Yoga Therapy as a Profession

Sample from the Fall 2008 issue of Integral Yoga Magazin

An Interview with Kelly McGonigal, PhD

As editor of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy (published by the International Association of Yoga Therapists or IAYT), Kelly McGonigal is on the cutting edge of the Yoga therapy field. Here, she shares, from her unique vantage point, her views on the field of Yoga therapy and professional development for Yoga therapists.

Integral Yoga Magazine (IYM): What is your role as editor of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy?

Kelly McGonigal (KM): I see myself as someone who is facilitating a conversation. As editor, I deliberately invite points of view that have not been well represented and put articles that take very different approaches side by side and let people sit with that. The field is open to this. There is a real desire to come together. When I came on board, I had a chance to talk to some of the leaders in the field of Yoga therapy. I learned there was a time when it was difficult to have everyone in the same room because there was so much disagreement about what was the “real” Yoga. People in the field seem to be beyond this now.

IYM: How does the IAYT annual conference contribute to the development of Yoga as a profession?

KM: The initial idea was modeled on a professional or academic conference. For 2008, participants asked for more interactive learning opportunities, so we offered the option of choosing a track. For example, there was a “Psychological Issues and Emotions” track. Participants were able to build on what they learned in the main sessions by doing practices with leaders in the area of integrating Yoga and psychology. Our conferences provide a broad tent in which many different approaches are included. Simultaneously, we recognize and honor that there is specialization within the field of Yoga therapy. The 2009 conference will focus on small common-interest communities that can network and learn together within the broader conference.

IYM: For what kind of training should potential Yoga therapists look?

KM: First, I think they should get a generalist training that includes a deep understanding of Yoga’s philosophy and history. It is also important to be firmly grounded in your own Yoga practice. Then, think about the population you are most drawn to teaching. I just heard Seane Corne speak at a conference, and she said that whatever drew you to Yoga is the place you can be of the most service. I think this is a really good model for thinking about what population you can serve. Once you settle on a population, you can find a program that offers a process and specific knowledge that will help you serve this population.

IYM: How do you deal with difficult emotions that arise within yourself or your students during a Yoga class?

KM: The practice I’ve been taught is to cultivate a sense of yourself as a caregiver for your emotions, to witness the emotion without feeling like you need to fix it or make it go away, to feel a tremendous sense of compassion for the emotion and for the “you” that feels it (including yourself as a child, if the emotion relates to early experiences or family conflict). When the emotion arises, hold the experience in your heart and body and say to it, “Welcome. You are safe.” Feel the emotion the way you might feel a Yoga pose—as an experience of the body and breath. Maintain a witness consciousness that can observe the experience. Recognize that the emotion is not a permanent state and it is not all of you, or all that you are. Then, practice self-care. Do whatever you need to do in the moment—rest, choose to do something different than the rest of the class, cry and breathe. See if you can hold the spaciousness that allowed the emotion to show up. If you keep the spaciousness, the emotion will soften and run its course…

Read the rest of this article in the Fall 2008 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.

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