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Yoga Alliance (YA) Misperceptions – Registration, Certification, Accreditation & Why You Don’t Need to Pay the Yoga Alliance Fees

Please Note: This is part of a series of related topics. Use the quick menu above to navigate within this section.

Overview

Here we introduce the subjects of registry and certification, common misperceptions about Yoga Alliance, and what exactly the Yoga Alliance registry does and does not recognize.


Audio Introduction

In case you’d like to hear a voice rather than just read more words : ) here’s an audio update recorded on September 25th, 2019.

Yoga Alliance Alternatives – Conversation Status

 


In a Nutshell

The following points are highlights from the detailed reporting below. For more information, keep reading or use the contents to jump to the section you’re most interested in.

Basic Facts

    1. Yoga Alliance does not propose, assess or enforce competency standards.
    2. Yoga Alliance does not certify yoga teachers, teacher trainers, or training schools.
    3. YA maintains a registry (a list).
    4. Neither teachers nor trainers are required to be registered with Yoga Alliance or any other organization.
    5. Teaching and studio insurance may be obtained without Yoga Alliance (or any other) registration.
    6. Many widely recognized and influential teachers (and less well known teachers as well) are NOT registered with YA.

Widespread Misperception

    1. A common misperception is that Yoga Alliance “certifies” teachers and/or that YA recognition has a relationship to competency, professionalism or legitimacy. This is not correct.
    2. There is an implication that newly trained teachers who have completed a training with an RYS have achieved a particular standard level of competency. For example, a hiring manager might presume that a “graduate” of a Yoga Alliance “approved” training has a proven ability to sequence effectively and promote student safety, to understand scope of practice, to be skilled in biomechanics and the physiology of stretching and so on. However, no such standards are required or verified by Yoga Alliance.
    3. The quality of training and resulting trainee competency have no relationship to whether the training is registered with Yoga Alliance.
    4. Teachers who have applied for YA registration at RYT levels tend to be unaware of the misperceptions, issues and burdens  associated with the trainer registry (RYS). They also tend to fall prey to the myth that having attended an RYS means having attended a training that meets particular standards.

Bureaucracy vs. Standards

    1. Yoga Alliance recognizes teachers and trainers based on two things: an online form and fee payment. In return, teachers and trainers are given “registry marks.” While Yoga Alliance’s bureaucratic requirements changed in 2020, this recognition model (money and forms in exchange for being on a list) did not change. See details: Competency Responsibility.
    2. Beginning in February 2020, Yoga Alliance began requiring trainers to submit additional documentation that attests to the fact that they, the trainers, will be assessing competency (of unspecified standards) in over 50 topics. YA doesn’t specify the standards (they simply note general teaching topics such as “sequencing”) nor do they provide resources to support trainers in assessing competency of their trainees.
    3. So while competency assessment is now finally MENTIONED in YA materials, there is no actual support to do so. Rather, there is a burdensome application process with demanding documentation requirements, fees and processing time. Stunningly, the new requirements even demand submission of the trainer’s copyrighted syllabus and training curriculum as well as their branded manual.

Moving Forward: Your Options

    1. Consider whether or not you wish to perpetuate the false narrative that Yoga Alliance registry is in any way related to competency or legitimacy. In other words, every time an organization states that they or their teachers are “certified by,” “accredited with” or “approved by” Yoga Alliance, they are perpetuating a myth.
    2. Be aware that you are not required to register with Yoga Alliance and that you have alternatives.
    3. If your objective in registering with Yoga Alliance has been to “legitimize” you or your organization, you can do so without a third-party organization by simply promoting your particular background and skills. If you’re a trainer, you can offer verification of your trainees through certification, registration or other recognition. If there are third-party organizations that offer services you resonate with, you can choose to participate in their systems of recognition.
    4. In addition, there are numerous additional efforts underway to help teachers and trainers have more choices. Learn more below.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q:  Am I required to register with Yoga Alliance?

No.

Q:  Should I register with Yoga Alliance?

It’s your choice.

Q:  I heard that I had to be registered with YA to get insurance. Isn’t that right?

YA registration is not required to get teaching insurance. See a list of insurance providers here.

Q: I applied to work for a studio that requires YA registration as a condition for hire. What can I do?

