(…or some notes from the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) Conference)

Last month I joined about 400 people (many of whom are both yoga therapists and health care professionals) for the International Association of Yoga Therapist’s conference which swings between Newport Beach and Reston biennially.

A few of my takeaways from this year’s conference:

1. Lots of amazing work
I spoke to a Japanese woman who helps clients with breast cancer near Tokyo, a Canadian who has discovered and is distributing this amazing new prop for spinal health called the Backmitra. (check it out!), a super cool OT yoga and stroke recovery researcher in Colorado, a psychotherapist working to bring yoga into healthcare in London, a Scottish man helping people recover from trauma – and so many more. Also, people all over the world are doing great work to increase the visibility of yoga therapy. And visibility remains a huge challenge because…

2. Yoga means different things to different people
On Sunday, right outside the hotel in the town square kind of area, a yoga festival was bubbling like kombucha on a hot summer’s day. So while you could listen to the latest research and application of yoga therapy across the cancer continuum inside, outside, you could melt into in a collective vinyasa experience and get your henna painted, tie-dyed chakra pants, acro-flying, cacao shot yogini on.

People come to yoga for many different reasons, and yoga is a growing industry that tends to attract white women with disposable income. It’s pretty easy for the very idea, let alone the rigorous credentialing process of “yoga therapy” to get lost in the amplified chanting. There is a lot of education/marketing differentiation that needs to happen before yoga therapy can make real inroads into the health care system.

3. Don’t take the Yoga Out of Yoga Therapy
The conference was bursting with presentations on everything from back pain, psoas stability, and pelvic floor health to chronic illness, cancer care, yoga nidra and more. A frequent suggestion was the need to avoid reductive, mechanistic approaches to the application of yoga therapy.

Yoga therapy is inherently un-western (note to self: duh). But it’s true, it’s not biomedical – it’s built on different models with different ideas about human existence. The kośas provide a mind/body/spirit perspective where we can address human suffering and offer holistic approaches to interventions on a multi-dimensional level. So while it can be tempting to boil things down to “this pose (pranayama, meditation or mudra) for this problem” – it’s so important not to. We have to treat people first, not conditions.

4. Yoga Therapy vs. Yogopathy
Along those lines, in a lovely keynote, Dr. Bhavanani the Director of the Centre for Yoga Therapy Education and Research at Sri Balaji Vidyapeeth University in Pondicherry talked about “Yogopathy” to describe this more reductive approach and suggested we focus instead on salutogenesis – the creation of health, rather than pathogenesis, the creation of disease. Here’s a link to his slides which he so generously shared with all. He’s a really sweet guy. 

One issue which I don’t think will ever be easily resolved is the problem of presenters offering such a wide array of different approaches that you can never really go very deep. I don’t know how you can reconcile a spectrum that includes Iyengar, Viniyoga, Phoenix Rising and so many more – they’re like apples, oranges, and dragon fruit.

But what I see in IAYT is a membership committed to honoring its differences. Perhaps we don’t need to reconcile everything, we can find the yoga or union, in loving our diversity – and isn’t that something that the world could use a bit more of these days?




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