I’m Not a Yoga Therapist Anymore (Revised)

REVISED, as of February 26, 2016!  Since I wrote this piece in 2008, the issues I raised in this article have become a hot topic of discussion – especially since the Yoga Alliance published its new guidelines regarding the use of the word “therapy” or “therapist” in its members’ profiles.  As a resource, they have linked to this post. Since a lot more people will be reading this as a result, I find it necessary to clarify how my thinking has changed on some points I make at the end of this post.
You will find that I’ve struck through the section in which I propose that the appropriate place for the training of yoga educators is in academia.  I no longer hold this view.  Admittedly, back in 2008, I was a bit starry-eyed about the thought of universities embracing the idea of creating departments of yoga that would encourage interdisciplinary exchange around the training of yoga educators.  Since then, I’ve taken a deep dive into the possibilities of online education, where there is total freedom to create innovative and flexible curricula that serve the specific needs of the ever-growing yoga community.  As a result, I’ve realized that – just as we should avoid the bureaucracy of government regulation – we should avoid the increasingly virulent political correctness running rampant on most university campuses.
Additionally, I no longer feel the need to salute the work of IAYT for their “enlightened stewardship of our field.”  Quite to the contrary, they have badly dropped the ball by promoting a standard for the education of yoga therapists without formulating a policy about regulation, or advising their membership on the legal scope of practice for yoga therapists.  IAYT’s abdication of their responsibility to provide leadership of the rapidly growing field of yoga therapy has left The Yoga Alliance with the task of framing and clarifying the discussion on Yoga Therapy.  So, I stand by every word in the following piece, except for what has been struck out.  As always, please feel free to leave a comment to let me know what you think.


This piece appeared in the 2008 (Volume 18) issue of “The International Journal of Yoga Therapy.” It was written at the request of the editor of the Journal, and is based on many discussions I’ve had with my IAYT colleagues over the  years.

As I enter my 30th year as a Yoga teacher, and the 25th year of full-time employment doing Yoga-based work with individuals, I’ve just recently figured out something that I consider to be vitally important: I no longer wish to be known as a “Yoga Therapist.”

This bit of clarity is largely due to the opportunity I’ve had to bounce ideas off my colleagues at IAYT and attendees at SYTAR, so it seems fitting to share this perspective in the pages of this journal. The process of producing a written summary based on repeated discussions with teachers, students, and friends is very familiar to me. It’s what I did 10 years ago when I started the email newslist e-Sutra with the following post:

I have been personally engaged in countless discussions [about standards for Yoga teachers and therapists] for at least the past seven years. In those seven years, my fundamental views about certification standards have not changed, although my arguments supporting those views have become simpler and clearer with each new discussion…I will now present to you what I hope will be a clear and persuasive overview of my position…

When I first wrote that, the topic was the establishment of national certification standards for Yoga teachers, which culminated in the birth of the Yoga Alliance. IAYT’s recent ongoing dialogue about the scope of practice and definition of Yoga Therapy is an extension of this debate. In my view, the fundamentals underlying both issues are identical, and can be summed up by the following question: “How can we define our professional activities in a way that preserves our freedom to conduct our relationships with our students in a manner that honors the core principles of Yoga?”

To fully explain my answer to this question, a little personal history will be necessary. Back in 1993, when the certification dialogue was just starting, I was serving as vice-president of a non-profit group called Unity in Yoga, and I was the principal author of the following official position statement:

We enthusiastically support the ongoing dialogue addressing higher personal, professional, and ethical standards for Yoga teachers and therapists.
We are in support of a process that results in the establishment of Yoga as a respected personal and academic pursuit, and any certification or accreditation that may result.
We are, however, opposed to the establishment of any entity that assumes the authority to license or regulate Yoga teachers as professional practitioners and to enforce its standards on the Yoga community.

Against my objections, Unity in Yoga’s executive board decided to release only the first two sentences─an action I saw as a critical error. Shortly thereafter, I resigned from Unity in Yoga. Four years later, I witnessed another group of Yoga teachers make a similar error in collective judgment just before I resigned from the ad hoc committee that turned into the Yoga Alliance when it acquired Unity in Yoga’s non-profit status.

The error is this: It is not enough to say that you are supporting and establishing high standards for Yoga teacher training and certification. That’s the easy, obvious part. You must also state clearly, consistently, and defensibly what you are not supporting, on ethical grounds. Yoga ethics are very clear on this point. The teaching concerning what we should avoid (yama) is presented before the teachings about what we should pursue (niyama). Furthermore, the very first injunction is ahimsâ, the avoidance of doing harm. In the context of professional standards, what exactly must we avoid harming? The process of teaching Yoga. What is the vehicle for this process? The student-teacher relationship.

