Prohibition in Yoga

Speakeasy Yoga

This is my first post after two fun years of transitioning from clinical practice to my new roles as writer, researcher and mentor. I’ve been honored to be asked to participate in the new Yoga Alliance (YA) organizational development process. Specifically to serve on the scope of practice committee for yoga teachers.

This feels like full-circle as back in the late 90’s my son, Adam, and I created the first YA website and database. My member number was # 46 and there was a great deal of excitement about the potential for the organization to bring yoga into our culture.

The years passed, many changes occurred, and I finally withdrew my membership when the “therapy” Prohibition was rolled out of principle because of the process utilized, and also because I identified more as a yoga therapist than a yoga teacher, and could not comply with the Prohibition in my profile or websites.

I’m pleased to share that the new leadership at YA is undergoing a sincere process of organizational change that suggests many positive processes underway to address earlier shortcomings, and more importantly, better serve their membership and the public. All of this means I’ve been revisiting their mission, my intentions, and how I might best serve the YA community. I’ve invested a great deal of time and effort in leading yoga therapy and yoga safety, beginning with the first article on yoga safety in 2004. My prior thinking and leadership on those issues is captured here about how yoga differs from the modern allopathic paradigm we all swim in; how group classes can be structured to be consistent with yoga; and what the future of yoga might be when I was president of IAYT. I now serve as an expert witness in yoga injuries and consult with national organizations around best safe yoga practices.

Somewhere in all of that reflecting, the idea of Speakeasy Yoga popped into my mind. What analogy could offer an image to address this particular facet of yoga to invite re-consideration and a new process of both discernment and action? Allow me to bullet-point my thinking and invite your feedback to consider as we all work together to develop a scope of practice for yoga teachers/schools/studios.

  • Yoga (and yoga therapy) represents a very different paradigm from conventional modern healthcare: realization/wellbeing vs pathology/disease model. (I suspect that was the best intention behind the Prohibition). I also know it was fear driven around liability exposures of their considerable financial assets.
  • Practicing yoga (to include ethics, asana, pranayama, meditation, etc.) enables real changes in health and wellbeing. Incontrovertible scientific evidence supports that reality. That does NOT mean the teacher heals, is a therapist, etc. That’s the dominant modern healthcare model. (See here.) Regular yoga practice leads to transformation, part of which is measurable health outcomes. Transformation presumes a direction and it isn’t toward suffering and systems instability. Parsing ‘transformation’ and ‘health outcomes/wellbeing’ would be another interesting post.
  • In our modern culture, students seek out yoga for health reasons and addressing somatic complaints is a safe way for individuals to address their suffering (yoga would suggest those are symptoms of deeper misperceptions).
  • Consequently, more students are showing up medically frail or at risk (to include ACE and trauma histories) expecting yoga teachers can support them. Do current training programs offer a process or method for addressing this growing population? (In my experience, no.)
  • In the past YA has declined opportunities to offer continuing education around risk management in studios and private practices. This is the science of ahimsa utilized by both conventional healthcare and the fitness industry. It is not “legal advice” but best practices for safety. Absence of these types of practices in my experience as an expert witness is almost universally the reason injury complaints reach the level of seeking expert counsel. Simple practices not practiced.
  • The reality is almost every single yoga teacher or studio is serving the “yoga moonshine” of health and wellbeing outcomes via their speakeasy, despite the current Prohibition and superficial compliance in their profiles and websites. The Prohibition now generates an organizational and individual “blindspot” of avoidance and neglect to what in fact is happening in practice. Teachers are left without an answer to, “What are yoga teachers to do?” when they are approached with a health related question or an unusual occurrence takes place. (They’re called occurrences because they do occur despite everyone’s best efforts.)
  • I presume that through this current process, ahimsa will be the foundation of any scope of practice. Not empowering teachers with effective management systems for minimizing risk would fall well short of the definition of ahimsa and indicate a denial of our cultural milieu in which yoga is being delivered.


So “What is the role of today’s yoga teacher?” and “Are there things a yoga teacher should not do?” are two great questions. I encourage you to stay engaged, have your voice heard, and most of all, remain open to learning something new vs. ‘knowing’ something for sure.

Together we can work together toward Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 2.16.