Yoga Therapy, Yoga Alliance, IAYT

Most yoga teachers will know that Yoga Alliance (YA) has recently required registered teachers and schools to remove references to “therapy” from their syllabus, program descriptions, and all advertising material that mentions registration with YA. They have released a list of words that are acceptable and words that are not, based on advice from the law firm they hired, including a helpful online tool to assist yoga schools in making changes to their syllabi.

At Svastha Yoga, we have a yoga therapy program currently registered with the Yoga Alliance as a 300-hour training that we will be expanding to meet the IAYT criteria of 800 hours. I am also on the international advisory board of IAYT (and AAYT in which is going to be merged with Yoga Australia). I’ve been following this issue and am sharing some thoughts on this that may be helpful.

In Part 1, I’ve tried to summarize the points made by YA and IAYT, as best I can (this is not official, it’s my personal summary of their public statements!).

In Part 2, I offer some broader personal views on this topic.

In Part 3, I explain briefly where we are going with this at Svastha.

(I’ve typed this out in a bit of a rush. I’d be happy to correct any mistakes I’ve made or clarify any confusions I have introduced.)

 

PART 1:  SUMMARY ON WHERE YOGA ALLIANCE AND IAYT STAND

Does Yoga Alliance certify yoga teachers?

No. You can only register with them. You are certified by the yoga school you studied in. The service that YA offers is registration on their database, provided you are from a registered school that has submitted the required syllabus, has given you a certificate of completion, and approves your request for registration.

Are yoga teachers licensed?

Registration, certification, licensing, and credentialing are different.

“Government agencies grant and monitor licenses; professional organizations certify practitioners.”

From: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/decisions/credentialing.htm

Credentialing is an umbrella term.

There is no licensing for yoga teachers or therapists right now that I am aware of, as it is not regulated by the government. A yoga school will need to comply with licensing as a business, like all other businesses, but the yoga certification is itself not regulated or licensed.

Do I have to register with Yoga Alliance to call myself a yoga teacher, or be credentialed by IAYT to call myself a yoga therapist?

To the best of my knowledge, no. As there is no government regulation or licensing requirement as of now, you are free to call yourself a yoga teacher or yoga therapist based on whatever studies you have undertaken. Registration or credentialing may give you more opportunities, however.

What is my problem if I call myself a “yoga therapist," credentialed or not?

YA

You could be sued for practicing healthcare without the required license because the word “therapy” indicates that you are offering treatment for health problems and yoga therapists are not licensed.

IAYT

1. This is theoretically possible, but practically unlikely given that “yoga therapy” is fairly widely used now and has gained acceptance in several universities and hospitals and even in the military.

2. IAYT makes it clear that yoga therapists do not "treat" health problems according to their scope of practice.

3. You could be sued anyway, regardless of what you call yourself. As of now, credentialing with the IAYT doesn’t really change this possibility. But with more acceptance of the credentials, things may perhaps change in future.

What is Yoga Alliance's problem with registering yoga therapists?

YA’s problem is that they could be sued for registering yoga therapists and this is not merely a theoretical possibility. While it is very unlikely that an individual yoga teacher or school would be sued (we are all small fry), the YA makes a much more promising and lucrative target. YA is large and visible.

From that perspective, this is an important legal stand from them to make clear: Yoga Alliance does not register or credential yoga therapists. Seen in that light, the legal approach to this problem from the YA, rather than a community based approach, does make sense.

What is the difference between yoga teachers and yoga therapists and why does that matter?

YA

1. There is no scope of practice definition for yoga teaching. YA contends that the scope of practice definition for yoga therapists as defined by the IAYT does not differentiate yoga therapists sufficiently from yoga teachers.

2. YA seems to view yoga training as not requiring licensing as it is avocational, but feels that yoga therapy training, because of its healthcare connotations, may require licensing.

3. This could lead to a situation where government regulation of yoga therapy results in yoga teachers being regulated as well. YA’s main effort for the yoga community is to oppose government intervention or regulation of yoga teaching, supporting self-regulation instead. (Whether you think this is a plus or a minus depends on where you stand.)

IAYT

1. IAYT contends that their current scope of practice definition for yoga therapy largely does differentiate yoga therapy from yoga teaching and they are open to community feedback.

2. All emerging complementary systems go through this phase of uncertainty.

Should yoga therapy be licensed and will the IAYT’s efforts at credentialing yoga therapists lead to that?

IAYT

1. They do not have control over whether licensing may be required at some point by different governments - by individual states in the US, for example. However, they are not pushing for it without the yoga therapist community signaling its interest in it.

2. Setting a framework and credentials does not in itself increase the risk of government regulation. It will make it easier to take either pathway—to remain self-regulated or to be licensed—at a later time. (I suppose this could be argued both ways: a formal profession may come under scrutiny more easily, but on the other hand, good self-regulation enables making a case to be left alone.)

 

PART 2: THOUGHTS ON YOGA CREDENTIALING, PARTICULARLY YOGA THERAPY

This is a good development

It’s better to have some clarity on where the YA and IAYT stand in relation to yoga therapy. It is good these issues are being discussed.

