Inspired living

A Q&A with Shyamala Benakovic, the CEO for Yoga Australia

A Q&A with Shyamala Benakovic, the CEO for Yoga Australia

Credit: Yoga Australia

Yoga Australia first began in 1999. How did the idea come to life?

Yoga Australia, formally known as the Yoga Teachers Association (YTA), was established out of concern for the safety of yoga classes delivered at the time. Incorporated in 1999, with Jose Goossens as the first president, it had the task of establishing standards for yoga teaching in terms of minimum standards for training and experience. This became the first set of standards for membership of the YTA. The standards were developed by a committee consisting of Leigh Blashki, Pam Fegan and Chitra Stern, and were adopted in late 2000.

What are some of Yoga Australia’s core principles?

Yoga Australia’s primary aim and purpose is to uphold high standards of yoga teaching and training. Upholding and maintaining our standards form the core of our strategy and operations. Our mission is to develop and promote best practice for yoga, to support and represent yoga teachers in Australia, from all traditions and styles, and to educate and inform the general community and professional groups about yoga that is informed by our standards.

Why is it necessary for yoga teachers to be involved with a supporting body like Yoga Australia?

Yoga Australia is the peak professional body for yoga and yoga professionals in Australia. The association advocates for registered yoga teachers and assures the community that they are in safe hands with a Yoga Australia teacher or training provider.

Furthermore, the profession has experienced rapid growth in the past 10 years and with this comes challenges associated with unethical behaviour and business processes. Yoga Australia has clear grievance policies and procedures to support teachers and training providers with challenges in the industry.

It’s important for yoga teachers to be part of the association to ensure that the yoga profession remains professional and that the challenges are addressed efficiently so the profession continues to grow. Yoga plays a big part in the health and wellbeing of Australia; we’re thrilled with it being recognised as such, particularly since the introduction of International Yoga Day in 2015.

What does Yoga Australia provide for yoga teachers? What does it provide for yoga students?

Yoga teachers can enjoy the advocacy and promotion opportunities Yoga Australia provides. We provide a lot of advertising for teachers and support teachers by assisting with the challenges they face as the profession grows. If students are practising with a Yoga Australia registered teacher, they can rest assured they are in safe hands.

How many teachers are registered with Yoga Australia? Is it a requirement of yoga teaching? If so, why? If not, what are the benefits?

We have about 3000 yoga teachers registered with Yoga Australia. The yoga profession is still unregulated in Australia and globally, so there is no legal requirement for yoga teachers to be trained or be part of an association. The value we provide to teachers and the industry is assurance that our teachers are qualified to teach a safe class and able to address specific requirements of students.

When did you first become involved with Yoga Australia? What does your role at Yoga Australia involve?

I became involved with Yoga Australia in 2007 when I started my yoga teacher training. I trained with Leigh Blashki and his faculty of teachers, which included Jose Goossens and Kaye Tribe, the founding members of Yoga Australia. I have been a part of Yoga Australia since then, supporting its vision and mission as the peak body for the yoga profession in Australia.

I am currently the CEO of Yoga Australia and work closely with the management committee of the association to implement its strategic objectives. The management committee of Yoga Australia are all volunteers who give their time and energy to this profession as they believe in the importance of yoga being delivered to the community safely and effectively.

What impact has yoga had in your personal life?

I have practised yoga since childhood and it has brought stability to my decision-making and resilience to face the many changes I have gone through and will go through in my life. It has kept me healthy physically and has given me the mental strength to focus and be clear in everything I do.

What’s next for Yoga Australia?

Yoga Australia is growing and is now recognised internationally. The next step is to be recognised officially as the peak industry body for the profession in Australia. This year we expanded to New Zealand and we hope to support the Asia Pacific region on the not-too-distant future; 2018 will see many changes for Yoga Australia as it moves to a different governance structure, one that will increase its prominence in Australia and globally.

While we have grown substantially since 1999 and gained significant recognition for the work we do, the work of the association is primarily done by volunteers who dedicate a lot of time and energy to ensure the association meets its strategic goals. I’d like to give a sincere thanks to all our volunteers for supporting us.


Kate Duncan

Kate Duncan is the Editor of WellBeing and Deputy Editor of EatWell. She loves surfing, raw desserts, flowing through nourishing yoga sequences and spending time in her garden.