Responses to "Gender Politics" Post

Here are three responses to the “Gender Politics” post from last month. They are from Janice Gates, Nischala Joy Devi, and Scott (he apparently doesn’t use a surname).

Click the title link above, or “Read More!” below to see the responses.

Janice Gates said…

Greetings Megan and All,

I am so glad this topic is being addressed here. I recently completed a book that was born from my own frustration around the underacknowledged contribution that women are making in the field of yoga (Yogini, the Power of Women in Yoga). As someone who has done extensive research on the role of women in the history of yoga as well as the role they are playing in the evolution of yoga today, I was acutely aware of how easy it is to default to our deepest conditioning – with the men in more prominent roles defining the field and discussing the future of the profession with the women in more ´supporting´roles. As Vice President of the board of IAYT, I regret that I had not insisted more vocally that women be more prominently represented at the symposium. The positive side of this is that the gender imbalance has highlighted some issues that I feel are now ripe for discussion. Additionally, the board and everyone involved in next years programming are wide awake to this issue (from my own input as well as that of many attending) and it is being addressed as we speak.

Some questions I have been reflecting on that may inspire some collective self-inquiry:

1. What is the role of lineage and empowerment from the teacher/guru in becoming a yoga teacher or yoga therapist?

I find this question particularly relevant as the teachings of yoga we are most familiar with in the West today,while not gender specific themselves, have primarily been passed through male lineages for centuries and are now being spread – widely – through women. Most of these women come from an extremeley different culture and life experience than that out of which the yoga teachings arose. Bringing this topic forward for discussion could both acknowldge the value of, and simultaneously demystify, what may sometimes be held up as he ultimate teaching credential.

2. What are the experiences, qualities, skills and expertise that women are bringing to the field of yoga therapy that have yet to be acknowledged or defined?

At the symposium, Nischala Devi so beautifully pointed out that even if we have the highest standards for yoga therapists, and teachers have extensively studied the yoga texts, intuition and compassion are essential components in the student-teacher relationship. These qualities are not gender specific, yet they are often considered feminine, or soft, and not given equal weight in relation to intellectual knowledge.

3. And, lastly, in this evolving field of yoga therapy – which was described several times by presenters as the process of becoming aware of negative patterns that no longer serve us and transforming them into more positive ways of being – how can we, as a community, men and women together, become free of the conditiong that no longer serves us and realize our collective potential as a profession?

Janice Gates

author of Yogini, The Power of Women in Yoga

Nischala Joy Devi said…

Dear Leslie, Sisters and Brothers in Yoga,

Wow! What a spectacular wave this conference is making throughout the Yoga and Medical world. Thank you to the visionaries who organized and brought this to fruition and for the presenters who are carrying the concepts to the next level of understanding.

So many wonderful and inspiring letters and comments are being given on how to carry Yoga therapy into the 21st century.

I do however; want to address what is now being called the “Gender Balance”. It seems that a very vital and important issue is once again being shuffled into the broad bin of “Women needing to have their voices heard” or even feminism.

The reason the Gender Balance is so tipped is because traditionally the women healing from a heart and intuitive perspective were honored as the healers. When the scientific right brained thinking emerged it was overshadowed.

As we can see this issue is much greater than how many women presented at the conference, that imbalance was only the symptom. A great paradigm shift is happening in many phases of our lives and health care is calling out among them. Having trained and worked in Modern Medicine most of my adult life, when I embraced Yoga some 30 years ago I wove the two together in what seems like a healing balance.

Modern medicine has it’s apparent strengths, and obvious weaknesses. It’s weakness is that it sees people as only bodies and often only parts of the body. It is allopathic (against disease) oriented. It does not look at or acknowledge that we are anything but bodies.

Yoga therapy differs as it acknowledges that each individual houses the divine spirit and when it is given honor healing power emerges. Trying to bridge these very different concepts is a task that takes great skill. That skill comes from outside learning but more from our own inner practices.