Therefore, the professional “yama” I adhere to is “I avoid engaging in any action that will lead to third-party interference in the student-teacher relationship.” My “niyama” is “I support and protect through my actions the sanctity, integrity, and freedom of the student-teacher relationship.”

Those statements are the core of my ethical and practical values as a practitioner, and it would be impossible for me to overstate their importance in my life. They reflect fundamental principles that tell me which actions to avoid, and which to pursue. Without consciously identifying those principles and validating their truth through my life’s experience, I could easily become lost and confused. My actions could proceed from fear and ignorance, and I could end up doing harm to myself, my students, and my profession.

The value of my original 1993 statement on standards has been repeatedly confirmed for me, and I continue to vigorously stand by it, with one exception. In the first sentence, I used the phrase “Yoga teachers and therapists.” I now realize that this phrase is redundant, confusing, and potentially harmful.

As the title of this piece implies, I am stating for the record that I no longer wish to known as a Yoga therapist. I have come to the conclusion that my continued use of the term would misrepresent the nature of my work, both to the public and to myself, and would violate the professional ethics I’ve outlined above.

This does not in any way mean that I intend to stop doing my job. In fact, I will be able to work far more effectively, having identified my actual job title: “Yoga educator.” In retrospect, I realize that from the moment I taught my first group âsana class until the present day, I’ve always had the same job. I’ve just been doing it more effectively by learning how to better tailor the teachings to individual needs. I used to unquestioningly assume that my education in anatomy, biomechanics, bodywork, physical rehabilitation, and philosophy granted me the right to call myself a therapist. But, in fact, it just turned me into a highly-educated Yoga teacher.

By understanding that a “Yoga therapist” is nothing more than a very good Yoga teacher, I can eliminate the troublesome word “therapy” from my job description. I no longer need to define what I do beyond stating that I educate people about how their bodies and minds can be more fully integrated through the use of breath, posture, and movement. Even when I employ touch as part of that process, it is only for the purpose of educating, not fixing.

Why is the word “therapy” troublesome? Let’s start with the dictionary. Judge for yourself which definition is closest to what we do:

Therapy (from the Greek therapeutikos, to attend or treat): treatment intended to relieve or heal a disorder; relating to the treatment of disease or disorders by remedial agents or methods…
Educate (from the Latin educere, to draw out): to train by formal instruction or supervised practice; to give intellectual, moral, and social instruction to someone; to provide information…

I submit that even the most highly skilled and experienced Yoga “Therapist” does not “treat disease…by remedial agents or methods.” This is the province of a medical system, whether it’s allopathic, naturopathic, or Ayurvedic. Yoga is not a medical system. Yoga is a set of principles that show us we are interconnected, multidimensional beings composed of body, breath, and mind. These teachings suggest strategies for identifying and reducing obstructions that can occur in any of these dimensions. When obstructions (klesha) are reduced, it is the human system itself that reestablishes a healthy balance. We simply show people how to make more space (sukha) in their bodies so prâna can flow more freely. It’s the body’s own resources that do the healing. In other words, the teacher doesn’t heal the student, the teachings do. This is my definition of Yoga therapy – it’s Yoga applied to the individual.

As Yoga educators, we must constantly remind ourselves of and preserve this essential truth by minding our yama and niyama.

We must not attempt to integrate ourselves into mainstream healthcare delivery by posing as a new therapeutic profession. Not only will this take us further from the truth of who we are, it will create destructive turf battles with established fields like physical therapy, massage therapy, dance therapy, and so on.

We must not seek third-party reimbursement (de facto regulation) for our services, which are very affordable compared to medical treatment. If we are concerned about under-served populations, we are free to charitably offer our skills to them. This will be vastly easier to do without health insurance bureaucrats dictating our rates while wasting our time filling out their paperwork.

Most importantly, we must not seek out or surrender to government control (licensing) over our precious and unique field. This would be a betrayal of our students, who have sought us out precisely because we are outside the mainstream. After all, Yoga is ultimately about freedom. How can we represent that freedom if we allow ourselves to be co-opted by an oppressive system?

How then do we reach all the patients and doctors within mainstream healthcare who desperately need our skills? My answer is that we already are.

All across the world, we Yoga educators are sharing our vital work in every area of healthcare delivery by virtue of what we do best: connecting with people. This sharing will only grow exponentially as more doctors, nurses, administrators, and business people become our students, transform their lives, and advocate on our behalf. If we continue to take a strong stand for our own freedom as educators, we can have nothing but a positive influence on everyone. This is especially true for those working and being treated within mainstream healthcare, whose freedoms have been severely eroded by the destructive aspects of a system that’s forgotten to honor above all else the practitioner-patient relationship.

