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Should Anyone Be Allowed To Be A Yoga Teacher?

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Illustration by Anna Sudit.
For many people, yoga isn't just a bit of relaxing stretching or an excuse to wear their favourite bum-lifting leggings. It's a lifestyle – a crucial way to calm themselves down and boost their mental health, or to reset their shoddy posture after eight hours spent hunched over a desk.

Yoga's popularity in the UK has skyrocketed in the last decade – thanks, in part, to the plethora of glamorous celebrities (who could forget Geri Halliwell's yogi phase?), and, now, the lithe-limbed Instagram #influencers showing off their headstands on far-flung beaches.

All this hype has meant the idea of becoming a yoga teacher – with a flexible schedule and an actual reason to wear Lululemon all day – is now aspirational. And it's attainable, too. (If Emma Watson can find the time to squeeze in the training, why can't we?)

There are currently no official qualifications required to become a yoga teacher in the UK – meaning anyone could start charging customers for classes in their front room. While you need two years' experience practising with a qualified yoga teacher and a recognised yoga teaching qualification, course quality varies wildly across the country.

Great news for bendy freelancers looking for another side hustle to earn them some extra cash, but less great, perhaps, for injury-prone punters new to the practice. So, should yoga-teacher training be better regulated?

A debate is currently underway over whether stricter regulations are needed to protect the public from charlatans and over-excited amateurs. The British Wheel of Yoga (BWY), the governing body appointed by Sports England (which doesn't have regulatory powers), has triggered a year-long consultation to create national standards for yoga teachers, The Times reported.

“I have seen people with little experience of yoga on a four-week retreat and come out the other end with a yoga teaching qualification,” said Paul Fox, chairman of the BWY. While the practice can improve people's mental and physical ailments, he added, “It needs to be taught expertly... and that requires minimum standards of what skills you need”.

Fox told The Times he has encountered quack teachers who urged people to try handstands on their first lesson, or who had their eyes closed throughout the class.

But yoga traditionalists have hit back, claiming attempts to regulate the "religion" are "neo-colonialist". Swami Ambikananda, a Hindu monk and chairwoman of the Traditional Yoga Association, said there is no evidence that amateur yogis are leading pupils to injure themselves, adding that the debate over tighter regulations is dividing the yoga world, The Times reported.

“We are not insensitive to people’s safety but yoga is a 7,000 year old religion and a quasi-governmental organisation cannot regulate a religion. Attempts to do so are the height of hubris," she said.

Ambikananda believes introducing minimum standards would introduce reams of bureaucracy into the otherwise spiritual practice, and wouldn't necessarily improve teaching quality. However, the yoga teachers we spoke to would beg to differ.

"I've been in classes where teachers simply don't know how to teach and look after their students," Sarah Highfield, a yoga teacher in London, told Refinery29. "They fail to emphasise correct alignment and don't appear to notice when students are doing something that is potentially dangerous and could cause injury.

"With the growing popularity of yoga and the ever-increasing numbers of people practising, it's important that yoga teachers know how to safely guide students through their practice," added Highfield, whose own 200-hour intensive yoga teacher training course took a month to complete.

Yoga teacher Kate Walker also said more stringent regulations for yoga teachers are necessary. Walker mentors students training to be teachers who, while they may have "a charming eagerness and enthusiasm for yoga", often begin teaching with very little experience.

In particular, they lack knowledge "concerning how to deal with injuries, medical conditions and people of different ages and abilities," she told Refinery29. "I often see beginner students go to class and put all their faith into a teacher, while the teacher's knowledge is not yet developed enough to keep the student completely safe."

With almost 16,000 yoga (and Pilates) teachers in the UK, and two million of us having tried a class in recent years, according to analysts at Ibis, it's clear yoga isn't going away any time soon. And with stylish new studios seemingly popping up every week – and so many different types to try – its popularity only looks set to grow.

You'd expect a personal trainer or dance teacher to have formal qualifications, so why not a yoga instructor?
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