Yoga first happened to me when I was 15 years old. At the moment of writing, I’m 34, so it makes a scary number of “19 years ago”.
Yoga happened in my life the scary 19 years ago.
I hurt my knees at the martial art class I was taking then. No, I didn’t turn to yoga for recovery from the injury. I was just bored out of my mind being immobilized, so I randomly picked a book some friends brought me. The title was something in the lines of “The eight limbs”. Ashtanga.
I became weirdly mesmerized by the concepts I read in the book and started practicing what asanas I managed with my very bad knees following the pictures. It was bad practice, but it started everything.
The swelling and the pain in the knees went away. The love for yoga didn’t.
Since then I’ve been a student, a practitioner and a teacher of yoga and meditation. It wasn’t my profession, I rarely mentioned it unless I was specifically asked. Yoga simply became a part of my life. It felt natural to practice, it felt natural to learn, and when it started feeling natural to teach, students showed up and I started to teach.
Later I was seriously thinking about getting a yoga teacher and meditation teacher certification. I still believed in certifications then. Not for long.
After exploring numerous certification processes and organizations I was heartbroken. I was startled by how far they are from what I know and love as yoga. I even considered quitting yoga because getting certified seemed so wrong. I almost did.
But I knew better — I quit the idea of getting certified as a yoga teacher while nurturing yoga for me and my students.
In today world and in western society it is a hard decision to make. But I stand by it, and this is why.
Yoga teaching can’t be standardized
Those who believe in the necessity and possibility of proper certification in yoga don’t understand what yoga is and mistake it for something it is not.
Certification implies standardization. You can only certify someone if there are certain standards they can demonstrate.
Modern society is standard driven. Most of the economy is based on standardized jobs, where roles, responsibilities, and procedures are universal and employees are replaceable. One can certify a product when the product exactly matches some expected qualities.
One can certify a professional when the professional matches some expected skills and sets of knowledge.
Yoga is a philosophy and practice of… life itself. I know, most people think that yoga is some kind of physical exercise, and someone who has learned how to do a set of moves, understand some physiology behind them and can demonstrate the moves and poses is a yoga teacher.
This is a “yoga” of the limited standard-driven modern mind. I have no problem with physical exercise per se. But it has nothing to do with yoga, and the Sanskrit names for the poses make this exercise “yogic” just like calling yourself “Warren Buffet” makes you rich.
The physical practice of asanas is an inherent part of yoga because a physical body is an inherent part of life. Just like life is so much more than mechanical movements of the body, yoga is so much more than mechanical poses.
One can approach yoga primarily through the physical aspect, and gain a subtle understanding of yogic philosophy without reading a single book on it. But such physical practices can’t be standardized. Even the possibility to cognitively analyze and perceive them is very very limited.
Yoga is an art of creating subtle intelligence in the body, mind, and soul. It is a restraint of mind fluctuations. It is the science of unity.
A so-called “certified yoga-teacher” can perform a perfect Utthitha Trikonasana, and have little body intelligence, be lost in the vertigo of illusions and perceive no concept of Unity whatsoever. It will affect the teaching, and there is no way this can be determined in the existing certification processes.
I don’t want to condone the “fast-food” style of yoga teacher certifications
Honestly, the 200-hour and 500-hour yoga teacher classes make me cry and laugh at the same time. I can’t even start explaining the ridiculousness of the suggestion that any person can become a yoga teacher after spending 200 / 500 hours in a class.
Would you trust a dentist who learned dentistry for 200 hours? Meanwhile, dentistry is a way more straightforward, standard and procedural vocation than teaching yoga. Just the ability to grasp the essence of yoga requires years of developing the subtle and sensitive intellect through physical and meditative practices. The ability to teach is a whole new level of intellect.
For most people, 200 hours is not enough to just understand the basics of human anatomy and read one of the interpretations of Patanjali Yoga Sutras. That’s where you start as a humble yoga freshman. Yet, those are the “standards” for “Yoga Teacher Certification”.
It is quite easy to understand how such “standards” appeared.
Yoga teacher classes are the main source of income for yoga studios. As long as there are enough people devoured by an illusion of getting a “cool job” in a ridiculously short amount of time and a small amount of effort at a relatively affordable price, the importance of such “Yoga Teacher Certifications” will be artificially boosted. A new “certified yoga teacher” will soon realize that teaching classes to regular students and helping people find their way in yoga (or at least stay somewhat fit) doesn’t pay that well. And they will start their own “yoga teacher certification class”, continuing the “lineage” of “fast-food style” yoga teaching.
In yoga philosophy, there’s such a concept as “bhoga” — falling from the grace of yoga due to indulgence and attachment (although popular culture assigns different meanings to the term). For me to participate in the financial pyramid called “yoga teacher certification” is a pure bhoga. Feels good, but bad for karma.
I value the grace of yoga way too much to fall out of it because of the vain piece of paper.
A true yoga teacher is a student of many teachers
The concept of “Guru” is multifaceted.
“Guru” is “one who brings light”. It is a person, who illuminates the area of study for his or her students. Who helps people see things better just like a floor lamp makes it easier for you to find your keys in the room.
