There are so many divergent views on the pros and cons of the BWY funded drive for National Occupational Standards in Yoga being posted in different places all over the internet that it is causing concern and confusion, especially among newer teachers. So I have sent an invitation to all the Yoga Elders, of all traditions, to share their views on what is happening. The responses have started to come in. I shall post them below, with the most recent first.
Debbie Farrar: Namskaram Editor
In response to your email below and the PDF document you sent to me which incidentally did nothing to reassure me about this process at all, I would like to make the following points;
1) I presume stakeholder is another way of saying interested parties in which case all yoga teachers will be interested parties as they will be very concerned about what happens to their existing qualification. Last time this happened the British wheel of Yoga charged teachers a great deal of money to do a course that they said would bring their teaching qualification up to their standard which would be acceptable on the REP'S register. This was wrong but It took some years to sort out.
2) Hatha yoga is just one form of yoga and in fact is only the early stages of Raja yoga. To standardise hatha yoga only would mean that it finishes up as Asana/posture and therefore for most exercise which as I pointed out in the document I sent you before is not yoga. It will distort the meaning and purpose of yoga and fail to educate people in the right way. The purpose of yoga is union between individual consciousness and universal consciousness, individual spirit and universal spirit or individual consciousness and God depending on the path followed and is well beyond asana.
What about all the other types of yoga which you will ignore eg bhakti yoga, gyana, kundalini to name but a few. If you have only standardised one type of yoga then people could finish up on the wrong path believing that hatha is the only one that is any good or acceptable.
3) You talk about breadth of yoga practices but that is enormous if you take into account all the different forms of yoga and again no one should be singled out as better than another.
4) Our insurance broker is not confused neither the other brokers I have spoken to. It is very easy to get yoga insurance and it is cheap by insurance standards so there can rarely be any claims.
5) Of course every yoga session should be practised with safety in mind and that is part of one’s training and qualification. No matter how good your written courses there will still be weak and poor teachers as there are in education.
6) The register of exercise professionals is totally inappropriate for yoga because YOGA IS NOT EXERCISE.
7) There is no such thing as the ‘pillars’ of hatha yoga. This is modern jargon and not applicable to Hatha yoga.
8) In the document you draw our attention to examples of NOS development which concerns me immediately as you refer to sports coaching. As I pointed out before as well as being a physical education teacher I am also a coach and judge in several sports and can see no comparison between sports coaching and yoga teaching when you talk about parallels, adaption and tailoring. Perhaps you could send me an example of one of these to explain your reasoning.
You talk about transparency and accessibility but neither of them seems appropriate at the moment. The initial meeting between yourself and the British wheel of Yoga was held in secret for a start, it seems the process will only be available to a few and you are leaving things extremely late with only two weeks to go to the proposed meeting which is to be held at half term. People have to sort out cover for their classes, absence from work commitments, childcare etc.
The repercussions from the last failed attempt to do this went on for years. Skills active just dropped out and we were left to pick up the pieces.
THE REGULATION OF YOGA
Despite the clear rebuttal of the last proprietorial attempt to establish regulatory standards for yoga, the same organisation, driven by the same individual, wants to try it again. Yet it has not only been made clear both by teachers of yoga and the majority of training schools, but it has also been recognised by disinterested parties, that such an eventuality would actually be in nobody’s favour. Not even those who are trying to establish a self serving grip on what is and always has been a very personal, individual journey. The essence of this journey is the internalisation of responsibility and authority.
Yoga is perhaps the broadest of cultural endeavours, it is certainly one of the oldest. Yoga can be practiced in solitude, or in company. It can be practiced in stillness or in movement. It can be practiced in a special place, or within the ongoing demands of everyday life. Likewise the teaching of yoga. Taking care of the sick and dying can be a yoga practice. Sitting in silent stillness can be a yoga practice. Changing the relationships between your body parts can be a yoga practice. This is because yoga is at heart self-enquiry. It is a journey into one’s own nature, undertaken on the basis of one’s own commitment and judgement. It is not an easy journey, and one that can only too easily be hindered by external interference. Especialy when that has an authoritarian, controlling element.
Self enquiry requires the possibility of exploring without prejudice. This in turn necessitates a freedom from external control. While of course, some learning must take place, and therefor some teaching, yoga is nevertheless an internal, self determined and self regulated journey. This has always been the case, and no matter what legislative or regulatory bodies seek to make it otherwise, this always will be the case.
Nevertheless self enquiry in any form has its difficulties. Not least fear of the unknown, and doubt in one’s own capacity. It is in response to these realities that the teacher student relationship functions in yoga. It is not a matter of handing down information or knowledge. It is not even a question of helping people to develop new skills. Self enquiry, yoga, is actually a process of unlearning rather than learning. Although of course many things can be learned on the way.
The role of a yoga teacher is to encourage and support others to come into a more effective and fruitful relationship with their own intelligence. Tools and techniques can be used in this process, but more to harness interest and attention than to develop new skills. The effectiveness of a yoga technique, and of its teaching, lies in its ability to enhance self-awareness and self-understanding. Usually this involves the falling away of dysfunctional habits, attitudes and beliefs. Not least the habit of trying to control others for your own advantage.
The fact is that yoga practice, yoga teaching and the yoga community is already regulated. All are regulated by the fundamental principles of yoga itself. These principles function first in the values of those who become interested in yoga, and then as the guiding principles of their journey. They are nonviolence or sensitivity and truthfulness or honesty. All yoga training schools adhere to these fundamental principles, but each in its own way. There is no way that anyone can ejudicate between them and say this one is the only possible way. Anyone who seeks to do so is already violating those very principles, and demonstrating unequivocally their misunderstanding and misrepresentation of yoga.
It is a crime against yoga to set standards based on a fallacy.
Yoga is not a movement practice though it included body based work.
It is a practice of self-development, self-awareness and cultivating clarity in daily life.
I am a certified clinical hypnotherapist and psychotherapist and utilise these skills in my teaching. I use mindfulness as part of mindfulness of movement practice and meditation. My meditation teaching everyone is still. Mantra teaching and prayer is done sitting and is all about intention and vibration. My deep relaxation practices are all about surrender and stillness.
How can you create national occupational standards for what you have no remit for?
How can BWY with integrity seek this as a potential outcome?
As a senior UK teacher I will resist all such moves as they are, with due respect, farcical.
I was a BWY DCT (diploma course tutor) and education committee member. I left for very good reason. One reason being moves like these which are constantly seeking to give BWY the authority they don't have in the yoga world.
Not many yoga practitioners respect the BWY.
They do not warrant the capacity or status to pursue such outcomes.
Christopher Gladwell (Engaged Yoga)
Dear Ms. Larissey,
NOS for Yoga Consultation
I understand that you are heading a review process into the possible creation of a National Occupational Standard for Yoga. I tried to call you this morning to discuss this and left a message on your answering machine.
In 2005 I held a lecturing appointment at a Further Education College in Northern Ireland where I designed and delivered what, at the time and may still be, the only course in Yoga in G.B. to have been awarded City and Guilds status. As a result I became very involved in the
“consultation” process of the attempt then to establish a NOS for Yoga. (See attached copy letter to Ms Lee Buck at Skills Active)
I came to realise that The British Wheel was working with the Government agencies in its own interest and that many people and organisations were being marginalised and their voices and input to the process was left unheard. Ultimately, because of the intervention by a number of organisations it became widely accepted that neither the fitness industry nor any single yoga or therapy organisation had a moral right or the expertise to say who can and who cannot practice or pass on their knowledge of yoga.
I trust that in this latest attempt to create a NOS for Yoga, all sectors of the Yoga fraternity will be properly consulted and that this will not yet again prove to be an attempt by the few to limit the practice of the many for narrow self interest.
