Advancing The Profession of Yoga Therapy In Australia

Although Yoga has a long history, its counterpart, yoga therapy, is less well known and the difference between the two can be blurred. Yoga teachers sometimes further their yoga training by spending many hours and thousands of dollars to become ‘Yoga Therapists’. So, it is no wonder that feathers sometimes get ruffled when those not actually trained in yoga therapy call themselves ‘Yoga Therapists’.

With the emergence of yoga therapy as a profession it is timely to open a discussion about how we define what yoga therapy is and what it is not.

Those of us who are qualified yoga therapists might well have heard or even said ourselves that “Yoga therapy is therapeutic, but yoga is not necessarily therapeutic.” Even this can be obscure to those that do not know what therapeutic means and can raise objections from well seasoned yoga teachers who incorporate more than asana into their teaching. Some would say that yoga is a process to help all of humanity thrive, whether healthy or ill.

With calls from yoga therapists around the globe for membership organisations to ‘advance the profession’ and to ‘establish yoga as a recognized and respected therapy’ there needs to be a clear understanding of what constitutes yoga therapy and what advancing the profession and being a respected therapy means. This involves referring to the work of our peers around the world, as well as ascertaining for ourselves a meaningful way forward. It also affirms a responsibility for each individual teacher to assess whether or not the use of the title ’yoga therapist’ and the term ‘yoga therapy’ is appropriate considering the level of training, expertise and experience they have.

Does it really matter? Many actively involved in our profession believe it does.

Let’s wind it back for just a moment. Before the advent of ‘certification’ and ‘accreditation’ — and there is a difference between these two nomenclatures, what was there?

In the past, teachers were tasked with the responsibility of transmitting their knowledge through lineages of teaching and apprentice style learning over many, many years. More recently, there was and continues to be longer mentor-style training over years. These teachings were and are broader and deeper than any 200 hour or 500 hour yoga teacher training, encompassing skills that enable the teacher to work adeptly with individuals in a manner that is therapeutic and facilitates achieving individualised goals for wellbeing in all facets of life.

As our profession matures it would seem timely to acknowledge and define yoga therapy for the current generation of yoga therapists and for those to come. The agreed working definition of yoga therapy is helpful not just for those institutions and schools who provide certification, but also for those who have undertaken training in more traditional models of pedagogy.

There are a number of important reasons why this might be an opportune time to educate ourselves and the broader yoga community. These reasons include;

  • To consolidate our presence in the field of wholistic health.
  • So allied health practitioners and medical practitioners can refer to a yoga therapist with greater confidence and assurance.
  • To be recognized and acknowledged by Private Health Funds.
  • To be recognized by the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and ensure better access to yoga therapy for all Australians regardless of age, gender, income, or ability.
  • To ensure yoga therapists continue to comply with national and international standards, which includes a commitment to ongoing professional development and attainment of current first aid certification and insurance requirements.

The major associations that recognize Yoga Therapists are: The IAYT, International Association of Yoga Therapists, founded in 1989. AAYT, Australasian Association of Yoga Therapists, established in 2007. Yoga Australia, incorporated in 1999, and expanded its membership to include Yoga Therapy as a separate specialist certification in December, 2016.

Historically, Yoga Therapy is relatively ‘new’ in the scheme of organisations offering certifications. Yet already there are substantial standards, a scope of practice and ethical guidelines set to self-regulate our profession within the scope of the larger complex of training and education standards and healthcare settings.

To be fair to both the traditional teachings and teachers of yoga, we must consider those who have been taught before the introduction of such frameworks. The question is, how do we honor those yoga therapists who have attained their knowledge and skills through means other than the more recent certification trainings? How do we do so whilst respecting those who have invested in the certification process?

Yoga Australia is currently refining a process for this and is adopting an approach of inclusivity that acknowledges and honors therapists trained in more traditional models of tuition and invites expression of interest for membership.

Whilst Yoga Australia, IAYT and AAYT have all developed aligned standards for Yoga Therapy Training and Education, Yoga Alliance does not currently offer certification for Yoga Therapy. These standards are available for viewing at each of the aforementioned organizations’ websites.

To be accepted and recognized within allied and medical health care settings it is important to be seen as professional, unified, and competent. According to Hodson and Sullivan (2005) a profession is characterized by the ‘Hallmarks of a profession’. These include four main components; 1. Specialised knowledge, 2. Autonomy, 3. Authority, 4. Altruism. We as yoga therapists, each have an important part to play in establishing yoga therapy as a vital and significant modality in the Australian healthcare landscape.

Together we can move forward, confident that we are embracing the hallmarks of an emerging profession while not losing sight of the roots and traditional aspects of yoga therapy. In fact, to remain true to yoga therapy, holding ourselves and our colleagues to a high standard of training and ongoing education, capturing evidence and funding research, is a way to preserve the integrity and efficacy of yoga therapy whilst bringing it into a modern framework.

As we navigate the coming decade, we as yoga therapists will have an important voice in what this might look like. The input of each of us is valuable in shaping this transition and Yoga Australia welcomes your membership and invites your contribution via working groups and the Yoga Therapy Committee.

Please contact Rebel Tucker

By Rebel Tucker and Fiona Donohoe-Bales, Yoga Teachers and Yoga Therapists.
Who volunteer their time and efforts with Yoga Australia’s Yoga Therapy Committee.

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