What Exactly Does Yoga Alliance Do? ~ Cole D. Lehman

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Photo: Tiffany Assman

Watch this first, if you like: Waylon Lewis of elephant talks with Richard Karpel, CEO of Yoga Alliance


“We need to see ourselves through other people’s eyes to get better.”

These sage words came from President and CEO of Yoga Alliance, Richard Karpel.

Richard was kind enough to devote his time to a discussion on Waylon Lewis’s Walk The Talk Show about the future of yoga and the role Yoga Alliance plays in it.

If you have a vested interest in the international yoga community, it’s worth wading through the hour for yourself. Though, at times, you’ll be confused about what exactly Yoga Alliance does and doesn’t do.

That’s because it’s confusing by definition.

It’s a common misconception that Yoga Alliance provides a certification or accreditation for yoga teachers.

It doesn’t.

“Credentialing is the umbrella term. What we specifically do is a registry. A lot of people will say certification or accreditation, but that actually isn’t what we do. We’re a registry. If you’re a school that promises to uphold our educational standards then you are registered with us in our directory,” explains Richard.

Based on the definition of a credential, it’s an understandable point of confusion.

Credential: A credential is an attestation of qualification, competence, or authority issued to an individual by a third party with a relevant or de facto authority or assumed competence to do so.

See why everyone is confused?

Yoga Alliance does have standard curriculums for yoga teacher trainings. Schools and teachers must have certain qualifications to register their teacher training programs, and they promise to follow the YA standards. In turn, any student who completes a registered training gets to register automatically, with a fee, of course.

And, when they register, they get one of these marks.

But, Yoga Alliance, admittedly, has never provided any oversight to make sure the registered training programs are producing a standard, desired result—new teachers that can guide students competently and safely.

Nakedly, all these marks indicate without any oversight is that a teacher who promised to teach students according to Yoga Alliance’s curriculum standards, got paid for a teacher training, and Yoga Alliance collected registration fees.

“That’s been one of the issues with Yoga Alliance over the years, is that’s all we did. We took the papers, schools would hear from us once a year when we sent an invoice, and we didn’t have much oversight otherwise,” explains Richard.

There are many reasons for this. One, is because it’s really hard to do, and the other is because they don’t want to be the Yoga Police.

“In the beginning, Yoga Alliance wanted to come up with a system that didn’t dictate how yoga was going to be taught so they selected a registry model. Which is great for honoring that diversity. It’s not so great when you’re trying to provide oversight, and that’s the big challenge,” Richard explains.

He continues, “The initial focus on diversity didn’t work, and the pendulum swung and everyone was demanding accountability, more rigor, more oversight. Because, by 2012 there were so many yoga teachers and when I came in we had 40,000 registered yoga teachers. So, people were concerned that we were pumping out unqualified teachers.”


This is our concern.

People have been voicing it for many years.

Yoga Alliance says they’re finally listening and have already taken their first step to adding more rigor to their registry standards. In December 2013, they implemented a social credentialing system which requires every student who completes a training to answer questions about their training.

Think Yelp for teacher trainings, but, with a few important differences that Richard points out.
1. All reviewers are verified, real people.
2. Reviews are not anonymous.
3. Objectivity is promoted by asking specific questions.
4. The feedback is systematic, meaning, everyone who has completed a teacher training and wants to register has to complete the review.

Richard explains, “We looked at traditional like certification, accreditation… We looked at those options and there are a number of reasons why they didn’t make a whole lot of sense for this organization at this time. So, we said, well who is it that can help us provide oversight? Who knows what’s going on at the schools? And, we thought, well the obvious answer is well, the students. The students that go through those schools are the ones that are on the ground, that are in the best position to provide us through crowdsourcing and through feedback, with what is happening.”

“So the yoga students are in the best position?” Waylon joked in response.

Basically, the answer was yes.