Swami Ambikananda Saraswati:
Dear Ms Larissey,
Thank you for your letter addressed to our General Secretary, Dr. Samman, laying out Skills Active's position on Yoga teaching and NOS.
It has created some confusion and I request clarification:
~ Is Skills Active saying that ONLY those teachers teaching Hatha Yoga (which originates from some medieval texts from the Natha ~ a Saivite sub-sect of Northern India) will be required to submit to the proposed NOS? This Yoga is based on three primary texts : the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the Siva Samhita and the Gerhand Samhita, which between them cover only 32 posures ~ most of them seated. Is it these that Skills Active is seeking NOS for?
~ Does this mean that those of us teaching, for example, Ashtanga Yoga (originating from either the Yajnavalkya texts or Patanjali texts but which nonetheless include asana (posture or movement) and pranayama (breathwork, are exempt, as they do not come within the Hatha Yoga corpus? This would include, for example, all the schools of Yoga that originated with the South Indian teacher Sri Krishnamacharya, as he specifically stated he did not teach from any of the Natha texts. If schools which do not teach from the Natha texts are exempt, then most Yoga teachers will also be exempt and fall outside of the Skills Active NOS. It is for this reason we are asking for clarification.
This is such an odd and narrow position that I suspect it was taken with little or no knowledge of Yoga ~ which does seem strange for a body seeking to create a National Occupational Standard. It appears that you have mistaken Hatha Yoga for all Yoga that involves specifically asana (postures and movement) and pranayama (breathwork). As this is an erroneous assumption, we are seeking clarification.
A brief glance at even the Wikipedia entries on the Natha sect and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika will verify what I have laid out here in this email. You can find them at:
However, for a more detailed explanation, I refer you to ‘Saivism and the Phallic World’ by Professor B. Bhattacharya, published by Oxord University Press,1975, or 'Hindu World ~ An Encyclopedic Survey of Hinduism', published by Manshiram Manoharlal Publishers Ltd. New Delhi 1983, for verification.
Swami Ambikananda Saraswati
Chairperson / Traditional Yoga Association
Peter Yates' response to a letter from Ms Larissey:
Peter's response is in capitals inserted into Ms Larissey's letter, which states that Skills Active are now only looking to apply the NOS to Hatha Yoga.
Re: Yoga National Occupational Standards
SkillsActive is the Sector Skills Council for Active Leisure, Learning and Wellbeing; licenced and officially recognised by Government. Sector Skills Councils are independent, employer-led, UK-wide organisations and are committed to working in partnership across the four nations to create the conditions for increased employer investment in skills which will drive enterprise, create jobs and lead to sustainable economic growth.[NICE AIMS - BUT HOW IS CREATING DIVISIONS IN THE YOGA COMMUNITY, WHEN MANY OF US HAVE WORKED HARD FOR THE LAST 12 YEARS TO SECURE PEACE AND UNDERSTANDING ACROSS A WIDE-DIVERSITY OF PASSIONATELY HELD VIEWS AND PRACTICES, SERVING THE ECONOMY? BESIDES, THIS IS DESIGNED TO SERVE THE CORPORATES IN UKACTIVE RATHER THAT THE JOBBING YOGA TEACHER WHO IS FOR THE MOST PART SELF-EMPLOYED. YOU SEEM TO TAKE NO ACCOUNT OF THIS LATTER.]
National Occupational Standards (NOS) describe the skills, knowledge and understanding needed to undertake a particular task or job to a nationally recognised level of competence. National Occupational Standards are benchmarks of performance. They provide the means for assessing performance in a job: they are work-related statements of the ability, knowledge, understanding and experience that an individual should have to carry out key tasks effectively. Anyone in an occupation covered by NOS can use them to determine what level of competence is required and more importantly whether their own performance meets that industry or sector1 expectation. The Development of any National Occupational Standard goes through a rigorous research, development, consultation and refinement process that is agreed by an industry led Steering Group and Government office in all four nations across the UK. The initial approach for the development of a set of NOS for hatha Yoga teachers was driven by several aspects:
· request from the sector to set a benchmark for the teaching of hatha Yoga[THE CHAIR OF BWY HAS BEEN CLAIMING THAT YOU APPROACHED THEM. IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST, CAN YOU TELL THE COMMUNITY WHO APPROACHED YOU? IT CERTAINLY WASN’T THE IYN WHICH REPRESENTS SOME 50 + TRAINING SCHOOLS.]
· confusion of insurance providers regarding the standards for Yoga practice and what could be insured[AGAIN WHO? THE INSURANCE INDUSTRY ISN’T CONFUSED ABOUT THIS AT ALL, WORKING CLOSELY WITH THE MAIN ‘UMBRELLA ‘ YOGA ORGANISATIONS WHICH GIVEN THE LOW LEVEL OF CLAIMS IS EVIDENTLY AN ARRANGEMENT THAT WORKS WELL ALREADY WITHOUT EXTRA RED-TAPE.]
· confusion from training providers regarding the correct qualification required by the sector[THE SECTOR DOESN’T KNOW WHAT IT REQUIRES. THAT WOULD PRE-SUPPOSE THAT THEY ARE ALREADY KNOWLEDGEABLE ABOUT YOGA WHICH THEY AREN’T, OR THAT THEY HAVE SOME RIGHT TO MOULD YOGA ACCORDING TO IT’S OWN IMPERATIVES WHICH THEY SIMPLY DON’T.]
· need for standards that set a minimum level of experience/skills that ensure safe practice in teaching hatha yoga, preventing the risk of injury to participants.[YOU ALREADY HAVE THAT IN THE EFFECTIVE INDEPENDENT YOGA PANEL WHICH HAS FUNCTIONED WELL FOR A NUMBER OF YEARS IN THE TASK OF REASSURING THOSE WHO EMPLOY YOGA TEACHERS AND THE ALREADY EXISTING YOGA UMBRELLA ORGANISATIONS. BESIDES, AS THE INSURANCE EVIDENCE SHOWS, YOGA IS NOT A HIGH RISK ACTIVITY. THIS MAKES ONE REASONABLY SUSPECT THAT THE ‘UNSAFE TEACHERS’ RED-HERRING HAS A PROPOGANDA PURPOSE IN SERVICE OF A PARTICULAR FACTION.]
· request for consistency of standards for teaching hatha yoga, across the UK to provide a clear benchmark for entry on to the SkillsActive Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs)[YOU ALREADY HAVE THIS AND IT WORKS WELL AND CAN ACCOMMODATE THE REAL-WORLD DIVERSITY OF BELIEFS AND PRACTICES.]
We would like to emphasise that it is not the practice of yoga and its many approaches and philosophies that are being sought to be standardised. The NOS review will only cover the teaching of the pillars of hatha yoga.[OH DEAR. WHAT ARE THESE PILLARS SUPPOSED TO BE? HATHA YOGA CANNOT BE PEELED OFF FROM THE REST LIKE THIS. APART FROM SINGLETON POSSIBLY, YOU WON’T FIND A SCHOLAR OR EXPERIENCED PRACTITIONER WHO’LL GO ALONG WITH IT. THE HATHA YOGA PRADIPIKA IS AN AUTHORITATIVE TEXT ON HATHA YOGA IF NOT THE AUTHORITATIVE HATHA YOGA TEXT. IT IS A RELIGIOUS TEXT IN AS MUCH AS THE AUTHOR DEDICATES HIS EFFORTS TO THE GOD SIVA AT THE OUTSET OF HIS DISQUISITION. FURTHER, SVATMARAMA [THE AUTHOR] MENTIONS ON SEVERAL OCCASIONS HOW HATHA YOGA IS EMPTY UNLESS IT SERVES AS A LADDER TO RAJA YOGA - THE QUEST FOR ENLIGHTENMENT THROUGH CERTAIN MEDITATIONS. HOWEVER YOU GLOSS IT, THIS IS NOT IN YOUR BRIEF AND IS AN IMPORTANT PERSONAL LIBERTY THAT SHOULD NOT BE INTERFERED WITH BY THOSE WHO KNOW NOTHING OF IT. YOU’VE BLUNDERED HERE - I IMAGINE ON THE BASIS OF SOME POOR ADVICE.]