Having been a Yoga Therapist and researcher in the Lifestyle Heart Trial (Dean Ornish Program) our first trial demonstrated the efficacy of using Yoga as a modality for Reversing Heart Disease. This was proven to be dramatically effective. Nothing in modern medicine had the potency to reverse cardio-vascular disease. I was laughed at and teased for invoking “unscientific practices” to invoke love, intuition and compassion. In the end that is what patients reported that encouraged the “true healing”.

Our second study the Multi Centered Lifestyle Heart Trial, was done in order to see if, we, the modality specialists, could train others to do this work with the same effects. It was also proven as the first trial. This is what we as, Yoga Teachers, are doing in training each other to guide patients to heal themselves.

What became clear to me during the two trials was the difference between objective and subjective findings. Objective findings are delivered through concrete measurements and testing. Subjective findings are the ones that are reported by the individual as the initiation of the healing. Only measured by the individual perception.

When we consider the panels and discussion for the next symposium and what to teach as Yoga therapy both the objective and subjective are necessary. The subjective part is what has been missing and is the essence of the paradigm shift. The heart and the head must be considered and honored; otherwise we are just folding the great and ancient tradition of Yoga into another arm of Allopathic Medicine.

It is time to unite all parts of us, the spiritual, mental, emotion and physical through using all the tools we now have, whether ancient or modern, to bring balance.

I am honored to be part of such a great shift and part of such a noble organization as IAYT.

With you in joy, love and healing, Nischala Joy Devi


Scott said…

Dear All,

A great discussion here, and on such a wonderful topic.

I cannot agree enough on the need for a return to the feminine aspects of Yoga, especially in Therapy. Having thankfully been gifted an adjustment in perspective of late, I can see what Megan and others are expressing here, to me we all seem to be expressing the same truth in different ways.

I would say that we should be careful how to proceed in this matter though – it may be insntinctive to rush in and try to ch
ange things to “the way they ought to be”, but this is simply a masculine approach to a masculine problem. In doing so you may entrench those who have not yet received the wisdom of the power of a more feminine approach, or at the very least shift your own actions from being sourced in feminine power back to the masculine approach i.e. you may become that which you dislike.

I personally favour the Ghandi approach of “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Let the conference organisers have their speakers on their podiums – remembering, of course, not to judge those speakers themselves as they may have nothing to do with the preceived imbalance.

Do your work, do it the way you know it should be done, the way your heart is telling you. Be kind and compassionate, and help people to remember how to heal. Let those who mistake intellect for Yoga work through their own path, and maybe, eventually, they will see the error of their ways (if in fact it even is an error, rather than simply a process) and your example will give them guidance to a better way. That’s what happened to me, and if I can make the shift please be assured it is possible for anyone to be influenced in this way 😉

Love and light,



Yoga Therapy and Gender Politics? Megan McDonough and John Kepner Weigh In…

The following exchange is taken from the comments page of my post “More SYTAR Reports Coming.” In it, Megan McDonough makes some excellent points – many of which I agree with – about the male/female dynamics apparent at the SYTAR event, and in the current atmosphere of the Yoga Therapy field.
I forwarded her comments to John Kepner, Executive director of IAYT, who promptly responded with his own observations, and an invitation to address these issues at the next symposium.
Here is the exchange. As always, I welcome any comments from you.

1/31/2007 12:20 PM
Megan McDonough said…

Hi Leslie,

I’m sorry I missed you at the SYTAR conference in LA. The conference began with the question: How COULD we define yoga therapy? The more telling question, from my perspective, is: How ARE we already defining yoga therapy?

Actions speak louder than words. If we are to view the actions at the first yoga therapy conference as the basis for a definition, then we could easily come away with the mistaken impression that yoga therapy is a masculine modality, a conclusion drawn from the panels, the process and the platform.

Firstly, the panels were predominately male. For years, corporations have made the argument that there were simply not enough females in the job pool for solid representation in leadership roles. All we had to do was observe the overwhelming presence of females in the audience to see that this is not the case for yoga therapy. Why, then, were the panel members mostly men?

