Defining Yoga Therapy

The Los Angeles Airport Hilton Hotel was recently overrun with thousands of Yoga teachers and Yoga therapists at the first Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research, created by The International Association of Yoga Therapists. I’m not sure the hotel will ever be the same! And perhaps we can say the same for the profession of Yoga therapy. As the number of Yoga therapy practitioners grows worldwide, as Yoga becomes more accessible to all individuals, and as data from research on Yoga’s effectiveness reaches mainstream health care providers, so grows the debate over the need for defining Yoga Therapy and creating standards of care for the vast number of approaches to this valuable profession.

The symposium posed the question, “What is Yoga Therapy?” It is a good question to ask, but it comes with as many answers as there are styles of Yoga. None of them are “wrong” and none of them are “right.” We enjoy a wealth of diversity in the Yoga world, and yet we all attempt to move toward one thing – “union.” And there are apparently many ways to get there.

Michael Lee’s (Founder of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy) shortest definition of Yoga Therapy is that it is a practice or method that produces a “change from one state of being to another state of being that is enhancing.” His definition is perhaps the simplest way to describe the overall power of Yoga therapy, without being exclusive of any type or style that is offered.

Phoenix Rising is unique in the world of Yoga Therapy for several reasons, two of which seem the most noticeable. While other Yoga therapies are more physically therapeutic, PRYT is more psychologically therapeutic, while still being a body-oriented practice. And while other methods are prescriptive in nature, PRYT relies on empowering individuals to recognize and identify their own abilities to create and enact positive life change from the inside out.

It is my understanding that the need to define and standardize what we do comes from the desire to be recognized and validated within the confines of conventional Western medical modalities and current health care systems.

So all this leads me to ask many other questions, which I encourage you to ponder: “How narrowly must we define this wonderful, ineffable thing? Do we need to conform to conventional methods and networks of health care at the risk of them restricting our abundant diversity? Do we really want to be part of a health care system that is currently less successful than we are at what we now do?”

As our budding Western profession of Yoga Therapy moves inevitably forward, it is my hope that standards will arise in the form of a collective code of ethics and general guidelines for scope of practice for Yoga therapy practitioners that can easily and respectfully be applied to all. In doing so, care must be taken not to exclude anyone by our defining Yoga therapy too narrowly.

This can all be made possible if we, as diverse schools of Yoga therapy, continue to create, re-create, and uphold our own unique standards for practice and criteria for certification, while validating and appreciating each of the other current traditions and methods, as well as those yet to be created.