What does it mean to be certified or registered as a yoga teacher?


This is a cause for much confusion, even for me to this day. The Yoga Alliance (YA) is a private, non-profit organization created in or around 1999 to provide a standard of education for yoga teachers. However, they are NOT a certifying body like IAYT (The International Association of Yoga Therapists) or any fitness organizations that certify, say, personal trainers, and they do state this clearly on their website. They do not issue certificates of any kind. There are no local, state, or federal government sanctions held to the organization in order to avoid accountability to the registered yoga teacher - RYT or registered yoga school -RYS.  They are, at best, a database or collection of yoga teachers and schools who pay membership fees to be a part of a worldwide directory that sent them a copy of a certificate of a school that is a part of their registry.

So why do professional organizations like gyms or corporate offices want you to have their seal?  I mean, it is only membership. You are not audited or asked to take a test to join their directory, so why do yoga and non-yoga entities put so much weight on the value on their seal and not on the education coming from the school or teacher?

To be honest, I don’t know, other than they think it is something that guarantees good education, which it most certainly does not. Again, I will repeat if you missed what I said, that they are a directory or membership organization, and the quality of education is not something they are not taking responsibility for. This would all be ok if people did not rely upon it as a way to set up their schools or feel it is a seal of approval. When you get certified, you might think it is important for you to have, like, another badge of honor, but really it is a membership, a club, or something to join with like-minded people. Again, not a bad thing if people were not losing a teaching job because they choose not to register.

 I stopped carrying the seal for my school last year; the other teachers in my school and I all agreed it was time.  They have over 100,000 registered yoga teachers, at over $100 a pop to get registered, and over $600 for a school to register. Do you know how much money that is a year?  Where is all of that money going?  Certainly not to the average yoga teacher who has to pay gas, insurance, buy props, rent and then pay pricey membership fees on top of whatever other expenses you pay as an independent contractor for most teachers. Again, for a membership. A membership for yoga! (insert throwing hands up emoji here if I could :(  )

There is nothing to say you have to have a 200, 300, or 500 structure to be an effective yoga teacher.

In reality, how you teach is a result of how you were taught and how much work you put into it outside of your training. I am not saying train less. Usually, I am on the side of students needing a little more education than a 200-hour program, so I make sure they get that.  In my humble yoga professional opinion, 200 hours is only a drop in a bucket. It is like taking one college course in reality. Do you think school teachers can teach a semester at college on that? No. You have to keep learning, growing, and going.  Most yoga classes are an hour, so students get the bare-bones basics on philosophy, anatomy, energetics, history, and sequencing to be able to teach those one-hour classes at local studios, gyms, homes, or wherever else they throw yoga into these days. 

Graduates will find out quickly they are on their own to decide to continue their education and personal approach to teaching and practice. Really, it would be wonderful if all those taking yoga training had yoga experience before their programs or a pre-requisite of some kind, but I would say 50% of the students I have trained really don’t.  While it is up to the school to come up with their application process, you are competing with all the other schools who want to just get you in the door, so you cannot make it too tricky. Training is a big commitment, and it should be, so my advice is you take your time, breath, and do not rush the process. Enjoy it, whether you are a seasoned student or not!

It can be a good idea to take training just to learn more, but the whole idea of yoga training is not really the approach to learning yogic studies. It is really about getting you ready to teach a class that takes up most of the program’s time. I have found in my programs many students are overwhelmed with the amount of outside work they need to do to effectively teach a class, what they need to do for reading assignments, and of course, setting up and getting people to try their student classes.  You have to be well prepared to hold space and know your stuff to teach on your own, and it is my job to prepare you for that. YA & IAYT are not going to do that. That rests on my shoulders. You have to be driven as a student and the teacher; a lot of material is coming at you fast.

Sadly, our culture is built on instant gratification and getting things done fast, and yoga is, if nothing, not that.  Students usually pick a program: close to home, within their schedule, and within their budget without ever even meeting their teacher or visiting their studio. I am writing this with fifteen years of experience in yoga, yoga therapy, and being in the contemporary alternative medicine world, so I am giving myself permission to speak candidly from my experience, but I feel I should always put that disclaimer out there that these are my opinions, experiences, and insights, so do with them as you will.