Secondly, the majority of workshops and perspectives at the conference looked at the process of yoga therapy as taking a masculine approach of “Let’s fix what’s wrong with the body.” Like the prescriptive approach rampant in our healthcare system, this approach ignores the wisdom and individuality of the patient and instead thrusts the yoga therapist into the role of “answer-man.” Missing in the discussions, for the most part, was the emotional component—how yoga therapists can (and do) play a vital role in the circular and sometimes messy journey of emotional healing. Western medicine’s limitation to a purely prescriptive approach is one of the reasons people seek out-of-the-box modalities like yoga therapy in the first place; let’s not model ourselves after a system to which we are attempting to offer an alternative.

Lastly, the platform of the conference tended towards a straightforward lecture or discussion format, similar to that of a medical conference, with little movement or participant involvement.

Explicit definitions of yoga therapy are helpful. Far more telling, however, are the implicit definitions revealed in the methods and mindset we are using to develop those explicit definitions. I, for one, would like to see the feminine better represented in the panels, the process, and the platform at future conferences.

We need not follow in the footsteps of healthcare, business, or other yoga models when developing a definition or a conference format. Yoga therapy is a unique entity. We must forge a model all our own, one that is inclusive and honors the depth and range of yoga in both its masculine and feminine forms.

In Yoga,

Megan McDonough

1/31/2007 02:05 PM
John Kepner said…


I appreciated Megan’s comments. I was especially glad to meet her in person at the Symposium. Several years ago she won a special prize offered by YREC for the best Yoga essay of the year. You can see why.

I have actually been working on a little article on the gender balance issue, so in the friendly spirit of this forum, I will offer this to e-sutra readers. Maybe I should title it… “Fools Rush In”

Gender Balance and Symposium Faculty Selection Criteria
“Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics” – John Kepner, Executive Director

In a wonderfully positive atmosphere, gender imbalance was politely but pointedly pointed out to us several times. The participants were mostly female and the presenters were mostly male. So, let’s look at the statistics and (at least my own)faculty section criteria in general for IAYT’s first Symposium. We are not seeking to argue anything here. We are, however, always seeking better ways to serve our mission, our membership and the public, especially in the faculty selection for the next Symposium. We are mindful that today it is mostly women who are carrying forth the Yoga tradition.


Main Session Presenters
Female: 22%
Male 78%

All Faculty
Female 41%
Male 59%
(All Faculty consists of Main Session Presenters, Moderators, Practice Session Leaders and Workshop Leaders)

Faculty Selection Criteria:

The best faculty available to support the mission of IAYT and the Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research. For this first symposium, all faculty were individually selected.

A balance between Yoga researchers, healthcare practitioners that use or support Yoga in their practice, and especially many leading Yoga teachers and Yoga therapists representing most of the major traditions, lineages and methodologies with a history of contributions to Yoga therapy.

A preference for IAYT members and contributors to IAYT publication

A preference for faculty from Los Angeles and California to keep costs down for our first Symposium.

Looking forward:

A key issue, at least in my opinion, is the maintaining the appropriate balance of heart and mind, science and spirit in a Yoga symposium. But the title is indeed, “Yoga therapy and research.” Suggestions for new faculty, especially important emerging voices that support the mission of the Symposium and serve the participants are always appreciated. The working strategy for the next symposium, is “more depth, dialogue and integration” (and thus consequently, less breadth).


The current IAYT Board of Directors (Veronica Zador, Janice Gates and Eleanor Criswell) is all female. The current Staff is 75% female (John Kepner, Kelly McGonigal, Amber Elliott and Jesse Gonzales)


National Yoga Day at The Breathing Project

Please join us on Saturday, January 27 at the Breathing Project for a day of Free yoga classes! January 27, 2007 is National Yoga Day – when free yoga classes are offered to the general public to get more people interested in the benefits of yoga.

We are offering 3 free workshops at The Breathing Project: Prenatal with Amanda Zapanta at 10:30 – 12; Sun Salutation Workshop from 2 – 4 pm with Melissa Elstein; and Restorative with Edya Kalev, 4:15 – 5:45 pm.

