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Ashtanga Teacher Certification/Authorization Is Rubbish?

Today, I saw a comment where someone said, “yoga does not belong to anyone. Certification and authorization is rubbish.”  Lets not throw the baby out with the bath water.

Being authorized or certified does not guarantee that a teacher knows what they are doing but having no standards doesn’t guarantee it either. Certification and authorization says that, the Jois family, who are the lineage holders of Ashtanga Yoga, feel that this person seems to have a good enough understanding of the practice to teach it.  It does not mean that they own yoga or that the certified/authorized teacher owns it either.  It is just a way for students to know that this person has knowledge of Ashtanga Yoga that comes directly from the source.

The Jois family does not own yoga. As a matter of fact, here is a quote from Sharath Jois in conference,

 

“No one owns Yoga,” said Sharath Rangaswamy, the grandson of the late Ashtanga Yoga guru, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.

Sharath paused comfortably, sanguinely sitting in lotus. He looked around the room, and then continued, “You don’t own it. I don’t own it. No one owns it.”- LA Yoga Magazine

 

Lets take it out of the bubble of yoga. If you need a brain surgeon, are you going to call the dude that has  the credentials to prove that they have some education on the subject  or some dude who has no credentials but has a lot of great testimonials on the brain surgeries he has done? Okay, so yoga is not brain surgery, but you get the point.  For a true aspirant, yoga is the biggest journey they will ever embark on. They will dedicate their whole entire life to it. Doesn’t it make sense to have standards for the teacher you will spend your whole life practicing with? Why do we have a higher standard for the plumber we hire then we do for our yoga teachers? We will pick a random name on a schedule for a yoga teacher, but if we remodel our home, we will ask for credentials, references, and interview numerous contractors before we will make a decision. We won’t let just anyone remodel our house but we will let just anyone touch our body and give us spiritual advice.

 

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I teach Ashtanga  yoga. I am not certified or authorized by the Jois family. There are no certified or authorized teachers in my area. There was a need and I filled it. I have been practicing for 13 years and I have dedicated my life to yoga so I stepped up and took it on. I am not against unauthorized teachers…clearly.    I have great respect for those who are  certified/authorized because they spent years of their life traveling back and forth to India to learn directly from the source. To keep their certification or authorization, they will continue to travel back and forth to India for the rest of their lives. That is not an achievement to be down played, scoffed at or dismissed. The dedication that it takes to stop your life for 6 weeks every other year is tremendous and it is not rubbish.

I totally understand that many people feel that the authorization and certification of Ashtanga teachers leaves much to be desired. I get it. I do.  However, to throw out authorization and certification because, “yoga does not belong to anyway” does not make sense either. So anyone who wants to teach Ashtanga should teach it? So if someone takes a few Ashtanga classes, buys a book and starts teaching Ashtanga, is that better then being certified or authorized by the Jois family? Really? For you maybe, but not for me.

 

 

Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail shanna@ashtangayogaproject.com.

14 Comments

  • Tracy

    Can you share what your qualifications are to teach ? I’m asking so that I understand if not a certified/authorised teacher – who would you consider good enough to teach you? Where did you learn?
    Many people are in your situation – an area where they cannot access an authorised teacher – don’t even know the importance of it when they begin the journey – I didn’t.
    Many people I know have learnt from teachers who are not certified/authorised – but have practiced/studied for 25/30 years…..

    Thoughts.

    • Shanna Small

      Hi, hard question. I had been consistently practicing Ashtanga for about 8 years before I started teaching. One of the big considerations is the connection to lineage. I have a teacher friend who teaches Ashtanga and she is fairly new to the practice, about a year, but most of that year was spent practicing with an authorized teacher and she was practicing another style of Hatha Yoga before that. She continues to frequently visit her teacher. She started teaching with other senior teachers who mentor and guide her. She started teaching because those teachers needed help with a program that was growing fast.

      It is not black and white. If one does decide to teach, it should not be soley for monetary reasons and there should be a strong connection to parampara. The person should also maintain a consistent practice themselves.

      A reoccurring story, you will hear with unathorized teachers, is that they started teaching out of necessity. There simply was no one else to do it and there was a desire for it in the community. It should not be an arbitrary decision and it should be done with the utmost respect for the system of Ashtanga.

