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The Integrator Blog. News, Reports and Networking for the Business, Education, Policy and Practice of Integrative Medicine, CAM and Integrated Health Care. - IAYT Sponsors IBN&R Series on the Future of Yoga Therapy: Part 1 - Context and Current Initiatives
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IAYT Sponsors IBN&R Series on the Future of Yoga Therapy: Part 1 - Context and Current Initiatives PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Weeks   

Sponsor of Integrator Blog News & Reports Series on Yoga Therapy

IAYT Sponsors IBN&R Series on the Future of Yoga Therapy: Part 1 - Context and Current Initiatives

The International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) is leading an exploration of Yoga's therapy's future in national health care and healthcare policy. The moment is full of paradox for Yoga. While thousands of years old, the practice of Yoga therapy is yet an "emerging discipline" in the world of health care in the United States. And while hospitals, individual practititioners from other disciplines, and even some insurers increasingly view Yoga as a valuable part of the health care of the people they serve, the field itself often resists, for internal and external reasons, calling Yoga therapists "healthcare practitioners."


IAYT makes the distinction
Yoga therapists,
and Yoga teachers.
represents Yoga therapists  
work ranges beyond
fitness and wellness to

working with individuals
and specific
with focused health issues.
To further explore Yoga therapy's emerging position in North America, IAYT has contracted with the Integrator Blog News and Reports to interview, survey and publish a series of articles which will serve two general purposes in the integration dialogue.

  • Those who respect the potential and value in Yoga will learn of the current challenges and opportunities facing Yoga therapy as it gains in use.
  • Yoga therapists will see the benefits and harm which may come from increased self-regulation and participation with healthcare's broader regulatory and payment structures.

Yoga Therapy's Deepening Dialogue with Other Disciplines

The executive director of IAYT, John Kepner, MA, MBA, and the organization's president, Veronica Zador, RYT, are among IAYT's driving forces in guiding yoga into this exploration. Kepner, a Yoga teacher, Yoga therapist, and former economist, has followed the evolution of CAM
IAYT Executive Director John Kepner, MA, MBA
policy for years. He has written on the implications of CAM policy for Yoga, and for two years, co-taught the CAM course at the University of Arkansas Medical School. Zador is long-time Yoga teacher, Yoga therapist and educator who is concurrently also serving as vice president of the Yoga Alliance, which registers both Yoga teachers and training programs to Yoga Alliance standards.
Yoga therapy has taken significant
  steps in its publications, conference 
plans and its engagement with other
  fields in exploring its preferred future.

Kepner says the key difference between Yoga therapists and a broader group represented by the Yoga Alliance is one of orientation. While all share "an overarching interest in cultivating a clear mind," he explains that "Yoga therapy is an orientation to the practice with a focus on healing." The healing focus may be on a specific health condition and it may, states Kepner, "be deeper." IAYT draws a "somewhat difficult" distinction between
Yoga oriented to fitness or wellness and Yoga that can be used "to address specific health challenges." He explains that Yoga therapists, for example, may work with people with "structural aches and pains", chronic conditions, emotional imbalances and spiritual crisis -- such as people coping with a potentially harmful illness.

Among the exploratory steps already under way in Yoga's participation in the broader healthcare dialogue are:

  • Taking IAYT's annual publication, International Journal of Yoga Therapy, to peer-reviewed status.
  • Participating in, and a shared sponsorship from IAYT and the Yoga Alliance for, the National Education Dialogue to Advance Integrated Health Care: Creating Common Ground (NED). Zador represents yoga therapists in the NED's Values Working Group, chaired by holistic nurse Carla Mariano, EdD, RN, AHN-C.
  • Setting basic training standards for Yoga teachers, via the Yoga Alliance, for education (entry level at 200 hours and 500 hours representing an advanced level) for a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT), Registered Yoga School (RYS).
  • Publishing "Illustrative Standards for Yoga Therapists" (between 800-1000 hours), via the IAYT, including much more experience, a year of anatomy and physiology, and an intern/extern program.
  • Exploring an ongoing role, as an "emerging discipline," in the Academic Consortium of Complementary and Alternative Health Care (ACCAHC), chaired by Reed Phillips, DC, PhD. Core members in ACCAHC are the educator leaders of the five CAM disciplines with federally-recognized accrediting agencies (DC, ND, AOM, massage therapy, direct-entry midwifery).
  • Developing the first Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research (SYTAR), to be held in Los Angeles in January 2007. Among presenters are Yoga researcher Karen Sherman, PhD, from the Seattle-based staff-model HMO, Group Health Cooperative's Center for Health Studies, integrative medicine leaders Bradly Jacobs, MD, MPH, David Shapiro, PhD, Ian Cook, MD, David Riley, MD, and integrated healthcare leader Pamela Snider, ND.
  • Publishing a list of IAYT's 1600 members. Kepner notes that, due to the diversity of practice, and in lieu of a fixed credentialing standard, IAYT gives each member an opportunity to describe, in-depth, their individual qualifications, education, approach and experience.
  • Commissioning and publishing a legal opinion which describes under what conditions Yoga therapy would likely be treated as a "Qualifying Medical Expense" by the IRS in Health Savings Accounts.