Is some form of government regulation of our field inevitable? Perhaps we can’t avoid it forever, but consider this: would you rather be answerable to the authorities as a healthcare provider, or as an educator?

Lastly, committing ourselves to the educational/academic model reveals perhaps the most important area we should be pursuing: the institution of undergraduate and graduate Yoga training programs at the university level. There is no reason on earth why serious students shouldn’t be able to acquire bachelor’s, master’s or doctorate-level training in any and all aspects of Yoga. A university-based Yoga program would unite in an unprecedented way many existing departments: anatomy, kinesiology, physiology, anthropology, philosophy, psychology, religion, Sanskrit, to name just a handful. The majority of the necessary resources are already there. All that’s missing is a staff of experienced Yoga teachers to design and administer the Yoga training.

Think of what a valuable resource a full-blown Department of Yoga would be to a university! Students, teachers, and administrators in every department would benefit from the availability of ongoing, high-level, campus-based Yoga training. If we really want to be more accepted by doctors, there is no better way than to teach them Yoga while they’re still in medical school.

I guarantee that the first university with the vision to create a degree program in Yoga would be deluged by applications from highly motivated, deeply-committed students. It’s a cherished dream of mine to see this happen in my lifetime─perhaps soon enough for my younger sons to take advantage of it.

This brief piece does not permit me to explore all the implications of my view, and I am well aware there are a great many (including what the “T” in IAYT might be changed to). I sincerely hope a lively dialogue will emerge as you consider the possibility of re-identifying yourself as what you truly are: a Yoga educator. I’d love to hear from you.

In closing, I salute the leadership of IAYT for their enlightened stewardship of our field, and for their open-mindedness in allowing my ideas to appear in their journal. The fact that you are reading this is ample evidence of their commitment to a truly open dialogue, and I am deeply honored that they have welcomed me into this forum.

Leslie Kaminoff is the founder of the Breathing Project, a nonprofit educational corporation in New York City dedicated to the teaching of individualized, breath-centered Yoga practice. He is also the co-author of the book “Yoga Anatomy.”

34 thoughts on “I’m Not a Yoga Therapist Anymore (Revised)”

  1. I’m in agreement with Mr. Kaminoff regarding university degree in yoga.
    Yes, kinesiology and all mentioned, in a program at the university level.

    But where will consensus be with regard to being a –yoga educator– once the courses are under the belt, so to speak?

    You don’t become a yoga educator by understanding kinesiology. Maybe, maybe, you become a physical therapist….

    There will need to be yogi’s behind the college degree in yoga. I mean, Yoga is something different, no?

    And absolutely, there will then be a yoga heirarchy. And peer review, and all the rules of being a member of a society. Being a professional. Licensing, and all that.

    And we are back where the shoe pinches, Mr. Kaminoff.
    — Let me understand what you think this means, sir.

  2. there is now a master’s of science in yoga therapy offered for the first time this year (2013) at Maryland University of Integrative Health (formerly known as Tai Sophia Institute which originally offered programs in acupuncture and traditional chinese medicine). I am part of the first class and will let you know how it goes! while I’m in total agreement with Leslie about everything he’s said, it may be a sad commentary on how American society is currently set up that the only way for yoga (therapy) to be more widely accepted will be to somehow get it offered as part of the suite of medical treatments offered for reimbursement by insurance companies. this at least will make it more widely affordable for those who still HAVE medical insurance (I refuse to call it “health insurance”, your diet and lifestyle should be that!). and those of us who simply don’t make enough money as yoga educators may then have the means to be able to offer at least some services gratis for those with no money OR insurance! I personally do not plan to work directly with insurance companies unless one puts me on their payroll (and pays me handsomely at that) – my future plans are to initially try to work with a medical office that already does so, gain experience and professional respect, and eventually set up a private practice along the lines of my highly valued manual physical therapist (a godsend well worth the asking price) – giving the codes for reimbursement but not working directly with those who want to make a profit on the backs of others’ hard work and expertise…

  3. Thank you for writing this. I am an American yoga and Ayurveda instructor currently living in France and have spent the last 2 years teaching traditional hatha yoga in an ashtanga-based studio. Between learning to teach yoga in a new language and teaching students with a foundational view different from mine, it has been an incredible opportunity for me to deepen into the integrity of what I do (and do not) have to offer. It has become more and more clear to me that what I most enjoy in the service part of my practice is educating others in connecting more with their experience. I have let my Yoga Alliance membership slide and I have been wondering somewhat where that will leave me when I return to the US in August.

