YogaRose.net Explainer: What does ‘RYT’ after a yoga teacher’s name mean?

I have officially received my 500-hour certificate of completion from the Hilltop Yoga teacher training program and I officially registered that status with Yoga Alliance last week — which means I am officially allowed to use this logo you see here, and I am officially listed accordingly in the Yoga Alliance database of teachers:

But what does that designation even mean? Here’s YogaRose.net Explainer‘s take.

What does it mean when yoga teachers have “RYT®” after their name?  

When you see RYT® after a yoga instructor’s name, it stands, not too surprisingly, for “Registered Yoga Teacher.” RYT is registered by Yoga Alliance, an organization formed in 1999 that describes itself as a “national education and support organization for yoga in the United States.” The organization’s mission statement continues:

We work in the public interest to ensure that there is a thorough understanding of the benefits of yoga, that the teachers of yoga value its history and traditions and that the public can be confident of the quality and consistency of instruction.

There has been so much controversy — yoga drama! — around this designation. I’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s first deal with the straightforward questions.

I’ve seen RYT 200 and RYT 500. What do the numbers refer to?

Yoga Alliance has created a national registry of Registered Yoga Schools (RYS®). These schools have to submit an application demonstrating that their teacher training program adheres to certain guidelines that include the number of contact and non-contact hours with instructors who meet certain faculty requirements. Once approved to train students at the 200- or 500-hour level, they are able to graduate students who, in turn, can register with Yoga Alliance and use the RYT designation.

Instructors can hold certification after 200 hours or 500 hours of a program that includes training in five categories:

Techniques Training & Practice: Includes asana, pranayama, kriyas, chanting, mantra, meditation and other traditional yoga techniques. Hours may include (1) analytical training in how to teach and practice the techniques, and (2) guided practice of the techniques themselves.

Teaching Methodology: Includes principles of demonstration, observation, assisting/correcting, instruction, teaching styles, qualities of a teacher, the student’s process of learning and business aspects of teaching yoga.

Anatomy & Physiology: Includes both human physical anatomy and physiology (bodily systems, organs, etc.) and energy anatomy and physiology (chakras, nadis, etc.). This includes both the study of the subject and application of its principles to yoga practice (benefits, contraindications, healthy movement patterns, etc).

Yoga Philosophy, Lifestyle and Ethics for Yoga Teachers: Includes the study of yoga philosophies, yoga lifestyle and ethics for yoga teachers.

Practicum: Includes practice teaching, receiving feedback, observing others teaching and hearing/giving feedback. Also includes assisting students while someone else is teaching.

By the way, there are other designations as well: E-RYT 200 is someone trained at the 200-hour level but has, in addition to that, taught for two years and taught for 1,000 hours. An E-RYT 500 must have taught for four years after completing the 500-hour certification, and shown 2,000 hours worth of teaching experience. There are also designations for those who teach children’s yoga (RCYT) and prenatal yoga (RPYT). See a table breaking it all down.

Does an instructor need the RYT designation to teach yoga?

Generally speaking, no. Institutions ranging from gyms to schools to dedicated yoga studios offer yoga classes, and they determine who they hire. So individual organizations determine if this designation is necessary. Will that change down the road? As yoga becomes more popular and increasingly mainstream, and as more and more teacher training programs pop up, I have to imagine that competition for teaching spots will start to increase to a point where having this certification is seen as a “yoga resume boost” of some sort.

Specifically speaking, some styles of yoga have their own standards for when a person is allowed to teach. In the Ashtanga yoga system, the Shri K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute based in Mysore, India, has an official list of teachers who have gone through the rigorous process and made the necessary commitments leading to receiving the blessing to teach.

Can American instructors teach Ashtanga without that imprimatur? They certainly do — and I am a good example of this. I have never been to Mysore — not that I wouldn’t love to, but you pretty much have to be a full-time yoga teacher willing to spend months at a time in Mysore over several years to receive this authorization — and unless something drastic changes in my life, I will never be able to get on the track of being “certified” or “authorized” (two different levels granted to teachers by the institute).

Now, should instructors be allowed to teach Ashtanga if they don’t have the official authorization? Many in the Ashtanga community would say that no, someone who is not on the official list should not be teaching. That could be a whole blog post unto itself.

Those studying the Iyengar yoga method have their own set of rigorous standards.

Should someone try to stick to classes taught by instructors with RYT or E-RYT?

Here is where this YogaRose.net Explainer post stops reporting the facts and moves to inserting opinion. Just as some of the smartest people I have known don’t have a college degree — whether it’s due to life circumstances or they were unwilling to jump through academic hoops — some of the most compelling yoga teachers out there would never — ever (ever!) — register. Read why one particularly vocal (to say the least) yoga teacher, Bryan Kest, has argued that “standardization is scary.”