As it is stated in the footnotes below, it is not meant to control or pigeonhole individuals and their practices and beliefs. The principle behind the approach to develop NOS is to establish an agreed core of fundamental skills with which to teach hatha yoga; not whatyou teach. Likewise, it is appreciated that we are all individuals and this process should not be seen as trying to turn out teachers who are regimented in their teaching methods, delivery and approaches.[I’M GLAD YOU MAKE THAT CONCESSION. BUT THE RESULT OF THE NOS WILL BE PRECISELY TO CONTROL AND PIGEONHOLE. YOU HAVE TAKEN NO ACCOUNT OF THE LIKELY IMPACT OF NOS ON THE WIDER CULTURE OF THE YOGA COMMUNITY. AN AURA OF RESPECTABILITY SURROUNDS ANYTHING ‘GOVERNMENTAL’ OR ‘OFFICIAL’ WITH OBVIOUS IMPACTS ON THE PUBLIC UNDERSTANDING AND THE PERCEIVED LEGITIMACY OF TEACHERS AND TEACHER TRAINERS, CAUSING UNNECESSARY INSECURITY AMONGST THESE AND DRAWING THEM INTO SCHEMAS THEY DON’T FULLY BELIEVE IN. IN THIS CASE THAT AURA IS UNDESERVED - THIS VERY LETTER SHOWS THAT SKILLSACTIVE ISN’T COMPETENT TO DEAL WITH YOGA AT ALL AND SHOULD LEAVE IT TO THE COMMUNITY. NOTE: MY APPRAISAL OF THE LIKELY CULTURAL OUTCOME IS NOT PURE FANCY, BUT BASED ON WHAT THE YOGA COMMUNITY EXPERIENCED THE LAST TIME THE NOS WAS ATTEMPTED
12 YEARS AGO.]
We would like to draw upon a past example to illustrate how NOS development has worked in another sector, with a similar diversity of complexities, methodologies and applications; that of Sports Coaching. A whole host of sports covering swimming, tennis, water polo, synchronised swimming, rugby, hockey etc. all use the Sports Coaching NOS, to base their practice upon. Each professional sports coach uses their own disciplines and approaches with which to coach individuals and they modify their approach to suit each individual they coach, however; they all base their coaching approach upon that of the core Sports Coaching NOS. We respectfully ask you to consider the opportunity of drawing a parallel between this example of adaptation and tailoring2 how this could be applied to the NOS proposed for teaching hatha yoga.[NO. YOU ARE NOT COMPARING LIKE WITH LIKE. THE MEDITATIONAL ASPECTS OF ALL YOGAS ARE DEFINING. THE HATHA YOGA PRADIPIKA FOR INSTANCE DEVOTES THE LAST OF IT’S FOUR CHAPTERS TO SAMADHI, THE CULMINATION OF RAJA YOGA MEDITATION. IS THERE ARE NO SUCH ASPECTS IN SPORTS COACHING. ]
It is early days in this review and development process and SkillsActive are acting as facilitators, but this process is ultimately led by employers, partner organisations and industry experts within the practice of hatha yoga. The process aims to be transparent and accessible, recognising and respecting the diversity of backgrounds, culture and traditions of practising yoga. The NOS development process is to be focused on the teaching of hatha yoga, which has no religious bias, goal or aim, thereby promoting yoga in an inclusive way that is open to all religions and not confined to one.[HATHA YOGA HAS A SPIRITUAL, MEDITATIONAL AIM LIKE ALL YOGAS. WITHOUT THAT, IT’S NOT YOGA. AND IT IS THAT WHICH PLACES IT BEYOND YOUR BRIEF AND UNDER THE PROTECTION OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS ACT. CALL IT STRETCH CLASS AND YOU WON’T FIND ME AND MY ILK OBJECTING.]
Thank you for your reply from which I understand the following:-
A decision has already been made to apply standards
The Steering Group will influence which standards.
This is of concern to us and contrary to the conclusion arrived at in my initial request for clarification, in which according to the notes of our telephone conversation – you assured me that the decision to apply standards had not yet been taken.
In your subsequent email you wrote :-
“As there are numerous types of qualifications being delivered already in Yoga this has presented the need for National Occupational Standards to ensure standardisation” ….. why must there be standardisation and who made this decision and on the basis of what research and what evidence ? The fact that there is diversity is to be applauded - why does there need to be uniformity? Please justify this foundational assumption.
To the best of my knowledge, you have not felt it necessary or courteous to consult with my religious community before deciding that we needed your regulation and yet you have pressed ahead holding meetings with the BWY? To us this demonstrates a singular lack of sensitivity or a lack of knowledge, both of which are disappointing in this day and age. We have chosen to respond to you in a reciprocal mode of directness.
Allow me to express that Yoga is a fundamental part of the Hindu Religious and spiritual practices. We have family lineages of priests and guru’s who have been practicing and preserving this body of knowledge for millennia and under no circumstances will we permit any of our religious practices to be assessed, defined, judged or assessed in any manner which curtails or even presumes to pass comment upon our traditions, scriptures or religious practices. This is NOT NEGOTIABLE.
If you do presume to rush forward with standards, we will ensure that any person who is harmed physically, psychologically or intellectually by one of your “approved teachers”, by our standards has the full support of our community in pursuing legal redress, and we will be publicising our availability as legal experts in this field. The standards of the BWY with whom I note you have already had meetings do NOT pass muster on many counts and do not adhere to the traditional teachings of Yoga. As long as their activities in this regard, were minimal we were willing to tolerate their pretensions to be a” Governing Body” . The very fact that they have not withdrawn from this title is a display of a lack of integrity and a disregard of the very basic requirements of those who aspire to learn Yoga, never mind teach. I personally have spent significant time picking up the emotional pieces of so called Yoga teachers whose tranquillity and mental well being had been significantly disturbed in the process of “qualifying” with the so called leading organisations. In future we may encourage them to seek legal redress. If this proceeds, we will also turn our attention to the BWY’s own teaching and “output” and begin scrutiny of the suitability, stability and tranquillity of their “teachers”, more so than we have to date.
I would draw your attention to the UN Resolutions on both the rights to Religious Freedom, specifically Article 18, and UN Rights of Indigenous peoples and their cultures, specifically article 8 which states -
Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture.
“Recognizing, the urgent need to respect and promote the inherent rights of indigenous peoples which derive from their political, economic and social structures and from their cultures, spiritual traditions, histories and philosophies …”
Please be aware that these UN resolutions were passed to protect humanity from the depredations inflicted upon the First Nations, all non white and non Christian, by predominantly European barbarians in their various colonial exploits, especially in their attempts to perpetrate cultural genocide. It therefore is NOT for you to determine what is or isn’t Yoga and what is or isn’t Hinduism nor indeed to attempt to extricate or separate them so that you can regulate them. YogaVidya is a religious, philosophical and spiritual resource of the Hindus and we have safeguarded it through the last 2,000 years of aggression, so that all may have free and open access to it purely on the basis of merit and humility, and that its capacity for liberation and human empowerment do not become the subject of limit by those who hold lesser aspirations for humanity.
