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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Spence

Dr. Christa Schwind, Vice President of Standards, Yoga Alliance

Updated: Feb 11, 2019

Activism involves putting yourself out there to effect change. Change is hard, even under the best of circumstances. I've recently opened up a line of inquiry into how we, as yoga teachers, can help sherpa the ongoing conversation of the evolving heart of yoga. 

The amount of posturing and arguing on some social media sites seems to me like everyone has an opinion, but I'm not seeing many ask "What can I do?" or "How can I help?" as a way to be an  active participant in the ongoing global evolution of yoga. Instead of debating about how yoga has "changed" and "what is yoga", I decided to reach out to a knowledgeable luminary and find out how yoga teachers can help evolve the heart of yoga.

I was inspired to reach out to Dr. Christa Schwind, Vice President of Standards, Yoga Alliance after I read that she was going to use her academic and professional background to uplift the voices of a wide spectrum of teachers and help elevate and evolve teaching standards. I'm excited to share with you our Q&A. 

Dr. Christa Schwind

Congratulations on your new position Christa. Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got started on your yoga journey? 

Thank you! One of my greatest joys and accomplishments is being mom to two amazing young boys: Luca (7) and Soren (3). Other than #momlife, I hold a PhD in Comparative Religions and am a yoga scholar, practitioner, and teacher. I have a dedicated yoga practice of over 15 years and am an educator of yoga asana, history and philosophy. Before becoming Vice President of Standards at Yoga Alliance, I was a professor of Comparative Religions and Ethics at the University of Colorado and of Wellness Studies at the University of Denver.

I am not only a modern yogi (in almost all definitions of the word) and academic, but to my knowledge am the first person to produce scholarship on the identity of American yoga. I’m pretty proud of that! I also am currently co-authoring a textbook on yoga that will address its multiple histories and definitions as well as the complexities of contemporary practice. I look forward to sharing that with the yoga and academic worlds.

I started studying yoga philosophy and South Asian Religions back in 1999, which is also when I began my personal asana practice. While I was still a student, as many of us can relate, I traded front desk time at a gym with a free membership. That is when I became serious about exploring yoga both from an academic and a deeper personal practice. Over time, I asked myself if anyone was studying this particular moment of culture and yoga and the mix of branding and business and practices and commodification and sincerity, even. I spent the next five or so years writing my dissertation on this topic while also teaching yoga myself. Today I remain part of the academic conversation of yoga as I serve on the steering committee for the American Academy of Religion’s Yoga Theory and Practice group.

I ended up at the Yoga Alliance through a rather serendipitous route as I attended a focus group on the Standards Review Project (which you can read more about at Yoga Alliance Standards Project). I had a discussion with the Yoga Alliance’s Chief Yoga Advancement Officer, Andrew Tanner, which led to me interviewing and accepting the role of Vice President of Standards. I feel very passionately about yoga and being part of Yoga Alliance’s mission to serve our members and elevate the discourse of yoga.

What do you see as the vision for Yoga Alliance? 

Yoga Alliance’s vision is ultimately to see a world engaged in higher levels of human consciousness and with yoga being a vehicle for that achievement. Our role in that quest is to support, educate and advance the schools and teachers within the community through accountability, leadership and service.

How can a Yoga Alliance (Registered) Yoga Teacher (RYT) become involved with helping you fulfill that vision?

RYTs already do so much with respect to contributing to higher consciousness by being students first and foremost, and by sharing their knowledge of yoga with their students. So RYTs – keep up the good work! That said, over the last 18 months, Yoga Alliance has had increased dialogue with our members, and one thing that keeps rising to the top is the idea of building community within the membership. We look forward to facilitating communities that enable yogic networks to address and solve for teacher issues; while also elevating yoga at the local, regional, national and even global levels.

What can we, as teachers, do to help spread that vision to our students and community? 

One of Yoga Alliance’s core values is that of Inquiry. So again, one of the greatest things teachers can do is to approach their personal practice and teaching with the mind of a student first. This includes being aware of conversations happening within the yoga community, such as as anti-harassment, sexual misconduct and teacher-student relationships. We’ll be releasing an updated Scope of Practice and Code of Conduct this year which will address these concepts and help RYTs know what they can and cannot do and even should and should not do as yoga teachers.

Moving forward, Yoga Alliance should continue to be present in and a platform for these critical discussions with our membership so that schools and teachers can share these learnings with their students and communities. For example, something simple like alerting students to the fact that they control if and when they want to receive physical adjustments - and offering a tool like assist chips – is an easy way to start this awareness.

Do you feel fitness and/or body focused asana practice in the West is diminishing the ancient system of living - this whole body way of moving through life - or is it helping bring more people into a yoga class who may eventually learn about all 8 limbs of yoga? And if neither is “a over generalization of the current state of yoga in the West” what is Yoga Alliance doing to steer the future of yoga as we know and practice it? 

The body-focused asana practice that is prevalent in the West is both changing the definitional quality of yoga and also (as you mentioned) providing an opportunity for people to experience and eventually deepen their practice beyond the physical. Because 75% of yogis in the US, for example, have been practicing for less than five years (according to the 2016 Yoga in America Study conducted by Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance), it will be very interesting to see if these beginners will move toward an understanding of all 8 limbs of yoga. It has been my personal experience of being in the yoga field for a long time that people begin with the exercise or body focus of yoga and then the process of mind/body integration that happens naturally awakens a curiosity in them that moves them further down the path of learning. Yoga Alliance is committed to honoring the contextual, historical, and philosophical pasts of yoga while also remaining open to its inherently multiplicitous nature.

Where do you see yoga is the United States in 10 years? Is it moving towards something we recognize as we now practice it today? If not, what do you see it being? 

The popularity of yoga in the last 10 years in the US has grown exponentially, and I see the next 10 years of yoga as continued growth, in the number of new students but also in the depth of understanding of current practitioners. Furthermore, it will be fascinating to see how yogis continue to develop their practices according to the needs and demands of contemporary culture. I think that we will see a practice that is still recognizable but has become even more niched to accommodate special and diverse populations within the realms of healthcare, school systems, body positive movements and prisons to name a few.

Something unique or unusual about yourself that you would like to share about yourself so we can get to know you better? What are you passionate about outside of your yoga life? 

Something unique about myself is that I spent my middle and high school years in London, England. It was an international school that sparked my love of global culture, philosophy and history.

As far as passions outside of yoga, I am a lifelong athlete. I have been, at one time or another, a competitive dancer, a division one soccer player and a sponsored snow boarder. I was even certified by the Royal Windsor Horse Society of Britain in dressage and jumping! I love to move, and I balance my yoga practice, and all the time spent reading, with lots of time in the gym and out in nature.

Visit Yoga Alliance for more about Dr. Christa Schwind or Yoga Alliance.

Namaste, Stephanie

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