New teachers will be evaluating their elders in the first step toward creating oversight over the quality of teacher trainings. It’s vital to note that the reviews are attached to registered schools, not individual teachers.

Richard does hint at a deeper motivation for social credentialing which is that credentialing systems, errr, registries like Yoga Alliance are being disrupted by the social review sites like Yelp.

“Yoga studios are already being evaluated by Yelp. What we’re afraid of is that credentialing organizations like Yoga Alliance are going to be disrupted by the Yelps of the world. So there may no longer be credentialing organizations like Yoga Alliance or our influence will be much less than it will be now. That would mean the yoga community’s fate would be left up to the Yelps and Googles and so we thought it was our responsibility,” explains Richard.

Yoga Alliance may be a non-profit organization, in service of the yoga community, but it’s still a business that took in $3.37 million in 2012, holds approximately $3 million in total assets, and is growing with the yoga industry each year.

Businesses that provide questionable or confusing value should be worried about disruption.

No matter what Yoga Alliance calls it, the world thinks their registration indicates a certain level of quality in schools and teachers.

Technically, it does not.

It’s likely that Yoga Alliance can’t promise this because it would make them liable in the case of an injury caused by one of their registered teachers.

Now, Yoga Alliance has started to do some great things for the community. Like, when they helped defend the case of Sedlock v Baird in Encinitas, California, where people wanted to shut down a school yoga program. Its survival was a huge win for our community.

They also act as a professional organization for the growing business of yoga. They’re providing educational resources and benefits for studios and teachers to help increase professionalism in the industry.

YA is even in the process of implementing a long-overdue ethics policy that will have an enforcement mechanism to remove ethics-violators from the registry. This will roll out sometime next year.

This is all wonderful, but the one thing the world expects them to do, they don’t do. And, maybe they can’t do.

Richard concludes, “We can’t guarantee that a teacher is going to be safe and competent in the same way that if you get a lawyer who is certified by the bar association, they could be incompetent and dishonest. What we can do is operate the best system we can. So we’re in competition in that respect. If we don’t operate a credentialing system that people like and that works at some level then people with stop registering with us. It’s as simple as that.”

Fair enough. Yoga Alliance can only do their best, just like each one of us. They can’t make people be honest or trustworthy and coming up with universal standards for yoga is an extremely complex task.

Unfortunately, it’s not nearly as simple as that last statement. People need a way to find safe, competent teachers. Everyone thinks that’s what Yoga Alliance registration indicates, and there are no other universally recognized credentialing systems.

Some individual schools do provide rigorous certifications, but teachers continue to register with Yoga Alliance because it is widely recognized by the public as an indication of quality.

So what do we do as a community? Do we replace Yoga Alliance with another organization that competes to solve the same problem? Do we self-regulate, with each school or style providing their own standards and forget about a universal standard?

Do we engage the organization that claims to act as a steward for our community and attempt to work together to get what we all want?

Yoga Alliance has the funds, worldwide recognition, and the beginnings of the infrastructure to potentially accomplish what we all want them to.

They claim to be stewards for our community and appear to be open to truly engaging with us for the first time in years.

It seems silly to me to start from scratch without trying to engage them first.

Yoga Alliance doesn’t do exactly what everyone expects them to do and their lack of oversight throughout the years may seem unforgivable to many, but do you have a better solution?


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Cole D. Lehman

Cole Lehman survives on stories, yoga, and new experiences. He’s an INFP, a yoga teacher, and a freelance writer who was raised by books, the internet, and his lovely parents. The mountains are his home and deserts are his favorite places. He believes that this is only one of many worlds we all get to explore and that it’s a privilege to share the experience with you. You can follow his journeys on Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and his website.

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anonymous Jan 31, 2016 8:19pm

If Yoga Alliance can't actually verify the people they credential, perhaps they should leave the job to someone else.

Their job seems to be not unlike the credit rating agencies (S&P, Fitch et al.) who get paid by the very businesses they rate (i.e., provide the credentials for). It is a huge conflict of interest…. which led to the 2008 crash.

