I am often asked about yoga licensing and certification as a teacher trainer. To some, it probably seems like a no-brainer. When you require a professional to have a license it assures the public that the person they are working with is a competent practitioner. It also assures that their work is safe and that they have passed some minimum standards of education. Licensing can also open the doors for insurance coverage which makes services available to more people.
If this were actually true, licensing would be a great idea. The problem is – it isn’t true. Certifying and licensing is managed by independent organizations that have mainly their own interests in mind – whatever those might be. Currently, there are thousands of certified yoga teachers who have very little knowledge about how to keep people safe in a yoga class. The standards for becoming certified as a yoga teacher in no way ensures that this person is competent. How could they make sure of this? There really is no reasonable way to test everyone on their knowledge in a way that guarantees safety and efficacy.
When it comes to yoga therapy certification for therapists, we have a similar problem. Although I applaud the attempt to come up with standards, I take issue with these standards being the basis for government regulation. It is fine if an organization wants to put standards out there, and have people freely join – or choose not to. To require people to have a yoga therapy license, however, should not be the direction we move in.
For thousands of years, healers have learned from, and been given permission to teach from their teachers. This is a very important relationship and probably the best set up to make sure a student can practice what they have been taught. In any holistic field what makes a person a good practitioner is as much about attitude, humility, and personal sadhana as it is about book knowledge. There is an infinite amount of information to know. It’s how we use it that matters. Only someone with a personal relationship can gauge that.
I personally support certifications as long as they are just that: certifying that someone completed a program and has demonstrated some competency in those teachings. If governments want to get involved it should only be about safety. Basic testing requiring that people understand safety precautions. This would probably be ineffective, but at least it makes sense. To be a hairdresser most states require this (clean your scissors, etc.). They don’t test you on your hair cutting ability. It’s too subjective. And so is yoga therapy.
Turning yoga therapists into quasi-physical therapists with less training and the need to erase or hide the more esoteric parts of the tradition would be a loss of the quintessential aspects of what makes yoga therapy so useful. If we go too far down the licensing path we risk losing the tradition that got us here.
May we all stay connected to our inner teacher and let wisdom guide the way.
Published: May 19, 2014
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