Veronica Zador, RYT, IAYT President and VP for the Yoga Alliance
A Complicated Set of Interwoven Questions

The IAYT exploration through the IBN&R will look at a complicated set of interwoven questions as the profession weighs its options for investing in its future. Among these are:

What can yoga learn
from the experience of
licensed CAM disciplines   
in engaging the laborious
internal and external
processes of standards,
research, accreditation
and regulation? What has
been gained and what
has been lost?

  • What can yoga learn from the experience of the CAM disciplines in engaging the laborious internal and external processes of strengthening educational standards, developing accrediting bodies and gaining third-party approval for these standards?
  • Will yoga be able to penetrate into more care delivery if the discipline does not following the conventional path of licensing?
  • Are the so-called "Health Freedom" laws, passed in a handful of states (including California, in 2002), important to protect Yoga therapists from being charged with practicing medicine without a license?
  • Will Yoga therapists, whose practices may appear to include elements of "talk therapy" and physical medicine, push them up against licensed disciplines such as physical therapy and mental health counseling, where entry barriers are more demanding and costly?

Kepner is the first to point out that Yoga is not alone in asking these questions and facing these issues. He points in particular to the field of ayurveda. In that field
which, like Yoga, is "emerging" in North America despite thousands of years of practice elsewhere, a subset of practitioners have begun campaigning for clearer and higher standards. In fact, IAYT and the nascent National  Ayurvedic Medical Association are in a growing relationship regarding their over-lapping issues.

Is Yoga Practiced in Your Health System, Hospital, Insurer, or Academic Center?

The IAYT-IBN&R project welcomes input from any readers regarding interesting programs with which you may be involved which include Yoga. Your questions about the field are also invited. Please contact

IBN&R will take a look at
these questions, links, and model programs in a series of articles which will be reported over the next six weeks. IAYT anticipates cross-publishing some of the content to its members and to other Yoga practitioners via other publications.

Comment: My initial work with the IAYT leadership in gaining a sense of Yoga's moment in time has struck me in two ways, deeply. First and foremost, the issues Yoga therapy faces as it explores its "integration" with a mainstream system which Harvard economist David Blumenthal has called "a train wreck in slow motion," are not new. They are quite similar to those that all disciplines which wish to promote healing confront as they intersect with the whirring mechanics of the medical industrial complex.

We are exploring the
extent to which, for
disciplines, engaging the
research and
even accreditation practices

of the larger medical
industrial complex
represented a Faustian
bargain. IAYT
is asking:
Is there a third path?

Second, I am intrigued by the IAYT leadership's interest in learning from the other disciplines so that Yoga therapy might craft a "third path" in relationship to mainstream health care. For this series, we are actively seeking the stories and the guidance of members of other disciplines which have "integrated" further via the conventional roads to acceptance and inclusion. To what extent has engaging the insurance, research and even accreditation practices of the larger complex represented a Faustian bargain? What have been the gains? If you were directing Yoga's future, what would you recommend? Internal standard setting? Formal, third-party reviewed certification? Licensing? Make the sign of the Cross and stay away? Promote use of Medical Savings Accounts and the expansion of "health freedom" laws? Please use the comment fields below, or directly contact me with your comments and ideas. We promise a lively exploration!

To visit the site of series sponsor International Association of Yoga Therapists, click here

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IAYT-Sponsored Series on the Future of Yoga Therapy