  4. Sandra,

    I’m curious to see how your journey and experiences have been at MUIH. I recently heard about this program and am considering attendance in the Spring of next year. I couldn’t agree with Leslie more — this is perhaps the best way to gain strides in the realm of yoga. As curious as the title of “Yoga Therapist” may indeed be, I wonder what has become of the program at MUIH and what advances or preliminary advantages you’ve seen as a collective and unique sphere within this realm.

    Leslie, I’m also curious if you know of this program and/or intend to have any involvement or participation (even just as a guest) to further encourage or guide the complex avenues of this “department.”

    Many blessings to you both. Namaste

  5. Thank you for such a carefully crafted, and well-thought-out post! This morning I found myself wondering if it was possible to pursue a degree in yoga – I’m thrilled to see there is at least a masters degree somewhere, and I hope that we will see undergraduate degrees being offered in yoga as well! How would one set such a movement in motion, does anyone have any thoughts on the subject?

  6. Savitha Nanjangud

    Namaste Leslie

    Thank you for the very well written piece. I am a yoga teacher of Indian origin with Hindu roots and a therapist in training and have been bothered for a while by the whole idea of regulating the yoga world. Hence I totally agree with your statement. “We are, however, opposed to the establishment of any entity that assumes the authority to license or regulate Yoga teachers as professional practitioners and to enforce its standards on the Yoga community.”

    For hundreds of years Yoga (Hatha Yoga practices and scripture study) was considered a serious spiritual practice and taught to only select worthy students who went sincerely seeking this knowledge. Therapy was confined to Ayurveda and other healing arts. Regulation of the yoga world in ancient India was done by the gurus themselves. There were strict rules about respecting the guru and senior practitioners, following guru parampara, yama/niyama of each ashram, etc. Gurus were enlightened people and conducted themselves as such thus commanding a lot of respect. Hence abuses of the practices and infractions of behavior were few and far between and gurus dealt with them.

    In our current situation however, whether it be in India or US, anybody can become a yoga teacher/therapist and claim guru status without the necessary spiritual sadhana and qualities to back up the claim. Without some kind of entities regulating yoga teachers, the practices they teach, and yoga institutions etc., how do you propose we 1) protect innocent students and clients from being duped, exploited, harmed, etc. 2) preserve the authenticity of yoga and not get diluted into some mish-mash of weird unrecognizable practices, 3) provide a platform for students/clients to complain against or even expose teachers/therapists who behave unethically, immorally, illegally?

    I would really like to hear your thoughts on this.

  7. Thank you for an insightful article. I’m not so sure about the idea of yoga as a university degree. That’s likely to significantly increase the cost of yoga training. I believe MUIH’s degree is around $50,000 … an average cost for Master’s degrees from private institutions. Spending that kind of money on a degree doesn’t pair with the typical income a yoga teacher makes.

  8. Hey guys, I started the program at MUIH in September 2015 and am grateful to be working towards the building of my knowledge of yoga and all of its’ components that can help people physically, energetically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually (kinda threw in the koshas there).
    I respect the words of Mr. Kaminoff, as he’s incredibly knowledgeable and experienced in the teachings of yoga.
    I’m inclined to try and maintain a naive look at yoga, keeping it simple, and staying out of the turf wars that are now going on between YA and IAYT (which will only serve to expose ugliness btw). I intend to keep a clear vision of why I started to pursue a more “advanced” understanding of yoga and its’ teachings to begin with -> to help people. That’s what matters, do it for free, make a bit of change, doesn’t matter, simply keep it real, and stay true to the principles of yoga, stay true to yourself.

  9. I left the medical system to pursue teaching yoga full-time and wholly and enthusiastically agree with Leslie on the problem of regulation. But I share the concern that Tesia has, that by taking teacher training into universities many great yoga teachers and future yoga teachers will be denied access because of the huge financial barrier. Already I chafe at the issue of the teacher with the best list of certifications being given supremacy over the teacher who has dedicated her life and her energy to complex, ethical and deep relationships with her students over many years. Privilege can buy many “attainments.” We need teachers who have come from poverty, teachers who come from under-represented communities, teachers of colour, teachers with dyslexia, teachers who can champion yoga when it goes against the stream of striving, consuming and ego-championing that sells well but sabotages the yamas and niyamas. Universities are businesses and bureaucracies, so I worry that handing over teacher training to them may represent a deal with the devil. The relationship of yoga and commerce is a thorny one. Glad to see some intelligent, respectful and meaningful debate is happening.

