The lovely space at ahimsa yoga (image via ahimsayogamontreal.com)

On a chilly autumn afternoon, a small group of yoga enthusiasts gathered in the cozy ahimsa yoga studio, with a pot of tea and a computer. Inspired by last month’s Town Hall Meeting in Toronto, we planned to listen to the conversation and see what insights it could spark within our small group. There were four of us: three yoga teachers (myself, Miranda, and Jordan, who is also a massage therapist) and a bodyworker (Nadia).

We actually ended up listening to about 20 minutes of the 2.5 hour Toronto conversation – we had to keep hitting pause and talking amongst ourselves. Each comment on the audio recording lead to a counter comment (sometimes agreeing, sometimes not) from one of us, and these comments spiraled into a discussion. Here are some of the threads that emerged during our time together:

  • of the three yoga teachers in the room, none were certified with the Yoga Alliance. We also weren’t certain about the role of the Canadian Yoga Alliance.
  • it’s apparent that not every person who signs up for a YTT wants to “be” a yoga teacher. But if a person wants to deepen their knowledge of yoga, why are yoga teacher training programs one of the few options? How can there be more avenues for informal transmission of knowledge? And more than by-donation asana classes ~ how can people access classes for yoga philosophy or anatomy or history?
  • is it right that YTT grads can start teaching and making money right away, without ever teaching as an act of service? (Of course, there was some debate about this, since there are probably more grads who end up never teaching a single class than recent grads making a comfortable living.)
  • how can yoga students be empowered? How many students know what kind of yoga they’re practicing and have the confidence to ask their teachers about their skills and qualifications?
  • the word “regulation” came up several times. What would go into the creation of  a third party certification or registration body? Who would create these regulations? And while some of us loved the idea of regulatory bodies being localized and community-based, how would that work in our globalized and transient culture?
  • “accountability” also came up. As in, a third party wouldn’t necessarily be responsible for regulation, but for ensuring that yoga teachers were accountable to something.
  • what does it mean to be a yoga teacher? How has the idea of “teacher” been diminished in modern yoga culture? Is “teacher” even the right term for many, or would “instructor” or “apprentice” be more appropriate? We kept coming back to the idea of mentorship and the teacher/student relationship. How can this be supported and nurtured?

We ended our conversation by realizing that we could easily start our own community-based, cooperative regulatory body for the Montreal yoga community. We quickly realized that we don’t want to, but really, there’s nothing stopping us. We also wondered who would, and who could. What is happening in our city? Who are the “leaders” in our community? More importantly, who will step forward and lead? Must they be the esteemed teachers, or the studio owners, or the teacher trainers?

This is just what came up during a few hours on a chilly afternoon in Montreal. This kind of conversation is possible anywhere, in any context, and it’s easy to organize. You just need the following ingredients:

yoga people (teachers, students, and ideally, professionals from any background – bodyworkers are great, but try including a few lawyers or accountants in the mix; they have much to contribute) + internet connection and the Yoga Community Toronto Town Hall Meeting webpage + big speakers (the sound quality isn’t so good in parts) + tea and snacks (we forgot about the latter); also, comfy chairs, bolsters and blankets are good.

And so go do it. Start this conversation. Create an open forum. See what emerges. This is only the beginning.

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