Integrating yoga therapy more fully into health care settings and structures is considered by many to be the path forward for the profession, leading the way to sustainable careers and the mainstreaming of the use of yoga therapy among the population.
It’s been a tough nut to crack. Lack of awareness and understanding of yoga therapy on the part of health-care professionals, structural rigidity within health-care structures and lack of insurance reimbursement for yoga therapy have been major obstacles.
But there is progress to report and more opportunities today than ever before to make inroads, according to several global leaders in the field of yoga therapy.
Here are their takeaways on what is working and how to build on those successes:
Four success stories
Heather Mason, director of the Yoga in Healthcare Alliance in the United Kingdom and the secretariat for the British Parliamentary Group on Yoga in Society, mentioned four programs that are finding success around the world. All of the programs, she said, do a good job of targeting a stated goal of the health-care organization involved, a key to their success.
The Mediyoga program in Sweden developed by Goran Boll (who will present on this topic in the upcoming Global Yoga Therapy Day Conference) is a great example of a yoga therapy program that has flourished because it has shown healthcare policymakers that it meets their benchmarks, Mason said. More than 20 percent of hospitals and clinics in Sweden offer the Mediyoga program, and it is being increasingly copied.
In the U.K., Mason and her partner at the Yoga in Healthcare Alliance, Paul Fox, have developed a yoga therapy program designed for the country’s social prescribing initiative. Under the social prescribing plan, individuals can be referred to community group activities, such as yoga, by a primary health professional. “It’s really quite ingenious,” Mason said. “It’s based on the philosophy that poor health outcomes are associated with isolation, because of poor health behaviors but also cardiological neurological health dysfunction.”
Like the Mediyoga program in Sweden, the yoga therapy program developed by Mason and Fox promotes the program’s usefulness in targeting specific health goals identified by the National Health Service, including improving heart health and reducing stress and anxiety. The program is upscaling in the U.K. and being exported, said Mason, who is also the founder of The Minded Institute, which offers yoga therapy training.
Other yoga-in-health-care success stories include the AYUSH program in India, which brings traditional Indian therapies, including yoga and ayurveda, to underserved rural areas, and the Dean Ornish program for reversing heart disease, which includes yoga therapy. The program, which was promoted as a way to keep health care costs down, an overarching goal of health-care organizations, is now reimbursed by Medicare and several big private insurers.
Covid-19 brings opportunity
Matthew Taylor, a former IAYT board president who has held national yoga therapy leadership roles for more than 20 years, told the forum that the pandemic has both brought great uncertainty as well as great opportunity.
To the question of what insurer reimbursement will look like in the future, Taylor said the state of reimbursement is in flux literally around the world as both state and private insurers grapple with the effects of the pandemic.
But amid the pandemic uncertainty lie a lot of opportunities for yoga therapy, said Taylor, who is currently working with UnitedHealthcare, the world’s largest health insurer, on research and clinical applications.
Big insurers like UnitedHealthcare are not only looking at patient outcomes, but are increasingly looking at employee health, and actively seeking ways to prevent employee burnout.
“When you look at replacing a nurse or doctor, that’s tens of thousands of dollars, if not six figures,” Taylor said. If yoga therapy programs can demonstrate that they enhance quality of life and job satisfaction in a way that retains employees, that’s a pocketful of money saved for them,” he said.
As for addressing the needs of Covid-19 sufferers themselves, there are millions of people who are likely to become long-haulers. That creates a new chronic long-term health condition that will need to be addressed, Taylor said. Yoga therapy has all the tools and is ideally suited to provide such individuals with the holistic tools and sense of safety that are needed for healing.
For a deeper dive into the challenges, and opportunities, of addressing wellness in the Covid era, the Yoga in Healthcare Alliance and Give Back Yoga Foundation are sponsoring a virtual “Wellness After Covid” virtual symposium from May 28-30.
A yoga therapy pilot program for healthcare employee burnout
One organization acting on these opportunities is Yoga for Better Health, which will deliver starting in June a six-week customized therapeutic yoga program to healthcare employees of the VA’s Tennessee Valley Healthcare System.
