I recently interviewed President & CEO of Yoga Alliance, Richard Karpel, about his first year with YA, the future of the organization, and their upcoming conference on The Business of Yoga.
Q: You became the president and CEO of Yoga Alliance in July of 2012. Can you give us an idea of what you believed were the strong points of Yoga Alliance at that time, and also what was lacking?
A: The strong points:
- A credentialing system that has become an essential requirement for non-rock-star yoga teachers and teacher-training programs that want to maintain credibility and remain competitive
- A huge community of almost 40,000 actively registered yoga teachers and 2,600 yoga schools, many of whom were eager to find a way to participate in the organization
- A strong financial position
- An incredibly talented and dedicated staff
The weak points:
- Infrequent, ineffective communications and a lack of transparency
- A less-than-stellar reputation in the yoga community (see #1)
- A lack of programs and services for registrants
- Lengthy waits for registration and upgrade applications
- Little connection to yoga studios
A: It’s been wonderful. This is the most fun I have ever had at work!
The biggest challenge has been dealing with legacy issues (e.g., bad/no data, crippling database software, terrible phone system, inefficient processes, internal and external confusion over our standards, etc.) while working to build a foundation for the next generation Yoga Alliance.
Q: Are you a yoga practitioner and/or certified teacher yourself? (if not a certified yoga teacher, do you find that relating to the problems or concerns of other teachers is challenging being that you do not experience these issues yourself?)
I’m a practitioner but not a teacher.
I don’t think that relating to the problems or concerns of yoga teachers is challenging, because I can learn about those issues by talking to teachers and because about half of our staff are RYTs.
Q: In the YA’s 2012 financial report you stated that “YA had an extraordinarily successful year. Now it’s time to convert that financial success into programs, services, and benefits for yoga teachers, schools & studios, which we are working hard to do.” Tell us how you & your team are working to make these changes. What is your response to the yoga teachers out there who still believe that the YA is not providing enough bang for their buck?
A: I would tell them that we have launched the following new programs and services since January:
• Monthly complimentary online workshops for active RYTs
• Liability insurance program for yoga teachers and studios offering competitive rates and coverages
• Discounts on the products in which our community has expressed the most interest: rental cars, yoga apparel and products, computers, legal services, online yoga and anatomy training, cell phone services and hotel rooms
• Bi-weekly email newsletter
• Local Community Initiative, designed to help yoga teachers develop local community groups under the Yoga Alliance umbrella
• Collaboration with Off the Mat, Into the World to develop a leadership program for yoga teachers
In addition, we have formed committees to oversee the delivery of programs and services in the areas of Standards, Schools and Studios, and Member Benefits.
Finally, we intervened on behalf of the yoga community in an important case in Encinitas, Calif., in which yoga in public schools is under threat, and I wrote a column in support of yoga in schools in USA Today.
If that didn’t impress them, I would tell them to hang on because there’s a lot more coming!
Q: In an open response published on Elephant Journal in August of 2012 you stated that in your interview for the position of president & CEO you were asked to make a presentation on what you could do to enhance the credibility of the YA registry. Can you tell us some of the ideas you shared during that presentation, and which of those ideas are you working to make a reality? Are there any ideas you presented that you feel strongly about that have not come to fruition yet?
A: A few of the ideas were no-brainers.
I said that Yoga Alliance should be more transparent about where the registry standards came from and about the continuing process of standards development. We created a Standards Committee and have reported thoroughly on their activities, and we’re working on a history of the development of Yoga Alliance standards (which is more difficult to compile than you would think!). So I feel good about our progress on that front.
I suggested that Yoga Alliance has to do a better job of explaining clearly what its standards are. When I was preparing the presentation, I read about the standards on the YA website, and for the most part I couldn’t make heads or tails about what they were. We have made some progress in this area, simply by enhancing our website and providing more information. But we have a long way to go. First of all, there are many areas where the standards are inherently unclear, and providing more information isn’t going to solve that problem. Untangling many of these issues is a very difficult process that our Standards Committee and credentialing staff are presently working through. Second, standards clarity won’t be achieved simply by putting more words on paper or on a web page. We need to develop clear processes and procedures, and to incorporate them into an online user interface that makes it easy for registrants to understand the rules and what’s expected of them. This is very difficult work, but by the end of the year I know that we will have made substantial progress in this area.
