Yoga Alliance’s New Policy on Yoga Therapy

The Bhagavad Gita teaches us that Life is a Battlefield, so we shouldn’t really be surprised when two of our national yoga organizations seem to be engaged in turf battles. However, on closer examination of the reactions to Yoga Alliance’s new Policy on Yoga Therapy, we can see that the perceived controversy is probably a necessary ‘growing pain’ associated with the growing popularity and acceptance of yoga teaching and yoga therapy throughout the world, and the distinctions between these closely related manifestations of Yoga philosophy and practices.

The reality is that the teaching of yoga and the practice of yoga therapy do overlap considerably. Yoga therapists must first be experienced yoga teachers. And if they decide they want to develop skills to enable them to practice yoga therapy, they then must do further education in a Yoga Therapy Training in order to learn what’s needed to expand their practice to be able to provide yoga therapy.

Yoga Alliance’s new policy clarifies that graduation from Yoga Teacher Trainings does not qualify one to practice, nor to say that one practices, yoga therapy. This seems an obvious statement, but with the recent growing evidence in scientific studies of the therapeutic benefits of practicing yoga, and with the emerging of yoga therapy as a distinct field of service, there are some members of the yoga community who have started calling themselves yoga therapists, or saying that they offer therapeutic yoga, despite their not having any formal education beyond their YTT. And the YA policy is designed to protect the public from erroneously thinking that if someone is an RYT, that they can provide yoga therapy.

But this discussion is not just theoretical. There are implications of this new YA Policy that could negatively impact current RYTs if they do not come into compliance with the new policy.

We strongly encourage all Ananda Yoga Teachers and Ananda Yoga Therapists to carefully read the details of this new policy in order to make sure that their Yoga Alliance Directory Profile and any other personal websites and marketing materials are in compliance with the policy by October 1, 2016, or they may lose their RYT credential.

In January 2016, Yoga Alliance (YA) published a new Policy on Yoga Therapy which prohibits any RYT from using the words ‘yoga therapy’ or ‘yoga therapist’ on their YA Directory Listings (on the YA website). “Directory listings may describe, however, an emphasis on the therapeutic benefits of yoga practice and may reference the therapeutic benefits of yoga in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.” Along with a long list of prohibited words, there is also a list of alternative words that may be used as well as the offer of YA staff to help RYTs to modify their Profiles so that they are not using prohibited language.

The policy further states that “if you reference Yoga Alliance or your RYT on your own website and marketing materials AND you use any of the restricted terms or phrases, you must also post or print a disclaimer.” And the policy requires that you use the following disclaimer on all your marketing materials: “The yoga therapy components of my teaching are based on my [non-YAR credential or other qualification], not derived from my status as an [RYT/E-RYT] with Yoga Alliance Registry.”

“Yoga Alliance Registry will revoke a registrant’s right to use the RYT Registry Marks for violating this policy. Any registrant currently using ‘yoga therapy’ references in violation of this policy must remove all such references from their websites, advertisements, directory listings, and other public materials by October 1, 2016.”

On February 29, 2016, the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) published a response to the YA’s new policy. “It makes sense for the YA to distinguish what they do from what IAYT does, since neither YA’s standards nor their mission are designed to support yoga therapy as an emerging field distinct from yoga teaching.”

“Yoga therapy is here to stay, however, with widespread and growing acceptance as an adjunctive therapy in an integrative approach to health, so it is timely to more carefully identify the distinguishing characteristics and develop distinct credentials.”

“Establishing the field of yoga therapy as a recognized profession is IAYT’s core mission.”

“From IAYT’s perspective, yoga therapy is not ‘diagnosing and treating’ health conditions. While it’s not easy to summarize a wide range of healing practices in just a few words, we might say yoga therapists ‘assess and educate’ in order to ‘empower individuals to improve their health and wellbeing through the application of the teachings and practices of yoga’.”

In summary, it is important for all of us yoga teachers to clearly understand the distinctions between teaching yoga and practicing yoga therapy. While it’s likely that the grey area between these 2 overlapping disciplines will remain dominant in the near future, we all have a responsibility to be involved in sharing the teachings and practices of yoga with the world in the most dharmic ways possible. And that requires that we actively participate in upholding the highest principles of yoga in whatever way we choose to share them, and that we serve as superconsciously as possible when controversies develop within the community of yoga teachers and yoga therapists.

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