Changes in Ashtanga Teacher Standards

In the past few days there have been some changes on the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute website, ayri.org. There is a new link under the practice category called in capitals TEACHERS LIST.

In contrast with the familiar list of teachers on ashtanga.com, this list as of today (August 14 2008) primarily lists certified teachers (not authorized teachers), or a fraction of the total.

The new list on the AYRI site comes with a change in the standards for being listed. To be listed, the website states:

[Teachers] should maintain a yoga room or shala to allow for daily, preferably morning, Mysore-style practice and should honor Saturdays and the full/new moon days as rest days.

In addition, it seems that the requirements for keeping the authorization to teach are being significantly tightened. For example, teachers are asked to :

  • return to India every year and half to study for 2 months
  • have a shala for daily classes
  • refrain from teaching on traditional rest days such as Moon days
  • refrain from teaching any series beyond the primary series
  • refrain from teaching workshops

These requirements look like an attempt to raise standards and the quality of teaching. Perhaps it is due to the notable increase in students and teachers in the past 5 years (we wrote about how the number had at least doubled back in 2006). To me, these changes raise questions about the essence of Ashtanga yoga.

What effect will these new requirements have on the quality of teaching of Ashtanga yoga across the world?

In my opinion, in many ways this is a step in the wrong direction for Asthanga yoga.

Asking for a trip to India every 18 months for two whole months puts a heavy burden on new parents and on those with fewer financial means.

No Workshops?
Workshops provide benefits for both teachers and students, and are a key part in building the worldwide Ashtanga community.

Asking teachers to forgo the extra income from workshops may make it impossible for a lot of them to return to India so frequently, since ironically it is often these very workshops which give the teachers the means to return to do so.

Personally, a lot of what I have learned about Ashtanga yoga is directly due to taking workshops with authorized teachers. Had these requirements been in place when I was starting my yoga journey, I would not have had the amazing opportunities to learn from such talented teachers.

Hundreds of dedicated teachers have devoted their lives to teaching ashtanga yoga. They have made enormous sacrifices to become authorized. It seems unfair to change the rules so drastically and abruptly. The standards are changing in a way that may make it impossible for a lot of teachers to continue teaching as authorized teachers.

In addition, raising the standards in such a way that few teachers meet them could have the perverse effect of lowering the quality of teaching because they become meaningless.

These changes do not seem to be in the interest of the Ashtanga yoga community, and in the continued spreading of this wonderful practice.

These are my initial thoughts and I wrote this because I care deeply about the practice. I welcome your opinions on this important matter.

65 thoughts on “Changes in Ashtanga Teacher Standards

  1. pd

    Having stayed in Mysore, I have the greatest respect for Guruji, Saraswati, and Sharath, and their entire family. Kinder people have I never met. Totally, the problem lies with the students. Some go there with all their baggage and are in no way “transformed,” but only enhanced in their narcissism. I met and practiced with so many excellent individuals who were there to enance their lives. Yet some were there who had egotistic cultic aspirations, and drew Guruji and Sharath’s kindness into their web. It’s a business, Baby; not a religious movement. I you don’t like it, don’t go there and go screw yourself.

  2. Yuko

    Back to the Yoga.
    We all have different reasons for practicing yoga and each should be honoured on their path. Respecting each’s journey, let’s work together on this.

    It is the power of the Intelligence of the Ashtanga practice that is to be celebrated. Although it is in part a big Thank You to Guruji and his family and numerous teachers for being a part of introducing this practice to the world, it’s not about one main person who transmits the practice, but rather about each individual who practices Ashtanga and implements their time on their mat, off the mat. By becoming their own guru each soul has a drastic impact on their life bringing about transformation enabling them to respond to life rather than react to the wonders of Life causing the most amazing ripple effect beyond one’s possible imagination.

    The need for tradition will always be around, so setting a few ‘rules’ will ensure the tradition survives in its purest form remembering evolution is also necessary (what would it be like if we still believed the earth was flat and that the sun revolved around earth?).

    To avoid any confusion, perhaps an appropriate solution could be, as in the Kundalini tradition (Kundalini as taught by Yogi Bhajan), ‘traditional’ Ashtanga could be referred to as ‘Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga as taught by Sri K Pattabhi Jois’. Any classes taught by not ‘authorized/certified’ teachers could be refered to simply as Ashtanga Yoga. Afterall, if Ashtanga refers to Patanjali’s 8 limbs, then truly the practice is open to all.