Traditionally a guru would choose his student — Shishya — and illuminate the subject for him. Needless to say, that a guru needs to have enough light in himself to be able to do it.
Besides, some students and practitioners look for stuff in more than one room. Guru-Shishya relationships traditionally formed lineage in yoga.
In the modern yoga-teacher certification process the facade of “lineage” is artificially maintained. And this is another reason why I’m not interested in pursuing certification.
To get certified you are supposed to go with one teacher in her or his particular class. In a more intellectual and thorough Iyengar yoga teacher training process you are still limited to the Iyengar teaching style. And even then, although Iyengar-yoga students are encouraged to learn from a variety of Iyengar-yoga teachers, they stick to one. Because it is easier, and when you are under the pressure of certification you do want to ease it up somehow.
Yoga teacher certification implies learning from one teacher, or one school, or one style. There’s little reason to believe that when you go for a 200-hour training, your teacher will be illuminating whatsoever. To be “the one who brings the light” one needs more than wanting to increase the studio revenue, a “Yoga-Journal Lifestyle”, and a Lulu Lemon loyalty card. I honestly don’t see why a person with the true guruqualities would ever engage in running commercial yoga teacher classes on steroids.
I met (virtually or in-person) and learned from some truly Sattvic teachers. They are full of light. They really illuminate the way. Just to name a few: Stephanie Quirk, Gabriella Giubilliaro, John Schumacher, Elena Ulmasbayeva, Abhijata Iyengar, Manouso Manos…
There are amazing teachers who I never met but learned a treasure of wisdom from their legacies: Guruji BKS Iyengar, George Gurdjieff, Ram Dass, Jack Kornfield, Dalai Lama, Osho, and many others.
My yoga teacher Elina Ivanova means a world to me.
I certainly learn a lot from people outside of yoga philosophy.
I find massive value in scientific research, history, arts, business inquiry, philosophy, literature.
My son teaches me. My friends teach me.
My diseases teach me. My failures teach me.
Every day I take time to sit with the conscious gratefulness to all the teachers I’ve had and have yet to meet, and for the priceless gifts, they offer to us, their humble students.
Yet, none of them is my guru. Every one of them throughs quality light on one corner of one room. None of them lights the whole house for me.
I want the whole house illuminated and I know that this is my, not theirs, responsibility. I collect the light from my teachers and bring it together so that my whole existence shines for my students. I know that for them, I’m only a floor-lamp, and it is a blessing to be a floor-lamp in somebody’s life.
So tell me, how can I limit myself to one teacher or one style of practice and expect myself to become fully lit? Of course, the process of certification with one program doesn’t limit me from learning from many others… until it does.
Iyengar Yoga Association of the USA, for instance, explicitly discourages certified teachers from practicing and teaching other styles.
Even when there are no direct restrictions, we have natural limitations: time, energy and money. If I spend my resources on certification, I can’t spend them on my true learning.
I don’t see why I should.
It’s vain to cut resources from being a student, to invest them into being called a “teacher”.
Besides, my primary “yoga-teacher training” is my yoga practice. A teacher can give me the tools for practice and can help to make sense from what my practice reveals to me. A teacher can neither replace my own practice nor condone it.
Nobody can certify the inner practice, and yoga is nothing without inner practice.
That’s why it is said, that in yoga there’s no lineage of teachers, there’s only a lineage of students. In the modern certification culture, it seems to be otherwise. I’m not joining.
But how can students trust a teacher without certification?
Well, this is a big thing with certification.
Studios won’t invite you to teach without one. Gyms won’t hire you for their “Mind Body Section” without one. New students won’t buy your classes without one.
Because “how can we trust a yoga teacher without a yoga teacher certification”?
This question only makes sense if you buy into the widely propagated misconception that you CAN trust a yoga teacher who has a certification.
People attribute qualities to things by association, not by the nature of those things. We attribute the quality “trustworthy” to someone with a certificate, because “certification” associates in our minds with some impeccable authority condoning concrete skills. While the true nature of modern “yoga-teacher” certificates is simple: this person was willing to pay a few thousand dollars to another person and attend their classes.
At best certifications prove that you complied with someone’s ideas of the right and the wrong. It can be adequate for something as straightforward as CPR training. So “CPR Training Certificate” sounds about right (not to cardiologists though, who I heard claiming that CPR standards are way behind the actual medical knowledge).
In yoga, there’s no such thing as “right and wrong”. Of course, physiology and neurobiology rules are in play, and there are violations of safety in a yoga practice that can cause injuries. You can call them “wrong”. Ironically, I see a lot of certified teachers committing those violations in a yoga class and not even stop to question their actions because, you know, they are certified.
However, ideas, understanding, and beliefs of one particular teachers’ teacher don’t reflect “the truths of yoga” and their judgment about your fitness or non-fitness to teaching is… nothing but their personaljudgement.
Just the fact that they believe that a new teacher is ready to teach and therefore sign their certificate, doesn’t make the teacher trustworthy. Sometimes, certification from one of those surrogate yoga teacher programs is a good reason to beware of the teachers. I’ll say more about it later.
