Yoga Therapy in
Leigh Blashki, M.H.Sc.
Brief Background on Yoga in
As is the case for many Western countries, there is uncertainty about an exact
date that Yoga commenced in
. One could wax philosophical and suggest that some of the psychospiritual
practices that formed part of the culture of the Australian indigenous people
for thousands of years accord with the goals of Yoga. In terms of what we
usually regard today as Hatha-Yoga, however, the most commonly agreed
were in the 1950s. Michael Volin (my first teacher) established the
in 1950, Margrit Segesman began teaching Yoga part-time from her home in 1953
and then opened the Gita School of Yoga in 1954, and Roma Blair opened Roma
Blair’s Yoga Club in the city center in 1956. Each began by teaching
small numbers of students who were brave enough to explore this strange
activity radiating Indian mysticism and bending bodies in hitherto unfamiliar
By the mid 1960s, the more “hip” members of middle class
added Yoga, in both its physical and meditative forms, to their list of
activities to explore. They were propelled by images of leotarded, svelte women
on television and the explorations into mysticism by popular music and arts
personalities. And, yes, I was at the tail end of this “wave” of
By the time this initial wave of popularity had plateaued in the early 1970s,
Yoga had become firmly established in a number of relatively small yet
dedicated schools, most of which continue today, albeit greatly expanded. In
the late 1970s a number of Yoga luminaries traveled to
, a precursor to what was to become Yoga’s second major wave of
popularity in the early 1980s. These figures included Swami Satchidananda,
Swami Satyananda, and Baba Muktananda, to name just a few. It was in the 1980s
that I believe Yoga started truly maturing in
. Teachers who had come to Yoga in the first wave (such as myself and my
contemporaries) had started deepening their understandings through their years
of practice and had established some solid foundations for Yoga students, both
new and experienced.
By the time the third wave arrived in the mid to late 1990s, the solid
foundations that had been established in previous years allowed the Australian
Yoga community to take the surge in interest in stride. For the most part, the
community was able to resist the flamboyance and gratuitousness of the
“flavor of the month” approach that tended to characterize Yoga in
most Western countries. Instead, seekers/students were offered a Yoga rich in
tradition, yet grounded in practicality in accord with contemporary needs.
Today, as the crest of the third wave has just passed, Yoga has become an
indelible part of Australian life, and it sits comfortably and firmly among the
other systems of physical, emotional, psychological, social, and spiritual
well-being that form part of the day-to-day culture.
Brief Background on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) in
Contrary to popular belief, the practice of CAM in
was not the product of the “awareness” boom of the 1960s and 1970s.
Like many previously colonial, multicultural societies,
developed dedicated pockets of CAM practice from the early days of its
settlement by the British, by the Asians at the time of the gold rush in the
mid 1800s, and throughout the 20th century by immigrants from Europe, the
, and most other parts of the world.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has been practiced alongside Western
allopathic medicine for 150 years, while homoeopathy has been part of the
Australian scene for more than a century.
In the late 1990s, a goods and services tax (GST) was announced and was
introduced in 2001. Recognized systems of medicine were to be exempt from this
tax, and this move provided the momentum for a quantum leap in the
professionalism of systems of
. At that time the Victorian Department of Human Services conducted a review of
various systems of
and created a list of modalities that it regarded as bona fide systems. Also
created was a supplementary list of modalities that were not regarded as
systems at the time, but which warranted further consideration at a later date.
Systems such as TCM, Ayurveda, and Western herbal medicine were among those that
made the “A” list, while Yoga, Feldenkrais, and a number of other
modalities were placed on the “B” list.
In the year 2000, over 50% of the Australian population used a complementary
health practitioner on a regular basis, and it is my belief that this
percentage has increased since then.
Overview of the Australian
Concurrent with the establishment of the “A” list in preparation for
GST exemption, the Australian National Training Authority (ANTA)the body
responsible for establishing standards of practice and training in vocations
that do not fall under the umbrella of the University sectorestablished
an Industry Reference Group (IRG) to advise on and develop a set of national
competency standards for CAM. It was my honor to serve the Ayurvedic community
as their delegate to this group. ANTA governs all nationally
recognized/accredited training in
and endorses qualifications in accord with the Australian Qualifications
Framework (AQF). There are 10 AQF levels from Certificate I to Certificate IV,
Diploma and Advanced Diploma, Degree, Graduate Diploma, Master’s, and
In May 2001, the National Health Training Package was endorsed, covering the
“A” list systems of
. It lays out the standards of competency for each of the systems and provides
guidelines for the provision of training. In order for a college or institution
to deliver nationally recognized/accredited training, it must be a Recognised
Training Organisation (RTO), meaning it complies with a number of quality
assurance measures. The Health Training Package for
includes AQF qualifications from Certificate III to Degree.