  3. blisterkist

    Related to parampara the Dalai Lama says the following:
    “This (the taking of a teacher) should be done in accordance with your interest and disposition, but you should analyze well. You must investigate before accepting a lama or teacher or guru to see whether that person is really qualified or not. It is said in a scripture that just as fish that are hidden under the water can be seen through the movement of the ripples from above, so also a teacher’s inner qualities can, over time, be seen a little through that person’s behavior.
    We need to look into the person’s scholarship — the ability to explain topics — and whether the person implements those teachings in his or her conduct and experience.”
    The critical attitude that Nico108 derides seems, on the advice of the Dalai Lama, to be an essential factor in seeking out a teacher/lama/guru.
    Is it a form of ‘grave disrespect’ to take issue with Patthabi Jois sitting behind his electronic money counter at the registration desk in the shala or to question the excessive fees for studying in mysore? Or is it rather our duty to consider the contrast between this behavior and the demands made by the sacred texts in the yoga tradition for a life of greedless simplicity. Would the Dalai Lama not have us ask the kind of questions that ashtangis seem so willing to gloss over or ignore, the difficult questions that relate to money and behaviour in a tradition that originally and in all its sacred texts demands a commitment to asceticism.? How many women who have studied directly with SKPJ have been made uncomfortable by being kissed on the lips after touching his feet? How many of us have watched this happened and shrugged it off, made excuses or, for the sake of the practice and the notion of a sacred tradition, just tried to ignore it?
    The Dalai Lama gives us advice for seeking and critically assessing a teacher, a horde of sacred texts provide the requirements for being one. It is not a question of forcing the guru/lama/tacher to conform to our idea of what he or she should be, but asking whether he or she conforms to the demands and strictures of their own sacred tradition.
    The notion of the unbroken lineage that is central to parampara forces us to ask if Patanjali, the river’s head of classical yoga, directly transmitted the lineage in an unbroken line to those who now wear Rolexes.
    The Dalai Lama would encourage anyone seeking a teacher/lama/guru to critically assess that person’s behavior. The fact that western students en masse refer to SKPJ as their Guru with little exposure to the man (besides their one or two adjustments per month and their offer of substantial shala fees) forces one to ask whether a more, not less critical approach is required if the tradition of Classical Yoga is to be preserved and transmitted.
    Parampara implies the direct, continuous and unbroken transmission of a lineage. Do you believe that this has taken place in those that you refer to as your teachers? Does their behavior truly attest to this? Are you forced to ignore or excuse certain actions or behaviors in order to maintain the idea of a truly unbroken, sacred tradition? Is parampara a loose enough garment to enshroud modern paradoxes about money, consumption, and contact with the opposite sex and to excuse your chosen teachers actions in all these areas?
    What is remarkable in contemporary yoga practice is the lack of iconoclastic fury so present in the Zen tradition, where there is a living and continuous engagement and debate about the notion of transmission. I believe that the Dalai Lama would be more attuned to the Soto school’s mockery and subversion of anyone claiming to be a teacher, and to the very idea that there is anything to be taught, than he would be to our common and too often unquestioning acceptance of the behavior, methods and revelations of our teachers.

  4. Konno

    Anyone know why there are no certified or autorised indian teaachers of ashtanga yoga, outside the jois family?

  5. dessi

    There used to be a few on the old list.
    There also used to be a lot more great teachers on the list.

  6. Grimmly

    Just to add some perspective to Blisterkiss’ comment. She/he appears to be mixing traditions. The Dali Lama is Buddhist as is the scriptual tradition Blisterkiss is refering to concerning the questioning of a teacher (teacher rather than Guru in the buddhist tradition) Zen too, is of course Buddism.

    PKJ is coming from the Hindu tradition.

    The Dali Lama’s comment and the scriptures B refers to are probably derived from the fourth of the Four reliances. Teaching that are suposed to have come direct from the Buddha. Interesting to note the other three

    Rely on the message of the teacher, not on his personality;
    Rely on the meaning, not just on the words;
    Rely on the real meaning, not on the provisional one;
    Rely on your wisdom mind, not on your ordinary, judgmental mind.

    It’s interesting to consider the role of Guru from another tradition but important to make clear that it is another traditon (in this case Buddhist) we, traditionally questioning, westerners are applying/employing/deploying.

