Written by John Immel,
Your 4 years at school will have a huge impact on your 20 to 40 year career.
How will you know you are choosing the best school? How do you tell the quality schools from the trend-driven ones? How does the uninitiated student sort through the inspirational marketing to find the high quality schools that will delivers results for your clients? What questions should you ask?
The best school is the one that will help you thrive as an Ayurveda clinician, so you can live the life of your dreams. Such a school will focus on the practical concerns of delivering superior health & wellness outcomes to clients. Practical schools are schools that care about their graduates.
The guide below will show you how to tell the difference between schools that offer a shallow education driven by hype, and those that will empower you to attract the community to the healing services you will provide. You'll see a set of questions to ask the school. Below each question you will see our recommendation in each category.
Make sure the school is competent in the education of medicine, and can teach you how to run a professional practice that delivers great client outcomes.
Finally, consider how the school will help you promote your practice. A major differentiator is referability. Would other professionals feel comfortable referring their clients to you, on the basis of how you (and the school) presents themselves?
What Type of School Is It?
Does the school emphasize Ayurveda's practical and analytical strengths, or its intuitive and emotional strengths?
Are marketing materials inspirational and emotive? Or, professional, step-by-step, and analytical? Most schools try to attract students through inspirational and emotional content. In reality, the best clinicians aren't merely intuitive, but also analytical and precise.
Ayurveda students are often highly interested in the intuitive, esoteric, mystical or glamorous aspects of medicine. But they also need to develop analytical skills to accurately assess and diagnose imbalances.
Most clients simply want to know the treatments you offer are reliable and make sense. They care more about their quality of life, ability to run after their grandchild, or soothe their joint pain, than the glamour of medicine.
When you look at the school's marketing materials, are they aimed at clinical precision? Does the school know how to help you succeed as a clinician?
Does the school promote luxurious spa-like images on their website, or actual medical conditions?
Seek a school that presents Ayurveda as a practical necessity, rather than an exclusive luxury or passion project. This is a school that seeks to promote the true intention of Ayurveda texts, as a medical model for the health of everyone.
Spa-like images show where the school's competency lies. Spa-images may indicate the school has a focus in this area and may not know how to train clinicians.
Does the school emphasize spirituality or medicine?
Many Ayurveda schools in the West emphasize spiritual health while failing to educate students adequately in basic medicine - the core competency of Ayurveda. Ayurveda schools in India, on the other hand, emphasize clinical medicine, and see the emphasis on spirituality as a distortion of Ayurveda's core competency.
While all schools offer basic understanding of psychological manifestation of disease, students should know that spiritual treatments are not covered extensively in the classical Ayurvedic texts. Classical texts testify to the importance of one's spiritual health. However, Ayurvedic texts do not describe specific spiritual treatments on a disease by disease basis.
Instead, Ayurvedic texts recommend studying religious scriptures for specific knowledge in this area. Read more about the historical origins of Ayurveda.
To fill this lack of spiritual instruction in the ancient texts, and to satisfy student demand for a more magical, mystical version of Ayurveda, many schools teach yoga spirituality and transcendental meditation techniques under the name of Ayurveda. This is repetitive for students of yoga who come to Ayurveda.
Since colonial times, the West has romanticized Indian culture, making it appear exotic, fantastic or magical. Schools that do this, even those run by Indian practitioners, are capitalizing on this colonial attitude and culturally appropriating Ayurveda.
Indian Ayurvedic practitioners see emphasis on spirituality and magic as a move away from clinical medicine, and harmful to Ayurveda's reputation. To most indians, Ayurveda is simply familiar.
Spiritual counseling is a vast topic requiring in-depth knowledge of psychology and religious tradition - an entire degree in itself. Schools that try to juggle a psychology and a medical degree into a 1 or 2 year program graduate students that are under educated, and under confident, in both.
Ayurveda is amazing because of its insights into the body. It is great because it works, not because it is supernatural. However, students should be wary of schools that make Ayurvedic healing appear magical, including from well-known celebrity Ayurveda teachers.
Is the School Competent?
Does the school demonstrate its competency, or lean on accreditation from popular groups?
Accreditation in Ayurveda offers little to no guarantee of school competency. Accrediting bodies are generally clubs that do not evaluate the school beyond a brief glance of curriculum, which is the same information the student can access online.
Ayurveda employers know that Ayurveda clubs rely on statements made by the school, have no authority with the government, and do not conduct audits. So membership in these groups plays little to no role in their hiring decisions.
The most important measure of a schools level of organization is licensure by the State college board. See below.
Accrediting bodies frequently serve the interests of the schools that created them, rather than the clinicians (you).
Does the school scare students by falsely claiming they have to join a particular group to practice professionally? Or, do they clearly inform students that the practice of Ayurveda is legal without accreditation or certification?
Is the school licensed by the state, operating illegally, or avoiding licensing as a 'religious institution'?
State licensure of the school is an extensive and demanding process that provides assurance to the student that the school is serious, well-organized, transparent, and healthy financially.
Many schools avoid scrutiny by seeking exemption, typically by pretending to be a religious institution, or by moving to a state where licensure isn't required (Montana).