So what does make a teacher trustworthy?
This is a subject for a whole separate article (by the way, let me know if you want me to write one).
In short… there’s no one way to trust or not trust a teacher. Trust is knowing that someone won’t betray you and won’t do you harm, right?
There’s an old saying that goes:
“A teacher can’ betray a student. Because one who’s betrayed the student is not a teacher anymore”.
In yoga it’s not that there’s someone who is certified as a teacher, therefore you trust them. It’s the other way around.
There’s someone who you trust, and this someone becomes your teacher. If the person has experience in yoga and is willing to share it with you, he or she will become your yoga-teacher as well. What makes you trust a person is very individual and intuitive.
Certification is also considered a bridge to trust because it can be used to control and limit the person that owns it. If the certified yoga teacher does something that the issuing organization doesn’t like or doesn’t condone they can withdraw the certificate. Therefore the teacher has to follow the rules to preserve the certificate.
Most of those rules — don’t let it surprise you — have to do with paying dues to the issuing / certifying organization or buying more programs from them. A yoga-teachers earns a certificate so that it can be used to force more purchases.
Another group of rules covers safety and ethics. The very idea that anyone has to force a yoga teacher to follow safety and ethical rules makes the status of such a “yoga teacher” null and void.
Yoga doesn’t start with physical exercise. As I said before, if someone only knows how to mechanically do asanas and that’s all they teach, it’s a stretching class (or some weird exercise class), and not yoga.
Yoga starts with a set of ethical rules and observances called “Yamas” and “Niyamas”. A yoga practitioner is the one who knows, observes and practices the Yamas and Niyamas. I don’t care how impeccable one’s Pincha Mayurasana is: if they fail to observe Yamas and Niyamas, they are just damn flexible humans. They aren’t yoga practitioners, and of course, they are not yoga teachers.
Among others, the Yamas and Nuyamas include Ahimsa (non-violence, causing no harm) and Satya (truthfulness, non-falsehood). Sanskrit words are heavier laden with subtle meanings than English can convey, so don’t take those literally, as in “don’t hurt people” and “don’t lie”.
Ahimsa is about not causing harm in all possible ways. If a teacher is causing harm to students by violating their safety due to his own ignorance, or by acting unethically due to his own unresolved issues, this teacher is violating Ahimsa. A true yoga teacher will not violate Ahimsa and if it does happen, the teacher takes full responsibility.
Satya is also about lying to oneself, about buying into conventions that are contradictory to the empirical evidence. It is about leading yourself astray and about not recognizing your own ignorance. If a yoga teacher doesn’t know something but pretends otherwise, he is violating Satya. If a yoga teacher acts in opposition to empirical truth, he is violating Satya.
I believe that buying into the idea of “yoga teacher certification” for me personally is about violating Satya.
A yoga practitioner doesn’t need an external force to maintain ethics, safety, and competency. If a person does need external force for those, that person can’t be a yoga teacher.
Certification creates premature arrogance
Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that yoga-teacher certification is unnecessary.
I mean I don’t think yoga-teacher certification is ONLY unnecessary.
It’s not ONLY unnecessary, but it’s also harmful.
No matter what they say about the value of continuing education and practice (talk is cheap), for a majority of people achievement of a certified status of a “teacher” is where they stop being a student. The less intelligence people posses before their yoga-teacher training, the more likely they will feel like they are on the top of this whole yoga subject after the 200 hours are done with. Modern factors such as the ease of declaring yourself a “teacher” in social media make it worse.
The commercially driven culture of yoga-teacher training and premature certification creates Dunning-Kruger effect among yoga teachers en masse.
You can laterlearn more about Dunning-Kruger effect here:
[Dunning–Kruger effect — Wikipedia](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect)
I describe it as follows: it’s a stage in learning when you know so little that you believe you know everything.
People who only scrape the surface of the art and philosophy of yoga declare themselves teachers and talk about having 200-hour YTC with a straight face only because of how little they understand what yoga actually is.
And you know what, it makes sense to keep the masses of people in that state of ignorance, because how can you sell these premature nominal certificates and consequent yoga classes otherwise?
In that sense, there’s something about the yoga-teacher certification culture that shouts “arrogance” to me.
Yoga practice — a pursuit of uniting with the forces behind the very existence.
Yoga knowledge — thousands of years of devoted practice and introspection of the greatest minds.
Yoga philosophy — Sanskrit aphorisms heavily pregnant with knowledge and wisdom that modern science is just starting to grasp.
Yoga-teacher certificate — a paper that confirms that you paid X amount of dollars to N, so that N spends 200 hours with you and the likes of you teaching semi-acrobatics, basic anatomy, and strange-sounding names, and then verifies that you are capable of repeating what you’ve learned in a good-enough manner.
Probably this is the way that the economy and popular culture work. Probably this is the natural cycle of things.
Probably it really is a valuable thing for someone, both on teaching and learning sides.
Not for me. I dare to liberate my practice, my study, and my teaching of yoga from the hypocrisy of a “yoga teacher certification”.