Click on the image above to view or print a full-sized version of the flyer. Please help us to spread the word! We hope to see you Saturday, January 27!


More SYTAR reports coming…

In case you were wondering, I do have more to say about the rest of the SYTAR event – but I’m especially interested in what you all have to say! If you were there, please send in your feedback.
Also, my apologies to those e-Sutra members who couldn’t find our table for the lunch on Friday. My previous session ran late, I got held up a bit by questions, and we ended up in the corner of the larger of the dining rooms.


Friday at SYTAR

After the invocation and greeting, John Kepner, IAYT’s executive director revealed that they were hoping that maybe 400 people would sign up for this event. They opened registration in May, and by July, a small trickle of registrations had turned into a torrent. There were 800 people packed into the largest ballroom at the LAX Hilton. Not bad, considering that the Yoga Journal Conference is happening simultaneously in San Francisco this weekend. The size and quality of the crowd was very impressive – especially when viewed from up on the dais (where I eventually sat to moderate the “YOGA AS AN EMERGING COMPLEMENTARY AND ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE (CAM) PROFESSION” panel.

One of the most memorable elements of the morning session was the sight of my good friend Larry Payne sitting on the dais looking over the vast crowd with an expression of stunned joy on his face. He and Richard Miller started IAYT in 1989. I asked Richard if he ever, in his wildest dreams, imagined the possibility of such a huge response to their work. He said “it’s exactly what I hoped for.” I replied that it pays to have big dreams.

My first opportunity to address the group came at the end of the “CAM” panel I was moderating with John Kepner. My main point, which was very well received, started with the question: “Does anybody else get a knot in their guts when the idea of regulation of Yoga Therapy is discussed?” After nearly everyone raised their hands, I pointed out that we should honor that feeling, and try to understand its source. I suggested that it may be because something we hold to be sacred – the student teacher relationship – is tangibly threatened by the third-party interference that regulation represents.

I renewed my call for us to honor the principle of Ahimsa when it comes to our role as Yoga Therapists, obviously, to do no harm to our clients/students, but most importantly, to first do no harm to ourselves and our profession. Here, it bears repeating the 1993 statement I composed while serving as VP of Unity in Yoga:
“We enthusiastically support the ongoing dialog addressing higher personal, professional and ethical standards for yoga teachers and therapists.”
“We are in support of a process that results in the establishment of yoga as a respected personal and academic pursuit, and any certification or accreditation that may result.”
“We are, however, opposed to the establishment of any entity that assumes the authority to license or regulate yoga teachers as professional practitioners and to enforce it’s standards on the yoga community.”
I also made sure to point out that the current leadership of IAYT takes these issues very seriously, and would never knowingly do anything to violate that first principle of AHIMSA.
Since then, I’ve had innumerable people coming up to me to thank me for my comments, which is very heartening.


Lecture notes from my 15-Minute breathing presentation

There is an old story about how rabbi Hillel was asked to explain Judaism while standing on one foot. Hillel balanced on one foot and said: “Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t have them do to you. That is all the Torah; all the rest is commentary.”
On Friday, I had an opportunity to present the essence of my life’s work in 15 minutes.
Here’s my standing-on-one-foot version: “Breathing is the 3-dimensional shape change of the abdominal and thoracic cavities. The principal muscle of this shape change is the diaphragm, over which we have limited control- specifically its timing. Therefore, breath practice should focus on re-training the accessory muscles, which are defined as any muscle other than the diaphragm that assist or resist cavity shape change.”

My brief talk was very well-received by the 800 Yoga Teachers/Therapists in attendance. They especially seemed to enjoy my demonstration of the dynamics of the abdominal and thoracic cavities that employs the use of a stacked water balloon and an accordion. Click the title link to this post to view a PDF of the complete lecture notes that were posted to the event’s website.