Unless you can first establish that Yoga and the religion of my ancestors are separate, you cannot legally proceed. We have already tolerated the foolishness, endorsed by the BWY parading itself as the Sport England Governing Body of Yoga, as if Yoga were a Sport, allowing the BWY to work its course as one does with adolescents in the hope that age will mature and bring understanding if not wisdom but your “expedition” transgresses upon our religious freedoms.
We are very comfortable with the manner in which the understanding of Yoga is developing in this country with an increasing number of persons’ who are becoming aware that unless they have mastery, they honestly cannot teach and in order to attain a degree of stable mastery, freedom of personal exploration is vital.
Please note that this is an experiential science where a person’s demonstrable ability is the determinant of their suitability to teach and in the UK there are no more than a handful of Yogi’s who are able to demonstrate sufficient mastery of their own thought processes and moral and physical purification to be entrusted with the well-being of another human being, we have the ability to judge this and we will begin to do this should the need arise.
I personally would not presume to even speak on say “birthing” if I were seated in a gathering of midwifes, I would feel it dishonest, lacking in professional integrity and above all hugely disrespectful. Unless the persons involved in all aspects of Yoga adhere to the same moral standards which are clearly defined in the basic practices of Yoga, what right do they have to do otherwise? I would very much like to know the basis upon which you, professionally, have been authorised to venture into this “space” and your religious, spiritual and philosophical dimensions. Bumbling good intentions no matter how well meaning, are not adequate qualification in any field, least of all Yogabhyasa.
Since this is an issue affecting many genuine practitioners, this letter is an open letter and is being sent to the BWY, the IYN and other yoga related bodies and individuals. I note that you have advised that only one person per organisation is attending, please confirm that this applies to ALL organisations who have been invited.
Satish K Sharma B.Sc. (Hons) Econ MBCS FRSA
General Secretary, National Council of Hindu Temples (UK)
Chair, British Board of Hindu Scholars
Chair, City of London InterFaith
Director, InterFaith Network UK
Thank you for collecting our thoughts on NOS. I am all for it to raise the level of understanding of yoga teachers and to protect students from over ambitious teachers with little training. The qualifying and judging of students needs to be done by teachers with understanding and experience of the effect of different postures; when to hold back and when to give advance posture suggestions. Teachers need to be modulators on assessments and well qualified yoga assessors. There should be a minimum time before students on a teacher training course can qualify.
In the love of yoga
Dear Caroline Larissey,
I would like to express that I do not agree with the proposal of NOS for Yoga in the UK. I do not feel that the voices of the diverse yoga community in the UK are being fairy heard. I would like to know why? Has there been a UK wide call for there to be NOS for yoga? Have there been many cases of legal action against teachers within the UK community? My concerns are that this push for this standardisation is coming from just one organisation….
My initial training was with the BWY and the very idea that just because you have attended a certain training course, meeting ‘certain standards’, ticking boxes, you will then automatically turn out to be a great teacher is ludicrous. There were many different ‘standards’ of teaching on the course, yet all students completed the same course! There has to be a level of integrity on behalf of the teacher. How yoga gets shared from each teacher is unique and personal to their own perception and creative expression. The teachings are meant to be explored and embodied, the evidence of which can be known but not measured. The very idea of trying to regulate ‘That’ from where the concept of regulation has emerged from shows the limited space from where these proposals have arisen.
Ultimately Yoga is about freeing ourselves from the limitations and conditioning of the mind, there are many varied and diverse ways for this to be realised. To narrow this down to fit into a fitness standard shows a lack of understanding of Yoga.
I share yoga with a group of people who have MS, some of which have practically no physical movement and require wheel chairs for mobility. Our sessions include some physical movements tailored to suit the needs of the group but we also practice breathing and visualisation techniques, sound practices and relaxation. The group all comfortably move beyond the chattering of the mind, realising once more their spacious, natural state of being, the measureless state. There is a perception and possibly a trend in the UK to see yoga as mainly a physical practice that involves lots of traditional Asanas (postures), yet this is only one element within the broad yoga spectrum. How do you propose to measure and standardise the experience that this MS class values every week?
I urge you to re think this proposal as Yoga cannot & will not ever be able to be standardised, the nature of the Freedom of yoga, of which we all wish to share within our communities, will create balance against such a misunderstood proposal. I hope you take the time to truly listen to the voices within the yoga community at large, they will sing true and will help to broaden the understanding of the true nature of the system of Yoga.
May the truth be recognised,
About the NOS…
The trial of implementing National Occupational Standards for yoga, in my opinion is a clear abusive threat against the flourished, honest and independent yoga community coming from a few greedy, opportunist, hollow and desperate organizations.
The targeted point is safety. Ironically coming from fitness organizations where reported injuries such as muscle pull and strain, sprained ankle, shoulder injury, knee injuries, shin split, tendinitis, wrist sprain or dislocation by far higher than in yoga practice. They tend to spread a poor view that headstands, backbends, no use of “fitness” warm ups and less approach to students are signs of unsafe. It’s just a standardized narrowed view coming from people who don’t know what they are saying. I safely teach headstands, backbends in an all levels class and use the yoga poses themselves for warm ups. I stand in front of the class 90% of the time using mirror technique demonstration. I see more point in correcting the whole group with a general advice (i.e. be sure that your leg is 90 degrees…) minimizing the need of embarrassing individual corrections or harm by pressure touching students. And that’s my view based on my experience and I’m glad that is respected. I have been teaching yoga for 16 Years with zero record of injuries.
In order to work in UK, a professional Yoga Training provider will have to submit an application to a well established organization for Teacher Training schools (i.e. IYN) with proof of minimum 10 years of successful and documented teaching experience, including safety and care, practice and knowledge “allowing the school to honour their own philosophical and practical approach to Yoga, while ensuring that they are based on the core principles upon which Yoga, of whatever kind, is and must be based.” Insurance is also a requirement as to cover any rare unfortunate case of yoga injury.
This information should reach the employers, but unfortunately, clever business driven pals take advantage of this gap of knowledge in the market and sneak in teasing the public to overreact to what is already perfectly supervised and well controlled by respectful Yoga institutions which are the ones truthfully acknowledged and qualified for the role. Surprisingly and shaming, a few yoga establishments are supporting this misguided nonsense.
The yoga community though is strong and positive and will stand united for the unchangeable (Satya) against ignorance, misconceptions, misunderstandings and incorrect knowledge (Avidya). And for the ones who tried to step on their own sibilants may I remind you that in yoga “all living beings have the spark of the divine spiritual energy; therefore to hurt another being is to hurt oneself” (Ahimsa).
By a head of an Independent Yoga School, also Personal Trainer (REPS registered) and Medical Physiology second year student who knows and respect the different sectors and believe in a peaceful coexistence.
National Occupational Standards for Yoga !
Once again, the play of political forces is in full swing in the Yoga world. We are being confronted with the peremptory fact that national occupational standards are being drawn for Yoga and that these are to be implemented next year!
One might have expected an invitation to discuss the need for such standards amongst the Yogis of this country. Instead, we are herded into a narrow way by Skills Active, essentially an ‘employer led’ organization, in this case, the FIA, fitness industry association representing the corporate sector and working closely with Skills Active. As we all know corporate fitness is essentially motivated by profit rather than education or service. So, here we are again, facing the same battle after 12 years of relative peace, mainly maintained because of the on going scrutiny the IYN has been keeping on the issue.
