Should yoga instructors have formal qualifications?

There are currently no official qualifications required to become a yoga instructor in the UK and there is a debate about whether or not regulation is needed to protect the public from incompetent teachers. The sector skills council for active leisure, learning and wellbeing, SkillsActive, is consulting over the next twelve months about creating a national occupational standard (NOS) to set a sector-wide minimum for yoga teaching in the UK. The initiative is backed by British Wheel of Yoga (BWY), the National Governing Body for yoga recognised by Sport England: BWY’s own Certificate and Diploma in Teaching Yoga and Diploma in Teaching Yoga are Ofqual-regulated courses at Level 4 of the National Qualifications Framework.

The intention of the consultation, says SkillsActive, is:

  • to underpin industry needs in the development of new and existing yoga qualifications;
  •  to provide a framework for writing standardised and professional job descriptions; and
  • to facilitate workforce development planning and the creation of personal and organisational development plans.

There does, however, seem to be a problem here: there appears to be no totally agreed and accepted definition as to the nature and practice of yoga. Those who practise it range from people who do yoga exercises in order to keep fit to those for whom it is a religious exercise (and, presumably, all stations in between). Critics of the proposal point out that yoga practice has always played a role – to a greater or lesser extent – in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism and suggest that the consultation is, in effect, redefining yoga as a sport. The Times (£) reported Swami Ambikananda, a Hindu monk and chairwoman of the Traditional Yoga Association, as suggesting that there was no evidence that poorly-trained yoga teachers were causing physical harm to devotees. Moreover:

“We are not insensitive to people’s safety but yoga is a 7,000-year-old religion and a quasi-governmental organisation cannot regulate a religion. Attempts to do so are the height of hubris.”

It is a difficult issue. The majority of people who attend yoga classes probably see it as simply a healthy and beneficial physical exercise; and it is not too difficult to envisage circumstances in which incompetent supervision might result in the kind of physical injury that one might get from playing sport. But there is certainly a tenable argument that the proposal for regulation shades into the area of regulating religion.

So would regulation be prescribed by law, necessary in a democratic society and proportionate to the aim pursued? We merely pose the question, without any clue whatsoever as to the answer.

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Should yoga instructors have formal qualifications?" in Law & Religion UK, 27 October 2016,

8 thoughts on “Should yoga instructors have formal qualifications?

  1. Same discussion would probably apply to Tai Chi of which there are many variants. Most of us who do it, do it for the exercise and improvement to health. But it is associated with religion/philosophy (Daoism/Buddhism).

    I can see that incompetent teachers might allow students to damage themselves. In my case, I am comfortable with the tutors and the training they undergo and if I weren’t I would drop out. Maybe that’s all we need. But in today’s society?

  2. Yoga should be avoided completely by Christians as it has an alien spiritual basis which will cause significant deleterious spiritual side effects if Yoga is practiced. A quick search along the lines of ‘yoga christian warning’ will return lots of useful supporting material.

  3. Surely Yoga is a spiritual and physical discipline combined. Therefore, by participating in it, you are subscribing to the ethos (religious or non-religious) behind it. Whether or not is can be recognised as a sport is a mute question, but surely like other non-recognised health workers (so called complementary therapy) there should be a professional body to set standards.

    For example, I go to a private Osteopath for an ongoing physical disability of permanently prolapsed discs. Physiotherapy caused more damage to my back, as their attention was more towards joints and soft tissues, rather than skeletal defects. I chose a complementary therapy, because I knew others my Osteopath was treating for similar incapacity – and found her totally professional. She has been on a four year University course, which provided both theoretical and practical training before she was licensed to practice. 8 years down the line, her care and periodic top ups, has permitted me to be virtually asymptomatic. The NHS could only offer an operation with no guarantee of success, and with a possibility of even further damage to the discs.

    Given that Yoga requires various exercises that have the potential to harm, there should be similar professional standards and licensing from a National Body for the practice, which will also allow insurers to provide cover on the basis of a recognised level of competence, rather than the disorganised free for all that exists in the sport/pasttime at the moment.

  4. Participating in yoga can be both beneficial to one’s health and has some spiritual ethos backing it up as well. I think there should be some kind of standards and licence for the practice.

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