Should you not check out someone’s class just because they don’t have this Yoga Alliance designation? Absolutely not. Should you go to someone’s class just because they do? Absolutely not. You need to find yoga teachers who are steeped in the practice themselves and know their stuff — teachers who have your best interest at heart, who help you progress at your pace, and who communicate in a way that speaks to you (among a host of other factors).

Do I hope or expect more students come to my classes now because I am a registered yoga teacher at the 500-hour level? Again, absolutely not. I hope students come because of how much I truly love and believe in the Ashtanga vinyasa yoga system, how passionate I am about sharing this practice, and how much I try to share, both in the studio and through this blog, what I know (and to say when I don’t know). I hope they come because I try to find out what they are working on, what they need, what they are curious about, and what confuses them, so that we can work through all that together. And if my style isn’t for them, I hope they find a teacher who does fit what they need.

If you feel that way, why did you bother getting the 500-hour certification?

That is a good question. And it requires a long answer. I will try to get to that in a separate blog post. :-)

You promised to tell us about some yoga drama. I’ve already spent a lot of time on this post. Where’s this controversy?

You are right — you have read through a lot of text!  Thanks for bearing with YogaRose.net Explainer.

I’ll first note that everyone I’ve dealt with at Yoga Alliance, and those I’ve interacted with in the burgeoning online community that Yoga Alliance is trying to nurture, have been helpful, supportive and insightful.

That said, I think it is fair to say that Yoga Alliance as an organization is not well-loved in the yoga community.

For an overview on the bad feelings that exist, read YogaDork’s post from earlier this year, “Make Up or Break Up: Yoga Alliance, What Have You Done for Us Lately?” Perhaps one of the biggest issues, which this YogaDork post mentions in passing, is that a contingent in the yoga community at large blames Yoga Alliance for opening up the Pandora’s box of states starting to require yoga studios to register their teacher training programs, which costs studios money and places them on the radar of state regulatory authorities. To understand this aspect of the debate, read this New York Times story from 2009 about the fight over yoga certification in New York:

The conflict started in January when a Virginia official directed regulators from more than a dozen states to an online national registry of schools that teach yoga and, in the words of a Kansas official, earn a ‘handsome income.’

[Hold on! YogaRose.net Explainer feels compelled to insert a commentary on this point: This Kansas official was clearly misinformed. Yoga teachers can be well-paid — those who give private lessons to celebrities, for instance, or those who own their own studios (depends on the demographics of the community and the popularity of the studio, of course). There are yoga teachers who do not own their own studios, but teach full-time and can make a decent living (I should note, however, that they usually do not receive health benefits or other benefits that other full-time workers usually receive). For the most part, I don’t think yoga teachers earn a ‘handsome income.’ Far from it. There are teaching arrangements in which instructors are guaranteed a minimum, such as in this example, or — better yet — a minimum plus but a certain amount (say, $3, per student above a certain number of students). There are also arrangements in which instructors teach a class but — depending on the promotions or coupons the students in the class used to pay for the class — don’t take home any pay. Not a dime. It’s a reality of the system. If this topic piques your interest, glance at this 2010 elephant journal blog post about whether yoga teachers should unionize, based on speculation sparked when highly respected yoga instructor Annie Carpenter left YogaWorks – note that the comments are meatier than the post.]

Until then, only a few states had been aware of the registry and had acted to regulate yoga instruction, though courses in other disciplines like massage therapy have long been subject to oversight.

The registry was created by the Yoga Alliance, a nonprofit group started in 1999 to establish teaching standards in an effort to have the industry regulate itself. In a recent newsletter, the alliance warned its members that nationwide licensing might be inevitable, ‘forcing this ancient tradition to conform to Western business practices.’

‘We made it very, very easy for them to do what they’re doing right now,’ said Leslie Kaminoff, founder of the Breathing Project, a nonprofit yoga center in New York City, who had opposed the formation of the Yoga Alliance. ‘The industry of yoga is a big, juicy target.’

For more on the state certification issues — which I can’t even begin to get into here — start with the It’s All Yoga, Baby blog post from 2010 on “texas hold’em: yoga teachers stand up to govt regulation,” check out another YogaDork post from 2010 on a meeting with Yoga Alliance President John Matthews (scroll down this page to see someone’s pencil drawing of Matthews – seriously?) and read some of the comments in this yoga teacher training forum.

The Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita tell us that the ultimate aim of yoga is to help us reach a state of liberation by realizing that we are all essentially cut from the same cosmic cloth. Clearly, when it comes to the politics of certifying yoga teachers in America, we’re reminded of how very human, and how very of this earth, we all are. It’s OK, though — I’d rather see the spirited discussions than everyone accepting without exception, because it shows that if nothing else, we’re passionate about our yoga practice and our efforts to ensure that those who teach yoga are qualified to do so.

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