Arrival at SYTAR

Just arrived in LAX for the SYTAR event, checked in, and have already seen several old friends and familiar faces.
For those of you who are here, and wish to contribute, either send me an e-mail, or use the comments feature of this blog. Of course, this assumes you have some sort of e-mail or internet access (the business center of the Hilton, right across from the SYTAR registration desk on the second floor has internet access for a fee).
It looks like we’ll have about 20 people for our lunch at 12:30 tomorrow (Friday). We’ll probably need a couple of tables in the dining area. IAYT Executive director John Kepner has said he’ll join us. I’ll have a report on this and much more tomorrow.
Good night.


Blogging from SYTAR, and an Invitation

The preparations for this weekend’s event are proceeding with much anticipation. I will be blogging my observations and impressions to e-Sutra in as close to real time as possible, starting on Thursday night. I invite any e-Sutra list members who will be in attendance to contact me if you want to contribute to the blog’s content during the event. I will arrange a simple method by which you can e-mail your impressions to me for possible posting to the blog.

In addition, I would like to invite any e-Sutra list members to lunch at 12:30 on Friday. I’m not one of the designated “Private Luncheon with the Speakers” presenters, but that doesn’t mean we can’t commandeer a table at our complimentary luncheon. Let me know if you are interested, and I’ll make the arrangements.

I’m eager to meet as many of you as I can while there!


For SYTAR attendees: The original e-Sutra "Certification Manifesto"

I’m posting this in anticipation of my presentation at next weekend’s Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research in Los Angeles. This is the first, longest, and most important e-Sutra thread. It’s the whole reason I started the list/blog.

The original context of the discussion was based on the work I had done with the ad hoc committee that set the 200 and 500 hour standards for Yoga Certification in the USA. At the time I started this thread, the Yoga Alliance had not yet been formed. Since similar fundamental issues now face the Yoga Therapy community, I offer this information both as a look back, and as a preview of what’s to come.

What I’ve posted here is just the beginning of the thread, which features my original post, followed by my in-depth replies to a few of the early responses. The entire thread is available here.

National Yoga Certification Debate
4/14/99 thru 2/9/00

from Leslie Kaminoff
re: National Yoga Certification Standards

((LK: This was the very first posting to e-Sutra..))

This is, in my judgment, the most vitally important issue currently facing the yoga community. What we do or don’t do about this process will affect the teaching of yoga in America for the next several generations….and the clock is ticking. Just recently, Yoga teachers in the state of Arkansas narrowly avoided state-mandated certification.
I have been personally engaged in countless discussions relating to this topic for at least the past seven years. In those seven years, my fundamental views about certification standards have not changed, although my arguments supporting those views have become simpler and clearer with each new discussion.
I have become convinced that any discussion of the practicality of enacting National Standards must be preceded by a discussion of the *ethical principles* underlying such actions.
I will now present to you what I hope will be a clear and persuasive overview of my position.

In 1993, while serving as Vice-president of Unity in Yoga, I authored the following position statement that UIY subsequently released:
“We enthusiastically support the ongoing dialog addressing higher personal, professional and ethical standards for yoga teachers and therapists.”
“We are in support of a process that results in the establishment of yoga as a respected personal and academic pursuit, and any certification or accreditation that may result.”
“We are, however, opposed to the establishment of any entity that assumes the authority to license or regulate yoga teachers as professional practitioners and to enforce it’s standards on the yoga community.”
Actually, my former colleagues on Unity in Yoga’s executive board saw fit to release only the first two sentences, leaving out the final one. I did not agree with the omission.
Now, six years later, my former associates on the Ad Hoc Yoga Alliance (operating under Unity in Yoga’s nonprofit status), are in the process of making a similar error in collective judgment.

***The error is this: It is not enough to say that I am supporting and establishing high standards for yoga teacher training and certification. I must also state clearly, consistently and defensibly what I am NOT SUPPORTING–on ETHICAL grounds.***

Yoga ethics are very clear on this point. In fact, the teaching concerning what we should avoid (Yama) is presented BEFORE we are given the teaching concerning what we should pursue (Niyama). Furthermore, the first injunction is AHIMSA…the avoidance of doing harm.
In the context of National Standards, what exactly is it that we must avoid harming?…………….The process of teaching yoga.
What is the vehicle for the process of teaching yoga?………The student-teacher relationship.