  7. swaroopa

    Grimmly
    Inspiring knowledge. Thank you for this comment and it is truly well placed here in this topic and really very interesting.
    Just a question please…
    So do you mean our feelings for a particular Guru/ Teacher are ‘warped’. As I do agree we deploy/project/analise too much. But it is directly out of desire and fear ?
    So the circle continues…we go to a Guru/ Teacher for help in ridding these dis-eases yet we pick more up along the way?
    What are they to do with us?
    Fondly
    swaroopa

  8. (0v0)

    Thanks, Grim. This is an interesting and learned comment.

    Could someone say more about what an actual guru relationship would look like in the Hindu tradition? From the popular books (Autobiography of a Yogi and the writings of Ram Dass and his contemporaries), I guess we all have a picture of very unique personal relationships that begin after a period of student searching and pretty rigorous inquiry. The two regularities I can see is that (1) Hindu guru relationships are emphatically not a fee-for-service kind of thing and that (2) any one who demands to be treated as a guru is… definitely not a guru.

    But… these things all get mixed up at some point. Are we in the Hindu system, Zen system, Tibetan or Vajrayana system…? Who cares? For those of us who are not Hindu Shavaite Brahmins, seems the one model that even makes sense at all is that set by the first westerners who went to India and took a teacher. How did that work… and did it work? Indra Devi and Mark Whitwell are the westerners Krishnamacharya took as his students. Westerners who want to do the guru thing… wouldn’t we want to understand those bridge-builders’ experiences as part of choosing/creating a path?

    Whitwell is still teaching all over the world. He a simple articulation of nondual practice and easily inhabits the lineage as it is without getting confused at all. I won’t share what he sees has been lost in the most recent generation of the tradition.

  9. KostaN

    I really can´t see some of the older people, like those who have a 30 years practice behind them, to have some respect for Sharath´s attitude as a teacher. I mean, these guys where in mysore praticing advanced series when Sharath was a kid! Those who started this yoga when Sharath was already teaching and are willing to submit under his control, it is fine. But in my opinion these guys are far better experienced than him in many aspects of yoga. When SKPJ leaves his body the split within many ashtanga seniors and sharath will be inevitable.

    Somebody from the Jois family told me regarding his money and control manners: ” I am very dissapointed at him”.

    I have the deepest respect for this lineage, but the jois family are teachers and not owners of the timeless yoga.

    Just as you don´t have to visit the pope to be a good christian, you do not need their approaval to be a true ashtangi. Just lots of dedication and love for this beatiful practice.

    BW
    K.

  10. robyn

    If something is not complicated and does not involve something to argue over, it is not worth doing. Isn’t that the way we human beings seem to make everything out to be. It’s yoga. Be happy and breathe.

  11. laura

    live well and free and let live well and free!
    learn your chosen method well through ALL the good sources you can find, take what’s good, effective and reasonable and leave out all the rest! breath freely, trust your inner guidance and enjoy your journey!

  12. Bhavesh

    I don’t know how many of you have had a professional certification and license. If you have you know that there are requirements that require ongoing education. This is necessary to protect the public and maintain a high level of service/practice etc. The amount of continuing education and authorized sources is governed by those issuing the certifications.

    If AYI want’s to be the only place to get that continuing education it may be because they want to have more control over what is being taught to certified teachers. If it were my organization I would create a core of teachers who are authorized to teach these continuing education courses. If you do not maintain a set minimum of CE hours then you lose your cert. That is a normal practice for many types of professional certifications.

    I don’t think it’s all about money although it’s obvious that is part of it. If cert teachers are allowed to teach up to their proficiency level I see no problem with that. If a cert teacher gives workshops I see no problem with that. If the AYI is saying that no teacher can do that it is simply to force more business for themselves.

  13. Bhavesh

    Ekshtanga Yoga

    Has anyone ever asked why KPJAYI only teaches Asana? They admittedly do not teach anything besides asana.This is supposed to be Ashtanga Yoga after all. As you all know Asht means 8. The 8 limbs are comprised of:

    1. Yama,
    2. Niyama,
    3. Asana,
    4 .Pranayama,
    5. Prathyahar,
    6. Dharan,
    7. Dhyana,
    8 .Samadhi.

    Why do they not teach any of the other limbs? Are they assuming the Westerners can’t comprehend anything but asanas? Sounds like KPJAYI should change the name of the style of yoga they teach to Ekshtanga Yoga.

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