The first Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research (SYTAR), organized by the International Association of Yoga Therapy (IAYT), was held January 18-21 in Los Angeles. It was a gathering of yogis and yoginis, medical professionals, researchers, and those who develop and sell products to the aforementioned groups.

First off, by any measure, this conference was a great success. It sold out very quickly – I spoke to many yogis who’d wanted to go but hadn’t acted quickly enough. I believe that many yoga teachers across the country are witnessing the therapeutic possibilities of yoga in their own clientele. So the topic is ripe for discussion. And, I believe the organizers of the conference approached the frankly impossible task of finding common ground between the scientific community (the quantifiers), and the yogic spiritual practitioners and teachers (the revelers in the unknowable).
I love yoga conferences. I love to be around dedicated yoga teacher-practitioners. They put out a great vibe – as one woman said to me in the bathroom “who ARE you people? – it feels so good to be around you!” (she was attending a community college meeting in the same hotel). I was moved and ticked to attend scientific sessions that were launched with the chanting of ohm. Somehow, that both made the information presented resonate, and reminded me not to take it too seriously.
Many of the presenters provided outlines of their talks, and some of these may be helpful to yoga practitioners who were not able to attend. You can find a range of download able pdf-outlines of sessions and of breakouts at the IAYT website. You can find additional information from some of the presenters websites – those I attended who’s website info was helpful to me include Matthew Taylor PhD, PT, Amy Weintraub, Leslie Kaminoff who’s an impressively active blogger and Larry Payne PhD. Another blog that would be of interest to those of you thinking about the integrative therapies like yoga is The Integrator, John Week’s blog. I’ll do more features on some of these and other excellent practitioners I met at SYTAR.
I’ve been back from the conference for a couple weeks now, and the initial impressions have ruminated a bit. There has also been some rumblings and feedback from other attendees of the conference. A feast for thought came out of this meeting. A natural topic for this group was the development of standards for yoga therapists, and moving toward reimbursement and licensure. There were a number of warnings from clinicians (Chiropractors, PTs, RNs) that moving in that way will definitely result in more oversight, less creativity and time per client, and probably a reduction in pay scale for the yoga provider. Even as a clinician myself (I’m a Registered Dietitian), I came away thinking that perhaps moving toward licensure and reimbursement was not a good idea for the yoga community.
Feedback from the conference which I found fascinating was Megan McDonough’s observation that while most of the attendees were female, most of the presenters were male. The Kripalu Yoga Teacher’s Association listserv had a richer discussion, but you can get the cliffnotes on eSutra. It was a very male-dominated meeting, which I at first thought was indicative of more linear scientific nature of the topic. But then I thought perhaps it was because of the clique of PdD male yoga teachers who seem to have dominated the conversation – there are definitely master level, PhD-level yoga teacher/researchers out there, so yep, this should change next year. And it seems that feedback has been received by the organizers too.
All in all, a great effort, a beautiful dialogue. I’ll go to SYTAR next year.