The simplest way to put it is this: “I avoid engaging in any action that will lead to third-party interference in the student-teacher relationship.”
The positive counterpart to the above is: ***”I support and protect, through my actions, the sanctity, integrity and freedom of the student-teacher relationship.”***

The above statements serve as the fundamental core of my ethical and practical values as a yoga teacher/therapist. It would be impossible for me to overstate their importance in my life. Those statements are fundamental principles, and as such, they tell me which actions to avoid, and which to pursue. Without consciously identifying those principles, and validating their truth through my life’s experience, I would be lost and confused. My actions could proceed from fear and ignorance, and I could end up doing harm to myself, my students and my profession.
Those principles, once again, are:
“I avoid engaging in any action that will lead to third-party interference in the student-teacher relationship.”
“I support and protect, through my actions, the sanctity, integrity and freedom of the student-teacher relationship.”
These should be the guiding Yama and Niyama of the Ad Hoc Committee, because the Ad Hoc Committee is comprised of yoga teachers. If this is not their ethical core, they will be lost and confused; their actions will proceed from fear and ignorance, and they will end up harming themselves, their students and their profession.

In all the discussions I’ve had with people who support national standards, I have not been able to discover what serves as the core of their ethical and practical values. Many people profess to agree with me philosophically/ethically, but when it comes to practical implementation, they go off and argue in favor of “compromise”; meaning that they would allow “some” interference with the student-teacher relationship in order to preserve “some” semblance of freedom or control in our profession.
You, as a yoga teacher or student, should know that this seems to be the current unchallenged attitude regarding “compromise” among the members of the Ad Hoc Yoga Alliance. I know for a fact that this is the attitude of the president of the Alliance, Rama Birch, because she told me explicitly and unconcernedly that: “We are right in the middle of the student-teacher relationship” (Rama, please correct me if I in any way misunderstood your statement).
I have been called “extremist” and “impractical” because of my refusal to compromise–ie: because of my unwillingness to separate my ethical and practical values. There can be no mistake about this: if a value is correct philosophically and ethically, then it is also correct practically…period. Any other view does not constitute a compromise, it amounts to a total surrender of principles.
Again, I have Patanjali behind me on this one. Yoga’s ethical principles, the Yamas and Niyamas, are expounded in the second chapter; “Sadhana Pada” –the chapter on PRACTICE.

I could elaborate on the various details surrounding this issue, but I would prefer to see what you think about it.
I know that I’ve jumped into this discussion “midstream”. Do you need more context regarding the Certification Standards process?
Maybe someone from the Ad Hoc committee could post some background information about the history of the dialogue, and the progress to date.
If I have misrepresented the views of any of the members of the Ad Hoc Alliance, I will gladly be corrected, and I will post the corrections.


From: Leslie Kaminoff

I am (finally) responding here to an objection raised by Stefan Armstrong regarding my assertion that the integrity of the student/teacher relationship would be destroyed by any sort of insurance or government regulation of yoga in America.

Stefan summarized his objection as f
“It is a fallacy to claim prerogatives from the guru/disciple relationship in the context of yoga teaching as “healthcare delivery” — your felicitous term.
“If you see yourself as a traditional healer, you should eschew posing as a healthcare provider. If you promote yourself as a healthcare provider, then the burden is on you justify why you should be exempt from the restrictions and obligations placed upon other healthcare professionals.
“If, as you claim, the Western model of healthcare delivery is somehow bankrupt, you should not trade on the credibility of this model by calling yourself a yoga “therapist.” The therapist/client model is a product of Western healthcare, and relationships within this model should not enjoy the same freedom from regulation that the more traditional teaching and healing models can rightfully lay claim to.”

My response to Stefan:

I can see that I was not clear or complete enough in my original postings about this subject, so I will state my view as broadly and unequivocally as I possibly can.