Meanwhile authoritarian forces have been newly activated, attempting to standardise the practice and teaching of Yoga, in line with fitness industry requirements. The BWY promises a level 4, of what I wander? Level of consciousness? The time for holding your kumbhaka? Is your level of integration at skin level, muscle level or bone level? Does level 4 imply a capacity to release the thinking process? Level 4 empty mind anybody? Having had a BWY teacher trainer in my 4 year, 500 contact hours training a few years back, I guess the Wheel might consider a level 5, to align with the koshas, with the great Anandamaya or is this not relevant here, as we are solely concerned with the correct naming of muscles and their function!
As a practicing Craniosacral Therapist, I ask if those so intent on applying traditional anatomy and physiology to yoga, might consider learning about the latest discoveries in modern biology and realise that working with intent, the energy body, the spiralling fascial lines, psychic flux and emotional centering is, surprisingly for some it seems, what Yoga has always ‘known’. And this is precisely why the fitness industry is ill equipped to issue any standards for the practice and teaching of our lore. Even if there might be a further consultation with the main British Yoga associations, how can we ever agree on the standardisation of this personal, subjective journey that is Yoga?
The spiritual traveller cannot touch upon her spirit by following prescribed rules, for this path is one of freedom, utter undivided freedom. Freedom to roam the many layers of one’s organic, vital, mental, psychic and spiritual reality, seeking connection, stability, peace and joy. How can anyone measure the proficiency of a Yoga teacher but solely by the level of passion, integration, inspiration they might be able to embody and transmit. And that vibrant incandescence when someone accesses territories that expand beyond the constructed self, how can that level of expression be standardised? For this is the essence of Yoga, not quite the freedom for the self that the dominant culture pedals but freedom from the self. How can that be evaluated? It can only be experienced by direct contact with the higher frequency that becomes palpable in the relational field. All of this is highly subjective and requires individual appreciation one person at a time.
So do we have to leave this appreciation to the wider public? Yes we do. We can only promote a Yogic education, and embody its profoundly transformative principles. Then each person must undertake a personal journey into Yoga, which comprises moments of respite, to pose and breath and ponder, hurdles to overcome with deep listening and connection to one’s personal power, limitations to meet and accept, and just as importantly acknowledge one’s talents as well as reclaim and validate one’s personal experience with a compassionate heart. Each has to find their teacher. And the teacher will be one who has journeyed and meandered long and deep into their inner self and can report back that the only teacher you can ever truly have is the one that resides in your own heart. A Yoga teacher never tells you what to do, but essentially reminds you to expand your listening body, to dilate your very pores so that the skilful action can arise as a consequence of that listening. Then Yoga. There is no standard here but a respect and a nobility that authorises no gap between word and gesture. This is what authenticity means, the ability to become the author of your own myth. This is what an honest Yoga teacher can show you with no attachment, no dependency, but perhaps an affiliation that may mature over time into collaboration.
So whether some like it or not, Yoga IS a spiritual path. Meaning that it intends to overcome the constructed self so that we may arise into a fuller, expanded place that we tend to call now, and where we might be able to experience the infinite. How far this is from the reductive propositions we are being condescendingly summoned to agree on. How remote these self appointed ‘givers of lessons’ have come from their own practice it seems, busy as they are dishing out precepts, rules and laws that pretend to measure evaluate and standardise our practice. What is their motivation? To be able to show the corporate world that Yoga can be squeezed into the ‘exercise’ category and that yogis can also tick boxes? How can we take this exercise in muscle flexing seriously?
It is enough to look at the use of language to understand that we have to deal with worlds that are considerably different in their values, perspective, culture, philosophy and politics.
Here is an example taken from Skills Active web site:
‘ NOS are meant to improve capacity and capability and can be used to define job roles, measure staff performance and be regarded as the benchmark of competence. They specify the standards of performance that people are expected to achieve in their work and the knowledge and skills they need to perform effectively’
How can such language even remotely relate to Yogic education? How can an essentially spiritual practice be measured in terms of standardised outcomes? Who pretends to be able to draw any common standard between for example the immensely refined Vijnana Yoga or Centered Yoga with their comprehensive curriculum that span over three + years and some forms of Hot Yoga with boot camp style teacher trainings that last one month, I guess time enough to learn how to turn on the heating system! Hahaha! But hey that is how it is right now.
So what do we do? Nothing. But come together in free moving clusters, attempting community around fluid principles, like truthfulness, self reflection and love. Do nothing. Let each find their way: those who want to turn on the heat and compromise their bones and nervous systems, those who need to follow rules to feel right, those who want to kiss their teacher’s feet, those who need to study the anatomy of the hip joint before braking into intuitive dance, those who want to chant to unknown deities from unknown temples, those who follow their spirit through the darkness and confusion and find kin in a gentle smile, the sharpness of a mind, the intelligence of a gaze, the compassion of a heart. Let them all find their way to their teacher for Yoga has a way of keeping its promise when the one looking for it is sincere.
Of course there might be some measure of common ground with those who do want to implement national occupational standards, but it would mean that the Yogis would have to make the bigger sacrifice, that of selling their very soul, no less! And for those who are prone to ‘de-dramatise’ the whole thing to make a few quick bucks, the problem is that they would have to wriggle out of NOS by pretending they are applying them, thus negating the Yogic principle of honesty.
Perhaps I am naïve in stubbornly upholding principles that for some control thirsty organisations might not be worth fighting for, but in a time of spiritual impoverishment, deeply ingrained consumerism and intolerable violence, the Yoga world has a responsibility to respond by upholding its own principles, giving them body and breath rather than stoop to the demands of a market place intent on controlling that which it fails to comprehend. So to all those who seek to standardize the practice and teaching of Yoga I express my renewed dismay at their renewed attempt at regulation. It reveals such poor understanding of the subject which, again is reduced to mere exercise. Yoga implies a freedom of expression of all the layers of our physical, vital, mental, emotional and spiritual reality that simply cannot be standardised.
To try to do so will inevitably encounter great contention in the Yoga world, which to this day includes a vast variety of different schools of thought, myriads of different practices, many of which are not physical. The emphasis on energetic and spiritual development is what distinguishes Yoga from any other form of personal development, how can anyone pretend to know a standard which would cover these very sensitive and highly personal areas. You might as well standardise prayer or rigidly frame religious expression, which by the way is an infringement on human rights.
Therefore I urge Skills Active and its valets not to waste much needed public funds on this pointless goose chase and not to be persuaded into what appears to be an expression of power struggles within the Yoga community. Wisely save all of us the aggravation. This is experienced in the broader Yoga world as interventionism which we see much too much in political circles. The statistics show no particular issues, dangers, or law suites that would justify a move towards regulation. So I appeal to all the practitioners and teachers to rally together and make their dissent against regulation be heard.
Leave Yoga be!
Yoga as an integrated system of practice (mentally and physically integrating) is a system that belongs to humanity. All spiritual teachings at their various levels belong to humanity as a common stock of practises and philosophical disciplines.
When those traditions go through transitions and arrive in new eras we will inevitably see changes of formula and delivery. Yoga is a very broad concept that cannot be boxed into a small set of pratices labeled asana, pranayama etc. If we try to seek security in our systems of practice, fixing them into a formula that is unchangeable and inflexible, something in them will die.
What is important is that the underlying principles do not get lost sight of. What do the various practises aim to achieve and how can the formula evolve without loss of principle?
It seems to me the BWY are in a somewhat delusional authority hungry state, desiring to impose their model onto the yoga world at large. The stamp of authority once given will ever remain in their hands. This is because they are literal minded. Whenever a system takes its pratices too seriously, with the belief that this the only one way "ekagatta" (skrt) then we can be certain that literalism has arrived.
