The Bhagavad Gita teaches us that Life is a Battlefield, so we shouldn’t really be surprised when two of our national yoga organizations seem to be engaged in turf battles. However, on closer examination of the reactions to Yoga Alliance’s new Policy on Yoga Therapy, we can see that the perceived controversy is probably a necessary ‘growing pain’ associated with the growing popularity and acceptance of yoga teaching and yoga therapy throughout the world, and the distinctions between these closely related manifestations of Yoga philosophy and practices.

The reality is that the teaching of yoga and the practice of yoga therapy do overlap considerably. Yoga therapists must first be experienced yoga teachers. And if they decide they want to develop skills to enable them to practice yoga therapy, they then must do further education in a Yoga Therapy Training in order to learn what’s needed to expand their practice to be able to provide yoga therapy.

Yoga Alliance’s new policy clarifies that graduation from Yoga Teacher Trainings does not qualify one to practice, nor to say that one practices, yoga therapy.

This seems an obvious statement, but with the recent growing evidence in scientific studies of the therapeutic benefits of practicing yoga, and with the emerging of yoga therapy as a distinct field of service, there are some members of the yoga community who have started calling themselves yoga therapists, or saying that they offer therapeutic yoga, despite their not having any formal education beyond their YTT. And the YA policy is designed to protect the public from erroneously thinking that if someone is an RYT, that they can provide yoga therapy.

But this discussion is not just theoretical. There are implications of this new YA Policy that could negatively impact current RYTs if they do not come into compliance with the new policy.

We strongly encourage all Ananda Yoga Teachers and Ananda Yoga Therapists to carefully read the details of this new policy in order to make sure that their Yoga Alliance Directory Profile and any other personal websites and marketing materials are in compliance with the policy by October 1, 2016, or they may lose their RYT credential.

In January 2016, Yoga Alliance (YA) published a new Policy on Yoga Therapy which prohibits any RYT from using the words ‘yoga therapy’ or ‘yoga therapist’ on their YA Directory Listings (on the YA website). “Directory listings may describe, however, an emphasis on the therapeutic benefits of yoga practice and may reference the therapeutic benefits of yoga in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.”

Along with a long list of prohibited words, there is also a list of alternative words that may be used as well as the offer of YA staff to help RYTs to modify their Profiles so that they are not using prohibited language.

The policy further states that “if you reference Yoga Alliance or your RYT on your own website and marketing materials AND you use any of the restricted terms or phrases, you must also post or print a disclaimer.” And the policy requires that you use the following disclaimer on all your marketing materials: “The yoga therapy components of my teaching are based on my [non-YAR credential or other qualification], not derived from my status as an [RYT/E-RYT] with Yoga Alliance Registry.”

“Yoga Alliance Registry will revoke a registrant’s right to use the RYT Registry Marks for violating this policy. Any registrant currently using ‘yoga therapy’ references in violation of this policy must remove all such references from their websites, advertisements, directory listings, and other public materials by October 1, 2016.”

On February 29, 2016, the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) published a response to the YA’s new policy. “It makes sense for the YA to distinguish what they do from what IAYT does, since neither YA’s standards nor their mission are designed to support yoga therapy as an emerging field distinct from yoga teaching.”

“Yoga therapy is here to stay, however, with widespread and growing acceptance as an adjunctive therapy in an integrative approach to health, so it is timely to more carefully identify the distinguishing characteristics and develop distinct credentials.”

“Establishing the field of yoga therapy as a recognized profession is IAYT’s core mission.”

“From IAYT’s perspective, yoga therapy is not ‘diagnosing and treating’ health conditions. While it’s not easy to summarize a wide range of healing practices in just a few words, we might say yoga therapists ‘assess and educate’ in order to ‘empower individuals to improve their health and wellbeing through the application of the teachings and practices of yoga’.”

In summary, it is important for all of us yoga teachers to clearly understand the distinctions between teaching yoga and practicing yoga therapy. While it’s likely that the gray area between these two overlapping disciplines will remain dominant in the near future, we all have a responsibility to be involved in sharing the teachings and practices of yoga with the world in the most dharmic ways possible.

And that requires that we actively participate in upholding the highest principles of yoga in whatever way we choose to share them, and that we serve as superconsciously as possible when controversies develop within the community of yoga teachers and yoga therapists.


  1. Thanks for reinforcing the difference between yoga therapist and yoga teacher.Medical issues should be discussed with physicians and dealt either by physical therapist or yoga therapist in professional setting under the supervision of M.D. Namaste

  2. Thank you for this clarifying article
    . As confusing as this issue may be to yoga teachers and yoga therapist, imagine how confusing it is to the public. I have had clients that desperately want to work with a yoga therapist. I can assure them I can teach them yoga, but I cannot diagnose or treat their physical issues with yoga. It is a slippery problem. Yoga is therapeutic, but I do not hold myself out as a yoga therapist, but as a teacher of yoga.

  3. Yoga therapist is not allowed to deal with medical related issues.I listen to my students if any and recommend them to consult your physician or physical therapist.Thanks to yoga alliance,Expanding Light[Ananda yoga} staff to reinforce this issue.

  4. We all must be very careful about policies of Yoga alliance.Interesting,Few months back,I had one client and she had unpleasant experience [sexual harassment} when I adjusted her for wheel pose, she panicked with my touch, she was not my regular student,I was subbing other teacher’s class.After that I learnt,I should not touch the new student without their permission.Every day is a learning experience.
    I feel blessed to stay in touch with Ananda Yoga and Yoga Alliance to know the guide lines of yoga teachings.I travel and teach through Fit Body Travel and enjoy helping clients, in real sense it helps me to stay healthy, mentally,physically and spiritually. Namaste

  5. Reading Nayaswami Mangala’s policy on yoga therapy make sense.We should be careful as a yoga teacher, how much to get involve with students, their physical ailments & discomforts.Technically, medical issues like blood pressure or heart problems, if in moderation otherwise taking extra precaution is important.Yoga therapist may be more aware about medical conditions, but yoga teachers need to teach simple steps along with simple Ananda yoga philosophy to relax.I always enjoy reading interesting articles through Ananda yoga to guide my students.Thanks

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