Schools that skirt licensing typically have low enrollment and generally aren't operating according to best practices for schools.
Schools that operate illegally may face criminal penalties and be shut down at any time - causing loss of student's entire tuition.
Does the program's length demonstrate the depth of education needed to produce a clinically excellent practitioner? Or is their program too short?
In our experience, 2 years is the minimum length of study to understand the broad scope of Ayurveda, and 4 years of education are a minimum to understand the vast diversity of disease pathology.
Courses shorter than 2 years at the counselor level, or 4 years at the practitioner level, can only give an overview of topics - and cannot give students insight into pathogenesis.
An exception to this are courses focused on a particular disease specialty or system of the body rather than all of Ayurveda.
Avoid schools that boost enrollment by eliminating depth. Frequently these students are unable to become successful clinicians.
Since schools calculate hours differently, the depth of education may be hard to assess. Here are some ways to assess level and quality of the education you will receive:
Do the academic skills of the school's founders or directors demonstrate competency to run a school and educate students?
Find out the academic background of the school owner, and assess how qualified he/she is to lead a school in a subject area as difficult as medicine is? Strong academic skills are needed to deliver education and medicine reliably.
Look for sign that the founder has:
How should one compare online, in-person, and self-paced programs?
Students save substantially on tuition (50%!) by choosing an online school. Scientific studies show that use of technology increases learning rates over in-person classrooms. Even traditional classrooms and public schools are using more and more multimedia in education.
Paradoxically, in-person schools may have less student client interaction than in online programs. Check the actual level of personal contact the student will have with clients in the in-person program. Sitting 5 rows back and 40 feet from the client, a student attending an in-person programs may barely see the client. Use of technology and multi-media brings clients closer - a magnified image of a tongue on a computer screen can reveal much more detail than possible even with the client in the room.
On the other hand, some online schools have very little teacher-student interaction. Self-paced programs typically offer the least interaction with teachers and peers. Check with the school to learn how often the class will meet live for discussion.
Is the school a competent institution to advance the profession? Does it have a research department?
Does the school publish modern research to support their students' learning and improve the confidence the public has in Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is an ancient approach to medicine that has been supporting health for thousands of years. As it moves into areas that are dominated by western medicine, Ayurveda can be brushed aside as outdated, woo-woo, and full of opaque terms. This can be hugely frustrating for practitioners who know the positive impact Ayurveda can have.
Scientific research is a powerful tool for undoing some of this false perception of the practice. Well-conducted studies carry weight and legitimacy among medical professionals. Research studies increase the confidence members of your community have in Ayurveda, particularly those who may be unfamiliar and untrusting of a seemingly exotic approach, like Ayurveda.
It is important for students of Ayurveda to be equipped with in-depth theory and modern research. This allows them to feel confident in their knowledge whether they are speaking with doctors, therapists, athletes or construction workers.
Is the School Client-Centered?Successful practitioners are knowledgeable, not afraid of details, and client-focused. They meet meet clients where they are at, speak using common terms the client understands and gives recommendations that are accessible and clear.
Does the school address the clinical challenge of helping clients, or are they focused on a romanticised image of life as a practitioner?
The school's level of medical competence is frequently reflected in their marketing. Does the school discuss challenging medical topics on their homepage? Or, are they seeking to boost enrollment and get attention by looking beautiful?
Many people come to Ayurveda seeking enrichment and support for their personal health - not to practice professionally. To boost revenues, schools frequently try to attract as many of these non-clinical students as they can, diverting the school's focus away from the training necessary for professional clinical practice. A sign of this is school marketing that projects a romantic image of Ayurveda.
If the school must present a romantic image of Ayurveda in order to get students, instead of a professional one, how well will they be able to help you present your practice professionally?
Does the school give clear and approachable explanations?
Review articles, books and content published by the school. Does the school use language that can be easily understood by everyone? Or, does it use obscure terms and vocabulary? Does the school publish articles, books and other content at all, demonstrating its ability to advance the profession?
As practitioners, we need to be able to present and explain Ayurveda to everyone in the community, including clients who don't do yoga, trendy spirituality, and those with limited knowledge of alternative medicine. Graduates from schools that are exclusive to these groups frequently produce graduates that reach a small clientele.
Presenting your Ayurvedic services as approachable, understandable, and necessary supports the spreading of awareness about Ayurveda. It also supports the legitimacy of the practice among those who may still be skeptical of complementary medicine.
Not too long ago, the medical industry was very skeptical of Chiropractors. Through focused, professional development, the public perspective of Chiropractors has changed. Now, 35 million Americans see a chiropractor each year. Chiropractic is a complementary medicine that was positioned as medically-adjacent and, so, gained legitimacy.
Do they present Ayurveda in a way that is relatable? Or, does the school make Ayurveda appear exotic and unfamiliar?
Does the school present Ayurveda as a professional & reliable solution for clients going through a health crisis? Or, as something mystical or fantastic?
How comfortable will established health professionals, doctors, lawyers, policy makers, and other leaders, feel referring their clients to your future clinical practice, based on how the school presents themselves? Does the school make Ayurveda look reliable to these individuals, or other-worldly or exotic?
