do I need to be anointed to be credible?


So much goes on in the Modern Yoga World (TM) now that it’s hard to keep up without it sounding like a constant rant.  Maybe I should just write about what actor or rock star does yoga, post a photo of them drinking a latte with a mat under their arm, and comment on what brand yoga pants they wear.  That would really be so much easier and would probably get me more readers.  But I digress.

I’m sure by now many of you have heard about the Yoga Alliance stance on using terms such as “yoga therapy” or “therapeutic yoga” or anything that sounds like a teacher has anything to do with “healing” or “medicine” or even “alleviating.”  You can can go on their site and see the restricted words.  As someone who worked for litigation lawyers for 20 years I know it was a CYA (“cover your ass”) move.

The policy does not only apply to your YA profile but also to your personal website IF you are YA registered.  Don’t register with the YA and you can say whatever you want about what you do or how you teach.

I am now an E-RYT 500 teacher with the YA and also an official “Continuing Education Provider.”  Yes, yes, yes, I know — I ranted for years about the Yoga Alliance, I totally own that.  You can read what I wrote in 2011 here when I was a mere E-RYT 200.

But the fact remains that there are those WHO WILL NOT STUDY OR TRAIN WITH A TEACHER UNLESS THEY ARE ANOINTED BY THE YOGA ALLIANCE.  I resisted reinstating my YA registration for years and finally broke down.  Of the teachers I know who also consider the YA useless and a waste of money, 100% say that the reason they pay up is because of the above reason.  The teacher training I took at the old school Chicago studio where I originally certified in 2002 was never YA registered until people starting asking the owner whether his training was YA registered.

The fact is that I re-joined the YA purely for marketing reasons, not because I think it means anything.  The fact is that after teaching for 15 years, training for 10 years in India, and being featured in a book, I am a yoga nobody where I live so if the YA seals give me “credibility” and “presence”, so be it.

I do not have the luxury of owning a studio that can attract students.  And yes, if you are surviving and making money with a yoga studio that IS a luxury in today’s yoga business market, consider yourself lucky.  I live in a town of 25,000 and there are three studios besides a park district that offers yoga.  Fifteen years ago when I started teaching and basically knew nothing, I had 40 students in another park district’s class.  Now I am lucky if I have five students who show up consistently.  Those students don’t care about the YA but if I can get teachers who want more training by using the YA seal, I am going to use it to my advantage.  It ain’t personal, it’s business, baby.

Cora Wen told me that back in 2001 Judith Lasater told her: “Every profession has an organisation and YA looks like they are winning in the registry.  Get the certificate now.  Or you will one day have to pay someone less qualified than you are to get a certificate.”

There ya go.  Like I said….


Now the International Association of Yoga Therapists has rolled out their “certification” for yoga therapists.  I’ve been an IAYT member for years and even wrote an article for their journal on teaching trauma sensitive yoga.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think there should be some type of measure of a yoga teacher’s ability just as there is a measure for massage therapists, for example.  And yes, I know MTs are licensed which I absolutely do not agree with for yoga teachers.  But for these paid for labels to be the be-all and end-all and the only thing that makes a teacher worthy in the public eye makes me very itchy.

I looked into the IAYT certification process but I don’t have the proof that in all the intensives I took at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram that there was any “yoga therapy” involved.  But there was because there always is something about yoga therapeutics beyond asana practice.

What got me thinking about all of this was the article “Are We Entering a Golden Age of Yoga Therapy??” by Eden Goldman.  According to Goldman’s quote…

“Yoga Therapy is the philosophy, art, and science of adapting classical Yoga techniques to contemporary situations to support people with physical, mental, and emotional ailments. According to the definition of the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT), “Yoga therapy is the process of empowering individuals to progress toward improved health and well-being through the application of the teachings and practices of Yoga.”

Practically speaking, Yoga Therapy is the reinvention of a personalized Yoga experience where the practice is modified to meet the individual’s ever-changing needs. Since ancient times, adaptability in one’s teaching, practice, and approach has rested at the heart of Yoga’s most fundamental influence: the relationship, insights, and trust created through the practice by one teacher working with one student.”

…I’ve been a “yoga therapist” for 10+ years.  Do I still need to be anointed by the IAYT to be credible?

I’ve done 10 years of many intensives at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, multiple yoga therapy trainings including two levels of Phoenix Rising, 300 hours of Svastha Yoga Therapy with Dr. Ganesh Mohan, a Therapeutic Yoga for Seniors training at Duke University, and trauma sensitive yoga.  Besides teaching in India and Africa.

Can I call myself a “master teacher”?  You tell me.

Do I still need the YA and IAYT seals on my website to prove my worth to the rest of the world?