**I am opposed to the government regulation of ANY consensual, contractual, voluntary relationship between adult persons.**

This includes doctor/patient, guru/disciple, yoga teacher/yoga student, yoga therapist/yoga therapy client, priest/parishioner, prostitute/john, and an infinite number of other possible relationships.

I need to backtrack a bit here.
This thread originally developed because I saw the need to refute the views held by some prominent yoga teachers who are influential in the current debate surrounding national standards for yoga teachers.
I disagree with Judith Lasater and others who are in favor of licensing for yoga teachers.
Licensing is very different from certification. In this context, licensing is the governmental control of the field of yoga for the supposed benefit and/or protection of the public.
Certification is the necessary foundation for any profession. It denotes the successful completion of a specific course of study in a given field. The higher the standards are for certification, the better (we hope) will be the professionals who graduate. I am concerned, though, that in the process of developing these national standards for yoga, we are (intentionally, or through indifference) inviting eventual regulation and licensing of our field.
In a previous post, I suggested that insurance reimbursement for yoga equals insurance regulation of yoga, and that there is no essential difference between the way the insurance industry or the government would regulate yoga.
In a future post, I may want to show precisely how government licensing has the exact opposite of it’s intended effect; for now I’ll just simply say that the negative effects of licensing are a good example of what happens whenever the government takes on a job that it was never meant to do.

What (if any) IS the government’s proper job regarding the above-mentoned relationships (e.g., yoga teacher/student)?
In order to answer that question, it is first necessary to define the nature of governmental power.
In a society, “the government holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force.” In a FREE society, the proper application of that force is to use it to protect the rights of it’s citizens from all forms of violence. The specific governmental institutions that do this are: the police, to protect us from domestic criminals; the army, to protect us from foreign criminals; and the courts, to protect our property and contracts from breach or fraud by others.
How does this apply to certification vs. licensing of yoga teachers and therapists? It’s simple to show that we don’t need licensing at all.
If a teacher/therapist lies about their qualifications, we already have laws against fraud; if a teacher/therapist abuses a student, we already have laws against assault and rape; if a teacher/therapist unintentionally hurts someone, we already have liability insurance available (thank you, Judith and CYTA).
What other protection does the public need?
I think we can all agree that licensing is no guarantee of competence; even certification is no guarantee of competence; in fact, there can be no such thing as a guarantee of competence.
The only relevant judge of a yoga teacher’s competence is that teacher’s students.
If enough students judge a teacher to be incompetent, that teacher will be prevented from teaching by virtue of having no one left to teach. If they have violated anyone’s rights on the way to becoming unemployed, they can be held accountable for any laws they have broken.
If we, as yoga educators are concerned about protecting the public from unqualified teachers, then we should focus our efforts on training qualified teachers. What anyone else is doing in the name of yoga is actually none of our business; it certainly isn’t the government’s business.
Creating a new government regulatory agency for each new profession is a gross reversal of the government’s true role; here it is actually *initiating* the use of force against certain professionals, instead of protecting them against force. It is also initiating the use of force against the citizens it is supposedly trying to protect by establishing what is, in effect, a government sanctioned monopoly of a profession; e.g., the American Medical Association. Truly coercive monopolies like the A.M.A. and the health insurance industry are only possible with the government’s power to wield force behind them, and they always lead to the degradation of the quality of what the public is being offered.
Is there any doubt that this has already occurred in the field of medicine in this country?
Do we want the same for our profession?
People have been seeking out yoga teachers by the millions because we offer an inexpensive, useful, healthy alternative to mainstream medicine. I’m certainly not against broadening the medical applications of yoga (it’s something I specialize in); I’m simply against any person, organization or institution that will destroy my freedom to offer that alternative on any terms other than my own.
If this be treason, then make the most of it.


P.S. Does it upset me when I hear about the latest lunacy perpetrated by some newly-certified “yoga teacher” with a weekend’s worth of training? Sure, it upsets me; but human stupidity in any form has always upset me. I’ve learned to live with it, and have committed myself to not adding to the stupidity by going around mumbling that there ought to be laws against it.


