Standards for Yoga Therapists: Progress to Date
by John Kepner Director, IAYT
Last Revised: April 21, 2004
In the 2003 issue of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) published "Illustrative Standards for Yoga Therapists" as an appendix to a rather technical article I wrote entitled "Alternative Billing Codes and Yoga: Practical Issues and Strategic Consideration for Determining 'What is Yoga Therapy?' and 'Who is a Yoga Therapist?'" The purpose of the illustrative standards is to encourage thoughtful dialogue on the subject, articulate principles, establish a goal of "high" standards, and begin to bring together those interested in this difficult, time-consuming, and diplomatically challenging task. The purpose is not to license Yoga therapists or to solicit insurance coverage for Yoga therapy.
Over the past few months, IAYT has engaged in extensive planning on the subject, trying to be clear about our vision, goals, objectives, principles, rationale, and concerns before starting the necessary broadly representative process. We have been greatly helped by two hard-working, conscientious, and experienced members of the Yoga Alliance board, Hansa Knox, President, and Veronica Zador, Chair, Application Committee and School Review. Their help and counsel have been invaluable. The history and mission of IAYT and the Yoga Alliance are much different, but we are working together on this complementary project. Our objective and process for developing standards for Yoga therapists are somewhat different than the original Yoga Alliance effort to develop standards for Yoga teachers, but our common goals are beneficial outcomes for 1) individuals seeking Yoga therapists, 2) practicing Yoga therapists, 3) programs training Yoga therapists, and 4) the missions of both the Yoga Alliance and IAYT.
The term "therapist" implies a higher level of training and responsibility than the term "teacher," at least in the contemporary usage of these terms. Our focus is thus on higher and more stringent standards of education, training, and experience for Yoga therapists than are reflected in the standards developed by the Yoga Alliance for Yoga teachers. Two of our objectives are acceptance of these standards by well-experienced Yoga practitioners and credibility with integrative health care practitioners.
While IAYT has long had concerns about the entry-level standards for Yoga teachers developed by the Yoga Alliance, we view our process not as an alternative but rather a complementary and evolutionary effort. The Illustrative Standards for Yoga therapists, for example, uses the Yoga Alliance Registered Yoga Teacher standards at the 500-hour level as a reasonable, pragmatic quantification of a well-trained Yoga teacher (subject, however, like standards in all professions, to ongoing refinement).
Since Yoga therapy is much less widespread and established than Yoga teaching, we also believe there is more latitude to work with a smaller group of leading Yoga teachers, therapists, and educators to develop these standards, while still remaining broadly representative and respectful of different approaches.
We have much to do before we enter into a more extended dialogue with the Yoga therapist community. So far, however, we have developed the following twin principles:
- Yoga therapy is first and foremost yoga-a long-established holistic discipline that acknowledges the multidimensional nature of the human being.
- A yoga therapist is a well-trained and experienced yoga teacher with substantial additional training in therapeutic applications and other supporting skills.
Similar Efforts among CAM Disciplines and across the Globe
We are not alone in this endeavor. This effort is consistent with the worldwide movement by complementary and alternative therapies to develop their own standards of practice. Such work always requires finding a delicate and challenging balance among many competing economic interests and philosophical perspectives. In general, governments and regulatory authorities are encouraging the disciplines themselves to develop their own standards. In the United States, for example, see the final report of the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy at www.whccamp.hhs.gov/finalreport.html (editor's note: John Kepner provided a review of this report, with an emphasis on Yoga, in the May 2002 issue of Yoga Studies newsletter).
With encouragement from the U.K. government, Yoga therapists in Great Britain have begun a similar effort via the Yoga Therapy Forum. See www.yogatherapyforum.org.uk and the summary of this process posted in this section of our website, "Yoga Therapy in the United Kingdom," by Tim Naylor, Ph.D., Coordinator, British Council for Yoga Therapy.
There is also a movement in Germany to raise standards for Yoga teachers and therapists. See "Yoga and Yoga Therapy in Germany Today" by Daya Mullins, Ph.D., M.S.C., President of the Weg der Mitte Health Foundation (WdM) and its European College for Yoga and Therapy (ECYT).
Yoga Therapy and Yoga
We do not wish to appear myopic in focusing this consideration of Yoga therapy on its health care dimension. Yoga is fundamentally a spiritual discipline and a liberation philosophy, hence our insistence that Yoga therapists be Yoga teachers first. Still, yoga-cikitsa (Yoga therapy) has long been a part of the Yoga tradition. Intelligent practice will provide many wellness and therapeutic benefits regardless of a student's interest in the classical foundations of Yoga. Sometimes Yoga therapy is "just" back care, and sometimes it is a complement or a portal to something more. Indeed, suffering, such as that invoked by a health crisis, has been a catalyst for spiritual awakening since the dawn of human consciousness. We therefore have a broad, classical perspective on the scope of Yoga therapy for addressing the root causes of suffering as well as providing a launching pad for spiritual growth.