Yoga Alliance Registry’s new policy: how does it affect you? by Michael Lee

No single announcement in the last ten years has gotten more yoga professionals talking to each other than Yoga Alliance Registry (YAR)’s announcement in late January about their new policy on the use of yoga therapy terms. It rocked the yoga world, and social media groups came alive in active—and sometimes heated—discussion. Now that the dust has settled, it’s time to reflect and integrate. What does this mean for yoga therapists who are also yoga teachers, and for yoga teachers who call their work therapeutic yoga?

Yoga Alliance Registry (YAR) has made a clear, two-sentence statement, which is on their website:

“yoga therapy” and similar terms will not be allowed on Registry directory pages, with limited exceptions. 

In addition, registrants who market themselves externally using both their Registry credential and “yoga therapy”-type terms will need to state the non-Registry basis for their “yoga therapy” qualifications (on those external marketing materials).

Essentially, YAR is asking for yoga therapists to be transparent about their credentials and certifications – which is a good thing. So, what’s the problem?

In my opinion, they’re bumping up against resistance for two reasons: firstly, because the policy is very confusing, with many folks still uncertain about whether and how they are affected; and secondly, the new policy was adopted without consultation or pre-discussion with members.

I accept that YAR has the right to create policies they believe are in the best interests of those they serve. Clearly the folks at YAR firmly believe this is a wise decision, even in light of the high volume of contrary opinion.

However, as a member and owner of a registered school, what bothers me the most is the slam to highly-qualified and legitimately practicing yoga therapists. This was evident in the language, tone, and apparent intent of the announcement, which was also delivered in an email that called the policy “fait accompli.” It included an ultimatum to either accept the terms of the policy, or have membership revoked and be blocked from the website log-in.

As for the motives behind both the policy and how it was delivered, what I understand is this: YAR’s attorneys have advised them that there is a risk of exposure for YAR if someone is “using their RYS or RYT designations to hold themselves out as qualified to work as a ‘yoga therapist’ or to train others in ‘yoga therapy’ methods.” Their solution to this problem is for members to sign a disclaimer saying that any yoga therapy methods they practice have no connection to YAR.

What they are saying is this: Don’t refer to yourself as a yoga therapist on our (YAR) website, and if you are both a yoga therapist and a yoga teacher, clearly state where you got the credentials to call yourself a yoga therapist, while disclaiming it has any connection with YAR.

Ok, so it’s pretty clear what YAR wants, even though the process seems very heavy-handed.

Professionally, this move will eventually force greater clarity in the yoga community. YAR is confronting a grey area in our profession. It addresses those members who refer to themselves as both a yoga teacher and a yoga therapist, but who don’t have adequate training or education in yoga therapy. There’s an upside to this for legitimate yoga therapists. If you are a yoga therapist with quality training and education or a graduate from an International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) accredited program, like Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, you have nothing to fear and much to gain. Your credentials just went up in value.

I agree that it’s a matter of concern to all yoga professionals when yoga teachers market themselves as yoga therapists without adequate training, and recognize the value in eliminating this grey area. Yet I’m concerned about the way in which the YAR announcement was made. It was somewhat disrespectful of yoga therapists, and displayed a lack of understanding of the profession in general.

I’ve been a yoga therapist for over 30 years and have a master’s degree with a focus on yoga therapy. I began training yoga therapists in 1986. In reality, there are many highly-qualified, professional yoga therapists with years of training doing amazing work. I consider myself and the more than 2,000 graduates of our Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy Program (PRYT) to be among them. I also have deep respect for the work of many of my IAYT colleagues who have decades of education and a depth of knowledge in yoga and yoga therapy that by far eclipses a 200RYT or 500RYT. Many of us have gained the respect of the public as well as traditional health providers. YAR failed to acknowledge any of these facts in their communications.

YAR also made some broad statements about yoga therapists. They implied that ALL yoga therapists work outside their scope of practice by diagnosing and treating mental or physical health conditions. They should have considered the diversity in the yoga therapy profession before making this kind of blanket statement. It would have gone a long way in gaining my support and the support of others.