In my opinion, Yoga Alliance is harmless but mostly useless.

anonymous Jun 8, 2014 10:11am

Very interesting article, Cole!
I'm looking at a teacher training that's not registered with Yoga Alliance – I'm curious to know how much the RYT credential matters in terms of finding places to teach. Is RYT the usual requirement that studios ask for when hiring new teachers?
I don't necessarily feel that YA is the end-all-be-all authority when it comes to quality education (as others have discussed here), but like you said, it's what we have, and it does bear a lot of weight.
Any thoughts on education outside the YA spectrum?

    anonymous Jun 10, 2014 2:17pm

    Thanks, Valerie!
    I'm not sure how much YA registration matters depending on your situation. I'm registered with YA because it seemed prudent and it was available option to me because my training was registered.

    So far, I've taught at a few studios and they've known my teacher (Tiffany Wood) and style (Anusara) so they didn't ask about other credentials. I had to teach a class with the studio owners for them to see if I was a fit.

    My YA registration hasn't been discussed once, but that could easily be different in other gyms, studios, and areas of the country.

    I don't know what the answer is at this point. The yoga community is split, and not everyone will require YA registration (some people are even actively against it) for you to teach. None of the studio owners should rely on just that as an indication of your skill anyway.

    If you have a great opportunity with an amazing teacher who isn't registered with YA, I don't think I'd pass it up. No one I know has been turned down for not being registered.

    But, I'd find out why the training isn't registered, learn about their training curriculum and requirements, and talk to people who've taken their training before making the decision. You'll learn a lot from that conversation.

anonymous May 28, 2014 9:14pm

My most recent take on the issue is a post on my blog, with links to a bunch of previous comments: http://www.yogaanatomy.org/2014/you-were-here/

Disclaimer: For better or worse, I was one of the original members of the ad hoc committee that first came up with the 200 and 500 hour standards.

Here's the fine print to the certificate of attendance I uploaded as part of the post*

*“This certifies that the person named above showed up for [some/most/all] of the indicated session and appeared to be awake, though there’s no way for me to know whether they were listening or whether they [absorbed/understood] what I said – let alone how effectively they will choose to communicate it. Additionally, there is no way for me determine the teaching ability or qualities of the person named above, regardless of how much I may have [liked/tolerated] [him/her].

The recipient of this document bears full responsibility for demonstrating to the public the quality and efficacy of their skills, and communicating honestly the true extent of their training.”

anonymous May 28, 2014 4:17pm

Yoga teachers in Australia have Yoga Australia as our most prominent "registering body or organisation" same situation with the annual fees but there is also a condition that members need to commit to ongoing training each year in order to renew, so in this way teachers never stop learning, if you don't attended workshops, etc. you don't acquire the points needed to re-register, I
t is encouraging that these issues are being brought into the light, so many schools seem to churn out teachers that are ill equipped to understand let alone teach the fundamentals of Yoga, The Eight limbs, how many teachers actually contemplate and commit to the Yamas and NIyamas ? i
instead of being primarily concerned with class numbers and organisations its up to us As teachers to expect ourselves and our peers to have standards that reflect the basic tenants of Yoga , and this begins with teacher trainings where Yogic Philosophy is considered equally if not more important that how to get somebody into crow pose.
we do also have Yoga Alliance International which is the Yoga Alliance for Australia and New Zealand

    anonymous May 29, 2014 8:48am

    Thanks, Diane. It's really helpful to hear about a different "registering body or organisation" and how things are done in Australia.

    I'm with you on the need for learning the deeper aspects of yoga. My training with Tiffany Wood focused heavily on the tradition and practice of Yoga, not just the asana. I'm very fortunate and grateful I had the opportunity to go through her training .

anonymous May 28, 2014 2:24pm

My issue with yoga alliance is that the review of schools they give for past students is very vague. They even advise to be courteous and truthful. Personally I had a poor teacher training and I was disappointed in yoga alliance for backing the school I went to. I made the assumption that if it was a yoga alliance registered school…that it would be of high quality and standards.