You can, of course, choose to register with Yoga Alliance. Whether or not you register, you may wish to show this information to the hiring manager, highlighting the information you find most relevant.

Q:   Yoga Alliance is not perfect, but they serve an important purpose. Yoga is not regulated in the US. If it were to become regulated like massage and acupuncture, you would see a huge increase in fees. YA is an entity that shows that instructors have a standard of training to protect their students. If it weren’t for them, yoga would already be regulated by the government which would increase fees and barriers to entry.

That’s what the uninformed have been led to believe, but unfortunately it’s wrong. Yoga Alliance actually does not fulfill the “important purpose” of providing a “standard of training to protect students.”

Presumably all teachers and trainers would agree with you that they do not want to be government-regulated. People in any occupational field tend to prefer self-regulation. Nonprofits are usually created to help with the task of self-regulation.

Regulation refers to an attempt to prevent people from holding a title without proving a predetermined level of skill and precaution. From a legal perspective, regulated occupations are those controlled by a governmental regulatory body. For example, professions such as nursing and skilled trades such as plumbing are regulated industries in some nations. In effect, these occupation titles are put into a reserved status, and the law requires a certificate, license, or registration obtained from a body overseen by the government. (See also: The Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials)

In contrast, people within many occupations voluntarily “self-regulate.” The intention is often to ensure a basic standard of competency. Sometimes, the efforts are to validate greater-than-average or specialized skills. Such self-regulation often takes the form of nonprofit organizations that are said to represent those in a particular occupation and that is responsible for registering, accrediting or certifying individuals according to whatever criteria they determine.

Typically there are multiple organizations fulfilling such a role within a single field. For example, U.S. universities and colleges may be accredited by regional organizations or by national ones, and they may be institutionally accredited or programmatically accredited by various organizations.

Yoga Alliance does not help yoga teachers and trainers to self-regulate because it does not propose, measure or enforce standards (and this did not change with their new requirements in 2020).

The efforts by yoga teachers and trainers to self-regulate has at least two problems:

1) The misperception that the big job of self-regulation is being taken care of by Yoga Alliance when in fact it it not.

2) The “200-hour” model popularized by Yoga Alliance and its “approval” of “trainers” with little experience resulting in a commercialization of teacher trainings and a glut of unprepared teachers.

Q: How can we keep yoga safe and also allow freedom?

That is arguably the fundamental challenge that we as a yoga collective are facing.

Everyone can choose their own approach to this subject. Yoga Teacher Central takes the position that:

  • The only wise and sustainable model for virtually anything is self-responsibility as opposed to policing by an outside authority.
  • Real and true improvement is more likely to be successful with information, support and empowerment as opposed to bureaucracy.
  • Thus, the facts highlighted here are not meant to imply advocacy for outside or industry-wide governance. Rather, this is an effort to widely inform yoga teachers that there is a common misperception that governance and standards-enforcement exists when it doesn’t. With our eyes open to the facts, we are better prepared to approach the subjects of standards and improving industry-wide teaching competency.

Q: Why are you making a big deal about this? You don’t have to join.

Many teachers have used the fact that we have the freedom NOT to join Yoga Alliance as reason to stay out of the conversation of YA alternatives and competency standards in general. And staying out of the conversation remains an option.

However, this means a great number of people continue to be misinformed, and the industry continues to live with a widespread misperception that there is standards enforcement when there is not.

By facing this truth, we also now wake up to the opportunity to work with others to create options more closely aligned with true training excellence and teaching skill.

Q: Why do you care?

Some people may be curious why we are publishing so much information on this topic. I’m the founder of Yoga Teacher Central and I personally haven’t been a member of Yoga Alliance since my first experience with them as a new teacher many years ago when I learned that they don’t oversee or enforce standards with the schools they “approve.” (They didn’t even have a way to take simple feedback on one of their “approved” trainers!) Since then, I have found no reason to engage in any conversations about Yoga Alliance as it has been irrelevant to my work of providing teaching and training resources.

And then in 2019, as the changes to YA requirements were announced, I started being inundated with information and requests from trainers who are experiencing issues that I felt should be widely known in the community of yoga teachers and trainers. These resource pages are my effort to bring that information to light and to support those who are making efforts to evolve the field in a positive way.

Q: What is YA doing with all that money?

