squaring_the_circleAs the question of National Occupational Standards (NOS) for UK yoga teachers raises its head after a 12 year absence, the question I find myself asking is; will setting standards improve the quality of yoga teaching?

I have listened to lots of opinions and arguments from a variety of interested parties and they all seem to agree that raising the quality of yoga teaching is a desirable thing.  No yoga teacher thinks it is a good idea to reduce the quality of yoga teaching.  Indeed, all the yoga teachers I have spoken to are actively taking steps to improve their own teaching.  They are taking responsibility for this themselves.  I think this comes with the territory.  Yoga is a process of self enquiry, so by the very nature of enquiring within, we are likely to identify ways in which our teaching could be improved, and be self motivated to do something about that.

On the surface then, it might seem as though all yoga teachers would, and maybe even should, be in favour of the movement to set standards in yoga.  However, here there is; a great diversity in opinion, a lot of speculation, & not a lot of concrete facts, because these standards do not exist.

So what facts do we have to go on?  

We know who is proposing the NOS.  A quick search on Wikipedia reveals that Skills Active is a “skills sector council”.  They are an employer led task force of the government of the United Kingdom.  “They have 4 key goals:

  • to support employers in developing and managing apprenticeship standards
  • to reduce skills gaps and shortages and improve productivity
  • to boost the skills of their sector workforces
  • to improve learning supply”

The industries that fall under the jurisdiction of Skills Active are: 

“Sport, Fitness, Outdoors, Playwork, Caravans and Hair and Beauty”.  

From Skills Active’s own website we know that NOS are:

“statements of the skills, knowledge and understanding needed for effective performance in a job role and are expressed as outcomes of competent performance.” 

Skills Active have been circulating a document describing the process to some yoga teacher training schools and yoga organisations that says these NOS are used thus:

  • ” To underpin industry needs in the development of new and existing Yoga qualifications;
  •   As a framework for writing standardised and professional job descriptions;
  •   For workforce development planning and the creation of personal and organisational development plans.”

The full document can be accessed here.

Another interesting document to read is the “SkillsActive Exercise and Fitness NOS Core Knowledge Requirements”.  This document was published in March 2016.  After reading through all 60 pages, I can say that it is a very comprehensive and thorough presentation of the skills required to deliver safe group exercise classes & personal training sessions.  I did not find much relevant to yoga.  Indeed there is only one mention of the word yoga in the whole document, which classifies yoga as a ‘flexibility class’.  The full document can be accessed here.

There is another player in this proposal; the British Wheel of Yoga.  The August 2016 edition of the BWY’s “DCT Forum”, a newsletter for BWY Diploma Course Tutors, states that:

“The NOS process is being financially supported by the BWY in its governing body role.”

On the BWY website the NOS process is presented to BWY general members & the public slightly differently:

“The British Wheel of Yoga is backing the initiative by the sector skills council for active leisure, learning and wellbeing, Skills Active, to create national occupational standards (NOS) for yoga teaching in the UK.”

To find out more about the BWY’s governing body role and how that came about, I looked at the BWY’s own archives.  BWY Eastern Region have a very interesting history of the BWY on their website, in which the question of what constitutes acceptable teaching qualifications is discussed.  The question first arose in 1972/3 and was debated until in 1990:

“It eventually led to a decision by the Sports Council to award the Wheel the Governing Body status. Part of this decision directed the Wheel to keep a dialogue going with other Yoga organisations.”

In the first talks on this issue, the BWY employed an education adviser, Monty Barnes.  Although not a yoga teacher, Monty worked with yoga teachers to agree on the following personal objectives of a Yoga Teacher, which were presented in 1972.  According to this BWY website, these goals are:

“still valid today.

Personnel Objectives for the Yoga Tutor

  •   The methods for teaching Yoga must be morally acceptable
  •   Each course must be planned ~ there must be a goal
  •   There has to be planned means of reaching the course’s objectives/goal.
  •  There can be goal displacement
  •  There must be a means of evaluating progress.
  • The tutor must work to improve skills in recognising similarities and differences between groups of students in relation to their physical and mental make-up. 
  • To improve observational skills and recognise the needs for modifications and develop methods and techniques to meet the individual student’s needs…… ( there must be individualisation )
  •   The tutor must learn as well as teach.
  •   The field of learning must be open ended.
  •   Indoctrination must be avoided.
  •   There must be an experience of success for both tutor and student.
  •   There must be overspill into other spheres of human activity and learning
  •   There should be modification of bad attitudes and reinforcement of good attitudes.
  •   We must accept the idea that there is no body of assured knowledge.
  •  Monty Barnes, Montem Adult Education 1972.”

The points about individualisation & there being no body of assured knowledge were added:

“to stop one single yoga organisation being accepted as the sole teaching authority.”  

So far, these are all the resources I can find.  I have provided links to the original documents so that you can do your own research and come to your own conclusions.  If you come across any resource that you feel would shed more light on this matter, please let me know so that I can collate the information here for the benefit of us all.

To collect more information, I am asking Yoga Elders from any tradition, school or organisation to come forward to share their views regarding the proposed NOS.  If you are a Yoga Elder, could you email your views to me in the form of a letter to Skills Active, telling them your thoughts, either for or against the proposal. I will collate these as they arrive, so there is no definite deadline for submission.  However, it is proposed that the first consultation meeting should happen on Monday 24th October at 11.30am in London, so your earliest attentions would be most appreciated.


Debbie Farrar

Email: wordpress@namaskaram.co.uk