So to conclude with how I feel about the Yoga Alliance. While pronouncing their integrity to back up yoga and make their seal of approval a mark of confidence in schools and teachers, really, they hit the go-ahead button on so many schools and training programs without looking into them beyond their application that I cannot confidently say at all their seal means anything to me 15 years into my yoga career. They are a registry, which is the same thing as a database of people paying to be a member into something that they all have in common, which at YA is teaching yoga. They do not require an audit or check on schools to make sure they are doing their job or really require anything beyond filling out an application and paying a fee to “register” you. Now that is all good if you are just really pronouncing the fact that you are a membership. Having that tribal connection is nice when you specialize in something, but say that clearly.

I say this because businesses, studios, and other places of work are now requiring the yoga alliance registry mark for them to hire you, regardless of your training and schooling background; according to some of my recent graduates, this was not the case not too long ago.  So let’s say a school that is only one year old and registered with the Yoga Alliance will get more of their students hired because of their registry, and more students taking their training, over a school like me with over 100 graduates that were trained by someone who is a Certified Yoga Therapist with 15 years of experience and a Master’s of Science degree. How does that make sense?  All because I don’t want to pay $640 to be a part of their club.

So why are businesses, studios, and gyms requiring this seal for people to teach yoga?  I think the one thing the YA did right was they cornered the market and got their mark to feel meaningful for a yoga teacher who just becomes certified to then go and join the YA after. You feel that your certificate really has power to it, or to be a part of something good.  They themselves, if you do some digging, do pronounce this clearly on their website (here is the link). If you feel your school that you took training in, or other schools or teachers in the area are not doing their job, they will tell you just that they cannot help you, they are just a directory and turn you away. That happened to me when I tried to get support from them. Somewhere in the 2010’s they took away our right to use yoga therapy on our membership profiles, which turned me to IAYT.  IAYT offers solid education, research, and the science behind yoga. They endorse yoga as therapy, which it is, but they do not have a school mark beyond their accredited schools, which are hundreds of hours, way beyond the YA’s 200 hour format.  So that excludes someone like me who runs most of my program with the support of a handful of other teachers to fill in my non-expertise, leaving me sort of standing alone, like the other schools who are not electing to carry the YA seal.  

My final thoughts are if you want the expert opinion of someone who has been in the business, teaching, and practice of yoga for a decade and a half,  do your research before you use terms loosely about your education, and know what you are putting value in. Educate employers on this too.  That seal really is nothing more than you giving your money annually to be a part of a membership. I always think of my cartoon watching after elementary school and how I wanted so badly to be a member of the kids club. Well, now, that is how childlike the YA feels to me, like a kids club for yoga teachers, and trust me, being a part of a kids club never got me a job. A good education, lots of experience, and good reviews from students and teachers got me the small amount of success I have had in my yoga career, and I am grateful.

Basic Definitions of Educational Earnings

Certificate: Certificate programs usually take months rather than years and are achieved after completing classes and training in a specific area or skill. Certificates are nice if you have a skill already and wish to build on your knowledge.  A certificate is evidence of education.  Think Certificate in Accounting or Certificate in Reiki

Diploma: Diploma programs offer a more in-depth curriculum than a certificate, but they are more along the line of a certificate than a degree and are usually completed in under a year. It cuts time from having to commit to a degree program, but still, you come out with a skill.

Degree:  Associates, Bachelor’s, Master’s are all degrees, and they all take years of study to achieve and are usually focused on a certain area of study and considered advanced education.

Certification: A Certification is an evidence of passing an exam and meeting some type of standard. Despite their similar-sounding names, certifications and certificates are not the same. Awarded by professional associations, companies, and independent organizations, certifications are standardized credentials that are intended to certify someone for work in a particular industry. Certifications may include both education and exam requirements.  Think a CPA.

Note - ***Certifications and licenses both come after certificates and degrees.***

License: To receive a professional license, they are most likely issued through a state government and are individuals working with professions that need to guarantee public safety by taking an exam.

Registry/Registration:  This is tricky. I had to really search to figure out what a registry is in regards to the purpose of this post. I did find this definition:

“As nouns the difference between directory and registry is that directory is a list of names, addresses etc, of specific classes of people or organizations, often in alphabetical order or in some classification while registry is a building in which things are registered or where registers are kept.”  So an official record keeping institution.

Membership: Membership organizations typically have a particular purpose, which involves connecting people together around a particular activity, geographical location, industry, activity, interest, mission, or profession.

Accredited or Accreditation: Accreditation is a recognized means of promoting quality and continuous improvement. It means a lot of people worked hard to set up their program and got it approved by some board that means something to that industry. They might issue a certificate, certification, diploma or degree.