> Assess the impact a six-week customized therapeutic yoga program has on employee health, resilience, stress and burnout
The purpose of the program will be to
> Measure the demand for delivering real-time therapeutic group yoga online vs. pre-recorded content
> Measure the impact of an employer-mandated yoga program vs. waitlist control
> Better understand employee sentiment, adherence and efficacy of the program
> Assess the health economic impact of the program, with a view to expanding research and rollout of further trials
Individuals or groups that are seeking to offer a yoga therapy pilot program to health care organizations should first make sure they have the time and have secured the resources to host such a program and that the project fits with their own professional strategic objectives. The aims and purpose of pilot programs, such as to measure the efficacy of a protocol or publish research, should be clearly defined and stated.
Johnston agreed with other yoga therapy leaders that the objective of any pilot program should be proposed as a partnership with the healthcare organization to help and meet their objectivesn and gain buy-in.
Building the evidence base for yoga therapy in health care
Marlysa Sullivan, a leading yoga therapy educator and researcher, said it is important to consider how proposed programs can build the case, and the evidence base, for yoga therapy in health care. She said there are many ways a program can add to the body of published research, in the form of theoretical or perspective pieces, case reports, papers that discuss a study protocol, and program evaluations.
Program evaluations, she said, have the particular benefit of reflecting real world conditions and clinical experience vs. what happens in controlled environments such as randomized trials, which often do not reflect what actually happens in clinical settings.
Sullivan said that outcome measurements should be considered carefully when designing yoga therapy programs and research. Outcome measures should demonstrate the uniqueness and importance of yoga therapy and should also reflect what is meaningful for the funders of the study and the society at large.
What the IAYT is doing to help
Getting yoga therapy into health care will require continued career development and marketing support from national and international yoga therapy associations.
Alyssa Wostrel, the executive director of the International Association of Yoga Therapists, said the IAYT was moving ahead with a Yoga Therapy certification exam, which will serve to amplify the visibility and credibility of the profession, as well as to ensure the safety of and standardize the work that yoga therapists do.
In addition, Wostrel said the IAYT was looking to enhance its career development efforts to include outreach efforts to promote yoga therapy to HR managers in hospital systems. She said the association was also looking to collaborate with other organizations, including the Social Workers Association, in an effort to expand career opportunities for the yoga therapist.
Keys to success
For those frustrated by today’s barriers to entry into healthcare settings, Taylor counsels persistence, patience and a dose of humility. “We didn’t even have yoga therapy defined 14 years ago. The fact is that it’s not fully integrated into the health care system where we live is not a surprise.”
The more a yoga therapist speaks the language of the healthcare industry and looks to partner with, and not replace, healthcare professionals, the sooner they will get a seat at the table, the yoga therapy experts agreed.
Taylor counsels against proposing yoga therapy programs that replicate services that other health-care professionals, such as physical therapists or respiratory therapists, are trained to do. The value of yoga therapy, he said, goes beyond individual symptoms and conditions.
“Don’t be the expert in all. Be an expert in some things and refer out” to other professionals for others, said Wendy Landry, a certified yoga therapist and owner of Om Prana Yoga in Parkville, Mo. “There’s a space for all.”
Landry, the community manager for the upcoming Global Yoga Therapy Day (GYTD), also informs of the networking and marketing opportunities available for yoga therapists to connect and share their knowledge through the community sessions of the upcoming GYTD conference. “This is an opportunity for you to get in front of a global audience of healthcare employees and organizations interested in how yoga is therapeutically used to enhance health and well-being; we hope to feature 100+ yoga therapists around the world interested in bringing yoga into health care.”
Above all, the yoga therapy experts agree, when you reach out, propose partnerships that meet the objectives of the health-care institution or system involved. These may include programs that deliver on public health priorities, such as non-pharmacological care on chronic pain, community giveback and outreach and innovative wellness programs for employees and patients.
The fact that yoga therapy is still emerging is actually a plus, Taylor said. “We are small and can move quickly.” “If we can show up in various venues and deliver value, then that is going to bring us to the table much more quickly and effectively.”
Want to learn more? Make sure to join us at the Global Yoga Therapy Day Conference, Aug 13-15. The conference is particularly focused on the integration of yoga into healthcare and features global experts including Sat Bir Khalsa, Alison Whitehead, Saraswathi Vasudevan. To stay up to date with Global Yoga Therapy Day announcements make sure to be on the mailing list!
