The rat race to standardize yoga

The gloves are off in the clash between US-based Yoga Alliance and India’s Yoga Certification Board. But that’s only half the story.

Yogi Chetan Mahesh, birth name Mahesh Chand, has plenty to say about the rot in Rishikesh. When he speaks, with a thick Haryanvi accent, words scurry as if relieved to have found an outlet.

Mahesh is founder-director of the AYM School of Yoga in Tapovan district. If Rishikesh, in the state of Uttarakhand, is the yoga capital of the world, then Tapovan is its town square. It’s home to Chaurasi Kutiya, known to the world as “the Beatles ashram”. Tapovan was never ready for the mountainous change that came after 1968, the year The Beatles, Mia Farrow and a horde of American cultural cognoscenti descended on the tiny mountain village. Even Chaurasi Kutiya would never be the same. Now derelict, but dotted with striking murals, it looks on as Rishikesh is overrun by yogashalas, gurus, tourists and charlatans.

Charlatans are everywhere, but in Rishikesh, Mahesh says, they have an invisible, yet powerful enabler. This enabler has turned yoga into a cottage industry for teacher training.

The enabler, and dispenser of these credentials is Yoga Alliance or YA, an American non-profit based in Arlington, Virginia. Yogi Chetan Mahesh is himself a YA-accredited teacher. His AYM School of Yoga is credentialled by the group. Which means that in criticizing the Alliance, he’s biting the very hand that feeds him.

But, Mahesh says, he never wanted YA’s stamp of approval as much as he needed it.

“No one likes that the goras (whites) are doing yoga accreditation, but it’s the only way to survive here,” he explains. “People specifically ask for YA-registered schools so they can complete their hours, go back home, register as an RYT or set up an RYS, and continue the cycle.”

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