, followed the YA standards and guidelines, and stated that if students did not meet said guidelines, they could not recieve a passing grade for their program. Hence, as i said, the impression exists that you are a governing body. If you do not want to be that, that's fine but then it should be made clear in the literature that schools issue and by YA itself. I guess my main point is that if an organization sets basic standards & guidelines, there needs to be a good mechanism for ensuring those guidelines are followed.

        • Richard Karpel says:

          A couple of issues here Fabian:

          1. YA has done a poor job of communicating with its constituency, so it's not surprising that some people have the wrong idea about what we do. Although we can't control how our credentials are portrayed by their recipients, we can do a better job of helping people understand the limits of our present system.

          2. I agree that we need to do more to add rigor to our current guidelines, and as I noted above, we are working on that. We're also looking into more rigorous credentialing processes that would provide more nuance in terms of what it means to be a qualified yoga school or yoga teacher. Finally, we think there are ways that technology can help us promote the schools and teachers who provide the best learning experiences. I hope that through our explorations we can find something that helps to eliminate the kind of bad experience that you had.

      • Tony B. says:

        If you are not a governing body, then you are not a competent authority to be issuing credentials. Thanks for the clarification – its going to save me lots of money over the next couple of years.

  6. janaki says:

    My Letter to Yoga Alliance part 1
    August 10, 2010, updated August 2, 2012 janaki108@live.com
    1. We are Yoga Alliance. We created Yoga Alliance. Yoga Alliance failed to function as we intended it to. How will YA and YA+ do better in the future?
    2. Don’t establish “required standards” that you aren’t going to actually require or that you can’t enforce. Yoga Alliance has essentially created a meaningless credential. There should be some level of enforcement and compliance. And in order to receive the “E” designation or “RYS” designation, I believe there should be some demonstration of competency. Let us know how many teachers or schools lose their designation for failing to meet the “required standards”. We all know of a few who don’t follow the rules…what is being done about it?
    3. Answer the phone. Return phone calls and emails. Keep your registries working, as they are the one thing we all agree has value. (Thanks Yoga Alliance, you have really improved here, the website and forums are great)
    4.Tell us what you do with all the money that we send you. Some financial transparency would be great.
    5. Don’t worry about promoting or protecting yoga. Yoga will survive without any of us, or despite all of us. We are teachers and schools that need you to reconsider your focus as the yoga industry grows. (Thanks for creating YA+)
    6. Stop telling us you are going to do things that never happen.
    7. Please explain the statement by past president Mark Davis in the Yoga Journal article addressing state licensing. I don’t get it. (Thanks, John Matthews, for explaining this. Welcome to Richard Karpel)
    1

  7. janaki says:

    We are Yoga Alliance. We created Yoga Alliance.
    In the late 1990’s, there was much debate about the formation of a Yoga Alliance. Many of us did not feel that a single organization could effectively maintain standards for such a diverse set of practices. Those of us who were resistant were won over by the single argument that the government would someday try to regulate the business of yoga, and we would need an organization that could anticipate, inform, organize, navigate, and negotiate the best path for the yoga industry to take. In Texas, Yoga Alliance did not anticipate, inform, organize navigate, or negotiate. Those of us who were running teacher-training programs are the people who first signed up and made Yoga Alliance possible. Yoga Alliance did too little too late in Texas.
    Ultimately, we are each responsible for understanding and complying with the laws in our state. Yoga Alliance Plus has a responsibility to anticipate and to help us stay informed, interpret and comply, or organize and work for change. YA+ has a responsibility to research the laws that might affect our industry and consider how the laws would influence the quality, diversity, and availability of yoga instruction. YA+ has a responsibility to take a position on the value of the law and guide us in our options for either compliance or action to change the laws to better serve yoga practitioners and teachers. The forums online are a good start, but most recently, in 2012, with a tax issue in New York, I heard it first on Yoga Dork.

    Now in 2012, there are 73 RYS programs in the Texas registry. Wow! There were 43 during our fight for legislative change. The Texas yoga community united, raised money, spent a lot of money out of our own pockets and fought hard for this. I am hoping that YA and YA+ will play a more proactive role going forward.