  10. In this piece, Mr. Kaminoff sets up a false dilemma — either subscribe to the notion of “Yoga Therapy,” which he falsely assumes necessarily aligns itself with a “medical model,” or do what he deems the “superior path” — that American Yoga aligns itself within an academic model. As someone who has worked in academia for over a decade, I affirm that the university system is no less oppressive than the bureaucracy Kaminoff states he wishes to avoid by deeming himself a Yoga Therapist. He writes that does not want Yoga to be infiltrated by third-parties, and yet doesn’t seem to realize the corruption and bureaucracy of the multi-million dollar industry of the American university. Furthermore, his plan seems to enable the continuation of bourgeois American yogas, which aligning with the university model would surely proliferate. I offer a third possibility, as I tear up at the thought of the powers of Yoga being snuffed out as it becomes just another major program in a university, just another ivory tower bureaucracy. I would like to see more Yogis taking social action with their yoga. This country has more incarcerated people than any other country in the world. Yoga and mindfulness can help the root cause of this pressing concern. I say let us take Yoga to the streets, to the prisons, to the therapy rooms. In this way, I favor the term “therapy” over “educator.” But more than this, I think it is funny to squabble over words and language when there are people dying and starving and trapped in prisons. It is crooked to suggest that helping the student loan sharks aid and abet the future debt of Yogis stands within the ethical perimeters of Yoga Philosophy. At the end of the day, the Therapy versus Educator model sounds like very strong egos clashing. Yet, if they continue to clash too hard, they only knock each other out.

  11. Yes, thank you very much, Tesia, for elucidating this simple fact — that this university model will only financially burden Yogis… or leave it as something in the ivory tower for only the independently wealthy and privileged to pursue.

  12. I agree with you completely, Leslie! Thank you for stating this and committing to the deepest understanding of what we who are so dedicated to teaching yoga ethically have been thinking as we have been considering the option of describing ourselves as “therapists”.

    It is so enough to be an excellent yoga educator – as you term it.

    In Gratitude,

  13. Turns out I agree with you. Please note the most recent edits to this piece. I have struck out all the passages advocating for university programs training Yoga educators.

    I have also recanted my praise for IAYT. My reasons for doing so are stated in the piece.

  14. Saule, I appreciate your response to this. Seems to me as well a very picky opinion on choice of wording. What’s wrong with helping to heal others (therapy)? The world needs this!!!! However, I agree with Leslie that it’s ultimately up to the individual to heal themself through the practice and education of yoga. the individual still needs to be guided in the right direction. So, what we really are in need of is better standards. Which, YES, might mean some regulation by some system, whether it be associations or govt. I think there are some really great Yoga Therapy programs out there that are incorporating a huge Ayurveduc piece to it. Ayurveda is the healing, therapeutic branch of yoga! The use of the word therapy should not imply or require a college degree. Perhaps Just better regulations that require extensive study and education!

  15. I loved reading this article and am often at a loss for the best description of what we do; yoga therapist/ educator? While I agree that technically we are educators, how are these words landing for our students/ clients? How will their perception of how we will meet their needs, and what is available to them, be influenced by the titles we use? I would think that most “yoga therapists” would agree with your definition, ” yoga applied to the individual”. One of the words you used to define therapy was “attending” and I think it’s the active listening on the part of the yoga ” fill in the blank” to find the practices that will best address our student’s/client’s needs that does bring us into the realm of “therapists” though not in the medical model of the term.

  16. Leslie, I agree with much of what you say, however, as a libertarian-leaning yogi, my position is that we should have the freedom of speech and association to call ourselves whatever we want, and exchange our services with whomever wants to pay us, regardless of state approval or sanction. Even if what we did was “medical.”

    We have a First Amendment that has been trampled on for decades under the guise of protecting people. The medical establishment has seen to it that they and only they are allowed to determine what is “medical” care. This is not right, and leads to bizarre laws like in my state where you can’t see an acupuncturist without the approval of a Western doctor first.

    I am not opposed to entities offering (voluntary) certifications or ethical guidelines, and I am a bit less enthused about state licensing, but even if that still exists, I think we all have an inherent right to seek “medical” treatment or healing from whomever we damn well please. The government’s job should be to prosecute outright, intentional, malicious fraud, not give favor to the more “mainstream” approach to health vs. another more “fringe” one.

    Yoga Alliance’s position, in my opinion, gives more fuel to the government to choose who owns the term “therapy.” Nobody should own that term. Language changes and adjusts as time goes by. It should never be up to the state to tell us what we can and cannot call ourselves, and that freedom of speech is what Yoga Alliance should be fighting for.