At this time, the quality of your yoga teacher or therapy training depends mostly on where you got it from – and on you.

How many people fail a yoga training? It is very difficult for yoga schools to refuse students’ certification, both for personal and business reasons. To reduce this bias many professions have evolved standard reference books, as well as common or external exams – and even then, there is a lot of variation in outcome. Without a common textbook or external examiners, quality is essentially self-certified.

I am not suggesting that such standardization is a good idea, especially in an emerging profession such as yoga therapy. I am merely pointing out an existing fact: that it is hard to know what someone studied when they tell you they have undergone a yoga teacher training or yoga therapy training.

Contrast yoga training with Ayurveda training. Though there are differences across ayurvedic schools, the basic principles are consistent and many lines of treatments are agreed upon. That’s because there is substantial traditional documentation (of the basic principles, for example in the Sutra Sthana of the Ashtanga Hrdaya) unlike yoga.

Training is about both content and framework. IAYT or Yoga Alliance can fix only the latter.

I don't see how mandating hours alone can ensure quality when there is huge variation in content across yoga trainings. Quality of content is something only the yoga schools themselves can ensure. IAYT or YA do not have the resources for oversight and testing of yoga schools, and the yoga community does not want it either.

Completing a 200-, 500-, or 800-hour training is a measure of time spent. These numbers of hours are derived from consensus and context; there is no magic number. 800 hours does not necessarily make me a yoga therapist. It is my attitude, knowledge, and skills that makes me a yoga therapist or teacher. These are internal qualities at the heart of competence. Hours are only external markers.

The compulsion for registration

A recent phenomenon I see from the drive toward IAYT credentialing is that yoga schools feel compelled to offer programs that meet these numbers of hours, in a push to advertise this as a selling point.

This is unfortunate. Programs should expand when they have more to teach, not because they feel an industry body (or worse, marketing) mandates it. Credentialing requirements should be reached by the organic growth of content in emerging fields. Content should not be made up to reach credentialing hours.

Again, this is an issue for yoga students and teachers to ponder, not an issue with the IAYT standards themselves.

The key word is “self-regulation.” That is what YA and IAYT are about. There is nothing mandatory about membership with either. However, the IAYT is working to support the emergence of yoga as a wellness and healthcare modality in many populations that need it and they are a relatively small organization. If their work is in alignment with your values, do support them.

Deep well or rabbit hole?

Digging a deep well is a good idea. Meaning that in-depth trainings are useful and allow participants to absorb the perspective and develop insight. But if a field has diverse views, being too deep in a well can lead to tunnel vision. Looking at a broader context may be more useful.

In my view, it is important to have a degree of openness in a yoga training rather than a predetermined lock-in for a large number of hours. If people find the training a good fit, they will continue and complete it, and they deepen their perspective in the process.

The training should itself be open to revision and advancement—improvement by iteration and taking in different viewpoints wherever required. As I wrote in an earlier post, the emphasis on a top-down hierarchy in yoga trainings can be a problem.

This is the reason the Svastha programs on yoga therapy consist mostly of independent modules rather than a monolithic block. Our retention rate is very good; most participants do return, which is a reassuring affirmation that we are offering content with value.

Again, this is just my view; others may valid views that differ from mine.

 

PART 3: THE SVASTHA YOGA THERAPY PROGRAM

The Svastha Yoga Therapy Program is so far a modular 300-hour program, registered with the YA.

There are reasons why we have waited before beginning the process of registering with the IAYT.

1. Ecosystem rather than just a program. Our approach is iterative and toward building an ecosystem rather than only a program. Several initiatives are under active development in smaller groups and will be rolling out gradually from this year to a larger section of the participants.

2. Scale and belief in organic expansion. We are now running in 12+ locations and have completed the program multiple times over the last six years. We have been evolving into expansion in a way that support the integrity of the vision. The next step of further expansion is to be done in a way that will support growth over the next several years and must be structured carefully given that we have a responsibility to many people.

3. No magic number of hours make a therapist. It has been my view, for long, that there is place for a multi-level approach to yoga therapy training. Rather than a single block of 800 hours, a first level of 300 hours, followed by the rest is a good way to get into the science and art of individualized teaching to individuals with health issues. These hours are just milestones, and somewhat arbitrary anyway. At every step, applying what one has learned is important. That does not start only after 800 hours.

The time is ripe now for further expansion.

1. We are carrying out the required changes to comply with YA’s new policy, making the 300-hour training a foundation training in name and wording.

2. We are expanding the yoga therapy program to meet the 800-hour requirement of the IAYT and will apply for credentialing later this year. This was anyway in the works; we are merely moving it forward by a couple of months. (If you are already in the program, and haven’t received information on IAYT grandparenting through Facebook or email, please do look into it.)

If you’re in Australia, note that the AAYT’s standards are basically co-equivalent with IAYT’s thanks to the cooperation between them; being compliant with the IAYT standards will make you eligible for AAYT registration as well. (AAYT requires 350 hours Yoga Australia Level 1 + 650 hours. IAYT requires 200 hours YA + 800 hours.)

- Ganesh Mohan