There was no accountability from YA on covering materials required by YA. And there certainly was not room to bash on a training or teacher. My lead instructor answered her phone during savasana. And I’m sad to say it didn’t happen just once.

If yoga alliance is going to be this magical registry that has validity. Then it does need to be the yoga police. We need safe, educated, loving teachers.

    anonymous May 29, 2014 8:45am

    Suz, I'm sorry to hear about your teacher training experience. I was lucky and knew my teacher well already before I took her training. It was a 200-hour training but we went beyond the minimum 200-hour requirements.

    YA did implement a social credentialing system, maybe if you email them you can still provide feedback on your training.

    I'm with you on needing more integrity in trainings. A lot more oversight needs to be provided and real accountability needs to be put into place. That can be dangerous, too, if it's done without care. Even with oversight, the responsibility will still be be on the schools and teachers themselves.

    I think there are many wonderful teachers out there who take what they're passing on very seriously and have very high standards, but they're not always the easiest to find and not all of them of registered with YA.

anonymous May 26, 2014 10:54pm

Hi Cole, great article. Sounds like YA is getting very confused about what role they want to play in the yoga community – a "registry" with user reviews that competes with Yelp? And NOT a credentialing or certification organisation? Could have fooled us.

I totally agree with: "businesses that provide questionable or confusing value should be worried about disruption." If YA doesn't do credentialing or accreditation, why would anyone want to pay them? Just to be in a registry?

Full disclosure: I'm co-founder at YogaTrail (the world's yoga directory), where all yoga teachers are very welcome to create themselves a profile (no certification or payment required).

    anonymous May 27, 2014 10:02am

    Thanks for reading. The language they use is really confusing. They say credentialing is the umbrella term for what they do, but that they actually just provide a registry. So they use a different definition of credentialing than what people commonly understand.

    My hypothesis about the way they explain their service is based on avoiding liability in case of any injuries in the classes of any "registered" yoga teachers. A lawsuit from paralyzation or severe injury that found its way in their direction could wipe them out. But, they need to clear it up or evolve because it's misleading and people pay them largely based on their confusion.

    I think that they have done some good in terms of taking steps toward a certification or accreditation body for the yoga community, but that it hasn't been enough over time and a lot of the yoga community doesn't trust them or see value in them because of it. They have a long way to go to provide real value and I think the yoga community needs to hold them accountable for their progress as self-proclaimed stewards. They might not turn out to be the answer, either, but they seem like the best place to start.

    Thanks for being honest 🙂

anonymous May 25, 2014 8:48am

This was very insightful, thank you for sharing!

    anonymous May 25, 2014 11:56am

    Thank you for taking the time to let me know what you thought, you're welcome!

anonymous May 24, 2014 12:56pm

Honestly, over the years I've felt like I am just emptying my piggy bank with Yoga Alliance. I personally haven't experienced anything beyond being able to use the credentials "yoga alliance certified". I am certified by several schools worldwide. There's no need for an external company to back me up. As stated above, there is no real way of verifying the quality and competence of a teacher. Yoga Alliance is a title. Nothing special. I will no longer be funding them.

    anonymous May 25, 2014 12:05pm

    Thanks, Elle! It's great to hear perspective from someone who's been certified by a few different schools. Do you see value for the community in a standard certification system with more oversight? Or can the schools take care of it without running into the same issues?

Carlos Smok Sep 23, 2018 1:15am

What is Yoga Alliance doing with the millions of dolars they get from techers and schools? non-profit organization means that there is no profit after the stockholders receive their parts (that can be huge). It seems just an irresponible business more than a trusty organization. who defined than with only 200 hours someone becomes a Yoga teacher?