Yoga has been, is and will always be an experiment with the human body and mind. Every year we learn of new things about the body that advances our understanding of what yoga practice is. One school or system can in no way encompass all there is to know or teach. More importantly, is how yoga effects or helps the development of our mind. Our approach for example is based upon traditional mindfulness teachings that come from Buddhism and secular approaches to mindfulness such as. MBSR.
The idea of imposing standards onto the yoga tradition at large, especially yoga schools and teachers needs to be resisted and fought against. It is not the domain of the BWY in conjunction with corporate interests to control yoga or set standards or limits that are arbitrary, onto yoga.
The literalism of this approach will only but fail, as, I very much doubt any independent yoga system wishes to take up the interests of the BWY and associates that want to limit and control yoga teaching.
Personally, my interests, as I'm sure with many schools, are to do with high quality training, basing the development of the teacher on firm foundations of their own development in their practice as well as giving technical knowledge and skills for professional teaching. Being dictated to as to what our teachers can and cannot teach is in no way desirable.
As co-founder of Bodhiyoga.es I have to be concerned about these developments in the UK, even though a large number of our students are based around the globe. I personally do not agree with the developments within the BWY nest and will do whatever is possible to maintain independence in the yoga teaching sphere.
Dh. Sadhita Co-founder of Bodhiyoga teacher training international.
Why Yoga Should Not Be Regulated.
An open letter to C Larissey Skillsactive by Jeremy Jones.
18th September 2016.
I am an (almost) retired yoga teacher with many years of experience under my belt. My experience covers a great deal of "front line" work in adult education colleges, fitness/health centres, two prisons, a special needs school and my own self-managed classes. I have also been involved in training the next generation of teachers. It has been a busy but hugely rewarding 23 years with few regrets. We are all human however, so I do have two to own up to. The first is volunteering to serve as a county representative with the British Wheel of Yoga (hereinafter the BWY) and the second is working in adult education (hereinafter AE). Both these set ups have close, deeply ingrained, cultural similarities. They are highly (and incorrigibly) bureaucratic, "control freak" in approach and therefore favour a highly structured, formalist approach to teaching and lesson planning, which is completely at odds with the essential nature of yoga. Indeed, we could almost say that the words "yoga" and "organisation" are mutually incompatible. In contrast, the fitness centres were like a breath of fresh air - I simply signed in and taught the usually well attended classes. That should not imply an entirely uncritical attitude to the industry but this is about regulation and standards, not a "who should do what" exercise. We should beware of being too proprietorial about yoga. Adapting to the short format classes and drop-in culture was not easy, but I managed it without making too many compromises. After nearly three very difficult years, I resigned from my job with the BWY, and later left the organisation in protest at this organisation's culture. For mainly the same reasons, I gradually phased out my AE commitments. This was particularly painful, as I am a passionate believer in the ideal of affordable AE for all, regardless of age, social class, culture or any of the other artificial categories we all like to (mis)use.
However, this is not a vehicle for my personal grievances, however relevant to the subject. What I must emphasise is that yoga is different. Firstly, we have to define it. That is almost impossible. Some teachers will no doubt use the definition of the Indian sage Patanjali - "a stilling of the mind", but Patanjali was writing around two thousand years ago and yoga has evolved into something he would probably hardly recognise and the world, inevitably, has moved on, like it or not, to where we are today. Most yogis simply agree to disagree. Yoga is more easily defined by what it isn't, rather than what it is. Two things that almost all yogis agree on is that firstly, it is not a sport and secondly, it is not competitive. It is these two negatives that make yoga so effective as an instrument of personal well-being. Anyone, regardless of age, ability or inclination, can find a style to practice safely. Injuries and bad reactions are almost unknown. More importantly, perhaps, we now have a bewildering number of different styles, schools of thought and approaches. This is another great strength, though it may not seem like it to the yoga "outsider". If the would be yogi doesn't like my style and approach, they can vote with their feet and find another teacher with an entirely different style. There is something for everyone and anyone. It follows from this that a good yoga teacher has to be creative and adaptable. This is simply not possible if he/she is constricted by arbitrary regulation by a sometimes ignorant "governing" body churning out "guidelines" and paperwork that are often conflicting, constricting and incomprehensible. Assessment is another major issue and the despair of teachers in AE. The benefits of yoga are largely felt by the yogi, rather than seen by the observer. Over the years, I have seen many students whose posture work would make a purist weep, yet those very same students are the most delighted by their inner progress. We simply cannot observe or assess these inner processes. They are too subjective. They have to be personally experienced ("experiential" is a yoga buzz word) and, if desired, reported to the teacher. In yoga, the boundary between a good teacher and the student is a blurred one. In a class, there is no instructor shouting out directions into a microphone, no referee blowing a whistle and no rules, other than sensible safety precautions. In a way, yoga is slightly subversive, encouraging a healthy autonomy in the student, as well as the teacher. How can the teacher be autonomous if he/she is shackled by regulation and conformity? Rigidity can be imposed from without or self-imposed, of course but either way, a rigid personality cannot encourage autonomy, any more than a tone deaf person can teach music.
A couple of personal stories can illustrate my point a little better. My teaching was once assessed by a BWY official. She chided me (not too severely) for not insisting that my students stood in military style lines. "Yoga is a discipline, you know", was her comment. Indeed it is, but the discipline must come from within, not imposed by external regulation or authority. The same person also chided me for sipping water during the class and not discouraging the same practice among my students. "Yoga should be practiced empty", she insisted, “all the books say so". (Actually, they don't, but that's by the way). A few months later a college assessor chided me because some of my students did not have water with them! I have learned to ignore such conflicting advice and go with my own experience and intuition (and that of my students) while keeping an open mind about sensible suggestions.
If we wish to be pedantic about yoga, its roots actually lie in Indian philosophy. It is one of several branches of an ancient philosophical system. The other branches need not concern us here but we must ask any would be regulator or "standards cop" these pertinent questions. Would they try to regulate philosophy? Or religion? Or almost any cultural activity? Some would argue (I don't, by the way) that yoga is all three of these. We regulate at our peril.
When an organisation or individual seeks to regulate, obstruct or ban any activity, we must at least ask the pertinent question, what are their motives? Is there a hidden agenda? I believe that the motives of so-called "governing bodies" are suspect and that they do have a hidden agenda. Their hidden agenda is a crude desire for power, control and mindless conformity. They will say that they are motivated by a desire for higher standards and better safety. We all want improved standards, of course but diluting yoga's magnificent diversity and placing it in a straightjacket is not the way forward - it will have a negative impact on standards. The frequently raised question of safety also needs looking with clear, unblinking eyes. If there is an army of unsafe yoga teachers out there, causing injury and suffering to their students, where, in this age of complaint and litigation, are the complainants? Where are the successful insurance claims? Here in the UK, they are conspicuous by their absence. If there are one or two improbable needles in this particular haystack, would more regulation have prevented them?
One more important point. The culture of any organisation, commercial or otherwise, has a "trickle down" effect. For example, a dishonest company director, cheating his customers, will eventually find that his employees are cheating him, if they can get away with it. An authoritarian governing body will eventually create an army of autocratic teachers, as the creative freethinkers leave in disgust. The autocratic teacher has a most damaging and demoralising effect on his students. Under pressure to deliver "results" and placate their overbearing tutor, they are likely to tackle over ambitious practices and risk harming themselves. One organisation (not the BWY) is notorious in yoga circles for just such a culture. The old joke comes to mind. Be careful what you wish for - it might come true!
To summarise -
- Regulation will not improve standards, it will diminish them.
- Regulation will not improve safety, it will diminish it.
- Regulation will not improve the personal autonomy of the student or teacher, it will destroy it.
- Regulation is counter-productive, leading to a culture of avoidance, "ducking and diving” and concealment.
