Without a doubt, one of the best decisions I ever made in my yoga career was attending a professional level yoga therapy training program. I credit my training –and my early exposure to yoga therapy– for allowing me to keep my small-town studio open during the worst years of the recession, for giving me the skills to nurture strong client relationships, and for providing continued value to my long-time clients.
Although I did my training many ago, well before the recent changes in yoga therapy requirements and what they mean, the value of the training has proved itself numerous times over the years. Below is a list of things I learned in my yoga therapy training, which I did NOT learn in my basic yoga teacher training.
How to teach a person-centered private session
Most yoga teacher trainings train you to skillfully teach a well-sequenced group yoga class. You may also learn how to tailor those classes to particular groups: such as beginners, athletes, or advanced students. However, because of sheer lack of time in most 200-hour trainings, there is very little discussion on the qualitative differences between teaching group sessions and private sessions. Teaching person-centered private classes are entirely different. One of the key differences, as articulated by my colleague Francesca Cervero, ERYT, is that “you have to reach, teach, and keep clients that other teachers cannot.” Francesca is the owner of a boutique wellness + yoga practice and sees over 20 clients per week in New York and Washington, D.C.
Unlike group yoga classes where clients self-select their preference, from Hot yoga to Power Hour to Gentle Flow, in a private class, it is the teacher’s responsibility to give the client what they need, what they can handle, and just enough challenge to keep them coming back. In addition to tailoring your classes to the individual, you also need manage the session time, keep the client focused, and maintain a strong sense of teaching presence in diverse locations.
How to develop strong client relationships
Holding the space for growth, transformation, and therapeutic change in both my classes and private sessions is one of the skills I learned in my yoga therapy training and refined in the subsequent years. Yoga therapists generally see clients for longer terms –from several sessions to several years– necessitating an explicit focus on the client-yoga therapist relationship. Maintaining an emphasis on how the work in session translates to the client’s wellbeing off the mat is one of the key components to developing a strong relationship. Furthermore, we must allow ample time for check-in and read between the lines of what a client is saying…and what they are actually saying. Yoga therapists may support clients through life changes, career changes, intense emotional issues, serious health conditions, among other things. Being clear in what we offer, where our boundaries are, and our role as yoga therapist are all key skills a professional yoga therapy training provides.
How to deal with injuries and special conditions
Part of the beauty of yoga therapy is the directive toward healing. People frequently use yoga therapy as a last resort and it is the job of the yoga therapist to create the safe space required for healing to happen. Yoga therapists are trained to address clients with a number of special conditions, including joint replacements, degenerative conditions, immune disorders, chronic conditions, injuries, and much more. In many specialized professional trainings, yoga therapists are encouraged to work with other health care practitioners to develop an integrated plan of care.
Unlike standard yoga teacher trainings, yoga therapy trainings cover a range of potential red flags for particular poses, categories of poses, and yogic techniques. Yoga is strong medicine and learning how to apply that medicine appropriately is the purview of yoga therapy trainings. And because of this specialization, yoga therapists are generally compensated more than yoga teachers, even hour-per-hour for private yoga sessions and group yoga classes.
How to communicate the value of yoga articulately
In addition to the practical components of learning to address certain therapeutic needs, providing a space for healing, and structuring person-centered sessions, my yoga therapy training gave me the ability to clearly articulate WHY yoga works. Many of us know personally and professionally of yoga’s power to heal; we see yoga’s beneficial results within our own lives and in others.’ Yet we need to do more than just say ‘yoga heals’ or ‘yoga works.’ Information is the commodity of our times; sweeping general statements of yoga’s efficacy are no longer enough to compel people into action.
Yoga-based research studies are more numerous these days and each passing month enriches the body of science-backed knowledge on yoga and it’s benefits. An effective yoga therapy training will inform you of the most recent, evidence-based studies allowing you to confidently communicate the specific benefits of yoga, the physiological, anatomical, and psychological mechanisms behind yogic techniques, and the value of particular techniques for specific conditions.
How to collaborate with other healthcare professionals
As healers, we must recognize that certain treatment protocols are more effective than others. Indeed, much research into complementary and alternative medicine over the past several decades now details efficacious treatments for disease: conventional, alternative, and integrative. Since yoga therapy trainings are generally integrative in nature and delve into other holistic healing models, this open doors to collaboration with other healthcare practitioners, yoga-based researchers, and integrative wellness professionals. Yoga therapists are often called on to collaborate with other professionals in the development of treatment protocols or the coordination of yoga-based research studies. Furthermore, yoga therapists can often work closely with other practitioners like acupuncturists, chiropractors, bodyworkers, and integrative physicians to provide complementary support to their clients.
Are you ready to take the next step in your yoga career? Limited time remains for the grandfathering protocol established by the International Association of Yoga Therapists: those who begin a qualified yoga therapy training by the end of this year will be eligible to grandfather with the IAYT. All others will be required to take one of the newly accredited 1000+ hour yoga therapy trainings.
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