“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?
Several key themes were identified during the brainstorming session:
- The Problem:
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.
- The Causes:
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.
- Possible Solutions:
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.
- Defining Success
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.