  17. Leslie, great commentary. I came into the yoga teaching world after spending 30 years practicing medicine (Physician Assistant). Why knowledgeable yogis would want to enter the world of academia and conventional medicine is beyond me. We will gain respect by doing what we do well, by communicating clearly what we do, and by maintaining a clear vision of who we are as we reach out to all who want to hear us. Thank you.

  18. While I support much of your piece. The piece missing in the conversation then becomes: “What it means to be an ‘educator’?”. There is a widening gap in the difference between what it means to be “certified” and “qualified”, within our beloved yoga culture.

    The need to offer certifications to keep commercial doors open is another seed that is sprouting less than optimal fruit. I have a growing concern that the masses shelling out a couple of thousand dollars for yoga certifications, are beginning to resemble puppy-mills, producing teachers who are not truly being qualified to teach are breeding problems such as this which will continue to surface. I posted this about this issue and how it can result in the injuries and litigation which have contributed to the “yoga therapy” dialogue for teachers-graduates from my own program:

    “Yoga Alliance has put out a new guideline which requires both teachers and students, who want to be listed on their registry, to agree NOT to call yoga ‘therapeutic’.

    I found yoga after I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis. I combined yoga and cognitive therapy (in my therapist’s office) to heal myself from the ravages of post traumatic stress, from childhood abuse. I used yoga as a palliative tool for more than one friend (including the cognitive therapist that had helped me heal) in the final months and days, even in the very moment that he passed from this life. I leaned into yoga to help me grieve the vacancy left from the loss of several friends (who I have helped cross beyond this life). Oh yes, also, I used yoga on a daily basis as I survived a stage 3, triple negative breast cancer diagnosis. In fact, on my good days during chemotherapy, I would enter my Bodhi Yoga Center alone, where after sterilizing my mat, I would move through a slow BodhiFlow and miraculously leave feeling normal-healthy, be it just for a few moments. To know THAT ‘healed’ place was still in me somewhere, bald and puffy from treatments…That therapeutic place in yoga, is why I am here today to tell this tale.

    So why does this happen with Yoga Alliance? It comes on the heals of a concern I have had growing for several years.

    In my opinion, it happens, because many yoga studios are offering yoga teacher trainings to boost business profitability, prior to being ready to educate teachers. While I understand this motivation, I am concerned that studios choose to offer yoga teacher trainings, before the teachers-owners themselves make the evolution into ‘yoga educators’, who are themselves, well-versed in the Healer’s Art.

    There is a HUGE difference between these two distinctions: a certified yoga teacher vs. an qualified yoga teacher. What has happened in the modern yoga community, is that teacher certifications have become so prolific, that it feels like the current yoga culture is peppered with something tantamount to ‘puppy mills’; turning-out yogis that may be great at practicing yoga themselves, but are not prepared to teach in a mentally-emotionally literate way.

    The result? Unfortunately, this has led to a rash of injuries in yoga classes. Some that have lead to litigation, as a result of what I would hope is just a great yogi, who may be certified, but has not been prepared to be a qualified educator of others in the practice of Yoga. Too often yoga teachers have promoted the practice’s therapeutic effects (often by word of mouth, over actual experience). There is a difference between being able to do great yoga and being a great yoga teacher. There IS a difference.

    And now we (as a collective group) are being compelled to essentially apologize for the therapeutic benefits yoga can offer. If we want to be taken seriously, as yoga continues to grow into this culture, we will have to make some changes. What are those changes? Well, that is a question which I am grappling with myself. I don’t believe there is an answer as simple as you are suggesting. I truly don’t mean to sound critical in anyway. I appreciate your great contributions. You asked for thoughtful response, so here I am, contributing in the best way I know how.

    An educator, in my opinion, is ALSO a word that applies (again), to someone who has a license to teach. My brother is the Economic Chair at MIT and his title as “educator” is equal to an elementary school teacher who has completed thousands of required hours for that license. He is world renowned because of his gift and the way he puts that genius to use to better and uplift everyone in his field of expertise. What is KEY is that they are both recognized as licensed, and are so, because they are willing to put in the time for that accreditation and consequent recognition at a state level. What they do within that licensure, is what determines recognition beyond the paper issued them by their respective state department of education and licensing. Again, if we say the word “therapeutic” is encroaching, then we have to acknowledge the same issue with the word “educator”.

    So again and again, we will bump into this.