How YA uses the money it receives from teachers and trainers is a point we can only speculate about. Yoga Alliance states that it is a “nonprofit association representing the yoga community” so it would be reasonable for registered teachers and trainers to ask for an accounting of the funds received. For some ballpark figures of costs to run the registry, see below.


Registration is Not Certification or Accreditation

Definitions

  • Accreditation = the action of officially recognizing someone as having a particular status or being qualified to perform a particular activity, or the acknowledgement of a  person’s responsibility for or achievement of something
  • Certified = officially recognized as possessing certain qualifications or meeting certain standards
  • Registered = entered or recorded on an official list or directory

Yoga Alliance is a Registry

Yoga Alliance does not certify yoga teachers nor does it provide accreditation of trainers or training schools. Yoga Alliance is a registration service.

  • A registration is an “official list or directory.” Registration does not mean “approved,” “certified” or “accredited.”
  • In the cases of both RYT (registered yoga teacher) and RYS (registered yoga school), acceptance is based on paperwork and fee submission only.
  • Registered teachers and trainers receive these benefits: use of a YA logo, group discounts on some purchases, and access to a listing of video workshops.
  • Trainers are charged an application fee of $400 plus $240 annually. (More information below.) To remain on the list, trainers must re-apply every three years.

Prior to availability of the Internet, registries provided lists that people needed because their phone books only had phone numbers and addresses for contacts located in their local geography. Registries gave them access to contacts they couldn’t easily obtain any other way.

With the advent of the Internet, any organization or individual can of course be accessed directly. Now, registries have lost the value they once held. In order for a list to be valued above free, presumably it would provide something more useful than contact information and confirmation of fees paid.

 

That being said, a Yoga Alliance certificate is absolutely not necessary to teach yoga. It’s the norm, yes, and it has a lot of big marketing money behind it. But an RYT certificate does not automatically mean that you are knowledgeable, that you are reliable, or that you are trustworthy. Nor does it mean that your selected training program is any of those things, either. While many commercial yoga studios will prefer yoga instructors who are certified with the Yoga Alliance, not all do, especially not those who are more interested in the ancient yogic philosophies and traditional practices. – Brett Larkin, What is Yoga Alliance and Do I Need an RYT Certificate to Teach Yoga? link

There is No Accreditation for Yoga

No one really wants to admit there is no accreditation for Yoga. Anyone who claims to be “approved,” “certified” or “licensed” by the YA is either grossly uninformed or disingenuous… In filling out the paperwork and paying the fees, yoga teachers and training programs purport to follow a vague set of curriculum guidelines … The registry amounts to a digital rubber stamp or paid advertising. Not to mention, the YA does not disclose what they do with the money they collect from the Yoga community. Even if everyone is being true to their word, referring to the YA guidelines as “standards” is quite a stretch. – J. Brown  link

The following screenshots are from the Yoga Alliance web site, September, 2019.

YA is a Registry: RYT

YA is a Registry: RYS

RYT Requirements

RYS Requirements

Benefits

No Upcoming Workshops


Who is Responsible for Teaching Competency?

The level of competency that an individual yoga teacher achieves after a training is the responsibility of the trainer and the trainee only. There are no minimum competency standards specified or upheld by Yoga Alliance or any other industry-wide organization.

    1. Yoga is not a government-regulated occupation. Yoga is a self-regulated field.
    2. There is a widespread misperception that Yoga Alliance contributes to the field’s self-regulation by upholding competency standards. It does not.
    3. Yoga Alliance does not propose, assess, certify or enforce competency standards, nor does it provide meaningful resources to encourage greater competency. This does not change with the new requirements scheduled to take effect February 2020.
    4. If a trainee is held to any competency standards at all, those standards are specified and upheld by the trainer and/or a particular certification process such as Iyengar or Ashtanga.
    5. There is an implication that newly trained teachers who have completed a training with an RYS have achieved a particular standard level of competency. For example, a hiring manager might presume that a “graduate” of a Yoga Alliance “approved” training has a proven ability to sequence effectively and promote student safety, to understand scope of practice, to be skilled in biomechanics and the physiology of stretching and so on. However, no such standards are required or verified by Yoga Alliance. The quality of training and level of competency achieved by a trainee are unrelated to Yoga Alliance.