  • My

    Where I live there are no certified ashtanga teachers. 3-4 ppl teach ashtanga thou, and I´m one of them. As I began teaching I realised how important my own practice is, and how important it is for me to have a certified teacher. The others that teach in my area don´t go regularly (some never) to a certified teacher´s class or workshop. That´s why I don´t go to their classes but instead take classes in another city, or go on workshops/ retreats. The system in the town with small groups & non-certified teachers (one of them has RYT-200 and has been practicing ashtanga earlier with certifieds) does not really work. The uncertifieds definitely think they own yoga in our town. Being of another opinion does not make me pop. Due to personal matters going to India has never been an option for me. Serious illnesses, too much work /periods of unemployment has made it impossible. I still have not given up the dream and respect my certified teachers. My colleagues tell their students not to go to any other teacher cause that´s against the ashtanga tradition. No one teaches mysore program and I cannot do it either cause I was hired to teach a group at a certain time. I tell my students to try “real” ashtanga, mysore style, authoriszed teachers – go somewhere, pay for it, it´s worth a try. Some auth. teachers do not like that I teach. I tell them it´s a free market you come to my town then. They won´t. I´m stuck between being disliked by the other autodidact ashtanga teachers in my town who think they own yoga, and between those who think only certifieds should get to teach. Its a hard time for me, that’s why I wrote. Thank you for discussing the subject. I teach cause I was asked to, because during the past year some 30 persons have chosen to come to my classes. My contract is till late april, I don´t know at all what happens then…. I have enjoyed teaching a lot and as so many yogis say, it has been a real eye-opener for my own practice.

  • The Truth Speaker

    Sharath has been taking payments from students for years, behind closed doors, in exchange for authorisations. Fact. The cost is extreme. Everyone in Mysore knows this. Many in the ashtanga community know about it. That is why certification/authorization is rubbish.

    Ever wondered why from about 3 years ago there was a sudden boom in authorized and certified teachers? hmmm?

    As a genuine practitioner and teacher this makes me very sad as it gives ashtanga a bad name. I intend to expose corruption, whilst others stand by and do nothing, too scared to speak out.

    • Shanna Small

      I could care less if people are paying for authorizations. As long as the person has enough proficiency and dedication to paramapara to teach the students and they are life time students themselves and constantly hone their craft, kudos to them. When Sharath starts handing out authorizations over e-mail to people who don’t practice Ashtanga for money, then I will be worried.

      • The Truth Speaker

        you should care if people are paying for authorizations, coz it means any tom, dick and harry can get authorized and start selling themselves. And WTF does parampara have to do with anything? Lineage is bullshit. Ashtanga is ashtanga. The practice is what it is. If you remain stuck within lineage then you will never see Yoga, which is Unicity.

        • Shanna Small

          I have not witnessed every Tom, Dick and Harry getting certified. You should practice any lineage you want. If we want to “stay stuck in our lineage” then let us. Let us have our experience. You go get unstuck and practice how you want. I don’t see a problem…..

        • Carlo

          Authorized teachers have no special pill.

          I’ve known many “Hatha Yogis” who can do every pose in the Ashtanga vinyasa method, they dedicate themselves to Kriyas, studying of ancient Indian texts whether christian/muslim/or atheists. They allow for the freedom for one to initiate personal inquiry into their lives using Ashtanga by Jois.
          They teach Ashtanga better than many certified Ashtanga Teacher’s I’ve met who are rigid and cultish.

          Sharath Jois continually confers on himself special titles,ParamaGuru, I’d love to see him teach ppl to sit for 2hrs just in silence or practice truth and sincerity or the Yamas of Patanjali.

          Take this scenario: one doesn’t go Italy to get certified in ballet, since it originated there, but there are talented well trained dancers coming from far around the world who thru their personal dedication and gift of movt get recognized by top western classical dance companies. Some dancers even trained with unknown teachers in a small studio and yet we know how much theyve grown. That’s dedication.
          One doesn’t go to the Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences for a PhD degree in Anatomy: you can get it your country.

          Dedication is waking early in the morning, sacrificing a lot, paying honours to Pattabhi for creating this system ( despite his sexual assault flaws and lack of knowledge of the anatomical repucussions of his violent adjustments ) and practice to burn away our mentally conditioning. Dedication is moving thru pain, grief, tragedy, loss of job, loss of marriage, etc and yet keep it going.
          Dedication– is waking up early to say no, no, no, no to contorting the human body and respecting its limit as you allow the daily fire to open you up.
          Dedication is finding a teacher in your country who’s trained with some of the best ASY teachers in the world and maintains a shala to her personal cost, becos yoga is so foreign where I live– dedication is travelling 3hrs daily just to practise with my teacher who sticks to the 90s revised sequences, who makes us sit in silence and chant opening and closing invocation (Which I love but believe it’s not meant for all to understand or resonate) even if we don’t want to– dedication is selling your car to afford special mysore Ashtanga vinyasa yoga for a long period.
          Dedication is giving up a job offer becos Ashtanga is only taught when I’m supposed to work and reignite my creative powers to sustain myself financially.
          I can go on and on.