Article written by Kelly Couturier
Kelly Couturier, MS, C-IAYT, is a yoga therapist at the Addiction Institute of Mount Sinai in New York City. She also teaches yoga and meditation, with both corporate and individual clients.
Join us for our quarterly discussion forum as we participate in round table discussions around topics relevant to helping get yoga therapy into healthcare.
Date: Wed March 31st (US) / Thur Apr 1st (AUS)
Time: The discussion forum will run for 1.5 hours (starting at 5pm EST / 2pm PST / 8am AEDT)
There will be 6 moderated breakout rooms with a scribe taking notes from our group discussion. After 60 minutes of discussion, we’ll meet collectively to share the discussions.
The breakout rooms will be:
Pilot Programs – Getting a Foot in the Door – Moderated by Ann Marie Johnston, Director Yoga for Better Health & Founder Global Yoga Therapy Day
Building the Evidence Base – Moderated by Marlysa Sullivan, C-IAYT & Research Director iRest
Creating Job within Healthcare Systems – Moderated by Wendy Landry, C-IAYT & Community Session Project Manager, GYTD
Positioning YT Best for Future Reimbursement – Moderated by Matthew Taylor, PhD, PT, C-IAYT
What the IAYT is Doing to Help – Moderated by Alyssa Wostrel, IAYT Executive Director
Population Health & Policy – Moderated by Heather Mason, Minded Institute and Healthcare Alliance
When you register, you’ll be asked to select your top 3 topics you would like to sit in on.
Participation is free.
Please note: There will be no replay of this event. Register now to join us live in discussion of how we can collaborate to help get yoga therapy into healthcare.
Connect with these (or other yoga therapists and specialists) in our global directory of specialists
“Alone we can do so little…but together we can do so much” — Helen Keller
A Push for Collaboration
With the goal of building collaboration and momentum within a growing international yoga therapy community that seeks to push the profession forward, Yoga for Better Health hosted the first of a series of Global Discussion Forums on Jan. 12.
Too often, the profession of yoga therapy can seem like a lonely pursuit, said Ann Marie Johnston, the founder of Yoga for Better Health and the Global Yoga Therapy Day initiative. The quarterly discussion forum will give yoga therapists from all over the world a regular opportunity to meet, brainstorm and energize the effort to advance profession of yoga therapy forward, she said.
Brainstorming: Addressing the Big Problems
Participants in the Jan. 12 event were divided into groups of five or six and asked to consider four questions:
- What is (are) our field’s biggest problems? (Participants were asked to focus on one main problem for the discussion.)
- What are the possible causes of the problem?
- How can we work together to solve the problem?
- What would success look like?
The Takeaways –
Several key themes were identified during the brainstorming session:
Elevating, diversifying and mainstreaming the profession of yoga therapy within current health-care structures remains a key challenge.
Many in the general public and in the health care sector know little about what yoga therapy is, or what distinguishes yoga therapy from yoga, and that is a major hurdle for yoga therapists as they seek to build their clientele or find employment within the health-care sector that will enable them to support themselves, participants said. The ultimate goal, one participant said, is that yoga therapy will become a routine part of health care. “Floss your teeth, see your yoga therapist” is the idea.
There is a general lack of marketing expertise, coherent messaging and marketing support in the field of yoga therapy. As a result, common misperceptions surrounding yoga and yoga therapy are not being addressed, blocking avenues for development and growth. Insurance reimbursement and the lack of referrals from mainstream health-care providers are also factors that have limited the spread of yoga therapy.
Popular misperceptions about yoga as primarily a physical workout for exceptionally flexible people — fueled by images on social media of people bending themselves into pretzel shapes — have hindered the growth of yoga therapy, because the bigger picture of all that yoga has to offer as a holistic healing practice is missed, participants said.
Yoga therapists not always well-trained to talk about what they do, some said. Other participants said there is a lack of uniformity in yoga therapy training programs that is also responsible for the lack of coherent marketing in the field.
Missed opportunities to market yoga therapy as a healing modality rather than a physical workout has led to a lack of diversity and accessibility in the field, which presents further barriers to development and growth participants said.