The certificate the school issues is the only valid credential… the relationship between a teacher holding a certificate and their students is what validates the effectiveness of the school. – Brandon Hartsell and Leslie Kaminoff, Yoga Alliance Behind the Curtain link

Go deeper here: Who is Responsible for Teaching Competency?


Results & Implications

Widespread Misperceptions

It’s a verifiable fact that being on the Yoga Alliance registry has no relationship to teaching competency and that teacher and trainer insurance may be obtained without Yoga Alliance (or any other) registration. Many widely recognized and influential teachers (and less well known teachers as well) are NOT registered with YA.

However, misperceptions appear to be widespread:

    1. A common misperception is that Yoga Alliance “certifies” teachers and/or that YA recognition has some relationship to teaching competency, professionalism or legitimacy.
    2. There is an implication that newly trained teachers who have completed a 200-hour training with an RYS have achieved a particular standard level of competency, but that is incorrect. Yoga Alliance does not propose, assess, certify or enforce teaching competency.

The reasons for these misperceptions can only be speculated about and likely include:

    • Simple misunderstanding
    • Misinformation
    • Having participated in YA at a time when there were different intentions or efforts than there are now

More Implications

    1. Teachers who have applied for Yoga Alliance as an RYT tend to be unaware of the burdens and issues associated with the trainer registry (RYS). They also tend to fall prey to the myth that having attended an RYS means having attended a training that meets particular standards.
    2. The Yoga Alliance creation of “levels” (E-RYT 200, RYT 500, E-RYT-500) implies an effort by a standards body to equitably evaluate teachers when in fact “achievement” of these designations is entirely dependent upon self-based reporting of hours and the payment of fees.
    3. While teachers who pursue advanced learning deserve to promote what they have achieved, it’s unclear how Yoga Alliance adds any value in that task.
    4. Rather than benefiting the teacher or the consumers, the levels perpetuate a myth that skills, knowledge and integrity can be identified via the money paid and the forms submitted to Yoga Alliance. There is no relationship between the Yoga Alliance levels and characteristics of highly capable teaching such as wisdom, integrity, experience, lineage and competency. (This does not dishonor those who have, with integrity, pursued such designations. It simply notes the fact that designations themselves do not add value in verifying the skill or other characteristics of teachers.)
    5. Teachers with few skills are represented in the Yoga Alliance registry as being on par with far more capable, even elite, teachers.
    6. The knowledge of highly qualified teachers is unrecognized within the Yoga Alliance system. These teachers are instead burdened with an hours-based bureaucracy that depletes their time and finances that presumably could be used in legitimate pursuits of study and teaching.

Yoga Australia uses a model that better addresses these issues. Learn more here: Yoga Alliance Alternatives.

YA Burdens Reduce Trainer Productivity

I’ve been teaching yoga since 1998 and training teachers since 2005. I’m finding that at best, YA has become a distraction to my training programs. The hours that I am spending figuring out how to shift my 200 hour curriculum — which was already above the YA “standards” — to fit their mold and then to enter my 300 hour curriculum into their system, which will be changing soon too, are hours that I should be teaching, training, and continuing my research and practice. – Teacher Trainer

Ethical & Other Considerations

After fifteen years of affiliation with Yoga Alliance, I have decided to revoke my registration. I will no longer be individually associated with Yoga Alliance as an RYT yoga instructor nor will I register any further yoga schools with Yoga Alliance. I will continue to teach workshops, immersions, retreats, and courses. They simply will not be associated with Yoga Alliance. I will also no longer call my immersions “Teacher Trainings.” There are several reasons for this decision. I encourage other yoga instructors to read this and consider the best way forward for themselves and for the practice of yoga. – Josh Schrei  link

Please see the original post by Josh Schrei for much more. He proposes and expands on these points:

    1. Yoga Alliance is based on a faulty premise, and this is hurting Yoga in a big way.
    2. Yoga Alliance standards were fabricated without any connection to how Yoga is traditionally taught, and this is culturally insensitive.
    3. Low Yoga Alliance standards encourage studios to churn out low quality trainings, and Yoga Alliance does nothing about it.
    4. The emphasis on the 200 hour YTT created by Yoga Alliance forwards a value system that runs directly contrary to the principles of Yoga.
    5. Yoga Alliance does not actually monitor and regulate the standards that it sets.
    6. It is difficult to reasonably conclude that Yoga Alliance exists for any other purpose than to make money.