TCM and Chiropractic are the two major regulated systems of
, meaning that practitioners require registration in the same way allopathic
physicians and nurses do.
It can thus be seen that although the
sector is generally not regulated in the traditional sense, it does have a
structured framework for ensuring quality training delivery and a reasonable
level of competence for practitioners.
In the main, initiatives in regard to CAM standards in
have not been driven by insurance as they have in some other countries. The
main drivers have been GST tax-exempt status and a more general issue of
acceptance and status for practitioners and their system.
History of Yoga Therapy in
Because the concept of Yoga therapy in
is vague and ill-defined, as is true in many other countries, documenting its
history also can only be vague and approximate. It can probably be argued that
Yoga therapy, while not known by that name, made its way to
with both the Iyengar method and the Satyananda tradition, both of which
started to become popular in the late 1970s. Yoga therapy in its own right,
however, has enjoyed a small but dedicated following since the mid 1990s,
influenced primarily by Swami Gitananda, T. K. V. Desikachar, and A. G. Mohan.
The common feature of Yoga therapy from these traditions is the use of
personalized, one-on-one consultations, as would apply with any other health
care practitioner. A more overt therapeutic approach has been employed by a
number of teachers in other traditions, particularly Iyengar and Satyananda,
wherein classes are designed to address a common therapeutic need of a group of
Having said this, I can almost hear the cries of objection from a number
of our other esteemed Yoga colleagues, who may well regard their work and
teaching as fundamentally therapeutic. I certainly acknowledge this, but in
this article I am highlighting the major trends.
In 1994 the Australian Institute of Yoga Therapy (AIYT) was established with the
aim of offering Yoga therapy directly to the public as well as through
and allopathic practitioners. Another aim of AIYT was to provide some training
in Yoga therapy to Yoga teachers. Since then the institute has established an
excellent reputation for the provision of Yoga therapy services and has offered
a short course in Yoga therapy for teachers
The Satyanada organization provides residential and nonresidential intensives in
Yoga therapy, and it is estimated that approximately 15% of Yoga teachers in
offer some form of Yoga therapy to their students/clients. Most of these
teachers rely primarily on their experience and training as Yoga teachers to
assist clients, but in some circumstances they include other modalities of
in which they are qualified.
A Snapshot of the Australian Yoga Student/Yoga Therapy Client
In recent years there have been a number of attempts to quantify and qualify
Yoga students in
. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has indicated that in 2003 over 300,000
people participated in Yoga over the preceding 12-month period. This
represented 2.5% of the population between the ages of 20 and 70.
Clearly defining the demographics of students, however, has been a little more
difficult. From discussions with fellow teachers in recent months, it appears
that our prior image of the typical Yoga student may no longer be accurate.
Some years ago, the majority of Yoga students were female, predominantly aged
35 to 55, generally middle class, and usually from an Anglo-European
background. Many of my colleagues and I believe that the boundaries have
We estimate that men now account for nearly 25% of students, teenagers and the
elderly are well represented, socioeconomic status is less of a factor, and
classes appear to have a similar multicultural/multiracial mix to the whole of
The Development of Yoga Teacher Training Standards in
In 1999, the Australian Yoga teachers community was rocked by a university study
that showed that 61% of teachers surveyed (n=300) believed that an accredited
qualification was important to them, and 64% were prepared to undertake further
training to achieve such accreditation.
It was somewhat ironic that even though the surveyed teachers admitted to
interest in the issue of accreditation, the person who conducted the study (who
happened to be me) came under attack from many colleagues for having the
temerity to raise the issue of standards and qualifications for teaching!
For some months I attended meetings and fielded defensive questioning.
Eventually, explaining that my research had found that the public, the medical
profession, and others wanted to be confident that a person calling himself or
herself a Yoga teacher did in fact have the requisite skills, experience, and
training helped the community to come to terms with this “brave new
world” of professionalism for Yoga.
The result of this upheaval was the development of two bold new initiatives that
occurred almost simultaneously, yet completely independently. One was a new
association of Yoga teachersan association that was to be nonaligned, the
first to represent all teachers irrespective of their training/lineage/style.
The Yoga Teachers Association of Australia (YTAA) established a set of minimum
standards for teachers who wished to be regarded by the association as
“accredited.” A tabular overview is shown in the appendix, and
readers will recognize some of the influence the U.S. Yoga Alliance has had on
the standards of YTAA.
A few months prior to the launch of YTAA,
’s first national teacher training course to be endorsed and accredited
by the Australian National Training Authority (the body responsible for
) commenced. This followed a lengthy development process by myself, a reference
group of other experienced teachers and teacher trainers, and a collaboration
with one of the country’s best credentialed Recognised Training
Organizations (RTOs) in the area of adult education.
