I have often received questions about whether one needs to be certified to teach Yin Yoga or not. Here is a recent example of such questions, and my response. I decided to post my reply to this person publicly to help others understand the situation and also to invite comments!
--------- Original email ----------
Bernie, .... I am so glad that my friend lead me to the practice of Yin Yoga and to your website.
I've been volunteering at the local senior citizens center, leading fitness and yoga classes, including Yin Yoga. I hold no certification of any kind -- for fitness instructor, yoga instructor, or specifically Yin Yoga instructor. It occurred to me that there may be certain rules (legal?) that I should follow if I am using the term Yin Yoga in my class. If so, please notify me immediately. I desire to be "certified" and would like advice as to the best way to go about achieving that. Since I am completely new to the entire process of leading fitness and yoga classes, I do not know where to begin. There are teacher trainings at studios and online. There's the Yoga Alliance and other certifying agencies/associations. I am, of course, especially interested in becoming certified in Yin Yoga. Please advise.
--------- Bernie's Reply -----------
I am glad that you are enjoying the yoga journey so much, and sharing it too. Your questions can be broken down into two parts: the first is - what do I need to be able to teach yoga in general, and then what do I need in order to teach Yin Yoga specifically. Let me address these two separately.
1) To teach yoga - you don't "need" anything, at least not legally. Yoga is not a regulated activity. Historically, teachers of yoga were the gurus who taught their students what they learned from their own guru. It was the guru who said to the disciple, "Go! You are now ready to teach others and share what I have taught you." Of course in those days, Yoga was much more than just asana practice (the postures). There was an in-depth exploration of the philosophy and spiritual reasons for the practices as well as instruction on the techniques of physical postures (asanas), breath work (pranayama), meditation and much more. Teachers of yoga were forged in particular lineages and taught what their teachers were taught. Of course there were a few innovators too, who took what they were taught and added to it and created new "styles" of yoga. But even these innovators spent many years at the feet of their own guru.
Today, with the Western emphasis on asana practice much more than the spiritual practice, yoga teachers have proliferated. It is common that a student of yoga, with only a 200 hour teacher training program, and in some cases only a couple of weekends, will set up their shingle (or web site) as a "certified" yoga teacher. What does this certification really mean? It means that a yoga school, or often a single yoga teacher, who conducted the 200 hour training will certify that this particular student has actually attended their course. The certification makes no statement of the quality of the new teacher nor how much experience the student had in yoga prior to taking the training. I know of many new students who had only been practicing yoga for 1 year or even less before completing a 200 hour teacher training program. Others had been doing yoga for 10 years or more and then decided to take the training. Will these two teachers be the same in the quality and depth of their teaching? Probably not, at least originally, but you can't tell simply from the fact that they have a certificate.
In some provinces and states, government bodies are now getting involved in registering and regulating the teacher training programs, but the individual teaching of yoga to students remains unregulated, as it as has always been. It is important to note that the Yoga Alliance does NOT certify anyone or any schools. The YA is a registration body: if you are certified by an accredited teacher or school, the YA will allow you to be listed in their registry. They do not vouch for the quality of the teachers in their registry; they simply acknowledge that this teacher went through a course that promised to meet the standards set for teacher trainings by the YA. The YA does not audit the courses.
My first yoga teacher, from whom I received a 200 hour teacher training certification, was not herself certified. This whole idea of certification is new and very Western. I chose her for her vast experience and knowledge: I could tell from simply being her student that I wanted to know what she knew. I did not rely on someone else to tell me that she was good. So, it is possible to have a great yoga teacher that is not YA registered or certified in any way, but you will have to check her out for yourself, or receive a good recommendation from someone you trust.
Your question pertains to your own situation: are you allowed to teach yoga even if you have not gone through a formal training? The answer is "Yes!" But! How will students know to trust you? If you have no certification, they will have to just experience your teaching or you will have to have references from other students willing to sing your praises. Being a yoga teacher is a competitive business today (and it was not so different in the past) so if you plan to make a living out of it, you will want every marketing edge you can get, including a certification and registration via YA or other teacher directories. In smaller venues, smaller cities, or just teaching friends and family, it is not needed so much.
One area where you could cross legal lines is, if in the practice of teaching yoga, you offer anything that could be considered medical advise. That is a no-no and you could, according to the law, be arrested for practicing medicine without a licence. Be aware that you can not give direct medical diagnoses or advice (unless you are a doctor already.)