    Being a Yoga Teacher is far more than a certificate saying you are one. Sadly today, that gap between “Certified” and “Qualified” is broadened to a tragic tipping point of it’s own. We have to acknowledge that WE have done this. If we can’t govern ourselves in a way that comes up with a better solution than how this currently playing out, something will have to shift. What and how that is, or will be, I am not qualified to say 😉

    Since I began practicing over 20 years ago, I personally have spent over $40,000. on my own yoga trainings and logged over 10,000-hours of practice and study. I have written four separate yoga certification programs, authored and illustrated four manuals that total over 1300 pages of content. I have filmed, edited and upload over 198 online streaming classes that support my programs … and today, Yoga Alliance wants me to remove the word “Therapeutic” from all website content and printed materials associated with my center, Bodhi Yoga™.

    We have to look to ourselves and what we want to say it means to be qualified.

    It makes me think of a student who came to me for help. He was a well-known college football player, who’s docs had told him that he needed surgery on his shoulder to continue.
    He explained that he didn’t want to go that rout and was asking for me to work along with his doctor, clinical mental-health councilor and physical therapist to do everything we would do with him if he were RECOVERING from the surgery he was so adamant to avoid. We did and he didn’t need surgery.

    We as a yoga community need to hold ourselves to this type of accountability. We need to shrink our certification groups to those who are ready and will leave qualified, because of their own Tapas and Kratu. We need to be more selective about who that is. In my opinion, we need to raise both tuition and certification requirement, to weed out the crowd that just thinks it is really “hot” to be a yoga teacher.

    My center is an approved facility for the State office of Vocational Rehabilitation, Military Benefit for returning Veterans, Church Employment Groups. Students who could not otherwise afford to pay for certification have their tuition paid by one of these groups, who actively support what I do. This has entailed me filling out a single page paper, over approximately 20 minutes, and that was it. My Yoga Alliance Accredited School application took FIVE DAYS to compile and it is Yoga Alliance Accredited Schools that see it as a governing body over REGISTRY, and justify that for not being more conscientious, as they see potential students as “lucrative-graduates”. It’s not okay, as has manifested just a glimpse with the “yoga therapy” question at hand.

    If we desire to be treated like educators, then we need to set ourselves to higher standards than we have in past times.

    …this is my story for today.

    I sincerely thank you for the invitation to comment and all you are contributing to the body of yoga.

    Syl Carson
    Bodhi Yoga™ Center

  19. Leslie,
    thank you so very much for your clear and sincere and grounded response to the seemingly ceaseless credentialing hurdles. I so appreciate your perspective. I was a Dance Teacher/Movement Educator who “bit the bullet” and became a Massage Therapist and now having to repeat the same hurdles with the Yoga. Yes, Yoga is ultimately about freedom, so how do we move forward in ways that stay aligned with the teachings without compromising our ability to make a living in the western world? I really like your word choice of Yoga Educator, as i am also a Movement Educator. i sent so much money and time hoop jumping to pull myself out of the grey areas of dance teacher, movement educator into the clarified, “well understood” vocation of Massage Therapist. Now all the same debates again & again in the Yoga Communities.
    Maybe we can create a “bundled” credentialing party and get some two and three for one deals so we can pay our bills rather than pay all the organizations for the right to practice!

  20. Hello to all…

    Thank you Leslie for taking the time to express your thoughts.

    At the end of the day, all these “politics” divert us from the true purpose of Yoga, which is to find genuine one-ness (read: peace) in our lives, and find the answers to the questions: who am I, where do I come from, where will I go when I leave this plane, and whilst I am here, how am I suppose to live my life?

    In my humble opinion, HEALING is about finding the answers to these questions, ‘inside’, and living them organically in service of others, ‘outside’.

    Disease is an illusion.


  21. Leslie,

    I am right there with you and with many of the comments posted, especially those regarding the differences between “certified” and “qualified”, the dangers of aligning Yoga with medicine and insurance and the legal ramifications. And, I absolutely oppose Yoga in academia. When the spiritual aspect is taken out of Yoga, it is no longer Yoga.

    I came to the practices in 1971 through meditation. My journey into Yoga and several other mind/body/spirit disciplines, both Eastern and Western, have nourished and sustained me to present day. I am now in the throes of dealing with the IAYT grand-parenting issue, wondering how I will fit my personal process of 45 years of experience, learning, practicing, teaching, counselling into a form that I then submit to someone(s) who will judge and deem my life’s work worthy or not of another accreditation I have to pay for annually.

    I never documented in a formal way the vast majority of that work. I just did it. It is not possible to recall and document all the people in those 45 years with whom I’ve had the privilege of interacting through Yoga. And now, I’m asking myself if I even want, or need, that certification and what kind of power am I granting any organization that sets itself up to pass judgment. In no other work I ever did to support myself, was this a requirement. The only requirement was the quality of my work as experienced by my immediate employers and clients.