Consider the range of individuals in your town or community, with their similarities and differences. Does the school's marketing and imagery appeal to a broad range of them or just a small fraction only, eg: is it packaged for those who do yoga, and yoga spirituality, only? Would the school's marketing appeal to athletes, to accountants, to construction workers?
Does the school romanticize tradition, or continuous improvement?
In their content, marketing, articles etc, does the school seem more dedicated to preserving the health of the client, or on preserving a cultural tradition? Are they sentimental about the culture of Ayurveda, or the health and quality of life of clients? Will future clients invest in your practice because they are sentimental about the Ayurveda tradition, or because they want reliable health results?
As a tradition, Ayurveda becomes rigid, sentimental, and unchangeable. When approached as a cultural tradition, the focus is on Ayurveda, not the client. Patient-centered care focuses on the culture of the client, not the culture of the medicine.
Does the school focus heavily on theory and ancient classical texts? Or, the application of Ayurveda in a modern clinical context?
Does the school imply that Ayurveda is already perfect and complete? Or, is this a school that is passionate about improving Ayurveda, growing, and moving the profession forward? Does the school promote critical thinking in its students? Or does it encourage a questionless acceptance of the information they present?
What is the Teacher / Student Relationship?
Are teachers new every week? Or, do the same teachers work closely with the school throughout the entire program, and know the needs of individual students?
Schools that have new teachers every week may not have the resources or competency to develop their own curriculum. The school may have very little invested in the curriculum, and instead rely on the charisma or celebrity status of teachers to boost their school enrolment. Staff may not even know what the students are being taught, or how to assess gaps in student or teacher competency.
How does the school train teachers in the art of teaching, and support clinical development of their teachers?
The most knowledgeable practitioners are frequently not the best teachers. Science proves that a good teacher produces better results than a highly knowledgeable professor that lacks teaching or communication skills. Schools that are committed to high quality academic education know this - and invest in improving their staff's teaching and communication skills.
What teaching formats and tools do teachers use?
Is content from a book, pre-recorded, or taught live? Are presentations video or audio? Are charts and handouts offered? Competent schools offer a range of learning options.
Student Feedback, Support & Engagement?One way that schools boost profit margins is through skimping on student support, grading, and feedback. This leaves students feeling unsupported and under confident in their skills. Feedback is essential to student growth.
Graduate Support & Engagement?
What business training does the school offer?
Does the school address the fact that being an Ayurvedic professional requires business skills? Or is it presented as solely a vocation or passion project?
Price & Certification Transparency
Does the course give you everything you need to practice, or do you have to purchase additional courses to get your certification?
Some schools appear to charge a low tuition price on a particular course, while hiding from students that they must sign up for additional courses (usually clinic) to complete their training. Legitimate schools tell you the price of completing the entire certification up front.
Does the school pretend to charge a high amount for tuition, then offer large scholarships?
Some schools try to boost their credibility and appear valuable by pretending to charge a high amount for tuition (~$12k) - then offering large scholarships as a 'deal' to get signups. Seek a school that offers competitive pricing up front.
Does the school reduce price by reducing training requirements?
Some schools try to reduce price by dumbing down Ayurveda - offering an 'intermediate' certification as a lifestyle consultant. Graduates from these programs are rarely competent to meet with clients.
Are there hidden costs?
Ask the school about all additional costs you, or your practice clients, may incur as a result of participating in the programs. Examples include purchase of books, herbs, consultations, participation in clinic, etc.
What is the price per year of study, and the total price to become certified?
These are the two most important questions in terms of financing your education.
Ayurveda is a growing field. Naturally, many students are excited to bring the promises of Ayurveda to their communities. By selecting a school that offers superb training in medicine, and professional competency to ensure your future success as a graduate, you will soon be on your way to improving quality of life and health in your community.
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About the AuthorJohn Immel, the founder of Joyful Belly, teaches people how to have a healthy diet and lifestyle with Ayurveda biocharacteristics. His approach to Ayurveda is clinical, yet exudes an ease which many find enjoyable and insightful. John also directs Joyful Belly's School of Ayurveda, offering professional clinical training in Ayurveda for over 15 years.
John's interest in Ayurveda and specialization in digestive tract pathology was inspired by a complex digestive disorder acquired from years of international travel, as well as public service work in South Asia. John's commitment to the detailed study of digestive disorders reflects his zeal to get down to the roots of the problem. His hope and belief in the capacity of each & every client to improve their quality of life is nothing short of a personal passion. John's creativity in the kitchen and delight in cooking for others comes from his family oriented upbringing. In addition to his certification in Ayurveda, John holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Harvard University.
John enjoys sharing Ayurveda within the context of his Catholic roots, and finds Ayurveda gives him an opportunity to participate in the healing mission of the Church. Jesus expressed God's love by feeding and healing the sick. That kindness is the fundamental ministry of Ayurveda as well. Outside of work, John enjoys spending time with his wife and 6 kids, and pursuing his love of theology, philosophy, and language.
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