Against the “Recent YTT Grad” Stereotype
I want to push back a little against an inaccurate and often cruel stereotype of the 200-hour YTT graduate that’s been gaining steam in Yogaland over the past couple of years.
It frames out like this:
The recent YTT grad (80% likely it’s a “she”) is millennial, hasn’t practiced for long enough to be taking a training to start with, thinks that shapes are the point and has the Insta account to prove it. She got conned by a McStudio into signing up for a watered-down curriculum and is being taught by only slightly older entrepreneurial hacks who needed to run a programme to make their rent. Her knowledge of biomechanics is scant and of yoga philosophy worse. She has no connection to the “sacred”, and believes that yoga is a personal lifestyle choice, indistinguishable from fashion.
The grad waltzes out of her essential-oil-defused graduation ceremony with a meaningless diploma that gives her an unwarranted sense of confidence and entitlement.
I’ve worked in many YTT programmes since 2006 — independent, corporate, small and large — and from what I’ve seen, people ressembling the stereotype are extraordinarily rare.
The vast majority of people I see pass through these trainings leave with a deep sense of humility with regard to what they’ve learned. They know they’ve been fed a lot of data in a compressed time format, and that digesting it is a years-long task. Many leave with more questions than they came with. Far from gloating over that diploma, they side-eye it with a sense of quaintness or doubt.
They know that whether they join trade organizations or not, the unregulated industry offers no formal scaffolding of competency feedback, and that they’ll have to rely on their relationships and their own wits for that. Many have come from other caregiving professions or experiences. They range in age from early 20s to late 60s. Many are not invested in the plan of going out and teaching full time or even part-time after they graduate.
Several programmes I know have reoriented their marketing away from the goal of providing teaching training and towards “practice enrichment” for exactly this reason. They know that more than expressing a career choice, the majority of trainees arrive in programmes at a transitional moment in their lives in an increasingly precariat economy. They are deciding about continuing on to grad school or not. They’ve been juggling service jobs. They’ve been through the stress of early parenting, through cancer, a death in the family, or divorce.
There’s no doubt that commodification flattens and packages education, and that this is particularly painful when the subject is a heritage of self-inquiry. There’s also no doubt that stereotypes can be pieced together from reasonable observations. But the glue that holds this one together seems to be a projective frustration.
I believe the frustration is one effect of a general anxiety in Yogaland over who’s in charge. People hate that no one’s in charge; people hate the idea of anyone being in charge. People want and don’t want a yoga daddy. The entire culture is undergoing a developmental transition.
There’s no real answer for this without either pretending that lineages hold both perfect answers and accountability systems (they certainly don’t), or without advocating for broad regulation (arbitrated by whom?). Both subjects provoke endless discussion.
The stereotype also feels tinged with notes of personal loss and the basic conservative reflex of “Oh, the kids these days…”. In it I hear a positivity-effect memory of halcyon days in which practice was transformational and learning relationships were authentic. “We knew what we were doing back then; now, not so much.”
It often feels like the critic is projecting a mid-career jadedness onto people who may yet make similar discoveries to their own, but years later. The salt of this criticism can blend with the claustrophobia of an increasingly saturated market, plus the realization that MPY always has been fuelled by the performance of youthful prowess. On the manipulative side, it blends with the critic’s own brand, purported to cure all ills.
Narratives of decline are really tempting in the present era. I’ve definitely contributed to a few. But here’s a case in which the details are occluded by time and disappointments. Social media has intensified scrutiny in all areas of Yogaland, and the YTT format is a common target. But it’s good to remember that brands and lineages that pride themselves on having nothing to do with mainstream curricula – because it’s inadequate, too secular, too commodified – have routinely done a poor job with power dynamics, biomechanics knowledge, and accountability.
A YTT can be a bad experience. It can be run by underqualified opportunists or overqualified autocrats. It’s rare that a student will flunk. The YTT as a cultural institution has problems.
But it is also one of those rare environments in which people from many walks of life can improvise a consensual and ritual space where they put everything on the table for examination: bodies, choices, values, beliefs. It’s not a factory for naïveté, as some would claim.
And as awareness of trauma-sensitivity grows, as Roots of Yoga by Mallinson and Singleton makes its way to the top of YTT reading lists where it belongs, as people like Jules Mitchell continue to scrutinize asanas through the evidence, and while debates over cultural appropriation and privilege sensitize everyone to the importance of history and how it plays out in bodies, I believe the integrity of graduates will continue rise — in part as their scope continues to be narrowed.
I can’t prove this, but my gut says that the serious, service-oriented, contemplative folks coming out of these trainings will continue to vastly outnumber whoever it is that stereotype is riffing on.