    In a sense I feel similar to my sister-in-law, a dedicated lay midwife with 30 years experience who has facilitated pregnancies, births and postpartum care for well over a 1000 babies, educated other lay midwives and has a broad wealth of experience and medical knowledge.

    Today, one day before my 67th birthday, I am re-writing my brochure on my therapeutic yoga services, thinking about those I have helped over the years through the complications of MS, accident recovery, depression, anxiety, pain management, relationship issues, chronic stress, cancer and so many other issues. I can see how I’ve grown, how my practice has changed and is still changing, how the depth and breadth have expanded over the years, and how my commitment has remained, both for my own personal growth, and my dedication to helping others grow.

    It is always about the relationships. It is not about the number of acronyms following one’s name, and especially not about how many one accumulates in 2-4 years for the purpose of opening up a Yoga shop. A Yoga training program was not so long ago a journey one undertook for personal growth, and if one was then “called” to teach, it was just that, a “calling” not a career description in a list of job categories as we now see in some community colleges and four-year institutions. I call myself a Yoga Facilitator & Educator, and what I do is help people to the best of my abilities, based on my own experiences, learn to live a more balanced and fulfilled life on all levels through the practices and principles of Yoga.

    Thank you for this forum.

  22. Thank you, Wendy. At the end of a long, frustrating day trying to secure liability insurance, from anyone who doesn’t require also an (expensive) membership is IAYT, has led me to your blog. I have been providing yoga education since 1986, cum “therapy”. I am an American expat. I came to India 4 years ago searching for a better way to live, and find a way to expand my knowledge. I’ve landed at SVYASA (Swami Vivikenanda’s University in south India) pursuing a PhD in Yoga. Western readers would be interested to know that the degree does not require much education in asana. The material body is addressed, of course. But preeminent focus is on the mind and spirit as the source of “modifications” in the body. Whereas I might agree about the statement that yoga should not be a part of academia, maybe this would be appropriate wherein U.S. Institutions is concerned. Yoga, with roots in India, is now a heritage protected by UNESCO. The new prime minister (a Raja Yogi himself), in all his wisdom, has not hinted at regulation. But he has installed a quality control test. All educators must pass it (voluntarily). When IAYT launched, the first thing I noticed was the founder’s MBA credential. Having had my fill of YA corporate maneuvers, I smelled a greedy skunk. I have watched the content they are producing, the speakers invited to conferences, and the locations/facilities at meetings. It’s a money maker. So with plans to travel, teach, and give, after receiving a PhD in Yoga (Sociology/Anthropology) I am struggling to find a company that isn’t in bed with John Kepner. Here we go again. Om Shanti & Prem, Shreejan Sita, PhD Candidate

  23. Hello Susan,
    I just ran across this helpful article and while reading its reviews, I happened to see yours. I have never never replied to a post before, nevertheless written one. This is very strange to me and you probably will never get to read it. But if you do and if you have the time, I would like to hear about your experience teaching Yoga in France.
    Thank you,

  24. Hear hear. Look forward to having the discussion with you in person, if you’re still up for it by March 2018.
    This is creating a healthy chat among the Australian version of IAYT.

  25. Hello Sandra,

    It has only been 4 years since you posted this comment, but I am interested in hearing (or reading) your thoughts about MUIH’s yoga therapy program. I am considering moving toward the program and could benefit from insights of a previous student.

    Thank you <3

  26. Wow. Thank you for this perspective. It set straight some underlying pieces that were disjointed for me. I have seen the exponential growth of teacher trainings, like people being trained that have actually just begun practicing. I have thought it irresponsible and have deemed it the “aerobics” of this decade. Somehow YA is not discussing this nor worried about who represents “Yoga” on this level. But highly trained teachers using a word like “therapeutic” having to be eliminated, seemed imbalanced to me. So I thank you for your response and for your work in the world.
    Kristin English

  27. I think it depends on the individual with particular regard to experience, I myself have studied 500 hour teacher training with an Indian guru from Rishikesh, prior to which I had many years experience including a registered Sports Massage therapist and Advanced Personal trainer (registered). I come from a science background with a Biology BSc, and 30 years working in the Pharmaceutical industry. I feel confident using the word therapist, many, many yoga teachers do not possess or are not confident in their knowledge and explanation of Anatomy and Physiology. So it is a question of possessing in depth knowledge and application. Many yoga asanas can create further problems. Most teachers with the greatest respect, can’t begin to explain or describe to their students even common medical conditions in health and illness e.g. hypertension or diabetes. Namaste

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top