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Issues in Yoga Therapy

An Overview of Regulatory Issues for Yoga, Yoga Therapy, and Ayurveda

by: Daniel D. Seitz, JD, EdD

Complementary and Alternative Medicine Higher Education and Accreditation Consulting Services

Abstract: In order to gain greater credibility, emerging healthcare and health-related fields usually establish a variety of self- regulatory structures and organizations. These structures serve to promote safe and effective practice, strengthen the field’s legal status, expand professional opportunities, increase the profession’s political influence, and legitimize a field in the eyes of potential patients, potential students, governmental entities, and the healthcare industry. Self-regulatory structures can also set the groundwork for professional licensure and other types of external recognition. Developing self-regulatory structures, however, can pose significant challenges and invariably involves trade-offs. Therefore, practitioners and educators within emerging fields should engage in inclu- sive, representational, and transparent decision-making processes to build support for any self-regulatory measures being considered.


Daniel Seitz
P.O. Box 178,
Great Barrington,
MA 01230;;

Feedback to IAYT can be directed to:

Executive Director John Kepner,

  • Introduction

The purpose of this article is twofold: (1) to explore several of the key professional/regulatory issues associated with the acceptance and recognition of Yoga, Yoga therapy, and Ayurveda in the United States, and (2) to outline and analyze the options available to these professions to engage in a process of self-regulation.

In the United States, emerging medical fields and fields that are healthcare-related or health enhancing—such as tra- ditional Chinese medicine, naturopathic medicine, Ayurveda, Yoga, and Yoga therapy—often follow a similar trajectory in their development as a formal profession. This developmental process helps move the field from the fringes of society to a place of greater visibility, credibility, and impact. Movement along this trajectory typically involves creating over time a va- riety of professional organizations and regulatory structures to better define the range of practices associated with a field and provide a basis for identifying qualified practitioners. Among other things, these organizations and structures serve to:

  1. promote safe and effective practice;
  2. legitimize a field in the eyes of potential patients, the general public, governmental entities, and the healthcare industry;
  3. legally safeguard the right to practice;
  4. increase the political influence of the practitioner community; and
  5. expand the range and attractiveness of professional opportunities for practitioners.

Once in place, these organizations and regulatory struc- tures serve another key function: they provide a starting place or basis for the ongoing development of the field through upgrading educational standards and related requirements for practice. This, in turn, leads to enhanced knowledge and skills on the part of practitioners.

The formal development of a profession is usually accompanied by strong reactions from practitioners within the emerging field who may disagree on the fundamental goals to pursue or the pragmatic directions to take. There may also be strong reactions from conventional physicians and others who may perceive their professional interests as being threatened or who are opposed to the paradigm represented by the emerging field. There are often rhetorical battles as an emerging field grows in prominence. Proponents character- ize their practices in neutral or positive terms such as “com- plementary and alternative medicine” (CAM), “integrative,” “health and wellness,” “natural,” “holistic,” “traditional,” or “mind-body-spirit,” while opponents—in an attempt to discredit the field—may use terms like “unconventional,” “non-evidence-based,” “unscientific,” or, at an extreme, “quackery.”

Political and legal battles also routinely occur as prac- titioners of CAM and health-related and health-enhancing fields seek greater legal recognition and expanded profes- sional opportunities. Conventional practitioners may seek to co-opt, limit, or outlaw the practice of certain therapies and even to legally own the use of certain words like “physi- cian” and “diagnose.” At an extreme, a state board of medi- cine may seek the prosecution of unregulated practitioners for practicing medicine without a license. Conversely, con- ventional physicians who integrate alternative therapies may be targeted by their licensing board for practicing outside of the scope of practice.

In addition to conflicts with conventional healthcare professions, there are often rivalries among emerging professions due to overlapping practices. Sometimes, newer professions are forced by more established professions to impose limitations on what they consider their rightful scope of practice. For example, naturopathic doctors study acupuncture in school, but their use of this modality may be prohibited in states where acupuncture is a licensed pro- fession. The examples above demonstrate that there is an unavoidable messiness associated with professional recog- nition and regulation due to the many competing inter- ests and stakeholders. Nonetheless, a variety of pragmatic options and strategies are open to practitioners, educators, and professional organizations within an emerging field to develop a stronger, more coherent professional identity. Gaining greater public recognition and credibility, improving the overall quality of practice, opening up new professional opportunities, and strengthening the legal status of a field are, for most practitioners and educators, compelling motives to create some sort of regulatory structure, whether or not the structure is used at a later time as a basis for seeking a state-sanctioned or mandated role in the health- care system. Despite the challenges in gaining respect and recognition, leaders within an emerging field should take heart in the well-known quote of Mahatma Gandhi: “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.”

(Continued) ….

Issues in Yoga Therapy


Acknowledgements: The author appreciates comments by John Kepner of the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT), Bob Patrick and Mark Davis of the Yoga Alliance (YA), Wynn Werner and Hilary Garivaltis of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA), and Christa Louise of the North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners. The views expressed in this ar- ticle are the author’s and should neither be ascribed to any institution with which the author is or has been affiliated, nor to the International Association of Yoga Therapists. The author received financial support from IAYT, YA, and NAMA for the research and writing of this article.2 INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF YOGA THERAPY – 2010


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