Yoga Credentialing

"The movement toward national teaching standards in yoga ("Wag the Down Dog", May/June 00, p. 80) is part of a larger spiral toward greater standardization, uniformity, and professional coherence in complementary and alternative medical ("CAM") modalities generally," Michael wrote in Yoga Journal letters to the editor (July 2000).

"The CAM therapies with the most widely accepted credentialing standards are chiropractic, naturopathy, acupuncture/traditional oriental medicine, and massage therapy. Each evolved from discovery and evolution by charismatic teachers, sages, and extraordinary individuals who were committed to self-observation, passionate about health and human healing, and receptive to personal revelation, into modern modalities for professional delivery of health care--replete with professional accrediting bodies, educational and research institutions, and independent professional regulatory boards.

"As 'Wag the Down Dog' suggests, the increased emphasis on credentialing and practice standards in yoga (as in the other CAM professions) is a double-edged sword. The concern for diminishing the heart and soul of a healing modality or practice is valid. On the other hand, establishing minimum educational and clinical/practical requirements can help ensure commonly agreed levels of basic competence, increase professional status, and furnish a recognized basis for entree into the organized health care system, including insurance reimbursement, participation in hospital programs, and other professional opportunities for yoga instructors. Moreover, if the profession fails to self-regulate, doubtless insurance will set standards for the profession-indeed, it already has. Legislatures and courts, goaded by imagined or real, worst-case scenarios, will, in the absence of professional self-regulation, create legal rules which may be less friendly to the ultimate purposes of yoga.

"One aspect of the credentialing debate that remains to be explored is harmonizing yoga with conventional medicine. The medical licensing laws in each state prohibit individuals other than licensed medical doctors from diagnosing, treating, or prescribing for disease. Yet, many yoga postures may be helpful in this regard, and there is a fine line between the broad concept of addressing disease and the more holistic notion of treating imbalance. Yoga definitely has physical (and medical) as well as emotional and spiritual components. There is a critical need to address the legal and ethical implications of yoga as a therapeutic modality-and, at the same time, for legal and regulatory structures to evolve, as late-nineteenth century dichotomies between biomedicine and its economic and philosophical competitors begin to break down.

"The debate over credentialing, practice standards, scope of practice, malpractice liability, insurance reimbursement, and other legal and ethical issues, is not only barely begun, but also a prelude to deeper discussion about the integration of yoga and other 'CAM modalities' with conventional clinical care...in which the blending of modern and ancient technologies creates the possibility for new awareness of the relationships between mind, body, environment, Earth, Spirit, and health."