Addressing these challenges will take a concerted effort, with stepped up support from international and national professional yoga therapy organizations.
That effort should include public awareness campaigns and educational efforts on the individual, regional and international level, participants said. Evidence-based studies on the efficacy of yoga therapy should be kept in the public eye and case studies shared widely, they said. And more platforms should be developed to publicize yoga and yoga therapy initiatives such as programs for schools and prisons.
Health Initiatives that are capturing the public’s imagination, such as the “social prescribing” campaign in the United Kingdom, are great opportunities for promoting yoga therapy, participants said. The “social prescribing” campaign, in which citizens are being urged to take more responsibility for their own health, provides a perfect opening for yoga therapists to promote their role in working with clients to develop a sense of agency and empowerment where their health is concerned. Working on public health campaigns together will also do much to develop and strengthen referral networks between yoga therapists and mainstream health care providers.
It was noted that the support of a large collective marketing organization is necessary for large scale publicity efforts, and several participants called for more work to develop national associations that would work to promote yoga therapy, ideally in conjunction with larger umbrella associations, such as the International Association of Yoga Therapists.
Despite the lack of a coherent marketing yoga therapy message, participants noted that there are unifying principles that yoga therapy schools teach: the use of a client intake process, the customization of treatment plan that considers the biopsychosocial conditions of the individual and a great deal of collaboration between therapist and client. These unifying principles can and should be used to shape a coherent marketing message. More dialogue between yoga teachers and yoga therapists would be helpful as the yoga therapy community seeks to address misperceptions about the profession, participants noted.
Addressing these challenges will allow yoga therapy to become more widely practiced, more integrated into health-care structures, more available and affordable to the public, and a profession that offers adequate financial compensation and benefits to the practitioner.
Article written by Kelly Couturier
Kelly Couturier, MS, C-IAYT, is a yoga therapist at the Addiction Institute of Mount Sinai in New York City. She also teaches yoga and meditation, with both corporate and individual clients.
Dayna Culwell is the kind of client every marketer dreams of.This gal is ready, willing and extremely proactive in her quest to take her business to the next level.
When Dayna first joined in my Marketing Programs in late 2018, she dove in, head first. Dayna registered for both our Marketing & Branding Foundations program (Strategize for Success) as well as registering for the ongoing monthly group coaching program, ‘Growth Mindset Group Coaching‘.
Over the course of the year, Dayna took each month’s ‘homework’ seriously; often emailing it through as part of her accountability.
She turned up to each call, asked questions and really engaged in the process. And over the year, she took her business from strength to strength.
You can see some of the enhancements she made to the landing page of her website. She tightened up her branding and the enhanced the professionalism of the way she presents herself and her business. She made it clear, front and center, that she offers private yoga therapy sessions and really honed in on her niche area of expertise (chronic pain and back pain); sharing blogs and focusing on SEO to send new customers her way.
Importantly, she made it easier for her clients to see the action she wants them to take: ‘schedule an appointment today’. She added video testimonials that allow her brand advocates to do the work for her.
Realizing she needed to diversify her offering beyond one to ones and group classes, Dayna created On-Demand courses and Online courses to diversify her revenue streams.
Dayna’s enthusiasm and focus on her business was so great that she decided to join the program ‘Strategize for Success’ for a second time! In this second round, she’s commented how much more she’s learning & absorbing – where everything isn’t quite so ‘new’ to her.
She’s noticed that her brand values have shifted. She’s clearer about where she is and where she wants to go.
As a marketer, it fills me with such joy & excitement to see where she is headed. I can’t wait to see what unfolds for Dayna over the next year or two!
In Dayna’s words:
“It was gratifying to connect with other yoga therapists around the world who are all striving to go to the next level in their business and aspirations.
The program has helped me leverage my platform from mediocre to the best it can be. I completely re-designed my website with more clarity and focus, I streamlined who I target, I got new headshots, a new logo, new colors, etc.
Best of all, I finally got around to hiring a production crew to video a series of yoga therapy sessions that will be available for subscription (very soon!).
None of this would have happened if it hadn’t been for Ann Marie’s wisdom and encouragement. Immense gratitude”
Dayna Culwell, C-IAYT
Yoga by Dayna
On Monday we held a Zoom call for opportunities to get involved with the global delivery of Yoga Therapy.
