As promised, the Toronto yoga community gathered together last week to discuss the unwieldy and far-ranging topic of yoga teacher standards, regulations and expectations (see my earlier post). The Yocoto (Yoga Community Toronto) organizers graciously recorded the conversation and posted the audio on YouTube. Click on the above link for the introduction, and then hop over to either the Yocoto website (for a nice flowing playlist) or YouTube to listen to the 11 part conversation in its entirety. It’s about 2.5 hours long, so make a pot of tea, sit in a comfortable chair and get out your notebook.

Many senior teachers, studio owners and teacher trainers, along with newly minted teachers, had something to say about the integrity of teaching yoga. They spoke with passion and intelligence, and truly from their hearts. There were many threads in the conversation, and it seems like more questions were raised than answered. What does it mean to be a yoga teacher? What are we standardizing? And if we’re going to have standards, what are they based on? Another thread that emerged was the realization that as professionals, if yoga teachers don’t self-regulate, they run the risk of being regulated by external forces.

This conversation was really just the seed, rather than a solution. The closest thing to a conclusion was that dialogue, discussion and community are first and foremost, before standards and certification. Also, it’s important to have this discussion while respecting different lineages and traditions.

The Toronto “town hall meeting” was based in a large group conversation, which then broke down into 3 work groups, each focused on a specific question.

Work group #1: tasked with answering “How can teachers and recent graduates can be better supported as professionals”

  • There is a need for ongoing mentorship of YTT graduates, in the form of class reunions and regular meetings.  These meetings should be formal in nature.
  • Studios should endeavour to create graduate programming for their YTT graduates.
  • Training should be given around the expectations graduates bring into the profession of teaching yoga.
  • An open dialogue about standard remuneration will be helpful, taking into account experience and qualification.

Work group #2: tasked with answering “How can yoga studios improve the standards of their training programmes?”

  • Pre-requisites need to be established for trainees.  Experience in yoga practice is foregrounded here, but other forms of supportive past training and experience should also be considered.
  • Teacher trainers should themselves be examined for experience and suitability before validation as teachers of teachers; some kind of peer review mechanism would be needed.
  • Candidates of YTT programmes must be examined in some way for competency before graduation.
  • YTT class sizes should have maximum numbers.  The group is coalescing around 20 as a general view.
  • The explicit study of pedagogical technique (in all of its aspects) should be part of any YTT curriculum.

Work group #3: tasked with answering “How can Yoga Community Toronto or other representative body organize, regulate, and elevate teacher training and yoga as a professional vocation?”

  • The body would have to clearly decide who and what they represent.
  • Any committee or body would have to be headed by a rotating, democratically elected board.
  • The process of this goal would best progress along the arc of: dialogue; public education; establishing an ombudsman to arbitrate grievances from practitioners or teachers; then, maybe, a discussion of shared standards
  • Local committees are better.
  • Standards must preserve uniqueness moving forward
  • It is best to treat this project as a true experiment: not knowing the outcome, and open to the knowledge it brings.

For myself, as a new teacher, having just finished a teacher training program and embarking on a mentorship journey with my teacher, this talk gave me a lot to think about. What path am I on? If the yoga industry is professionalizing (which I think is a good thing, and a positive byproduct of the mainstreaming of yoga), does this mean that I have to become a professional yoga teacher? What is my profession? Why did I start teaching yoga in the first place? I also find that my teaching falls between the cracks ~ I’m not Yoga Alliance “certified” (and I know that doesn’t mean much anyway), and I teach in community centres and small studios, to marginalized populations and  yoga “outsiders.” I’ve never worked in a large commercial studio or approached my teaching practice as a “job,” and this makes me feel like I am somehow not as professional as many people.

My teaching is driven by passion, intuition and relationship ~ the relationship that I have with my practice and the relationship that I have with my dedicated, beloved students who keep showing up on their mats and receiving what I have to offer. What is the momentum behind your teaching practice? And what is your response to the conversation in Toronto, either as an established teacher, teacher trainer or emerging teacher?

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