Not all yoga therapists work outside their scope of practice. What’s important here is whether the training underlying a particular scope of practice meets appropriate standards and then trains its practitioners well in meeting them. Closer investigation on the part of YAR would have revealed many varied quality yoga therapy training programs with clear definitions limiting their scope of practice. In my own work as a yoga therapist, I have never once diagnosed or treated a client, because that is not within our scope of practice. Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy has a client-centered modality. Within the broader context of yoga therapy, there is a lot of valued diversity – not every school has an identical scope of practice while at the same time committing to upholding agreed standards. Just as there is room for our school under the professional umbrella of yoga therapy (because it IS yoga therapy we practice), so also should there be room for those who have a slightly different emphasis in their scope of practice. IAYT knows and values this. It appears YA does not understand it.

Here are some possibilities for you as a trained professional yoga therapist who is also a yoga teacher:

Just comply.
This is by far the easiest option. Go to the YA website and update your profile as instructed. If you are also a yoga therapist, complete the disclaimer, as much as it hurts to disclaim. Then use IAYT as your go-to organization for all matters pertaining to your yoga therapy practice.

Quit Yoga Alliance.
People have been discussing this option in the Facebook groups and online forums. If you aren’t gaining anything by being a member of YAR (in other words, if you don’t need an RYT 200 or 500 for your teaching gig at the local studio or spa), then this is definitely an option. But think long-term as well. Yoga Alliance Registry is the largest organized body of professional yoga teachers in the world, and its position of power isn’t going to change anytime soon. I’d suggest waiting on exercising this option until you are clear on the implications, and sure that you can work without your membership.

Express your opinion.
Regardless of which other action(s) you take, as a fee-paying member you should exercise this right. Just don’t expect that it will change anything. I attended a recent YA webinar which turned out to be simply a reiteration of the policy and material already on the YA website. At the end they said they had answered all questions. Well, not really. Mine wasn’t answered, and neither were my two companions’.

Feel bad about being a yoga therapist.
This is an option, but why should you? If you have the training, clients or students, and are doing great work in the world, you have nothing to feel bad about. Look at this as an opportunity to reflect upon and feel proud of the great work you are doing. Let it also serve as inspiration to reach out to your community of fellow yoga therapists and stand tall together.

Get behind IAYT.
If you are a yoga therapist, this should be your go-to organization from here on. I’m very proud to be a founding member. I think this organization has done a superb job in advancing the standing of yoga therapists. We are a diverse group with diverse approaches to the practice of yoga therapy. I am confident that yoga therapy will continue to grow and become even more accepted and sought after in the years ahead.

Get your yoga therapy credentials in order.
Take your training from an IAYT accredited program. If you have already taken your training, join IAYT and apply for grand-parenting. Connect with the school you trained with or another school with an accredited program for grand-parenting support. At Phoenix Rising School of Yoga Therapy, we are supporting all of our current practitioners who are up to date with our recertification requirements to become grand-parented. We will also help those who might want some additional training to satisfy their grand-parenting requirements.

To me, this call for clarity presents great opportunities for yoga therapists to embrace their edge and stand tall. It’s a great time to be a yoga therapist, and a great time to join together and become one.

Michael Lee,  MA,  Dip.Soc.Sci,  Dip.T., E-RYT 500
Founder and Dean of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy
Michael is a master educator with 49 years of teaching experience. He founded Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy in 1985 after many years of deep yoga practice and work in the areas of personal growth and transformation. Michael is the author of two books Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy—Bridge from Body to Soul and Turn Stress Into Bliss. He is also a contributing author to the American Psychological Association published book Beyond Talk therapy: Using movement and expressive techniques in clinical practice. He has led workshops and training programs and presented at conferences worldwide for the past thirty years.

21 Responses

  1. Awesome response!!! Thank you! Thank you so very much, , Michael. You made it so very clear , you gave it adequate thought , and explaied the process to us — I cannot thank you enough . I am an IYT graduate, and loved Joseph LePage's response, and yours simply confirmed….. Moving forward wiser now ….. And I do feel somewhat lucky. — to see -to observe -to watch the changes , the movement , within our profession over the last 30 years …. I feel that I have been part of the movement and that makes me proud to have been part of something so powerful and so positive

  2. Thank you for this well-argued and eloquent response, Michael. I appreciate in particular your discussion on the YA's incorrect characterization of yoga therapists and, by implication, our integrity in acting within our scope of practice.

  3. Yes Jennifer, as our profession grows the need for discernment like you mention on the part of all professionals, clients, and students will become even more important.

