…and can it help me?
Pull up a chair and let me tell you the story of professional yoga in America over the last few decades and I will tell you what yoga therapy is and if it can help you.
Twenty years ago when I first began my own yoga practice, no one would have thought that yoga would be where it is now. Yoga has had more than it’s share of moments in the spotlight. That’s in no small part to the way that Western science has recognized the unique gifts that yoga practice bestows – so, the mechanisms by which yoga does what it does are being elucidated and at a furious clip. The field of yoga is doing its best to become more professional, so standards are evolving and certifications are on the rise. Thus it is with the International Association of Yoga Therapy (IAYT). They’ve recently offered a certification in yoga therapy, the C-IAYT, which I was grandparented into. The Yoga Alliance (YA) has stated that simply having an RTY does not adequately train you to offer yoga therapy to those with medical conditions.
Yoga is a multi-dimensional practice, and that’s what makes it so therapeutic when used skillfully. It has the physical posture practice that you have seen – the triangle, the warrior, the headstand and so forth. It has a mental aspect to practice – you focus your mind in a particular way inside your body as you practice, releasing the lists of to-dos and the relitigating of the past that is so common in our everyday distracted minds, and instead, we are invited to be absorbed in the sensations within. And, there is a breath or energy aspect of it. You use your breath in particular ways with particular aims in mind.
All of these aspects of yoga are going on at the same time. In yoga therapy (YT), we take advantage of what each of the multi-dimensional aspects of yoga can do, and we apply them within an evidence-based framework. For me, it’s within a Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT) framework. MNT is an evidence-based approach to nutrition to address health issues. I use YT too, for example, address constipation by creating more space in the torso with breathing exercises, self-massage, and inversion postures. These techniques are added to the foods, fluids, and herbs Western science suggests can be helpful to resolve the issue.
Can YT help you? The short answer is if you are seeking lifestyle medicine to address a health condition, then yes, YT can be part of that program. Yoga can help support positive change, help us learn to move more skillfully, and provides us a philosophical framework through which to become our most skillful, kindest, most compassionate selves.
YT is a set of tools for use within my licensed nutrition practice. I hope to share with nutritionists and with yoga teachers my approach to blending these two sciences in a teacher training program. But, one step at a time. In the meantime, I’ll be offering YT-MNT in my telehealth practice opening in September.
I love dietitians! They’re smart, well-educated and enthusiastic.
Unfortunately for them, they are also a great bargain relative to similarly-educated clinicians (I ponder what the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, AND, our professional organization has been doing in the last decade as nurses value has soared…and ours has not). There are many new certificate players in the nutrition field, and that’s good and there is room for everyone in the land where 7 out of 10 Americans die of preventable lifestyle-related chronic disease. I just don’t see, however, a credential with the required biochemical and broad nutrition coursework background, from community to food service to mind-body to communications, as dietitians. Nutrition is science, and psychology and biochemistry and even after nearly 3 decades, helping people with food often pushes me to the edges of my knowledge and ability. Granted, I’m biased. I am an RDN (registered dietitian nutritionist), so have the inside view of what it takes to earn and maintain it.
The way forward for dietitians (and everyone in a female-dominated profession) is for each of us to focus on our value. How can we, as individuals, boost our personal, professional and market value? One way is to cross-train. To expand your knowledge and expertise in several areas. Dietitians, here comes Ayurveda and yoga therapy.
Yoga & Nutrition
Those of you who have known me for a while know that I have been combining nutrition with yoga since before there was so much great science explaining the mechanisms of why it’s helpful. Yoga, it turns out, makes us better choice-makers. Yoga also creates an internal biochemistry that calms inflammation and when practiced regularly can be protective against chronic disease.
While I criticize the AND for our salary situation, I am also grateful for the ways they have supported me in my work as a writer and teacher of nutrition and yoga. I am thrilled to be speaking at FNCE in Boston this month, with world-renowned educator Dr. Sat Bir Khalsa of Harvard, and my friend and colleague the lovely Anu Kaur of the NIH. We’ll be talking about the science and practice of yoga therapy in dietetics, and highlighting how the field of yoga therapy is evolving through credentialing.
I’ll also be featuring colleagues in the field who are using yoga and yoga therapy in their nutrition practices. I’m inspired by this collection of practitioners. Thinking back to 2006-2007, when my first book came out, I was at FNCE (the Food and Nutrition Conference and Exhibition, the AND conference), and a tiny dark-haired woman came up to me at my booth, smiling ear to ear. She introduced herself, and only years later did I realize how sisterly we were. It was Beverly Price – a dietition-yoga teacher blending the two to help people with eating disorders. Now, Beverly owns a center in MI with an integrated staff including MDs, RDNs, and RYTs offering yoga-based therapies. She’s my business hero!
My work at Kripalu gives me a visible perch and happily, RDN-RYTs come to me when they are passing through. That’s how I met Andrea Leiberstein, a dietitian who works with mindful eating researcher Jean Kresteller on the program Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training (MB-EAT), offered at Kripalu and elsewhere. Andrea also trains health professionals to use Mindful Eating to help with weight and eating.
There are so many more RDNs in this budding field and I look forward to featuring them over the next months here on the blog, but if you are at FNCE, check out our talk on Sunday morning. If our last talks are any indication, it will be STO, so get there early!
For anyone in DIFM, I will be giving a short demo on plant energetics with a plant-song device from Italy at the Happy Hour, But I have to say, the best reason to stop by there is to see the incomparable Kathie Swift get yet another award (how does she find room on her mantle for all her awards?) for Lifetime Achievement in Integrative and Functional Nutrition.
I will also be at the Member Product Marketplace on Monday, offering special pricing and free shipping on my 2 books, and a special on my CE-program: Yoga and Meditation: Tools for Weight Management through Wolf Rinke. Please do come by!
It’s been quite a ride, being a student and teacher of yoga over the last two decades. Like riding a tsunami. At this point, yoga has washed over the country, and nearly every single family in America has been touched. Who’d ever thought that so many of our moms, dads, aunts, and preschool cousins would be doing yoga?
So, it’s really high time for the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) to hold their first Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research (SYTAR). A fascinating collection of clinical researchers, medical professionals, and yogis and yoginis will gather in LA in mid-January to discuss the state of this rapidly growing field.
When I first began teaching yoga, I was amazed at the quasi-health advisor role that many yoga teachers play with just a month or two of training (and those were the ones to take more comprehensive training). This after training for nearly twenty years to become a Registered Dietitian, qualified to skillful counsel people on what they should eat, or how to determine therapeutic nutritional needs.
Well, things are getting better, as far as defined national certifications for yoga teachers (though many rightfully mourn what is lost with the quantification of yoga training, when it was traditionally a Guru-teacher style training, and the guru followed his own track – the trackless track).
Coming back to therapeutics and the symposium, my abstract: Yoga and nutrition for weight management: a case study in program rationale and design was accepted for inclusion in the program. Who-ho. I’ll post the abstract here after the conference, as I think I need to let the IAYT have first publication rights.
Yoga therapy is a gem for those with mind-body issues, include weight and eating issues. Having all these yogis gathering to talk about ‘what works best for this, what works best for that, and still keeping it the wonderful practice that it is’…will benefit us all.
Read more about the association and the conference at the website, www.IAYT.org.