“Yoga therapy is the process of empowering individuals to progress toward improved health and well-being through the application of the teachings and practices of Yoga.” International Association of Yoga Therapists
Yoga therapy is similar to all yoga in that it promotes well-being and encourages self-care but the approach is slightly different.
Yoga therapy uses specific practices to help both physical and mental issues and because of its individualistic approach, it is suitable for most people.
In this article we’ll take a look at:
- What is yoga therapy?
- How is yoga therapy different to yoga in general?
- What are some of the benefits of yoga therapy?
- How is a yoga teacher different to a yoga therapist?
- What is a yoga therapist?
What is yoga therapy?
Yoga therapy is a relatively modern term that was first used in the 1920s by Swami Kuvalayananda. (1883-1966) He was a researcher and guru known for his application of research into the science of yoga. He published Yoga Mimamsa in 1924, which was a journal, especially for studying yoga. He had a good deal of influence on modern yoga as we know it today.
Yoga therapy prompted assessments and measurements of yoga’s effects. It was a new thing for researchers to be looking at the changes made possible through the practice of yoga. This meant that it became possible to look at some of the effects of yoga in relation to specific medical conditions.
Yoga therapy has continued to gain popularity and is now being recognized by some doctors and mental health professionals. It is a great way to approach the body and mind holistically without or alongside traditional medicine.
Yoga therapy is a very personalized practice that evolves with the practitioner. Yoga therapy looks at the specific health needs of the practitioner. There has been research into how specific postures, breathing techniques, and other yogic practices can be useful for alleviating not only physical but also mental illnesses.
What can yoga therapy benefit?
There are many benefits to taking up yoga therapy. The approach is two-fold – the physical and the mental. Let’s take a look at how yoga therapy can alleviate symptoms and help with illness.
PhysicalSome of the physical benefits of yoga therapy include relief from the symptoms of:
- High blood pressure
- Cancer and chemotherapy management
- Back pain and musculoskeletal issues
- Brain injury
- Autoimmune diseases
- Heart disease
- Multiple sclerosis
Some of the mental benefits of yoga therapy include relief from the symptoms of:
What happens in a yoga therapy session?
You’ll most likely start out by having a discussion about your individual needs. It is important for the yoga therapist to get a good understanding of the client so that the right approach can be taken.
Your yoga therapist will help you come up with a daily yoga practice plan. Your plan will likely include elements of meditation, asana (postures), and breathing techniques (pranayama).
Most yoga therapists will encourage you to have a minimum of six sessions. You might see a yoga therapist once or twice per month, depending on your needs. Seeing them over a sustained period of time can help you to work out your goals and help you achieve them.
Yoga therapy works really well alongside other types of treatment, and it can be a great compliment to other modalities such as therapy, physiotherapy and medication. The important thing is that yoga therapy teaches you the tools to take care of yourself and empowers you to take control of your own health.
Yoga therapy is about meeting the individual exactly where they are.
The yoga therapist is an aid and support in ensuring that the client/practitioner takes control of their own journey towards health and healing.
How is yoga therapy different from yoga?
Yoga is often confused with exercise, and with so many styles of yoga based on working up a sweat, it’s no wonder this misconception is made. There may be less physical emphasis on movement for fitness in yoga therapy than there is in open classes.
Yoga teachers have a minimum of 200 hours of training, while yoga therapists usually have more than 1000 hours of experience. While the training is usually around 500 hours for a yoga therapy certification, it is essential for the yoga therapist to also have relevant experience.
Group yoga classes can be based around a theme and are usually sequenced according to the level of the practitioner rather than specific health issues. Most people go to a studio two or three times a week to practice rather than the more frequent practice prescribed in yoga therapy.
A yoga class provides students with tools for self-inquiry and it aims at leading practitioners towards self-realization. Yoga classes are also a great way to find a community.
There are many reasons why someone would go to a yoga class but most people go to a yoga therapist for a specific health reason.
Someone coming to yoga therapy will work one on one with the teacher. They are most often looking for relief from health issues. This means that the practice provided is very prescriptive and unique to the practitioner.
Yoga therapy sessions are about restoring wellness and relieving the symptoms of illness on an individual level. They are less about the philosophical principles of yoga.
Sessions will be geared towards a pre-existing condition. It is not about a one size fits all approach as you would find in a public class but something very specific to a condition.
What’s the difference between a yoga teacher and a yoga therapist?
Yoga teachers tend to teach groups of people in a variety of different styles and levels. There is a tendency to focus on technique and instruction to help people practice safely and with an embodied approach.
Yoga therapists don’t teach classes to groups but work one on one. The focus on their student’s individual needs.
The job of the yoga therapist is to assess the needs of a client through discussion, observation and touch. Yoga therapists look for specific ways to alleviate certain symptoms and ailments and they prioritize this over the teachings of yoga.
Yoga therapists help their clients to create appropriate health goals rather than transformational goals. The intention of a yoga therapy session is to work with one specific aspect of someone’s health rather than the methods and techniques of working towards enlightenment.
Students often report many benefits from attending yoga classes and the benefits of practicing yoga are abundant, but in yoga therapy sessions, the teachings are not generalized but specific to something like insomnia or lower back pain.
But isn’t all yoga therapeutic yoga?
Well, yes. But it’s about the intention. The aim of yoga is transformation or enlightenment but for yoga therapy the goal is to manage symptoms of illness or even cure disease.
“Both approaches… share an understanding of the human being as an integrated body-mind system, which can function optimally only when there is a state of dynamic balance.”Georg Feuerstein, Ph.D
Yoga therapy takes into account the mind and body when looking at disorders. It will take into account all aspects of the client’s life and environment. This helps to empower the practitioner to take care of their own health and well-being.
What is a yoga therpist?
A yoga therapy training requires a big commitment that is now recognized by some governments and health organizations. A yoga therapy training usually takes between 18 months and 2 years to complete.
Courses are taught through a combination of practice, supervision, case studies, lectures and yoga therapy.
A yoga therapy course is based more on individual ailments and less on sequencing and methodology.
Is yoga therapy for me?
Yoga therapy is for you if you want to work on a specific health issue in a holistic way. It is also for you if you want to take control of your health and work one on one with a professional who can help support you.
Yoga therapy is about putting the work in yourself to see changes in your body and mind.
Yoga Therapy Roundup
If you’ve found yourself asking what is yoga therapy? then here it is in a nutshell.
- Yoga therapy can help with a variety of mind and body disorders. Its benefits include relief from the symptoms of chronic illnesses, relief from anxiety and stress as well as insomnia.
- Yoga therapy is taught one on one with a professional who has been trained to look at specific illness.
- The goal of yoga therapy unlike yoga is not enlightenment but to relieve symptoms from illness, disease and pain.
If you’re interested in yoga therapy and want to find out more about therapeutic styles then why not check out Viniyoga 101 | History, lineage and theory.