Heads Up

Experts meditate on licensing yoga teacher-training programs
Illustration by James Yang

Yoga in Michigan now has something in common with coiffeurs and cocktails. Last April, the state began requiring yoga studios that offer teacher-training programs to obtain licenses, similar to cosmetology and bartending vocational schools. The new requirement has elicited mixed feelings in the yoga community.

The license allows yoga studios to run teacher-training programs under standards that were designed by the national non-profit, Yoga Alliance, an organization founded 10 years ago “by a group of yogis to set standards for yoga-training teaching,” says Mark Davis, Alliance CEO.

Although studios without teaching training programs aren’t required to obtain the license, many adopt the Alliance standards because, “They create more credibility in the marketplace, they keep out unethical operators just setting up shop anywhere, and there are more options for revenue,” Davis says.

Not everyone favors the license. Eric Paskel, Yoga Shelter co-owner and founder, says regulating yoga schools and adopting other organizations’ standards inhibits the spiritual side of the practice. “[Yoga] is like 31 Flavors. I have no business saying what another studio does,” Paskel says. “If it works for the studio or the teacher, who am I to say otherwise?”

Davis counters: “Yoga has morphed to a Western model of exercise.” Because of that, many industry professionals believe standards need to be in place to protect the student from injury and poorly trained teachers.

Paskel says such instances are rare. “It doesn’t happen because we’re guiding students into themselves and, 99 percent of the time, an injury occurs when a student doesn’t listen to their own body.”

Despite such objections, Michigan has proceeded to require schools to purchase licenses or face closure and hefty fines.
The laws aren’t out there to control yoga,” Davis says. “It’s about ‘are you running a safe business?’ ”

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