Self-Governance & Proposed Standards

The common misperceptions described above prompt some considerations:

    1. If you were previously under the impression that Yoga Alliance was a governance body or an enforcer of standards, you can consider the reality and draw conclusions from your perspective.
    2. You might choose to help those who are misinformed to know that Yoga Alliance is not a standards or governance body and that there is no industry-wide standard-bearer for yoga.
    3. Consider your thoughts on the subject of teaching standards and how those in the field might be most effective in improving industry-wide competency. (For more resources, inspiration and contacts, see Yoga Alliance Alternatives.)

Each teacher and trainer may choose their own approach to this subject. Yoga Teacher Central takes the position that:

    1. The only wise and sustainable model for virtually anything is self-responsibility as opposed to policing by an outside authority.
    2. Real and true improvement is more likely to be successful with support and empowerment as opposed to bureaucracy.
    3. Thus, the information highlighted here is not meant to imply advocacy for outside or industry-wide governance. Rather, this is an effort to make more people aware that there’s a widespread misperception that governance and standards-enforcement exists when, in fact, it does not. With our eyes open to the facts, we’re better prepared to approach the subject of standards and improving industry-wide teaching competency.
    4. Yoga Teacher Central now offers Minimum Knowledge Standards for yoga teachers. We encourage adoption of these knowledge standards by yoga teaching professionals, and welcome feedback.

 


YA Receives, at Minimum, $7.5 Million in Annual Dues from Teachers & Trainers + Charges Unusually High Application Fees

Unusually High Application Fee

To apply for YA registry, trainers are required to pay $640 and submit an extensive application. The fee includes an unusually high application fee.

    1. An application fee for an organization such as Yoga Alliance could reasonably be expected to be $50. The average application fee for U.S. colleges in 2015 was $44. The highest was $90, charged by Stanford University. (source)
    2. The Yoga Alliance application fee for trainers in 2019 was $400.
    3. Let’s not forget what an application fee is. It’s the fee we pay to ask to join something. The “service” we get in return is paper processing. The provider tells us we must formulate our request in a particular way and then charges us a non-refundable fee for the right to be considered. For example, to rent a house, there is typically an application fee charged for applying to rent a house. The home-owner uses the application fee to cover their time to check references and conduct a background check, for example. In the case of Yoga Alliance, presumably the $400 fee covers the cost of the time of the person who reviews the required paperwork and is apparently needed in addition to the $7.5 million received in annual dues.
    4. Application fees are above and beyond participation fees — in this case a $240 annual fee for trainers to remain registered. In other words, trainers are initially charged $640, followed by $240 per year.

Teachers have shared stories with Yoga Teacher Central (supported by documentation) showing that Yoga Alliance has declined applications while keeping the $400 submitted by teachers.

Funds Received from Teachers & Trainers

Trainers

In September 2019, Yoga Alliance had 7,748 registered yoga schools.

    • At $400 per school, Yoga Alliance charged teacher trainers $3,099,200 for paper processing.
    • At $240 per year, Yoga Alliance receives $1,859,520 annually from teacher trainers.
Teachers

Yoga Alliance has 86,928 registered yoga teachers.

    • Yoga Alliance charges teachers $50 in application fees and $50 in upgrade fees. Thus, many teachers will have paid more than $50 in paper processing fees. But at only one charge of $50 each, that’s $4,346,400 for paper processing.
    • Yoga Alliance charges teachers $65 in annual dues resulting in $5,650,320 in annual revenue from teachers.
Totals
    • Yoga Alliance has received approximately $7.4 million in application fees.
    • Plus it receives approximately $7. 5 million in annual dues every year.
    • This does not include fees from advertising or any other ways the organization may make money off its list of teachers and trainers.

How YA Spends the Money

The only way to answer the question of how this money is used is to ask Yoga Alliance to share that information. Otherwise, we are only speculating.

Meanwhile, we can consider a few general, ballpark figures to help get some perspective. I (Shelly) have worked at small, medium and large sized firms whose primary service was software and communications, and I’ve been running an online business with specialized software since 2012. So I can provide a few general ballpark figures.