What is a credential: a qualification, achievement, personal quality, or aspect of a person’s background, typically when used to indicate that they are suitable for something. It is giving credit for something you did, usually by a third party. Does this mean much?  Depends on the source, so be careful when you use or hear this word.


What is the Yoga Alliance?

  • Voluntary school and teacher registry
  • Provides a way for the public to find yoga teachers
  • A non-membership organization according to their mission statement, but for some reason, they do refer to their registrants as members in certain places on their website
  • For-profit and non-profit
  • They do not certify or accredit schools, it says it on their website right here: https://www.yogaalliance.org/Become_a_Member/Member_Overview/RYT_Resource_Center/What_Does_It_Mean_To_Be_a_RYT
  • They offer their members perks, like online workshop for free according to their website
  • You cannot use the word therapy when applying for registration for your school, a big reason why I left the yoga alliance: https://www.yogaalliance.org/YogaTherapyPolicy
  • They offer: Yoga Alliance offers three types of yoga profession credentials, which serve as markers of high quality, safe, accessible, and equitable yoga teaching.
  • Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT, E-RYT)
  • Registered Yoga School (RYS)
  • Yoga Alliance Continuing Education Provider (YACEP)

What is the International Association of Yoga Therapy (IAYT)?  Website: https://www.iayt.org/

  • Founded in 1989
  • Website Mission Summary: Champion yoga as a healing art and a science. Supports research and education. Serves as a professional organization for yoga teachers and yoga therapist’s worldwide.
  • What can they offer me?
    • Offers C-IAYT mark or Certified International Association of Yoga Therapist which you need to apply documentation for, do continuing education and take a certification exam.
    • They can offer accreditation for school for comprehensive yoga therapy trainings, these programs allow yoga therapists to apply for certification at IAYT
    • Memberships are available for those wanting to stay involved with IATY and yoga research, or participate in their annual conferences.
  • IAYT has more than 5,000 individual members from 50+ countries, and more than 150 member schools. As of spring 2021, there are also 66 IAYT-accredited yoga therapy training programs

Other certification bodies:

  • World Yoga Federation: https://www.worldyogafederation.org.in/about/contact - found this website interesting, it is international so I could not call, but when you look for the cost of their certification, it comes up to use the donate button and you will get the amount from the office… I think it seems more appropriate to have your pricing listed.
  • The IYF or International Yoga Federation (are you confused yet, I am….) states they are the worldwide governing body of yoga, and yes it would seem they are the same as the International Yoga Registry… just a better website, but I am not quite sure what the benefit is. They seem to have more pre-modern information on yoga and its roots which is attractive, and their prices are affordable, but it is still a membership. https://www.internationalyogafederation.org/index.html
  • Yoga Unify I found when searching for competitors of the yoga alliance, their goal states “Our goal is not to standardize, but to create healthy and sustainable standards within which individuals can truly thrive—the individual lineages, schools, teachers, and students that make yoga the beautifully diverse and universally powerful practice it was meant to be. There’s a lot to be done, but the power is in our capable hands. The Evolution Begins with YU.” I love this “Yet today, a perfect storm rages within the ancient healing art that has become a multi-billion-dollar global industry. This centering practice has become dangerously uncentered—not to mention unregulated, inaccessible, inequitable, and largely unsustainable, both as a collective good and an individual career path. “ https://yogaunify.org/about-yu/
    • They state “Yoga Unify intends to be the trusted source when it comes to choosing a yoga professional to hire or with whom to study.”
    • They have a peer reviewed process that will allow you to qualify for the appropriate qualification designation
    • They offer grants and scholarship opportunities
    • On a personal note, they seem more aligned with my vision of a 15-year yoga professional beyond what the IAYT can offer me. IAYT is my top choice as a yoga therapist and a researcher.  YU seems to honor the rebel in me and is more outspoken about the brokenness in our yoga community.

So, after all of this, what do I need to be cautious of when talking about my certificate? Know you are not accredited, that you do not have a degree or license. A certificate is something that says you took a short period of time to focus on learning something.  It means something, yes, but it is a starting point. So, why are places requiring me to join the Yoga Alliance specifically? – Because it is their belief that the seal means something, and they think it is the certifying body when your school is the certifying body and they should look into them for a seal of approval, or your teaching experience references, not the YA sticker on your studio door. Continue your education. Research. Be curious. Good luck!


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Jennifer Langsdale