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.
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.
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