Yoga is union. It is a beautiful and encompassing path that has the potential to bring forth our best life and our greatest light in the world. While yoga includes a broad collection of techniques, it is the underlying mindset and intention that weaves through its core that makes yoga a unique gift.
Most who have chosen to become yoga teachers have done so because they have experienced the transformative power of yoga in their own life, and finding both awe and joy in the result, wish to share it with others. For a great many, that initial inspiration and transformation brought forth, and continues to bring forth, that most remarkable of occurrences: healing.
Yoga encourages us to find awareness where there was darkness, to find alignment where there was contention, to find peace where there was struggle. As the body and breath shift with the practice, so do the mind and heart. For those who have gone deep with yoga, it is easy to hold these truths as self-evident. And even, in many cases, it is evident from the very first yoga class one takes.
Why then, would an organization like Yoga Alliance seek to divorce itself from this most beautiful and exquisite aspect of yoga? Over the last month, the yoga community has seen or heard Yoga Alliance’s explanation for their decision. For those of us who work with the chronically ill, the injured, and the differently-abled, their reasoning has felt hollow and bereft of both courage and common sense.
Yoga Alliance seems to have made a decision with wide reaching impact based solely on the opinion of a single law firm associate regarding hypothetical risk. The opinion produced appears to have little standing in regards to actual case law related to yoga. Like any other profession, lawyers come in all manner of competency and ability - the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) rebuttal regarding the outdated material used in the opinion shines an appropriate light on the quality of the opinion as a whole.
Regardless of the particulars of that legal opinion, it is hard to see Yoga Alliance’s decision to sever the healing limb of yoga from the registry as anything other than a fear-based reaction, which is especially disappointing when Yoga Alliance could have decided to show strength of leadership and take the position that yoga can indeed be a healing art with therapeutic benefits and that it is part of our heritage that we should both embrace and defend.
There are many of us in the yoga profession who work hand in hand with doctors, nurses, physical therapists and other healthcare professionals to provide healing and therapeutic yogic treatments. In those contexts, we are a welcomed and acknowledged partner in providing an integrative treatment program. For example, at the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara, Therapeutic Yoga classes have been part of the Wellness Program for over fifteen years - they are highly regarded by the oncologists and well attended by the patients.
In the Therapeutic Yoga Training Program, we make a distinct effort to carefully delineate the appropriate scope of practice for teachers who share Therapeutic Yoga, including the concept that we are not in the business of diagnosing, and that while we teach healing modalities, it is the patient’s body that does the healing, and that healing and curing are not always the same thing. This enables yoga to integrate well with existing systems of treatment.
Through its recent decision, Yoga Alliance has made no allowance for training programs or modules in the vein of Therapeutic Yoga or yoga therapy that adhere to these kinds of standards in their teaching, which seems odd, since as a registry, accounting for standards is their main responsibility. It is also ironic given that the statement alongside the YA logo reads “Many Paths, One Yoga Alliance”.
One special aspect of yoga is the sense of community that infuses it, whether that takes the form of yoga center sanghas, forward-thinking festivals, or the greater sense of union that those who practice yoga feel with those around them. In that sense, I found the method by which Yoga Alliance came to this decision, and the method by which they have disseminated their decision, to be disappointing. The lack of community discussion beforehand, particularly with those most affected by their decision, was surprising. The communication of their decision has likewise been disappointing - the wording and the manner of dissemination has confused many in the yoga community.
Certain aspects of Yoga Alliance’s decision also appear to be on somewhat shaky legal ground. It’s one thing to dictate what words or phrases can be used on the YA website, it’s another to tell teachers what wording they can use on their own personal site. For a non-profit registry, this seems like an overreach.
If the concern is truly liability, why not instead create a release form that all teachers registered through YA sign, stating YA is not liable? Included with this form could be a disclaimer on the YA website making it clear that they are a registry and as such are not liable for legal matters related to a given teacher. YA could, in their scope of practice, also emphasize the importance of registered teachers adhering to the standards. Once the IAYT initiates their standard approval framework, yoga therapists will be also certified through respective schools. With this new level of education required, there will be additional respect and viability regarding the growth of yoga therapy.
This approach would make more sense than to discriminate against trainings such as the Therapeutic Yoga Training for using the word “therapeutic” in its title, or teachers who are using words like “therapeutic” and “healing” to describe their classes and teaching styles. These words are beneficial to the consumer - they help people find the right classes and teachers to meet their needs. Particularly for populations that are new to yoga, who are not familiar with yoga terminology, and who may have physical challenges, finding that right first class may be the difference between a fruitful relationship with yoga or none at all.
For those teachers who have been so carefully and thoughtfully carrying Therapeutic Yoga, yoga therapy and other brands of yoga that focus on supporting individuals with chronic illness, injury, disability and varying other physical challenges, it is very difficult to not take this recent decision by YA as a grave discrimination against us. I believe I speak for many in the Therapeutic Yoga community when I say, we hope Yoga Alliance will look at all the options and keep the conversation open as to possibilities of finding other ways to remedy the concerns they have moving forward.
Cheri “Premanjali” Clampett
Director, Therapeutic Yoga Training