Yoga master, or charlatan? Why regulation is a good thing

Yoga has all kinds of known health benefits, and there’s growing evidence it can help to alleviate symptoms in people with chronic conditions such as MS. But if healthcare professionals are to recommend classes as part of a holistic care package, should instructors be vetted to make sure they are helping, not hindering, people?


The process for establishing National Occupational Standards for yoga began today, at a meeting held by Skills Active in London.


I listened attentively, cranking up the volume on my radio as two expert yoga instructors argued the toss on BBC Radio 4’s the Today programme. What would this mean? One party believed it would interfere with the practitioner’s spiritual journey, the other, Paul Fox who is chair of The British Yoga Wheel, argued it is essential to protect the health and wellbeing of the people attending classes.


I stand firmly in the camp of Paul Fox – this can only be good news.


I am fortunate enough to live in Brighton where good instructors are in high supply but in my 13 years practising yoga, I have encountered teaching of varying standards and observed some concerning tendencies. Teachers who are so absorbed in their own practice they barely pay attention to their pupils, who may need help, adjustment or guidance to practice safely. Teachers who fail to ask if pupils are injured, new to yoga, or pregnant. A teacher who, when I failed to achieve the perfect posture, physically forced me into a pose, ignoring my capabilities or limitations that day.


More and more, yoga is being promoted in holistic treatment programmes for people with chronic conditions. Many of the people I speak to who are living with MS practice yoga and have found it has a positive impact on symptoms, such as fatigue, balance or anxiety. When it plays such an important role and has such widespread influence, it seems crazy that a occupational standard for instructors does not exist.


I agree with Paul Fox – it is not enough to attend a four-week ‘yoga teacher training’ retreat and expect to be able to teach safely or well. Yet it is common practice for people to jet off to Thailand and on their return declare themselves qualified in the anatomy and physiology of yoga.


It is great that yoga has grown in popularity in recent years. But out of this trend there has evolved a side to yoga that is fundamentally opposite to the underlying principles of the tradition. Instagram is awash with yogis and yoginis boasting their abilities to perform incredibly complex poses that if done incorrectly can cause serious injury. Yoga is not, and should never be, about showing off. It is not about pushing or forcing the body in any way. These people are not good role models.


Such competitiveness combined with unregulated teaching is a recipe for disaster and threatens to undermine the many benefits of yoga. It is meant to provide escapism from the ego and the active mind and promote sensitivity in listening to the body to experience physical benefits.


The problems are amplified when yoga is being used therapeutically among people who are physically vulnerable. It is imperative they are being taught by instructors who are well qualified, who understand anatomy and can adapt their teaching to the of abilities of the audience.


As someone who has considered, and is still considering, undertaking yoga teacher training, I am delighted the industry is moving towards regulation. Choosing a course will be simpler, and like anything health-related – we need to be able to trust the information and care we are receiving. We need to know when we are contorting our bodies into seemingly inhuman shapes that we are in safe hands and are not going to do more harm than good. And there should be an easy way to determine that this is the case.


Join the debate #regulateyoga


Published on: October 24, 2016