From: Leslie Kaminoff
Responding to: Mala Cunningham, Ph.D. – founder of Cardiac Yoga
Re: Licensing and Certification

Dear Mala,

This is a somewhat belated response to your thought-provoking post from December 7, 1999. I’ve quoted the passages that are relevant to my counterpoints. For the sake of clarity, I’ve rearranged the order of your quotes.

I can’t disagree with your strong stand for high standards among yoga teachers – particularly those of us who specialize in therapeutic applications. I have always said that the higher the standards, the better.

My disagreement with you stems from the fact that you make the common error of conflating issues of certification with issues of licensing. They are not the same thing, and should not be treated the same way. You also seem to have forgotten what the true nature of licensing actually is.

High standards are created by those of us who train professionals and certify that those professionals have successfully completed a certain course of studies. Your following statement is a good example of that:

((Students who go through my course in Cardiac Yoga are thoroughly trained in the anatomy & physiology of the heart, psychosocial aspects of heart disease, contraindications of certain postures and heart disease, modifications of postures, breathing
etc., as well, they are trained in how to interact with medical professionals and in understanding medical protocol. This is vital and important information, and students need to pass a rigorous competency test in order to be certified as a cardiac yoga instructor.))

The final sentence of that statement is the only one that doesn’t make sense to me:

((The standards I have set for this program are similar to the standards I had to pass when I applied for state licensure as a psychologist.))

You make it sound as if the standards for your training were based upon licensure, rather than the other way around, as you yourself assert in an earlier statement:

((…any state board that regulates professionals has usually implemented their standards and testing with the input of the experts in that field (in this case yoga teachers).))

You say the same thing near the end of your post as well:

((…These issues all fall under the realm of competency and standards and proper training. Please bear in mind that the standards that would be set by state boards would really be developed and coordinated with yoga experts from various traditions…the experts in the field of yoga will be the ones supplying information and recommendations to the state boards on standards, qualifications, testing, etc. etc…))

So, rather than saying: “…the standards I had to pass when I applied for state licensure…” it would be more accurate to say: “the standards that the state licensure board adopted that were based upon my certification process.”

Only yoga trainers like you can test the true competence of the people you train. You assert this when you say: “…students need to pass a rigorous competency test in order to be certified as a cardiac yoga instructor.” You’re the one who wrote that test. The people at a state or federal regulatory agency know nothing about your specialty, and could only copy their test from what you have already done. How could passing their licensing test do anything to assure further competency?

What shows me that you’ve really missed the boat regarding licensing is the following:

((I believe licensure is a very positive direction to go in. It would enable yoga teachers to teach in medical arenas, it would provide an avenue for yoga teachers to receive insurance reimbursement, and it would elevate the field of yoga into a professional arena for those individuals who would like to pursue yoga in the medical and therapeutic areas and bring the light of love and compassion into those areas.))

All of these things are already happening without the benefit of licensing, and will continue to happen. Many of my clients have been reimbursed, and I’m not licensed…I’m not even certified…in fact, now that I think of it, I never got my high school diploma. Who, then is to judge my competence, you may ask?….My clients, of course. If I lie to them or abuse them, there are already laws against that; we don’t need another government agency to police my professional behavior.

((For those who are not interested in this area, that is fine…I don’t believe it is wrong for yoga teachers who are interested in these areas to pursue the concept of licensure…. I would only ask that if you are not interested to please not stymie the process for those of us who are.))

No, it’s NOT fine. Can you name any other medical field where the practitioners who decided it was fine not to be licensed are allowed to practice? You seem to have forgotten that LICENSING IS NOT VOLUNTARY. You are asking me to leave you alone so you can pursue an agenda that would make my current professional activities ILLEGAL. In other words, you want to be left free destroy my freedom!

No, Mala.

I will continue doing everything I can to “stymie the process” of anyone who is working for licensing in the field of yoga; and if I fail, I will never submit to licensing and will continue to practice illegally if I have to.

Please realize that people like you could land people like me in jail…is that what you really want to stand for? You can take a stand for high standards without advocating licensing.