          A paper is just a paper, so many great artists didnt even go to fine art sch.
          The Ashtanga vinyasa method doesn’t even have good scientists to document the impact on body and mind, it’s just a “practice and all is coming” logic: no understanding of how different WON’T EVER BE ABLE TO DO DWI PADA SIRSASANA due to their hip structure, or drop backs due to various lumbar deficiencies. I’m currently looking for an Ashtangi medical doctor teacher with a good research background, I think only the German man who maintains ashtangayoga.info does some work and Monica Gauci (I think shes not authorised) but studied a lot with Pattabhi.
          If I studied with Richard Freeman daily for 20yrs, doesn’t that place me in the lineage of the method…?

          • Shanna Small

            Thank you so much for your comment. I agree with much of what you said but I do have to correct a few things. Sharath did not give himself the title of Paramaguru. It was bestowed upon him in Uttarkashi by a group of yogis who saw him as such. Ashtanga is Hatha Yoga. Sharath does teach the Yamas and Niyamas in conference. Also, when you go to Mysore, many classes are offered including the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

            I am very dedicated and my marriage, job and life is totally fine and thriving actually.

            Sharath tells people all the time to find a teacher in their own country.

            There are many Ashtanga teachers who are logical and who study anatomy and physiology. I actually know one that is very much a scientist and has worked on cadavers!!!

            Sharath does not make everyone do all poses the same way. He works with injuries, people skip poses and he modifies poses.

            Sharath does not write blogs like Gregor and Monica so it can be easy to make assumptions about what he does and does not know.

  • Scott Sweedman

    The certification shows students the dedication they have. We all know of people who start yoga and by the end of their first year have done techer training. I’m not saying thy cant be a good teacher but with time and dedication comes knowledge and someone who travels back and fourth every year just for the acknowledgment from the original teachers that they can see within them this knowledge. Also you are going to get the real deal everything seems to get altered and watered down these days you can tell the difference between someone who follows the lineage and someone who changes it to suit what they want to suit there students. My theory if you cant to the practice don’t do it and if you think you know better sequences or transitions that’s fine just don’t call it ashtanga.
    Would I go to an uncertified teacher. Yes provided they come from agenuine place of love for the practice.

  • VideoPortal

    A European Level 1 Authorized teacher told me the problem lies with the class system within the Ashtanga community as Sharath decides everything—who can teach, and who can progress in the sequence. Both can be very random, he said.

  • Becca Grubb

    Thanks for sharing this. I first got introduced to Ashtanga practising at my local studio (I live in a small town called Shrewsbury in the UK, with one yoga studio), it was just 1 hr modified classes with a monthly full primary, but I was hooked. I got to be really good friends with the teacher (the only Ashtanga teacher for literally miles around), and she got me doing full primaries regularly following Laruga online. Eventually we found a teacher 2 hours away who isn’t certified/authorised by Sharath but did study with Patthabi for years in India. So now I go and do Mysore with him two or three times a week which is amazing.

    I’ve recently booked my teacher training with a Yoga Alliance accredited school in India as my friend who currently teaches Ashtanga in Shrewsbury is going to stop teaching. She’s build up a community of people that are beginning to love Ashtanga and once she stops teaching they will have no one to go to. It definitely wasn’t a decision I took lightly, and I don’t plan to make it a career. My Mysore teacher told me I was ready for teacher training so that helped me decide. If there was a Certified teacher in my town offering classes I wouldn’t even consider doing this, I’ve even tried so many times to get my current mysore teacher to move to Shrewsbury and open a mysore programme. I have a huge amount of respect for people who have dedicated themselves to go to Mysore and study every year, it takes a lot of commitment and sacrifice. Also, the idea of always remaining a student is important to me, if you don’t practice and continue to learn, then you’re not gonna be much use as a teacher.

    However, I do have reservations about the way the Certification/Authorisation process is currently managed. You definitely need a system for Authorising teachers, and for recognising who has reached a sufficient level of proficiency to teach, BUT I’ve heard so much about how Sharath has favourites, isn’t consistent or fair etc that I have big issues with the whole process now. I personally don’t think that respecting lineage and the concept of parampara is the same as the Jois family having control over who is Authorised to teach. I’d love Ashtanga to have it’s own global Authorising body made up (ideally) of teachers who have studied with Patthabhi. Then they could create a recognised standard of knowledge that had to be attained, and set up places where you go to be certified.

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