  8. janaki says:

    On Compliance and Continuing Ed:
    Yoga Alliance is not enforcing its own standards, but the designations have come to mean something to the consumer/employer anyway, thanks to marketing, web presence, and the lack of any other credentialing body. Having meaning simply because there is no better alternative really doesn’t improve the quality of yoga instruction. While many in the industry have found the 200-hour standards to be useful as guidelines for hiring teachers and developing programs, anybody who knows better doesn’t care about the actual designation (RYT-200, E-RYT, RYS, RPYT…) We all know that it is based on self-reporting and the “honor system” anyway. We all know of schools and teachers that do not actually meet or maintain the requirements, and there is at times little respect for actually following the standards after receiving your designation, since many senior teachers are just not big fans of Yoga Alliance, and have joined only because of consumer demand and for the marketing. I couldn’t believe it, after sending in all of our information to become a registered school, that there was no type of verification. When I called, I was told that it is all done on the “honor system”. I believe that this has lowered the standard and quality of teachers and programs by providing credibility where there at times there actually isn’t much.
    I think that the 200 hour guidelines are great. Leave it to the schools to determine the competency of their participants. Do not make it harder for yoga teachers. Hold the training programs to a higher standard. Allow the “200 hour standards” to be “guidelines”. The “E” and “RYS” designations should require some demonstration of competency or third party certification. Do not add more designations, or standards, like the standards for “Pre-natal” and “Children’s” yoga, until we make sense of compliance. Give us “guidelines” to help us create
    programs, not standards that create paperwork and extra fees.
    Continuing Education:
    Yoga Alliance continues to accept our renewal fees and grant our designations even though many haven’t provided any CEC documentation. (I don’t know of anyone who has been required to provide this “required” documentation.) It is my understanding that my CEC documentation would be required in 2010 for me. I called Yoga Alliance and finally got a real person to talk to me, and I was told to just maintain records in case I was audited. (December of 2009). How is that fair to the people who filled out the forms and sent them in? I continue my study with one of many great teachers who do not want to be affiliated with Yoga Alliance as CEC providers out of concern that they may be required to pursue exemption or licensing. This is really bad for yoga and Yoga Alliance –that teachers and schools are afraid to register, or need to operate under the radar, for fear of government licensing. Which leads to lower standards being more acceptable–This means that a 150 hour in-depth study of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika with a Swami with 30 years of teaching experience is meaningless for my CECs, but a one-day workshop on “Yoga for the Core” with a Yogafit teacher would count. (No offense to Yogafit, I'd just like to see a path by which non-RYTs could apply to provide CEU's.) How is that maintaining high standards?

  9. janaki says:

    Don’t worry about promoting or protecting yoga. Yoga will survive without any of us, or despite all of us. We are teachers and schools that need you to reconsider your focus.
    Nobody is trying to regulate yoga. Nobody is busting into my matha and telling me how to practice and how to teach. They are telling me how to run my business though. This is about the business of yoga, an area that has really been neglected by Yoga Alliance. I'd like to see more of this:
    Informing and protecting the yoga industry from government regulation that is either unnecessary or will have a negative impact on the quality and availability of yoga and yoga teachers.
    Providing forums for your members to learn from each other, build relationships, and come together to practice and share our art. (thanks for listening!) Now have leadership conferences somewhere other than California. I went last year and loved it. The forums and delegate system is a great idea. Let's have statewide conferences or a presence at one of the gazillion yoga conferences and festivals going on nowadays.
    And finally, lets work equally on consumer and employer education, instead of just yoga teacher education.

