Why and how did the IYN come about? In 2004, a number of independently-minded teacher trainers in the UK decided to get together and offer a creative response to the fitness industry’s ill-informed attempt to define acceptable Yoga training.
It really did seem at the time as though many training schools and individual teachers would be marginalised by a fitness industry, government-backed initiative, to regulate the training of fitness instructors. The main players were Skillsactive (the sector skills council) and its sister body, the Register of Exercise Professionals (REPS) and both of these stated that 'Yoga is within our remit'. To make matters worse, the largest Yoga training organisation in the UK (the BWY) collaborated with the process, shoe-horning its training into the narrow curriculum of fitness instructor training. A shower of polemics in the Yoga press accompanied the whole sorry business to the extent that many Yoga teachers were persuaded that they would be forced to cease teaching in 2008 unless they jumped through the irrelevant hoops set by the fitness industry. This was compounded by all kinds of rumours. The BWY responded by offering a 'top-up' course that would enable teachers from outside the BWY access to REPS. At £800, this was not a cheap option, but quite a few Yoga teachers felt compelled to take it.
At first about a dozen teacher training schools and a handful of teachers got together to counter this move and the IYN was born. The first thing that was necessary was to disseminate accurate information on the situation. Every day, we were being emailed and phoned by Yoga teachers who thought they about to fall foul of the law or at least loose all credibility. Yet, it never actually obtained that the BWY had a monopoly on REPS nor that there was any legal force to the REPS initiative and this needed saying loud and clear.
The young IYN's next move was to establish a register of teachers and training programmes that was sufficiently flexible to accommodate the vast range of approaches to Yoga, yet was rigorous enough to reassure the public and give proper support to teachers. The only way this could be done, so as not simply to reproduce the kind of tyranny of arbitrary standards we were in reaction against, was to base the registration standards on Yoga principles sufficiently universal to accommodate the vast diversity of practices and philosophical underpinnings actually found in Yoga. Further, the proposed register had to be administered by yogis in a disinterested fashion and not by corporate, governmental or sectarian interests. The result was the Yoga Register and soon schools and teachers were registering at a steady rate, grateful to find a natural family.
A direct result was that it became widely accepted that the fitness industry had no moral right or expertise to say who can and who cannot teach Yoga to the extent that today even Skillsactive and REPS themselves accept that this is the case.
The IYN, then, was born out of a political necessity. In the process, a number of highly experienced yogis who would otherwise not have met were brought together. They were vastly different both as characters and in their approach to Yoga. However, all shared the conviction that the essence of Yoga is a profound freedom and that Yoga therefore needed freedom from interference to flourish within our culture to the benefit of society as a whole. As a result a robust culture of debate quickly grew up within the IYN and a great deal of creative energy was released. The IYN was and is evolving beyond its political lobbying, though of course this continues energetically as fresh attempts to control Yoga continually surface.
Now in 2016, there are 50+ registered schools and hundreds of registered teachers, many of them with decades of experience. We are organising our eighth festival. We have organised a number of regional gatherings with more in the pipeline, and the namaskaram e-zine gets tens of thousands of hits every month.
So, thanks are due to SkillsActive, REPS and BWY for helping the tremendous creative vitality at the core of the IYN to come into being!