I have been practicing Yoga since the age of 16 years and I am now aged 62 years. After qualifying as a Hatha Yoga Teacher in June 1988, I have been teaching Yoga group classes and 1-1 Yoga sessions since. In that time I have attended numerous Yoga Workshops, completed other Yoga courses, attended other Yoga Teacher classes. In addition, I have kept up to date with book study, online learning and other methods, for my own continuous professional development. It is now 46 years that I have practiced Yoga and 28 of those years I have been teaching classes successfully.
There have been many styles and schools of Yoga during this time. However, even when Yoga Teachers have been taught by the same Yoga school, their teaching is as varied as their personalities. In all this time I have attended classes with some excellent Yoga Teachers, very good Teachers, good Teachers, average Teachers and some that are poor Teachers. I am also sad to say, I have occasionally attended a class with a teacher, who teaches in a very unsafe way and for some could be classed as dangerous.
I understand that The British Wheel of Yoga are involved in NOS as a result of poor, unsafe, and non- regulated Yoga Teachers. They say on their website, that some Yoga teachers are ‘poor’, or ‘unsafe’. They also stated, "… but this does not include their BWY Teachers". During my 46 years of attending all types of Yoga classes, many have included BWY trained and qualified Teachers. In my opinion, their teaching too has been varied from 'excellent to poor'. Some of them teach in cold rooms where everyone comes in quietly, lies on their mat in Savasana for 10 - 20 minutes, prior to the class starting. They then do a so called ‘Warm up’ still lying on the floor, with little or no 'dynamic' Warm up and with no 'preparatory stretches'. This often leaves the Yoga students and Teacher still cold and at risk of injury. Still cold, they go straight into the supine Asana practice. The students and the Teacher continue to be at risk of injury, as you cannot do an effective ‘Warm up’, without moving the large muscle groups of the legs and arms dynamically whilst standing.
There are numerous Yoga Training Schools who have excellent Teachers who all teach in a safe and effective manner other than BWY trained Teachers. So it is to my amazement and disappointment why BWY feel they have the monopoly on ‘good, safe and effective’ teaching. There are ‘excellent to dangerous’ Teachers throughout the UK, including from those who have been BWY trained.
In addition, over the years, I have met a lot of people who had done Yoga for years and they really wanted to become a Yoga Teacher. Unfortunately, many Yoga Teacher Training schools cost anything up to £4000, with the average being £2000 - £3000. This high cost has meant many potentially 'good or even excellent' Yoga Teachers from being able to afford to train.
With this in mind, I personally set up my own 'Yoga4healthuk' Yoga Teacher Training school several years ago, with the aim of providing good Teachers, to teach Yoga in a ‘safe’ and ‘effective’ way. In addition, my Yoga Teacher Training course is designed with most people being able to afford the cost. My Yoga4healthuk course is available, by spreading the cost in payment instalments, over 9 months, at a total cost of £550.
I have trained a lot of teachers now and most of them are teaching successfully, all in a very safe and effective way, Training includes a 'proper' standing Warm up, using the large muscle groups dynamically for several minutes. This is followed by a series of 'Warm up preparation stretches', before teaching any of the Asanas. In addition, my students are taught to teach, 'low - high' options for the Asanas, adding on in stages, for everyone to be able to participate safely and effectively, according to their ability. Once they have undertaken their final assessment and been awarded their Yoga Teaching Diploma, I visit their classes to make sure they are teaching the way they have been taught and are still adhering to our 'Code of Conduct'. If they do not teach in this safe and effective way, they will be reminded that our group insurance will not cover them.
If we all have to complete a Yoga Teacher Training Course which meets the NOS, I fear this will be even more money we would all have to pay out. This again will also mean some very good teachers will be unable to pay even more for their training, just because someone has decided our training is not good enough. We could lose lots of excellent Yoga Teachers because of financial implications.
The original Yoga Teacher training in the East, was when a Yoga Guru would take on one to a few students over a certain time, with no payment for the instruction. In return the students who lived with the Guru, would do free work for them and their family. There was no money involved, no qualifications, no training standards, no training schools or organisations, stating only their training was the best, just the honest, genuine Guru dedicated to passing the Yoga knowledge on to the students. Yoga Guru / Masters have passed this knowledge down through time, to loads of what are considered to be excellent teachers. Moreover, some have also gone on to be wonderful Gurus / Masters, who continue to spread their knowledge, so we in the West can all enjoy the many benefits Yoga practice has to offer us, physically, mentally and spiritually.
It seems to me, that all those who are 'pushing' the NOS as the only way forward, are missing a very important point. Yoga is not a sport, or even something that can be 'measured', or taught by one, or even a few schools only. We also need to keep the training costs down, so Yoga can be brought to as many people as possible and not only to those who have the time and money to spend on ‘expensive’ training courses, ‘expensive’ continuous professional development, or other 'must have' qualifications.
Let's us all hope that everyone who is not a BWY member, will complain and protest about not having NOS, as there are many more of us who are independent Yoga Teachers already teaching in a safe and effective way. It would be an insult and costly to all of us, to have to undertake further training in the future.
IYN Yoga Elder
Keith Ap Owen:
Dear Ms Larissey,
Re: Proposed National Occupational Standards for Yoga
This open letter is not intended as a personal criticism, nor does it question your professional integrity. Neither is it directed at Skillsactive with whom I had a very pleasant exchange of views over a similar issue in the past. The purpose of this letter is to bring to your attention a matter which is not as straight forward as it looks, the proposed standardisation and regulation, under whatever guise, of Yoga.
My assumption is that you were requested to act in your professional capacity as Head of Standards and Qualifications employed by Skillsactive, in what is a truly complicated and sensitive matter with many ramifications. Are you aware that a similar attempt has been made before?
I noted in your review of National Occupations Standards for Yoga, that the imposition of NOS in Yoga was practically a foregone conclusion, a mere formality; so my letter is partly to apprise you of some of the aspects of past events.
Using your example, may I take this opportunity of introducing myself. My name is Keith ap Owen and I have practised Yoga daily for around fifty five years. Currently I am the honorary president of the Sunbury Yoga Society which I helped form in 1997.
The society was founded in order to offer an alternative to the current ‘post sixties’ version of that into which Yoga had been transmogrified, based on what has become referred to as the ‘Mysore Legacy’. Although historically challenged, this interpretation of Yoga is almost entirely preoccupied with physical exercise and keep fit. (1). Many of the problems concerning the regulation of Yoga today stems from this divide.
Over the last forty years, and since 1997 in conjunction with my mentoring commitments, I have worked in voluntary partnerships with sufferers of various illnesses. This work still continues.
However, this way of life was to be interrupted when in 2004 a similar initiative to the one you are proposing now was introduced by Skillsactive in the form of REPs (Register of Exercise Professions). This proposal, like now, was made on an extremely narrow and naive view of and posed a potential threat to Yoga in general and to the Sunbury Yoga Society (SYS) in particular. It resulted in my joining the Independent Yoga Network (IYN) in 2006, where by default, I was to become its honorary, albeit temporary, liaison officer.
All of this was a major departure from my own practices and life style. I was surprised to learn the names of some of the organisations involved with Skillsactive, some of whom antithetically claimed to be yoga based were in fact consorting with non-yoga bodies in a blatant attempt to control, what they saw, as the Yoga market.
The Independent Yoga Network (IYN), was created by a number of Yoga Teacher Training Schools and independent Yoga practitioners and teachers in reaction to the Skillsactive initiative. The original raison d’etre of the IYN was to protect and keep Yoga free of all external and imposed regulation.
Interestingly enough, Skillsactive, the British Wheel of Yoga and Sport England were among some of the major players then. I have retained a personal record of much of the interchange of letters, emails, and minutes of meetings and articles of that time; which as current events unfold, may become relevant and of interest.