2) Okay, so hopefully you understand a bit more about certification as a yoga teacher in general. This should help you understand the situation as it pertains to Yin Yoga in particular. Generally, one would be first certified as a yoga teacher at the 200 hour level and then start to add on other specialities, such as Yin Yoga, to your repertoire. (Otherwise, the Yin Yoga training would have to be much longer in order to cover all the basic training offered in the 200 hour teacher trainings.)
I won't go into the detailed history of the development of Yin Yoga as a separate style of yoga today (note I didn't say "school") but if you are interested, check out the history section in my book The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga
. Certain styles of yoga arose around the middle of last century based on the teaching of one particular teacher. Often these styles were named after that teacher, such as Iyengar or Bikram, while other names were ones chosen by the teacher, such as Kundalini as named by Yogi Bhajan, Ashtanga yoga as named by Pattabhi Jois or Anusara as named by John Friend. To be allowed to teach in these styles you did require permission of the root teacher: this could come in various forms - for example, you may be "authorized by Pattabhi Jois" to teach Ashtanga, but this is not as good as being "certified" by PJ. A little lower in credibility would be certification by one of PJ's own students, which is good, but not as good as being certified by PJ himself. John Friend offers terms like "Anusara Inspired" as a more junior level (for lack of a better word) of Anusara teaching and "Certified" as a more senior teacher in his style.
Interested readers may check out my article Who owns Yin Yoga?
but in brief, Yin Yoga evolved out several styles: Paul Grilley learned several forms of Hatha Yoga before he was introduced to the style that Paulie Zink was practicing and teaching, what Paulie called "Daoist yoga." Paulie's yoga had both yin and yang elements to it, but Paul extracted the yin teaching and added it to his own (Paul never taught Paulie's full yin and yang style.) Eventually Paul called the quiet, floor based yoga he offered "Yin Yoga" - it was offered in a way that was different than how Paulie offered it. What Paul and his good friend, fellow teacher and student Sarah Powers were offering to their students became known as Yin Yoga. Paul was often asked if a teacher needed to be certified to offer Yin Yoga and here is what he had to say about this
...you do not need a certificate to teach "yin" yoga. Yin is an adjective, not a noun. If you believe the style you teach is best described as "yin" you do not need my permission to call it that. I make no claim to have invented this type of practice, I learned this style from Paulie Zink but if you read yoga books published before the 1970s the descriptions of the poses are what we would call a "yin" style.
Sooner or later everyone finds a yin and a yang in their own pratice. This is inevitable because all things have a yin and a yang aspect, yoga is no exception. I have met many, many students and teachers who have confided that they have "Always practiced yoga this way - at home - when no one was looking - but I didn't have a name for it."
So, as you can see, there was no certifying body for Yin Yoga. Yin Yoga in various forms has been around for centuries. There are trainings that you can attend that will certify you - but again, like with any yoga certification, this basically means that you have passed the course. I offer Yin Yoga teacher trainings, as do many others, but I only certify that you successfully completed my course.
A couple of years ago Paulie Zink created the Yin Yoga Institute
and he does offer certification in Yin Yoga teaching. Paulie taught Paul and certainly has a wonderful breadth of knowledge in this area. What Paulie will train you in is both the yin and yang aspects of his complete Daoist yoga (which today he is calling "Yin and Yang Yoga"), which he learned from his own teacher. Note, however, the practice that Paulie teaches is not identical to what Paul, Sarah or I (and many others) offer. It is a different kind of Yin Yoga: it has the same roots but Paul and Sarah added to what Paulie taught, just as Paulie added to what his teacher taught him.
If you want to be certified in the particular style of yoga taught by Paulie Zink, you must be taught by him (in the same way originally that you could only be certified as an Iyengar teacher by being taught by Iyengar.) Paulie has not authorized anyone else to certify teachers in his style. There is some confusion however because the term Yin Yoga is used to describe different styles of yoga. Paulie's Yin Yoga is not identical with Paul's. If you want to be certified in the style of yoga taught by Paul Grilley or Sarah Powers, you are out of luck! There is no certifying body for this form of Yin Yoga - but, you can certainly be trained
in this style and you can have a certificate showing that you completed that training.
I hope this clarifies the situation, but if things are muddier than ever, feel free to ask for more details.