  10. janaki says:

    Yes, there's one more…
    Stop telling us you are going to do things that never happen.
    The old Yoga Alliance newsletter made many unfulfilled commitments. In fact, I didn’t bother to look into the laws regarding licensing in my state because the newsletter told me that Yoga Alliance was on top of things and that they would send “email alerts.” I ended up getting a demand letter from the Texas Workforce Commission, never heard anything from YA. I was sensing some improvement here, until…
    Last year, at the leadership conference, we talked with John Matthews about compliance and 3rd party certification, demonstration of competency, etc. Then 2 weeks later, there is a press release that he is quitting and we go for months without a president.
    And for those of you that missed the whole state regulation ordeal, here is the past statement from Mark Davis in the Yoga Journal article addressing state licensing.
    "When we formed in 1999, we decided to recommend that instructors have 200 hours of training, including philosophy, anatomy, physiology, and study of the poses," says Mark Davis, the president of Yoga Alliance. "Those guidelines were meant to be entirely voluntary. But some unethical yoga teacher trainers went into the business and, in response, states started approaching the 1,000 schools in our online registry and asking them to prove they followed our guidelines and undergo formal licensing." (YJ “Licensed to Teach” Sept 2009) I know this is "water under the bridge", I just want to point out that if YA doesn't come up with a way to ensure the quality of its registered schools, it seems that we could be at risk of the state doing so.
    What does Yoga Alliance mean by “recommend” and “voluntary”. Who were these “unethical” schools and why didn’t Yoga Alliance do anything about it? What can YA+ do to eliminate unethical schools? And is this really why the states started asking us to prove anything? Because in Texas, we were told that there had been no consumer complaints, and no problems. We were told that other licensed RYS’s complained to the TWC resulting in the letters that some 30 schools received from the state. Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. May we all work together for the continued quality, diversity, and availability of yoga teaching!

    • cathy says:

      whew, you seem otohave a loto to say.

      How about paragraph indentations and separating ideas? How about personal letter ot the new Pres.?

      • janaki says:

        it looks better in the original letter to John Matthews and in the letter I sent to the new president. I cut and pasted it here, so I agree that it is a bit tough to read, plus it is a quick update from the two year old letter. happy to send it in its prettier form to anyone who requests by email at janaki108@live.com

        • Richard Karpel says:

          Janaki, if you sent me a letter, I haven't received it yet! I'll print out your long message above to read it, and will get back to you.

  11. Karen says:

    Hi Richard, I work for a 501(c)(3) organization. We can — and do — have members. The stipulation is that membership be open to all: An organization with membership open to any member of a community, formed to improve conditions in the community by identifying problems and encouraging their resolution by community members, qualifies for 501(c)(3) status.

  12. Tony B. says:

    So if you have no members, you are accountable to no one then? I guess that explains it!

  13. Richard Karpel says:

    Karen, thanks. Will get back to you.

    Tony, you either didn't read what I wrote, or you're being intentionally obtuse.

    • Richard Karpel says:

      Karen, thanks again for your comment. Here's what our attorneys have to say:

      <<<While some 501(c)(3)s have members, YA has never had members and, like most 501(c)(3) organizations, was incorporated as a non-membership organization. If a 501(c)(3) serves the public interest but also a private interest (such as on behalf of members) other than incidentally, the organization will not be considered eligible for exemption under section 501(c)(3). Because YA offers a registry as a public service, having its registrants be members of the organization could convert the registry, in the IRS’s eyes, to offering a service for private benefit rather than the public interest.>>>

      However, as I noted above, YA+ has been organized as a 501(c)(6) membership organization, and can and will offer membership services, which YA cannot do.

  14. Dr. Katy Poole Katy Poole says:

    I'm still trying to figure out why it costs $336,325 for a website. Are you kidding? Maybe some of that money could have been diverted back into something more useful for the yoga community. Wow.

  15. Richard Karpel says:

    I'm not sure why it costs that much either. I agree with you.

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  21. guestie says:

    Richard, welcome, and thank you for your thoughtful responses so far. I know a lot of teachers who are angry at YA, and understandably so. I am in the middle of teacher-training and had wrestled with registering when I became eligible. Hearing your ideas so far, I am optimistic to be a part of the organization if it does truly change. I think YA is in a position to do a lot of good for the yoga teacher community if you can find your way back into the hearts of those who have been jaded. I also used to work at a 501(c) organization during its formative years (not from conception, but during the tough times when the original founders left and we were 'adrift' in our mission), and was happy to be a part of turning it around and developing many of the programs that continue today as a benefit to its members/registrants. Good luck to you and the staff in your own redesign/reorganization/re-everything – I look forward to the outcome.

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