It’s become crystal clear to me that the name of the game in the Modern Yoga World is MARKETING because no one gives a damn about all of the above.  I don’t have the $6,000 that I need to upgrade my website to grab SEO and make it the latest and greatest Yoga Business site.  It’s much cheaper for me to lose myself in South India and hang a shingle that says “YOGA TEACHER TRAINING.”

In my 15 years of teaching I’ve never put myself out there as a “yoga therapist” because I believe all yoga can be therapeutic if applied in a beneficial manner.  Even Bikram Yoga was beneficial to the Vietnam War vet who spoke to us about his PTSD when I did the trauma sensitive yoga training.

I’ve always said that no one called Krishnamacharya a yoga therapist, he taught YOGA.

Krishnamacharya’s principle was “Teach what is inside you, not as it applies to you, to yourself, but as it applies to the other.“  He taught that Yoga should always be adapted to the unique needs of each individual.

Does one who jumps through the hoops and pays for the IAYT “certification” automatically know more or is more capable of supporting or empowering someone than I am?  The buying of labels has been problematic for me for years. It’s the same old story: people will study with a Yoga Alliance or IAYT labeled teacher before they will with someone who has the years of experience.

In the end, I don’t need validation.
I know what I offer.

But then in this Modern Yoga day and age there is this passing itself off as “Yoga Medicine.”  Yes, you CAN think yourself thin AND sexy!

It’s Tara Stiles’ Slim Calm Sexy Yoga all over again.  Just use the word “meditate” and it makes it all credible and so deliciously New Age.


Women with eating disorders feel bad enough about themselves already, how much worse will they feel if they can’t “think themselves thin”?  At least she didn’t mention bra fat.

How is this in any way empowering?  I’m all about mindful eating and eating healthy foods, but the buzzwords used by this “master yoga teacher and specialist in sports and Chinese medicine” are what is typically found on a magazine cover at your grocery store check out line, the same bullshit that sounds like “LOSE YOUR BELLY FAT IN 5 EASY YOGA MOVES!”

No wonder us old school teachers throw in the towel

Funny.  I did not see the Yoga Alliance or IAYT seals on her website.  Anywhere.

Without them you can say whatever you want to say about yoga.

teaching trauma sensitive yoga

Last year I wrote a three part series on trauma sensitive yoga after my training at The Trauma Center in Brookline, Massachusetts.  I posted the series on the LinkedIn page of the International Association of Yoga Therapists  and shortly thereafter Kelly Birch, the editor of Yoga Therapy Today (IAYT’s magazine for members), asked me to write an article.  I was honored (and humbled) to be asked!

My article, Compassionate Presence: Teaching Trauma-Sensitive Yoga, has finally been published in the current issue (Summer 2012.)  And let me tell you, it is damn hard writing for someone else!  I now know the value of a good editor because Kelly was fantastic.  I am even more honored to be in a magazine that also has an article about the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram.

At this point in time only IAYT members can access the site to read the article, but you can download the .pdf from the above link.  Please share it with someone whom you think might benefit.   Kausthub Desikachar told us in one of my trainings that we must share what we have learned, otherwise we are nothing more than thieves, taking and not giving.

For me, real yoga is about personal transformation and healing.  My long time readers know that I teach at a domestic violence shelter and some of the women have started to come to me for classes.  Coincidentally, the day I received word that Yoga Therapy Today was being mailed out, I received a call from a woman suffering from PTSD because of an incident four years ago.   She had googled “trauma sensitive yoga” in the Chicago area but was concerned that maybe I would not drive almost an hour to see her.  The drive did not concern me because after I talked with her I knew yoga would help.

As I wrote a practice for her, a voice told me, “give her a mantra”, something which I’ve never done before with a private student.   Somehow I knew she would connect with a mantra.  We met, she did the practice, and I gave her pranayama and the mantra, OM JYOTI AHAM — “I am the Divine Light.”

The change was noticeable after the practice.  She looked lighter and happier and her eyes were brighter compared to when I walked in.   She smiled and said that it was the calmest she had felt in four years even though she takes medication.   I told her that all I did was give her a road map pointing the way out, now she has to drive.  I told her that she had to something from practice every day, even if it is merely sitting and watching her breath.  She wants to continue working with me once a week.

Humbled, honored to do this work — who needs to be a yoga rock star?  This is priceless.

“Humans are More Than Hardware”

I always welcome guest writers at this blog, and today’s writer is Alex O’Malley whom I connected with when we did the Trauma Sensitive Yoga training together in Boston — and it’s always cool to meet your Facebook friends!

We both have an interest in yoga therapy so when she said she was attending SYTAR (Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research) that is put on by the International Association of Yoga Therapists, I asked her to write about her experience this year.