I don’t know if YA has office space, but no office space is needed which is great, because office space is a big expense. Instead, in these types of operations, it’s software development to create the business infrastructure that is by far the greatest investment.

An organization’s tech expenses are broken down into infrastructure development and maintenance:

    • Development of a very elite, ultra-expensive, custom site may run $30,000 to $50,000, so let’s say it could be as high as $100,000 although I’ve never heard of sites being that costly. That’s a one-time infrastructure investment.
    • Site hosting and maintenance may run perhaps $1,200 to $2,500 per year with periodic development expenses of another few thousand for the year. So let’s call it $50,000 annually in tech maintenance (which would be unusually high but let’s be generous).
    • At some point, a site will need a major upgrade and at a later point, a rebuild. When I used the YA “search teachers” function in October 2019, it was super weirdly slow. (I’m not being picky; truly, it was weirdly slow.) So the site has obviously not been upgraded in quite some time which means a significant potential cost has been avoided. A site upgrade would likely cost another $10,000 to $30,000.
    • So we’re at $180,000 for a very high end projection of tech expenses. But let’s round up even more to $200k.

Beyond tech expenses, there are the typical expenses of marketing and salaries for administrative personnel.

    • Let’s say marketing is $5k per month. That would seem to be quite high, wouldn’t it? I don’t know, let’s give them a large budget and put it at $8k, per month, or $96,000 per year, rounded up to $100k.
    • I don’t know how many employees there are or if they are full-time or part-time. If there were 3 full-time employees at a generous $100,000 per year that would be $300,000.

So at the very high end, we’ve got $200k in tech expenses + $100k in marketing + $300k in salaries for a grand total of $600,000. Even if we practically doubled this already generous allocation we’d only get to a $1 million budget.

Receiving payments online incurs a fee from the financial processor of around 3% so $7.5 million in fees would be $7,250,000 received.

$1 million is still less that 15% of the annual money received, plus YA has the additional pot of $7.5 million in application fees.

Whether the rest of the money is used for advocacy, meeting with members, employee salaries, or any number of possible uses for funds, only Yoga Alliance could answer that question and registered members may wish to discuss their priorities for usage of the funds with YA.

The following screenshots are from the Yoga Alliance web site search results for registered yoga schools and teachers, September 27th, 2019.


Moving Forward: Your Options

  1. Consider if you wish to perpetuate the false narrative that Yoga Alliance registration is related to teaching competency or legitimacy. In other words, every time an organization states that they or their teachers are “certified by,” “accredited with” or “approved by” Yoga Alliance, they are improperly stating Yoga Alliance’s role and propagating a myth.
  2. Be aware that you are free to register or not register with Yoga Alliance.
  3. If your objective in registering with Yoga Alliance has been to “legitimize” you or your organization, you can do so in other ways. (See Yoga Alliance Alternatives – Other Registries, Accreditation Services & Certification Programs.)

Sources & Resources

  1. Brown, J. (J. Brown Yoga) – Giving Yoga Alliance a Chance  link
  2. Brown, J. (YogaAnatomy.org) – Yoga Alliance Approved, My Ass  link
  3. Carlson, Karin (J. Brown Yoga Talks) – Yoga Alliance is Beside the Point  link
  4. Carlson, Karin (Return Yoga) – Yoga Alliance  link
  5. Halliday, Jillian (YogiApproved.com) – Do Yoga Instructors Really Need to Join Yoga Alliance?  link
  6. Hartsell, Brandon & Leslie Kaminoff (YogaAnatomy.org) – Yoga Alliance Behind the Curtain link
  7. International Yoga Federation – International Yoga Federation Home Page  link
  8. International Yoga Registry – International Yoga Registry  link
  9. Larkin, Brett – What is Yoga Alliance and Do I Need an RYT Certificate to Teach Yoga? link
  10. MacDonald, Kala (Yoga to Cope) – Yoga Alliance Alternatives Board  link
  11. National Association of Certified Yoga Teachers – Affiliated with the Yoga Institute  link
  12. Schrei, Josh (Tapta Marg Productions) – Why I Am Revoking My Yoga Alliance Registration  link
  13. Yoga Alliance – Yoga Alliance Home Page  link
  14. Wooley, Katherine Austin (Karma Yoga) How Yoga Alliance is Ruining Yoga  link

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