Some of the other ideas I covered were based on traditional credentialing concepts, i.e., developing a certification and/or accreditation programs, which are more rigorous than a registry. However, those are significantly more expensive for users than a registry, would take a minimum of at least two or three years to develop, and ultimately may not work in the context of yoga because they may be too rigid for a practice that is so diverse. So we are looking at non-traditional credentialing solutions that would add rigor while protecting diversity, and would be less expensive and have a faster time-to-market. We will have more to say about these programs in the coming months.
Q: When we polled our readers back in march, many agreed that while standards and accreditation are important, the YA standards need to be set higher, and also regulated in some way. What methods of curriculum oversight does Yoga Alliance employ and how can it be improved upon?
A: I hope I answered most of this question above, but let me just add one point: Our curriculum oversight at this point takes place primarily at the point of application, i.e., when a yoga school or teacher applies to register with us. And there’s little follow-up. We’re working towards a model of continuous oversight. Again, we will have more to share about our plans over the course of this summer and fall.
Q: Community is important for yoga teachers to be able to learn, network and get support from one another. How does the YA provide a place for yoga teachers to come together?
At present, we’re working towards creating both national and local Yoga Alliance communities. Our board of directors, volunteer committees, and the members who attend our annual conference represent the national community. We will develop the local YA communities through our Local Community Initiative. The Off the Mat, Into the World collaboration is designed to help yoga teachers develop the leadership skills necessary to build local Yoga Alliance communities in their areas.
I should also mention here that we have several thousand international RYTs – including about 2,000 in Canada alone – and we’re excited about the prospect of eventually providing them with programs and services and helping them form national and local Yoga Alliance communities as well. However, we have limited bandwidth and resources and for the foreseeable future will need to focus our efforts domestically.
Q: One thing that is difficult for yoga teachers to come by but is of the utmost importance is health insurance, for themselves and their families. Does the YA offer any help to registered teachers in this area?
A: Yes. In fact, we announced late last month that we have endorsed Association Health Programs to provide a health insurance program for our members. AHP is a national insurance brokerage firm that has experience working with over 250 membership associations like Yoga Alliance to provide insurance with significant advantages and savings. In addition to health insurance, the AHP program offers a wide range of coverage areas, including health, dental, vision, alternative care benefits, life, short-term disability and long-term care. We conducted a rigorous review process that included proposals from a dozen insurance companies and agents and we selected AHP because it offered the best, most comprehensive program that we evaluated.
A: They can expect to spend two-and-half-days learning how to build a sustainable business teaching yoga. They can also expect to spend time networking with their peers and establishing relationships with other yoga teachers who have similar interests and concerns.
There will be separate tracks for studio owners and independent teachers. Topics will include how to thrive as a full-time yoga teacher; using social media effectively; increasing audience and income through videos; the ins and outs of profitable private teaching; legal issues for yoga teachers; and understanding the opportunities available in the yoga market.
Presenters include Suzanne Sterling of Off the Mat, Into the World; Tom Gardner of The Motley Fool; Phil Swain, president of YogaWorks; Rolf Gates of Meditations on the Mat; Felicia Tomasko of LA Yoga; Beth Shaw of YogaFit; and Julia Kadarusman of Wanderlust.
We’ll also have a preview of this fall’s Smithsonian exhibit on the art of yoga; an active yoga marketplace featuring various yoga products and services; asana practices and meditations in the mornings and afternoons; and healthy breakfasts and lunches as part of the registration package. And it will all be held two blocks from the White House.
Q: What direction do you see the YA moving in over the next few years?
A: We’ll be adding rigor to our credentialing system; providing education, benefits and services to yoga teachers and studios; driving traffic to RYTs, teacher-training programs and studios through a world-class website that will debut later this year; developing thriving yoga communities at both the national and local levels; and proudly representing the yoga community to the government and the media.
And we’ll be doing it all while maintaining our core values of service, transparency and learning.