  4. Thanks Lee. I think your comments address a very important element in the kind of community we want to create in our "world of yoga" in 21st Century. As one of the elders now in that community it is very important to me to hold values and principles (and put them into action) that will create a caring and connected community.

  5. Thank you Michael for writing this. Am privileged to have become at PRYT practitioner. Priceless education for me and a great gift to share. Good to see I can acknowlege I am a yoga therapist and yoga teacher. Bless you, love Bea

  6. Thank you so much for this. I am shocked and appalled that the Yoga Alliance sets standards for the yoga community, gets people to BUY into it, then only complies as a directory source when you ask them to get everyone who is a member to COMPLY to their standards. I appreciate your words, advice and options as one of our forerunners who started the modern Western yoga movement. It is wonderful to get a wholesome and modern viewpoint on how we can move in the right direction from an entity who really just wants to take our money, and not support us beyond the things they choose to support. I hope all the RYT's will continue to research the hand they put their money into, as I know I will be moving away from carrying their mark and move forward in support of other marks who work to truly move yoga in the right direction, protect its teachers, students and schools, and preserve the tradition.

  7. I was confused by the article published by YA…and I appreciate your detailed and logical explanation…I needed to hear what you, as the founding father of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy has to say about this. I am a graduate and certified practitioner from Phoenix Rising…and also a yoga teacher certified at Kripalu, and hold a Master's degree in clinical social work. I am grateful to hear from you on all of this…I look forward to being grandfathered in, and I already determined that My GO -TO Professional organization would be IAYT…thank you for the confirmation that I am making the right decision, because all of this recent chatter is becoming very confusing. I AM HAPPY TO HEAR THAT PHOENIX RISING WILL HELP US WITH THE GRANDFATHERING PROCESS. NAMASTE.

  8. Michael, kudos on a very well written, and thoughtful post. In the past, I have made the mistake of speaking or making policies before consulting others, and it was hurtful to those who were strongly affected. I've always believed that the best way to fix a mistake is to acknowledge it, apologize, do damage control, and revise my thinking. I haven't made that mistake for a while, and with any luck, will always be mindful of others in the future (yep – good luck being perfect, right?). I would have expected, given the response, that YA would have backed off a little, reevaluated the situation and opened meaningful and thoughtful dialogue. What an opportunity that would have been – to not only show humility and display how important YA considers their members, but to also be raised significantly in esteem by those members. I respect those who make mistakes and repair them even more than those who are always careful not to make mistakes. No empathetic response has been made at all, it seems, and that saddens me. I hold out hope that someone representing YA will come forward and do the above. That would show me that the times, they are a changin' — truly.

  9. I have my MS in Psychology. I practice yoga and am a certified personal trainer. As a veteran with PTSD and some physical injuries, I know how much yoga has helped me. Ultimately, I would like to become a yoga therapist and help others. This article is definitely important to me. I appreciate you sharing this information.

  10. Sandra – we do understand that calling yourself a yoga therapist on the YA profile page is not going to fly with YA and that they are requesting you to use a disclaimer on your own website and marketing materials that share a YA stated credential. What part of Michael's article reads otherwise? We'd like to make it as clear and accurate as possible.

  11. Michael, I respect your thoughts but when I contacted YA about their new policy they told me I could not refer on my YA profile page to my Master of Science in Yoga Therapy degree, the terms Health and Medical were flagged in my reference to Maryland University of Integrative Health (where I got my degree from an accredited academic institution) or National Ayurvedic Medical Association (though they may be reconsidering the use of flagged terms when they are part of an institution's name). I am entitled to use the term Yoga Therapist as I have the training and credentials. If I am unable to accurately represent myself on my YA profile page I have no problem leaving that organization when my registration expires. I am already a student member of IAYT and plan to upgrade to professional status soon.

    My greater concern with YA is their ignorance of what Yoga Therapy is and their lack of consultation with IAYT (which has released their own thoughts on the matter). While their concern is valid regarding yoga teachers working outside their scope of practice (and I've seen many posts in several Facebook groups from teachers who seem to be doing just that) YA should be working with IAYT to coordinate policies and be mutually supportive as the emerging field of Yoga Therapy in the west continues to evolve.

    Thank you for your pioneering work and I hope you have no trouble calling yourself a Yoga Therapist on your YA profile page!

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