All Yoga is Local

published in March 09 issue of Yoga Therapy Today.


Nine months of steady sales and a growing student base has assuaged concerns about the financial viability of opening a Yoga Therapy center. Even with modest attendance numbers and a waning economy, the business sustains itself. Along with the addition of a training program and continued fiscal discipline, I have been able to pay off 30% of the debt incurred. Sure was lucky I managed to get that loan before the credit market went haywire.

It's ironic that since things have settled down and the place is up and running, my energies are largely spent on mundane tasks like making sure there's toilet paper in the bathroom and change in the drawer, dust-mopping, watering the plants and, most of all, daily maintenance of the studio rental mats (quick tip: Roomba Robotic Vacuum and Method Cucumber Cleaning Wipes- great for mats.)

The center is serving a dual purpose as an educational resource for information on "therapeutic" Yoga and providing a comfortable space where people come together to share practice and friendship. The free prototype training I conducted last spring produced several hungry new teachers, enabling me to offer a full schedule of daily group classes and providing the basis for developing a more formal training program.

I continued to mentor some of the graduates from the initial training as they obtained teaching opportunities elsewhere and learned that the hiring practices of the local YMCA's, Wellness centers, and other such venues are based completely on a 200hr certification norm. They were asked only for a certificate of training completion, which I was easily able to produce on my home computer. Being registered with the YA was not a requirement. (It is also interesting to note that yoga teachers, and studio owners, can purchase liability insurance policies without providing any certification or registration documentation whatsoever.)

These considerations aside, I was also faced with the reality of implementing fees. People want to know what there paying for and, even though I decided to charge half of what the going rate is, ideas about teacher/student relationship and individualized training was not going to suffice. Consequently, I decided to adopt a 200hr certification structure of my own invention.

I am currently in the midst of the Fall/Winter cycle of the training program and five people are participating, four of which have been attending my class consistently for years and one who attended a workshop with me a few months ago and we had instant rapport. There is a personal relationship over time (with one exception.) I have witnessed hundreds, even thousands, of hours of their practice. Their decision to do additional training with me is a natural progression, not an attempt to cram 200 hours into three weekends but rather a mentorship that stems from our mutual inspiration for further study.

Recently, I had a conversation with IAYT Executive Director John Kepner about the IAYT efforts to help define and create standards for Yoga Therapy training. One of the issues we discussed was whether or not a YA 200hr certification should be a pre-requisite. At the risk of sounding cynical, it's disingenuous to portray the YA guidelines and registry as anything more than a convenient marketing device that has considerably increased the profitability of yoga teachers and centers that embrace them.

It's a relatively recent phenomenon that so many centers are structuring trainings according to YA guidelines, and just as a 200hr certification in "Power Vinyasa Flow" is a vastly different thing than a 200hr certification in Kundalini Yoga, would there not also want to be a 200hr certification for Yoga Therapy?

In my experience of conducting training, I found that those who had already completed a conventional YA 200hr certification (even some from reputable centers) had more difficulty embracing the principles of a therapeutic practice then those who had no previous training at all. Many of these training programs are encouraging a "fitness" context for practice that can easily betray a therapeutic orientation. Once these patterns are ingrained in the practitioner, especially when professionally invested, a framework for practice that calls into question their previous training is a difficult thing to accept. Training that reinforces injurious practice concepts and habits present an obstacle to understanding more than an appropriate pre-requisite.

Seems to me, there are two types of teachers adopting a Yoga Therapy classification; folks like myself, who are not necessarily scholars or academics but come to a practice of teaching geared towards "wellness" based on personal experience, often inspired, in some way or another, by the TKV Desikachar/Krishnamacharya tradition; others who come from a formal education background, working in more clinical context and environments, bringing yoga practices into other existing modalities and perhaps also inspired by TKV Desikachar/Krishnamacharya tradition, but their application is more "treatment" oriented.

I cannot speak to the latter, and my description here is purely subjective, but the February 08 issue of Yoga Journal Magazine listed Yoga Therapy as a "style" of yoga, attributed to TKV Desikachar/Krishnamacharya (and, alongside Ashtanga, Iyengar, Sivananda and eight others. Where I may have been reluctant before because of the "treatment" connotation, as a yoga business owner and a teacher who is aligned with that tradition, there is no choice but to identify with Yoga Therapy at this point. I certainly don't fall into any of the other established categories.

When I entitled this series of essays, Making of a Yoga Therapy Center, I had questions as to what that would mean. Frankly, I still do. People who come to Abhyasa Yoga Center are not treated as patients, nor do they wish to be. There is no expectation that Yoga will "cure" their ailments, only a proposition that, given the right conditions, the body has an inherent capacity to heal.

Is that Yoga Therapy?

Given fundamental differences in approach and technique, it's important to distinguish Yoga Therapy from other "styles"; however, from my perspective, being respected by the medical establishment or insurance companies is not so important. While it may be interesting and potentially useful to examine Yoga through a scientific lens, I believe the qualitative nature of Life, and therefore Yoga, encompasses more than objective metrics can discern.

Regardless, I have classes to teach and a center to manage. A number of teachers have trips planned and I have to figure out the schedule. My wife finished the design for a t-shirt and I need to price out some printing companies. Last week, two ladies from the Swinging Sixties Senior Center around the corner stopped in and asked about starting a class with the neighborhood seniors.  I have to call them and see if we can find a time that works.  If there is one thing opening the center has taught me, it would be that, just like in politics, all Yoga is local.