The International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) has come to be the voice of an emerging field of study and practice: yoga therapy. After a 5-year deliberation period, this month IAYT announced its first accreditation decisions for schools who meet its educational standards. This process is part of a larger movement to gain recognition for yoga therapy as a medical profession, and it could change the face of yoga as we know it.
Founded in 1989, the IAYT is pursuing its mission to "establish yoga as a recognized and respected therapy.” Currently, it is the only yoga therapy organization that provides accreditation internationally, and its first accredited yoga-therapy training programs reach across the United States, Canada, and New Zealand.
But what exactly is yoga therapy?
According to Dr. Carrie Demers, a board member of IAYT, all yoga is therapeutic and yet “yoga therapy,” as we have come to know it in the West, is a discipline all its own.
“We want yoga to be accessible, even to people who have never done it—because they are referred by their doctor!” says Dr. Demers. “In my childhood, chiropractors were struggling for legitimacy, and now they are widely accepted as a therapeutic modality. This is what we want for yoga therapy.”
However, due to the breadth of yoga practices, it’s clear that yoga therapy is a difficult concept to define—even for the experts themselves. It took the IAYT nearly two decades to give the profession an adequate definition. As it stands, this is their understanding of the discipline: “Yoga therapy is the process of empowering individuals to progress toward improved health and well-being through the application of the philosophy and practice of yoga.”
According to the organization, defining yoga therapy was an important move in the self-regulatory processes required to create a unified perspective on yoga as a healing art—especially for gaining acknowledgment of yoga therapy by the healthcare system at large. In setting a definition and standards, and giving yoga teachers the option to become certified as therapists, the IAYT hopes to make yoga a more credible and sustainable livelihood. The understanding is that this will become more accessible once yoga is considered to be a conventional form of medicine.
Dr. Demers states that the present goals of the IAYT fall broadly within these four categories: standards, accreditation, research, and public awareness. Eventually, these goals will include reimbursement and referrals. Of course, this is not without controversy. As many in the yoga community believe that “all yoga is therapy,” a concern arises that yoga therapy will make yoga prescriptive, thereby causing it to lose some of its richness and traditional practices. Dr. Demers assures us that the standards are not limiting and the process for creating and regulating them is unending.
Research indicates that, more and more, science is becoming convinced of the healing benefits of yoga. But the question still remains: Will this timeless healing practice ever become recognized by the healthcare system at large, and if so, when?
The IAYT remains hopeful:
“Despite the challenges in the gaining of respect and recognition, leaders within an emerging field should take heart in the well-known quote of Mahatma Gandhi: 'First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.'”
How would you feel about your MD referring you to see a yoga therapist? Please leave your comments below!