yoga therapists

Field Notes: Developing Educational Standards for Yoga Therapists


What is a yoga therapist versus a yoga teacher? Is yoga therapy clinical or relational or both? Should training standards start low (200 hours) to be more accessible, or start high (1,000 hours) so that they are rigorous and safe?

These are some of the hard questions that the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) has been debating since the fall of 2009 in an effort to establish minimum standards for yoga therapists-in-training.

Yoga therapists work with clients whose issues can range from low back pain to cancer to schizophrenia. Along with client safety, which is paramount, the other issue here is credibility. In the last five years, the IAYT has been striving to achieve a level of professionalism for the field, establishing a peer-reviewed journal, annual conferences, and academic-level research. Standards are one of the final steps in this process.

The call for input will close in July 2011 after which the educational standards will be formally drafted. But even then the process won’t be over Member schools will get to comment on the draft, and the committee will make any necessary revisions.

Standards are intended to protect the public and promote yoga therapy as a professional field, but not everyone is happy. Some yoga therapists worry that conforming to rules will lead to bureaucracy, rigidity, and homogeneity.

John Kepnes, executive director of IAYT, acknowledges this issue, saying that it’s everyone’s worst fear. “We want to keep the yoga in yoga therapy. I will walk away from anything that does not do that.”