While both these initiatives required some careful chaperoning to gain the
support of a Yoga community that was still a little sensitive and defensive, it
is pleasing to see that five years later both have gained widespread support
and respect from within and outside the Yoga community.
Since my launch of the accredited Advanced Diploma of Yoga Teaching, several
other schools of training have become RTOs and gained accreditation for their
course. I believe this “raises the bar” and goes a long way in
building respect and confidence in Yoga teachers as safe, professional, and
highly competent teachers/guides/caregivers.
The Growth in Demand for Yoga as a Therapy
In recent years, there has been an ever increasing demand for Yoga as therapy,
both within traditional Yoga schools/studios and within multidisciplinary
health centers. Both allopathic and
practitioners are adding Yoga to their multidisciplinary teams, and this has
led to growth in the number of short courses offered to Yoga teachers to
enhance their knowledge and skills. In the contemporary health care
environment, for which patient self-responsibility and take-home health
practices are hallmarks, practitioners view Yoga as an ideal therapeutic tool
to support many of the other medical interventions offered to patients. Yoga is
seen as a quasi-therapeutic bridge between practitioner care and self-directed
patient care, leading to a completion of the healing process and support for
longer term prevention of unwellness.
Courses that have been offered to Yoga teachers in recent years include:
Understanding Arthritis and Fibromyalgia
Introduction to Ayurveda
Introduction to Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)
Adrenal System Healing
Should Yoga Therapists Come from a Yoga Background or a Primary Health Care
It is commonplace for health care practitioners to undertake short courses in
various modalities to add a further string to their bow. There are allopathic
practitioners who now offer aromatherapy, Reiki, and other more energy-based
practices. Similarly, there are naturopaths who add modalities such as
kinesiology, Ayurveda, and ideokinesis. At the same time, there has been no
shortage of doctors, naturopaths, physiotherapists, and osteopaths who have
sought short courses in Yoga so they can provide Yoga therapy to their
While certainly not wanting to be “precious” about Yoga, I believe
that it is inappropriate for any health care practitioner who does not live and
work from within a yogic framework to call himself or herself a Yoga therapist.
Just as the conventional regulatory environment does not permit referring to
oneself as any sort of conventional therapist/practitioner without having first
undertaken the full studies required to attain appropriate qualification, the
same should hold true for Yoga.
As this topic has been explored at length through the International Association
of Yoga Therapists and found its way into discussions among local Australian
Yoga teachers, a clear preference has emerged among the Australian Yoga
communityone that favors my own beliefs and those of the health industry
While we all applaud the interest shown in Yoga by health care practitioners, we
believe that it is the years of personal Yoga practice and the deep
understanding of the special yogic framework that can best inform the practice
of Yoga therapy.
The Role of International Cooperation
While Australia has its own unique health care setting, which differs in a
number of ways from that of other countries, there are surely many lessons and
experiences in the development of the profession of Yoga therapy that are
common. Just as there has been an international sharing of ideas relating to
the establishment of standards for Yoga teachers, the sharing of ideas in
relation to Yoga therapy can only serve to improve the outcomes for all. The
initiatives of the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) in this
regard must be applauded and supported by all countries wishing to establish
Yoga therapy as a professional modality in their societies. To this end, the
Australian Institute of Yoga Therapy offers its full support and is happy to be
a conduit of interchange between
and other countries through IAYT.
We look forward to the continued unfolding of yoga-chikitsâ throughout
About the author: Leigh Blashki is the director of the Australian
and the Australian Institute of Yoga, and was the developer of
’s government accredited Advanced Diploma of Yoga Teaching. He has
post-graduate qualifications in Health Sciences and Counselling (
), undergraduate qualifications in Human Performance, Massage, Nutrition, Yoga,
and Ayurveda, and has over 25 years experience as a fitness trainer, Yoga and
Ayurveda teacher and therapist, counsellor, and nutritionist.
He lecturers at the CAE and Victoria University Faculty of Health Sciences and
is a member and keen supporter of the International Association of Yoga
Therapists, the Australasian Ayurvedic Practitioners Association, and the Yoga
Teachers Association of Australia and a graduate member of the Australian
Institute of Professional Counsellors.
Leigh is passionate about the need for quality standards of training in all
areas of well-being and has established a licensing arrangement for the
Advanced Diploma of Yoga Teaching, which is being offered in NSW, Victoria, and
Leigh also conducts a private practice as a Yoga Therapist, counsellor, and
Ayurvedic practitioner, assisting individuals with their specific health and
lifestyle goals, and with his partner runs a small Yoga retreat and teaching
center in the picturesque outskirts of