If you missed the opportunities, read on for how you can still get involved.
Applications deadline is Dec 18th.
‘Community Outreach Coordinators’ (point persons to engage yoga therapists & specialists in their community to get involved in their own outreach efforts for the week of August 16-20th).
> Marketing/design support
> Project Manager to oversee coordinators
Here I’m looking for geographical diversity in volunteers – In total; I hope to identify ~4 volunteers to help in this outreach effort.
Time Commitment: (Role dependant – but anticipate ~2-4 hours week; flexible to your schedule)
Starting Feb 1, 2021 through Sept 1, 2021
Seeking individuals interested in:
> Marketing support (particularly digital / social media)
> Program delivery (research project and community discussion forums)
> Big picture strategy/execution
I anticipate both junior and senior experience to apply depending on the role (looking for 3-4 people). You do not need to be a C-IAYT (but great if you are) – you may even still be studying.
Note: I’ve chosen the word ‘internship’; but what I’m really seeking are people who are interested in becoming an integral part of my team. I know how important personality and fit are; and this ‘internship period’ gives us both the chance to work together to see if we’re right together for a long term fit into YogaMate. Future opportunities may look like a part time, full time or possibly even equity interest in YogaMate, depending on the fit and our long term mutual interests and aspirations.
Initial Time Commitment: (~6-8 hours week; flexible to your schedule)
Starting Feb 1, 2021 through Sept 24, 2021
It’s an end of an era – (well, to some degree!)
After long hard consideration, we’ve decided to turn off our website YogaMate.org
After having spent the better part of 2 years building the site, 4 years running it and over 6 figures spent developing it; it’s certainly not a decision that comes (at all) lightly.
But, as everyone knows – 2020 has changed most everything. The needs of the world are a bit different today than what they were when I originally conceived of YogaMate in 2014.
Are you also having to pivot?
If you’re needing to overhaul your business (or if you’re just getting started) – now might be the ideal time to work on your marketing strategy. Join me in my program Strategize for Success starting Feb 1. I’ll help you avoid the mistakes I’ve learned the hard way…
All is certainly not a loss for YogaMate. I’m excited to advise, we’re not going anywhere… we’re just shifting over to our new website: YogaBetterHealth.com
Managing 4 websites – as I’ve done for the past couple years – is not the best use of anyone’s resources or time. While I created multiple sites for good reasons (namely bad coding on YogaMate.org which made that custom-built site nearly impossible to enhance) it’s definitely time to consolidate YogaMate.org; YogaMatePro.com and YogaBetterHealth.com into the one site. (GlobalYogaTherapyDay.com will remain on its own).
Many (though not all) of YogaMate’s assets will be brought across to this website over the next month or two. More details on this in the coming weeks ahead.
Please note that, as part of this decision, we will also move away from using the name YogaMate. 🙁
Whilst that’s a tiny bit sad; it’s the right choice in the long run. The name ‘mate’ here in Australia means ‘friend’, but that meaning didn’t necessarily translate the same around the world; and it’s a smarter marketing decision to focus on one brand rather than many. Sometimes, it’s better to let go for the sake of the long term vision.
While some things will change, and not all of YogaMate.org’s assets will carry through initially (our Practice Creation tool, being one of them); I can confidently inform, our focus remains on championing therapeutic yoga and yoga therapy. 🙂
I’ll also still be offering both Strategize for Success and Growth Mindset Live Group Coaching – the marketing programs for yoga therapists & specialists that I’ve run over the past 3 years.
We’ve also got a few new offerings in store for you, including our new Global Discussion Forum and mid-month Q&A / Accountability calls that have been added in to our monthly group marketing program.
We’re also working on a collaborative research project which we hope to deploy in early 2021 and big plans for the Global Yoga Therapy Day Community Outreach Initiative.
So strap in and stay tuned, we anticipate big things for 2021!
And if you’re at a point where you realise that something must change for your own business, and you’re looking for some strategic guidance to do it smartly; please consider joining in our upcoming Strategize for Success Program Jan 25th; or grabbing a Platinum Subscription to really commit to building your business in 2021.