Thank you, Alex!

healing hands

“Aerin Alex O’Malley is a graduate student in Somatic Psychology at JFKU, CA.  Having traveled extensively, she has practiced and taught yoga in many parts of the world and is currently based in San Francisco, CA, teaching privately.  In the spirit of yoga she is excited by all styles and teachers, therapeutic uses of practice, and the power of conscious change.  You can contact her at alex [AT] meeturfeet [DOT] com –


In September, 2011 I attended the International Journal of Yoga Therapy Symposium.  Hosted by the International Association of Yoga Therapy (IAYT), it was an awesome event full of some of the brightest minds and yogis from around the world.  It was held in Monterey, CA. at the Asilomar conference center.  The gist of the symposium was to share empirical research that impacts not only how the established medical community is beginning to embrace yoga as a healing modality but also how the yoga community is beginning to recognize the power of the practices we share to make a somatic impression on every individual we encounter.  What follows is a smattering of some of what I learned.

There are numerous studies in the works and recently published regarding the efficacy of yoga as a prescription for preventative healthcare, depression, anxiety, lymphedema, PTSD, ADD, insomnia, pain relief, and stress.  The IAYT Journal has recently been accepted into the WEB MD publications as a source for healthcare alternatives.  The IAYT itself is a member of the Academic Consortium for Complementary and Alternative Health Care (ACCAHC) and the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA).  These relationships are important because they demonstrate the commitment to science within the Yoga Therapy community in order to more wholly blend ancient knowledge from the east with current western practices.  As Yoga translates from the Sanskrit, to yoke, this blending represents a real time example of the changing paradigm from conventional mind-body dualism towards integration.

Doctor Rajmani Tiguanit, PHD, the spiritual head of the Himalayan Institute, addressed the symposium about the importance of defining therapy.  He stressed the need to incorporate philosophy, psychology, and Metaphysics in training and treatment.  As therapists, he said, it is our job to combine the components for treatment.  There were a number of variations on this theme throughout the weekend.  A woman from the Bible Belt talked about the gigantic church in her town which has denounced Yoga as devilish and asked for suggestions about how to present her work.  Gary Kraftsow from the American Viniyoga Institue, suggested that in place of the word “yoga”, she introduce the use of “breath and stretching for relaxation.”  This idea, that the use of language can reach an audience who would not be open to yoga is beautiful and again, incorporates all that is the essence of Yoga!

Technology has jumped by leaps and bounds over the last 25 years and has provided a window into the functions of the brain and connections between the brain and body.  The key concepts that drive many of today’s researchers are that of neuroplasticity and awareness of the basic structure of the brain.  Neuroplasticity refers to the capacity of the brain and the nervous system to “reprogram” messages/stimulation and interaction with the body and mind.  Understanding the structure of the brain plays a crucial role in the ability of therapists to make choices about appropriate treatment.  Here are some of the ways in which yogis, doctors and psychologists are incorporating the science to create more efficient, holistic treatments for patients with any number of emotional and physical challenges.

Shoosh Lettick Crotzer specializes in developing yoga practices for the prevention and treatment of Lymphedema, arthritis, MS, and fibromyalgia.  At the symposium she shared a practice for breast cancer survivors, approximately 38% of who develop lymphedema.

Matt Fritts and Mona Bingham presented the work they are doing with the U.S. military to create a system called Total Force Fitness.  This system incorporates yoga and mindfulness training into the traditional requirements for military readiness in order to build emotional stamina as well as physical.  [“Humans are more than hardware” comes from Matt Fritts’ presentation: Yoga for Military and Veteran Populations, International Journal of Yoga Therapy Symposium. Asilomar, Monterey, CA. Sept, 2011.]

William Hutschmidt discussed his weekly yoga classes with homeless vets.  One of every 4 veterans is homeless in the US.  Hutschmidt’s yogic practice manifests as a relief from the constant stressor of homelessness and the emotional, physical, and psychological toll it can take.

Bo Forbes discussed the role of yoga as therapy in the treatment of mental health.  She emphasized that yoga and psychotherapy are in the business of transformation and spoke to the need to narrow the gap between understanding the process of emotions and the real experience of change.

What each of these practitioners add to the working pool of knowledge is the connection of yoga to the treatment of physical ailments, preventative health care, and mental health respectively.  It is exciting as a yoga teacher and practitioner to realize that so much of what has been only a felt sense of the power of yoga is being studied.  The general takeaway from this symposium is that we can “change” our minds and in turn have an impact on our biology.  In the age old argument over nature vs. nurture, it is becoming more and more evident that it is wise to include both and to nurture what we can on both the physiological and emotional levels for the most positive outcomes.  Yoga Heals!