How Yoga Unify is Upleveling the Profession of Yoga
When Ravi Singh and Judy Weaver conceived of the idea of Yoga Unify, they knew it was going to be something that would change the yoga world forever.
It’s fitting that Yoga Unify began to take shape in 2020, when Singh and Weaver brought festival-world veteran Heather Shereé Titus in as organizational director. As the world adapted to the change of the pandemic, Titus joined Singh and Weaver in their efforts to both preserve the tradition and steward the forward evolution of the practice.
Yoga Unify (YU) is an ethics-first non-profit, participatory organization made by yogis, for yogis. YU is upleveling the profession of yoga by providing continuing education support for both teachers and students, and, most importantly, qualifying teachers based on experience and education. Additionally, YU is investing in the community to increase access to yoga services. All YU members have an opportunity to serve on a Governing Council to make decisions that best reflect their community needs, as well as weigh in on organizational priorities and efforts.
We sat down with Singh and Weaver to get a bit more background on how and why they founded the Yoga Unify, and where they hope to see it go. To learn more, watch all three Yoga Unify co-founders at their free panel discussion with the Yoga Teacher Conf.
When you say that you want to up-level the profession of yoga, what exactly do you mean?
Ravi Singh (RS): The essence of yoga is transmission but as yoga has become a cultural mainstay, the transactional aspect of yoga has become pre-eminent. Yoga studios en masse discovered that teacher trainings pay the bills. As a consequence, far too many people have become certified who aren’t necessarily qualified. We need to be more accountable to one another.
Judy Weaver (JW): We’ll do this via competencies, peer review, and eventually acceptance in the medical community for yoga therapists as an allied health professional.
RS: Yes. We are working in three fronts to achieve this: 1) A peer-reviewed qualifications process which is not based on hours spent taking courses but on demonstrable abilities; 2) Commitment to empowering the yoga community by getting a handle on recent scandals, and by putting ethics front and center, including a partnership with the #NotMe app, which will feature a real-time reporting option and diligent follow-up; 3) Community Investment. Yoga Unify will create a win-win by providing opportunities and grants to those teachers steeped in service, who have previously been underpaid and underutilized.
When you were first getting started as a teacher, what’s one thing you wish that you had had access to?
JW: Looking back, it’s not so much that I didn’t have it, as I think it’s important—and that’s mentorship! My senior teacher was a true mentor: teaching, challenging, inspiring, supporting, nurturing, and testing me so I could become the best version of my teacher-self.
RS: Agreed. When I first started out as a teacher in 1975, I wish that I had had access to myself 45 years later! For starters, I would tell myself to take a business course. Yoga Unify is developing a mentorship program whereby newer teachers can get the guidance they need to progress as professional teachers and happy humans.
Why is it important that we better support yoga teachers in the industry?
RS: It’s not easy being a yoga teacher. For most, it’s barely viable. Ironically, yoga teachers teach the medicine most needed to address the massive wave of trauma emanating from current events. By helping yoga teachers become consummate professionals, and by creating the context whereby yoga teachers are given the respect they deserve—as well as the community and logistical support they require—we can ensure that the vocation of yoga teachers becomes truly sustainable.
JW: I’m going to echo Ravi but take it a step further. I have a background in trauma-informed teaching. One of my mentors is a neuro-psychologist who taught me that yoga is the one modality that invites all of the external senses to the party. This unconsciously starts the healing process and is a pathway to post-traumatic growth. The practice of yoga is both a science and an art, and has been proven effective connecting the bodymind. This fosters mental and physical health. More than ever, with the world recovering from the mental and physical effects of the pandemic, supporting this industry is critical to the healing of the citizens of the world.
How has support for yoga teachers changed over the years as the industry has developed?
JW: I think the shift occurred when Time Magazine put Christy Turlington on the cover in 2001. Since then the industry hit mainstream—and hasn’t looked back in either growth or profitability. Prior to Time Magazine the rock-stardom for a yoga teacher was within the lineage or tradition, rarely in mainstream society. Add the advent of social media, and teachers are competing for attention and revenue. Like rapid growth in any industry there are growing pains, and sadly the yoga teacher seems to be the recipient of those growing pains. We see that in a lack of true mentorship and training led by senior teachers, lack of time to hone their craft as they develop their teaching skills, and the need to find their voice without a clear pathway.
RS: In all my years as a yoga teacher, I’ve never had access to any type of organized support. Yoga Alliance was in a position to do that, but they never really got beyond the role of registry. Yoga Unify is about engagement, support, and celebration of the profession by and for each other.
How will Yoga Unify help teachers find best-fit students? How will Yoga Unify help foster a mentorship program between teachers and senior teachers, and teachers–students?
RS: Each Teacher will have a public-facing portfolio so that teachers and students who seek to fill in gaps can locate the best fit for them. Community engagement and cross-pollination across lineages will benefit all of us.
JW: The catalog and our portfolio review will provide students looking for teachers, mentors or adepts, by searching lineage, specialities, specific subjects, locations, virtual or in-person, endless possibilities to seek out qualified teachers.
RS: Yoga Unify will support teachers by helping identify pathways and opportunities for lifelong learning, providing qualifications to identify teachers by education and experience, and, of course, by building an international Course Catalog and Professional Directory. But there’s also the sense of community, and the ability for teachers to serve on Governing Councils and to start chapters. We have created a feedback loop between membership and our advisory board, governing councils, and leadership. There will be referendums, elections, and engagement both ways. Our ability to be of service to the yoga community is assured because we are the yoga community.
JW: Everyone wants to be heard and to make a contribution in their professional world. Having an opportunity to have a voice without being a famous yoga teacher, is empowering, confidence building and community engagement.