Category Archives: Teaching & Learning

Continuing the Conversation on Ashtanga Teacher Standards Changes

Last week I posted about how the Ashtanga Teachers Standards were changed, and reflected on how it would affect Ashtanga Yoga.

Since the post there have been comments from readers and also some reactions on other websites. Notable amongst these is the post entitled New Frontier from the blog Visions of Cody. The piece is written by a marketing strategist from a “strategic marketing perspective.”

Cody asks what the intention behind the changes are, and since they are not clearly stated we have to try to infer them. He posits that it is:

To exert control over the transmission of the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga system by reducing the number of officially authorized/certified teachers.

He thinks this will substantially reduce the number of Ashtanga teachers and make the current teacher shortage even worse.

The question of enforcement is brought up:

Which brings up another interesting question: how is the Jois family ever going to enforce these rules? I don’t believe that they own the trademark on the name Ashtanga in the U.S. (please correct me if I’m wrong.) Therefore, they can either ask practitioners to shun non-authorized teachers/studios (a marginal tactic at best) or they can attempt to get the service mark.

Which naturally leads to a comparison with Bikram Yoga (how ironic). A few years ago Bikram yoga “went legal” on studios which did not abide to its official rules, threatening law suits. A lot of studios which could not practically comply with the rules decided to change the name to “Hot Yoga” and slightly modify the official sequence.

Here’s his conclusion in full:

In the end, I think these changes will have a minimal impact in the US. Unless the AYRI aggressively attempts to shut down non-authorized studios (which I doubt,) then the only thing that will change is that basically nobody (with a few exceptions) will be authorized to officially teach Ashtanga so therefore the authorization of Ashtanga teachers will be an irrelevant qualification.

I do feel sorry for the prospective teachers that have been making numerous trips for years expecting authorization. That’s one hard lesson in non-attachment.

If the AYRI does pursue the legal route, then the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga brand will be screwed anyway because there will only be a handful of places to practice. It’ll be like rolling the growth of the practice back to the 1970s level.

Maybe that’s exactly what the Jois family wants – to scale the practice back to just a few true believers. There are rumors that Sharath is taking a few years off and the rest of the family probably can’t handle the current workload for much longer.

I’m guessing that this is a conscious attempt to limit the practice to a smaller group of practitioners that are dedicated true believers and in exchange they’re willing to sacrifice the potential revenue.

If, however, this is an attempt to control the brand and concentrate revenue, then I think it’s a horrible plan. Managing growth is one thing, but choking it to death is quite another.

No matter what, us crafty Westerners will figure out a way to get Ashtanga regardless of what people in Mysore say – the cat’s already out of the bag.

It’s well worth reading and thinking about. Here are some other links on the same subject:

Sweat and Fire: It’s Never the Guru’s Yoga

InsideOwl: Ashtanga and Imperialism
Yoga Vermont
アシュタンガヨガティーチャーの基準をめぐる一連の動き

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.