Virginia Yoga Teachers Margaret Townsend, owner of River’s Edge Yoga, and I (Susan Van Nuys) had lunch about two weeks ago with John Matthews, the new president of the Yoga Alliance. I was impressed with him and his plans to reshape the Yoga Alliance into an organization that better serves its members. He sent us the letter below to share with the Virginia Yoga community.
Dear Susan and Margaret, Many thanks to both of you for spending time with me to help me understand the Virginia yoga community, and the events of the past two years. I want to let you know about changes we are making at Yoga Alliance and to respond, for the record, to what you told me about your experiences with Yoga Alliance staff in the recent past…. First, let me say that I am personally appalled that actions and statements by YA staff (now former staff) were so much at odds with the sentiments and values of the YA board of directors, and indeed, with the adopted policy position of the organization relating to state regulation of yoga schools, studios, and teachers. Our position is that state regulation is unnecessary because we self-regulate through peer-driven standards setting and that, although there are states where regulation or licensure seems to be working in ways that are acceptable to schools and teachers in those states, most regulatory schemes impose an alarming burden on schools and that this burden falls disproportionately on small scale schools. We believe there needs to be a diversity of scale and approach within the community of schools and we have a well founded fear that regulatory regimes that are designed with large scale establishments in mind (and often industrial training facilities in mind) will, whether intended or not, force small scale operations to make choices that are not good for themselves, their students, and the learning and practicing public. I do want to be clear that YA does not espouse the libertarian view that states should not regulate businesses within their borders. That is an argument for an organization with a different mission than ours and we simply do not have a position on that. We simply say that regulation should do more good than harm. Our mission is, in essence, to help make certain that there is more yoga, more places, more often, and that yoga remain connected to its traditional origins. We worry that state regulation, by and large, is an impediment to that. We believe that YA?s approach when consulted by members of the yoga community in any state should be to:
- Serve as a resource to our registrants and the larger community at the state level to lift organizing and capacity building burdens from them so that they can focus more on dealing with emerging issues such as this.
- Provide technical assistance and support in specific areas such as legislative advocacy and public policy development.
- Provide credible expert witnesses, when asked, to testify to or before legislative committees and to speak to regulatory bodies on behalf of the yoga community in that state.
- Consult with the state community to see where else we can be helpful.
- And to otherwise stay out of the way.
I also appreciate your thoughtful (and, under the circumstances, most collegial) suggestions for improving our ability to better serve our community. Here are some things I have begun implementing since I came on board March 22:
- We are installing software that will completely automate the registration system. we have always done everything by hand and on paper and that will change sometime next month when the new system goes live. This will include an online application, renewal, and payment capability.
- We have replaced the badly deranged telephone system and fixed the computers. As we transition to our new registration system we still have some lapses in handling calls and emails but soon we will have a dedicated response team of educated and motivated registered yoga teachers answering calls and emails.
- Most of our staff are now registered yoga teachers.
- We are re-coding and stabilizing our website, and replacing all of the content with text that is much easier to read and understand. We are replacing our database and search features. This will go live in August.
- We are moving to a much more engaged posture towards our registrants and the larger yoga community. Because, unfortunately, YA has acquired a reputation for making promises we do not keep, my approach will be to announce things only when I am certain that they are real, or wait and announce them when we put them in place. This, and the fact that our website is under construction and difficult to update, has meant that not much has come out of YA these last many weeks. That will change next month with the renovated website, where we will have some good news on there as well as a closely monitored feedback feature.
- As you can imagine, the question I am asked most frequently is, ?Why am I sending YA my money?? For now I fall back on an economic case for the registration mark, but what I want (and need) to be able to say is that you register with YA because you know that we are doing important things for the yoga community, things that you believe in and support ? because we are you and you are us. That?s what I want to be able to say and have you agree with it ? and that is what I am working very hard to achieve.
I hope you will continue to keep our lines of communication open and that you will be willing to help me make Yoga Alliance what it can and ought to be. Respectfully, John Matthews
RESPONSE: As I re-read this letter, YA has switched positions completely. Facts are facts, Yoga Alliance told New York yoga practitioners and studio owners to not fight the inevitable regulation. There is no way of knowing who said what, and if the applicant processor’s (the YA workers) intentions were aligned with the YA board or not.Yoga Alliance say’s they have the courage to change, I just hope they can live up to what they promise. However from Mr. Matthew’s fifth point, his silence does not absolve the past, nor for that matter, future intentions, it only prolongs the response. Correct me if I am wrong, but the silence is not that different from their previous stance in the past either… Communication between YA, teachers and studios has been the problem. YA doesn’t understand that studios and teachers entrusted them to serve yoga on their (the registrants) behalf…. and they repeatedly didn’t… while literally 1000’s of people asked for their help. Corporations and NP‘s are often silent until they are forced to make a stance. Actions speak louder than words. Blaming 6 or 7 employees who were entrusted with the entire list of 45,000 Yoga Alliance registrants, is ludicrous. They are placing the responsibility on the past employees because they got rid of everyone. I will give them the necessary space they need to mend ways, but that isn’t going to stop me from finishing what I started because of their negligence. If they become a more human Yoga Alliance and realize they need to serve the teachers and studios better than they have been, then great. Good for them! But if not, then the practitioners of yoga will have to ask themselves, “How long do we hold our breath to reach liberation?” No more marketing, no more empty promises. Deliver or disband. post hoc ergo propter hoc