Considering the great turmoil and distress caused then, it appears insensitive, vindictive and a little cruel to run a repeat. Although if indications pointing to who may be involved prove correct – it is not so surprising!
I am surprised that there has been so little advance publicity made by Skillsactive on such a vastly important issue which could potentially affects thousands, even millions of lives. It is imperative that as many people of the vast Yoga Community as possible be informed and consulted. On receiving the ‘NOS Pack’ I took the opportunity to contact many highly respected and recognised practitioners of Yoga, all of whom were totally unaware of the attempt which is now being made in their name to resurrect a previously discredited scheme.
Generally, many in the Yoga Community are opposed to any action that attempts governance or regulation of Yoga, especially any that is supported and orchestrated from outside agencies. There are of course notable exceptions to this rule, in particular organisations craving power who have turned Yoga into businesses based on a keep- fit culture and have little regard to its non-secular and venerable past.
It would appear to be unlikely that Skillsactive would have initiated such a highly controversial proposal without some kind of prompting from a self-interested third party. It would be a valuable and important contribution to the debate as a whole if these organisations along with their representatives be publically identified as part of your campaign.
The reason it did not work before was the elusive nature of Yoga itself. It is not a subject and therefore cannot be defined. The global diversity of its practice demonstrates the infinite quality of its power, a power of equality of practice for all, but by implication, not a right for one section to prevail over another. Unity in diversity.
A totally agreed definition as to the nature and practice of Yoga would be an absolute imperative prior to any attempt being made at the standardisation, regulation, including NOS of Yoga. Not one exists! There is no central authority governing Yoga, (nationally or globally) despite the groundless ‘non-protected’ claims made by certain organisations. Nor can Yoga be resolved by democratic means as it is the work of the individual and not of the masses.
So back to the fundamental obstacle to standardisation, the absence of any general consensus expressing a more fully comprehensive meaning of Yoga. To be relevant any such consensus would need to extend from the deeply religious devotee to the more recent phenomenon of the keep fit enthusiast.
There’s the rub, with some areas more markedly separated than others. An example of this is a saying among senior Yoga practitioners, whose training and experiences are more heuristically based, laughingly describing the present teaching methods of today’s post sixties keep fit Yoga, “The unqualified qualifying the non-qualified.”
It was also noted the enormous growth in Yoga Teachers proportionate to Yoga practitioners. Everyone wanted to teach Yoga, and to meet this demand, it seemed ‘nearly everyone else wanted to train Yoga teachers.’
Traditionally and in practice, the lure of Yoga has proven too much to resist for many people, consequently it has become open to much interpretation and sadly, much abuse and exploitation! Yoga is not an easy practice and to the religious devotee, the mystic, the ascetic, and the humble practitioner it is hard repetitive work on the part of the participating individual, it is not the stuff of organisations, bodies and agencies.
Recent events have illustrated this only too well, with the demise of a number of high status organisations. Historically sages have often referred to Yoga as the one last great hope of individual freedom left to Mankind.
Today’s popular version of Yoga ignores the vast role that Yoga has always played in some of the world’s greatest religions. This includes the devotees of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and more, plus the internal musings of the mystic, the ascetic and the esoteric.
And so for this reason should any person known for their published views that Yoga is not a religion be a fit person to be involved in these forthcoming highly sensitive negotiations? And in parallel, should any organisations, who for their own purposes and gain, agreed to the redefinition of Yoga as a sport, (and in the process offended thousands) be considered suitable to serve on such a committee.
Towards the end of what was a sad event in the history of modern Yoga in the UK, we sought informal legal advice, and were advised that any attempt to introduce any form of regulation of Yoga tout court, including NOS, may be interpreted as a possible breach of the Human Rights Act. Fortunately common sense prevailed at that time and we were not pressed to seek a more formal ruling.
If I have made any case at all it would be to highlight the problem of the word Yoga and all that it encompasses; to regulate any part of Yoga without reference to the whole, would certainly prove detrimental to other disciplines of Yoga practice. This would inevitably end up marginalising other sections of the Yoga community. Such a result would be the very antithesis to the meaning of the word Yoga, about which strangely enough, there is a general agreement… Union.
For my own part, I have watched the growth of other recently formed organisations reshaping their view of Yoga and moving further away from my own practices and traditions. It is not without an occasional twinge of sadness, especially the loss (as I see it), of Yoga’s long spiritual legacy, which to me is the very heart and essence of its practice.
People will of course disagree and that is their right. I have remained respectful of their new found positions even in my disagreement of them, and would never attempt to impose my will on to their beliefs and practices.
In fact some years ago, as has been previously stated, I joined an organisation giving much time and energy in helping to protect the rights of its members against a similar incursion, even though their practices differed very greatly from my own.
So I make this plea on behalf of myself and all those people not represented on your steering committee. When making your deliberations please show respect and consideration for all those people who either cannot attend, or whose vision of Yoga does not concur with your own.
Further, for the few who continue to insist on appropriating the word Yoga for their own purposes, either by title or under its banner, please give honour and recognition to those who came before by emulating their examples of humility and grace. This does not mean exerting power over others, but rather exerting power over ourselves. Namaste.
So it is for these reasons that I will not be applying for a place on the steering committee, which I believe is ill conceived, narrow and without position or authority. Further, to do so would be to consort with those people who carry their own agendas, which I believe, if implemented, would be detrimental to the ongoing free participation of Yoga, without imposition, let or hindrance.
However, I wish you all well and hope that a solution can be found that at least will serve Yoga universally and not just the power hungry market of the few.
Keith ap Owen
Honorary President Sunbury Yoga Society.
If I may summarise:
- ‘Yoga’ is a composite term for a very broad and disparate range of physical, mental and spiritual philosophies and disciplines. ‘Yoga’ is not, therefore, an activity capable of being standardised or regulated. ‘Yoga’ is no more capable of being standardised or regulated than, say, ‘religious belief’ or ‘religious practice’ – or, for that matter, ‘the pursuit of well-being’. Yoga is none of these things, but it is like them all in its breadth and in the range of human activities and dispositions which it covers both today and historically.
- It is thus entirely inappropriate for a body whose remit relates to ‘standards of performance individuals must achieve when carrying out functions in the workplace’ to take ‘Yoga’ as a subject for its deliberations
- Yoga Body, the origins of modern posture practice. Mark Singleton published 2010.
BWY has been wanting to do this for a very long time. My feeling about this is that it is not so much for creating a standard that Yoga Teachers should aspire to, so much as a way to become a monopoly of Yoga in Great Britain. IYN allows a wide variety and approaches to the journey of yoga, for the individual and for the Yoga community as a whole. Every form of Yoga is not for every practitioner. It is an individual approach, and the multiple styles and schools of Yoga should remain available to students.
If yoga is standardized by one body (BWY), it dilutes yoga, and ultimately Yoga may become unrecognizable as it becomes more and more standardized. It becomes a parody of itself. Yoga is developmental, not just for the practitioners, but also for the art of Yoga itself. It matures, and develops. If it is standardizes, it stifles its intelligence and art, and becomes a shadow if itself, with no room to grow.
I do believe that all teachers should be practicing and studying for long periods of time before they even think about teaching. I believe 5 years is the bare minimum...10 is better! It takes that long for some of the principles to imbue and become part of working knowledge and wisdom. But all teachers approach to practice and philosophy is unique to that particular instructor. And that is how it should be. There are obvious similarities and enduring principles that permeate all forms of yoga, but they cannot be presented in a cookie cutter format.
Governments fight against monopolies. Yoga certainly should do the same.