Yoga Alliance Rule For “Yoga Therapy”

yoga therapy
Photo by huy doan

The number of “yoga therapists” and “yoga therapy” teacher trainings and classes are on the rise. In response to this trend, Yoga Alliance (YA), an organization which provides credentialing standards in the yoga field, has furnished a new policy regarding the use of these terms. YA has decided that any teacher or school registered with it must remove the words “therapy” or “therapist” from their profile on the YA Registry Directory. Further, any registrant using those terms on their own website or in marketing materials “must add a disclaimer explaining the source of their ‘therapy’ training.”

Over the years, YA has become the gold standard for teaching and training certification. Most teacher trainees seek a YA Registered program, and many teachers pay a membership fee to be listed in its directory and have the credentials “RYT,” meaning they are YA registered. These programs and teachers must meet specific standards set forth by YA.

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Now it appears that YA wishes to remove itself from the yoga therapy field altogether, drawing a line between the practice of yoga and that of yoga therapy. On their website, YA expressed concern that the term “yoga therapy” can cause confusion, stating that until a clear definition is established, there is an increasing risk of the government stepping in to begin regulating the entire yoga field. According to YA, terms such as “therapist” and “therapeutic” imply that a teacher can “diagnose and/or treat a mental or physical health condition,” claims which may be akin to practicing medicine. Since the practice of medicine is “highly regulated in most states” by government entities, use of the term “yoga therapy” carries with it a risk of violating these state regulations. In my opinion, YA is seeking to avoid such violations and defer government interference with yoga, which it suggests will result in “more fees, more bureaucracy,” and less access to yoga training.

There is, however, another organization attempting to oversee yoga therapy and define the term, and that is the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT). Similar to YA, IAYT sets standards for both training programs and individual teachers. On their website, IAYT admits that yoga therapy is “difficult to define,” but attempts to explain it as a “process of empowering individuals to progress toward improved health and well-being” through their yoga practice. In light of YA’s new policy, IAYT stated that it “makes sense for YA to distinguish” themselves from IAYT, and emphasized that IAYT is committed to defining yoga therapy as an “emerging field distinct from yoga.” IAYT supports research and education that might further yoga therapy as a recognized profession, and by so doing, is helping to clarify the definition and scope of yoga therapy. Read this for more on the distinction between IAYT and YA.

According to the new YA rule, those teachers or programs credentialed through IAYT can use the term “therapist” or “therapy” on their own external websites and marketing materials, as long as they provide the requisite disclaimer explaining their training. But they still won’t be able to use those terms on their YA profile. It’s yet to be seen whether the government will jump in to attempt to regulate either field, but it certainly seems that YA is attempting to protect itself by renouncing yoga therapy altogether, a distinction which IAYT is welcoming.

What do you think of this new rule and the distinction between YA and IAYT? Do you think the two organizations should work together to create a definition of yoga therapy, or do you think yoga and yoga therapy are two very different practices?

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