There has been a lot of online kerfuffling (yes, I made that word up), over the seemingly sudden departure of three senior Anusara yoga teachers from the ranks of the Anusara certified. Now, I know very little about Anusara, so I don't really have anything to say about the merit or lack of merit of what these folks are teaching. Nor do I really have any interest in trying to unearth some seedy details that might lead us all to some sort of scandal.
It seems to me only natural that after a certain amount of time and practice, some students will evolve beyond the forms and methods they were given by their teachers. This tends to be encouraged in Zen circles. In fact, most of the old Zen koans are, in part, demonstrations of transcending the roles of student/teacher, and of moving beyond one's training. Entire new schools of practice have developed precisely because someone stepped beyond the bounds, and illuminated spiritual life in a different manner. Hell, Anusara itself is founder John Friend's offering of a different direction, which manifested from the years of practice and teaching he has done.
So instead, this post will focus on the broader issues raised in this comment by John Friend from the following interview, which seems to be making the rounds:
There is a licensing of the Anusara yoga name for teachers who met a certain level of standard in their teaching. The essential reason for any licensing of a tradename is to help maintain integrity and quality control in the marketplace. Anyone taking a class from a certified Anusara yoga teacher anywhere in the world can expect a certain high standard. Because of licensing the name of Anusara over the last 14 years, it has greatly helped to give students confidence in the name on a global level.
The near obsession these days with "standards" is deeply troubling to me. While there have always been teachers and groups who have broken off and formed their own variations on the theme, this focus on standardization, uniform curriculum, and the rest - in part driven by groups like Yoga Alliance, but in greater part driven by what I view as a trend in education towards a focus on maximizing results and measurable outputs above all else. I'm near the end of a 230 hour yoga teacher training program which has been a good experience in many respects, but leaves me seriously questioning whether this kind of model develops anything remotely close to excellent teachers. In some ways, when I look around at my fellow students, I see some people who already are gifted and have honed themselves enough through practice to offer something to others. Others seem barely able to do their own personal practice, let alone teach. And still others simply don't have the skills to teach, even if they might be wise in other ways. Yet, in the end, anyone who finishes will have that certificate and be regarded in higher esteem by the general public, regardless of their abilities and understanding.
Honestly, even if Anusara training is more rigorous than the average teacher training program, I really don't see these kinds of issues disappearing. Simply put, the more teachers and teaching candidates you have around, the harder it is to maintain quality control and integrity. And within a capitalist framework, where there's both implicit and explicit pressure to "produce" - in order to stay afloat financially, but also as a means of demonstrating success - it's likely that methods designed to support quantity of teachers over quality of teachers will be employed. My own studio's teacher training program, which I feel is of fairly good quality, has expanded probably twofold in numbers of candidates over the past few years. And why? Because people really like what they hear from others, and the studio is attracted to the financial stability from all that money the training brings in.
This is all so much different, for the most part, from what it's like in Zen communities. Buddhist teachers tend to be steeped in years of practice before anyone calls them a teacher. Most of them have also spent years studying with the same teacher, or small number of teachers, usually within a larger community of practitioners, at least for some significant stretch of time. And while we have plenty of scandals and our share of mediocre teachers, there seems to be more checks and balances available to, at the very least, support and aid any given teacher's spiritual growth.
In other words, if someone is designated as a Zen teacher and has a connection with a specific teacher lineage, it's reasonable to assume that this person has been practicing for awhile. They have some experience to share, and perhaps some wisdom as well. This is true even for lay teachers and most novice priests in training. You can't just plunk down a few thousand dollars, say you've been practicing Zen for X number of months or years, and after several months or a few years, be suddenly deemed "certified" to teach.
Obviously, a fair amount of this issue in yoga is tied to the muddled nature of what is being marketed as "yoga" these days. Everything from busting a move in a gym to deep level tantric meditation practices can be found under the label yoga, and because of that, there are a plethora of teachers, coming from a plethora of teacher trainings. The whole standards push has been a response to this muddled environment, but to be honest, I think it offers more of a false sense of security and trust than anything else.
Which isn't to say the trainings are worthless - like I've said in other posts, I have learned a lot in my training program. But it's hard for me to imagine what it might be like had I done this 10 years ago, when I was an excited yoga newbie like a few of my classmates. Occasionally, people with little formal experience are just blessed with the ability to plunge in and then offer gifts to others. But for the vast majority, nothing beats experience and practice.