What Is Yoga Therapy? An Integrative Approach To Wholeness

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Although, as dedicated students and teachers, we may say that all yoga is therapeutic, Yoga Therapy is specially designed to be a therapeutic tool that meets specific students’ emotional, physical, and spiritual needs.

Unlike attending a generic yoga class, like Hatha, Vinyasa, or Yin, Yoga Therapy is completely personalized and mostly offered on a 1-2-1 basis.

Being a bit more pricey than a standard yoga class in a studio, gym, or even a regular private session, you may wonder whether it’s worth the splurge or if Yoga Therapy is right for you. So let’s take a look.

We’ll cover:

  • What is Yoga Therapy?
  • What to expect from a session
  • What are the benefits of Yoga Therapy?
  • Is Yoga Therapy right for me?
a woman going through yoga therapy, lying down on a green yoga mat

What is yoga therapy?

Essentially, Yoga Therapy does what it says on the tin – it uses various therapeutic applications of yogic techniques to help students achieve overall health and well-being. The techniques are personalized to meet an individual’s health goals.

It places a strong focus on integrating the mind and body, empowering students to achieve overall well-being.

In essence, it’s about treating the person not just the condition.


Yoga Therapy utilizes the model of the koshas to get a fuller understanding of what’s going on for students.

These are five sheaths or layers of being, and using these layers can help therapists to see imbalances in all aspects of their students.

They are:

  1. Annamaya kosha (food/physical body)
  2. Pranamaya kosha (energetic body)
  3. Manomaya kosha (mind)
  4. Vijnanamaya kosha (intuition)
  5. Anandamaya kosha (bliss body)
yoga koshas like rings over a woman meditating

Yoga Therapy techniques

Yoga Therapy holistically combines a selection of practices from science and yoga, combining the wisdom of Ayurveda and traditional yoga scriptures with the evidence-based practice of modern psychology and medicine.

Here are some of the techniques that a therapist may use with you:

  1. Asana or other movement styles
  2. Restorative postures
  3. Pranayama
  4. Sound
  5. Yogic philosophy, such as the yamas and niyamas
  6. Visualization or guided imagery
  7. Relaxation
  8. Chakra stimulation
  9. Meditation
  10. Mitahara (diet control)
  11. Sleep
  12. Mudras
a person lying down and listening to singing bowls

The differences between Yoga Therapy & a traditional yoga class

Yoga Therapy is not the same as a regular yoga class.

Here are some of the unique features of Yoga Therapy that you are unlikely to find in a class that teaches other yoga styles:

  • Highly personalized approach
  • Often used to treat specific health conditions
  • Highly informed by neuroscience, psychology, and medical physiology
  • Looks to address the root cause of the health issue
  • Students are guided through a treatment plan
  • Detailed therapy assessment tools are used before starting the therapy
  • Can be made accessible to all, unlike the physically-demanding styles of asana classes
  • Yoga Therapist training is much more comprehensive than a standard 200-hour, in comparison, their training is likely to include lots more on Ayurveda, medical knowledge, and things like psychotherapeutic skills
  • The therapist will likely give the student ‘homework‘ to complete in between sessions
  • You could also expect more use of props, depending on the style of yoga you usually attend

Generally, these are unique aspects of Yoga Therapy that you can’t get in a group yoga class.

Of course, teachers give various options and cues depending on your particular situation, but due to the sheer number of students, it would be impossible for a teacher to customize their approach as much as a Yoga Therapist could.

Because of its tailored approach, Yoga Therapists typically work on a 1-2-1 basis, but you may also be able to find small group classes in your area. Some therapists also offer group deals, where you could attend with a friend or partner, attending 1-2-2 sessions for slightly cheaper.

a yoga teacher assisting a woman in child's pose

What to expect from a session

1. Induction & assessment

Before you meet your instructor, you’ll probably be asked to complete a form that includes questions about your general health and medical history.

The first time you meet your Yoga Therapist, you’ll discuss your unique needs, goals, and motivations behind attending. With your consent, you may receive assessments on things like your range of movement, posture, alignment, and breathing.

They’ll recommend a plan of treatment, likely to be at least 6 sessions.

2. Check-in

After the initial assessment, or if you’re a returning student who’s already completed it, you’ll always start with a check-in to see how you’re feeling and if there are any health-related symptoms that have changed.

They’ll meet you wherever you’re at, that day or hour.

two women chatting in a therapeutic setting

3. The practice

Now the main part of the practice can commence.

It could start with a body-awareness practice to get you out of your ‘doing’ mentality of the day, and into ‘being’.

Then it may go into asanas, pranayama, or any of the other techniques that we’ve explained above. The therapist will be constantly assessing how you’re moving and feeling, so don’t be afraid to ask for advice or alternatives if you don’t like how something feels in your body.

You’re really the master of your journey here.

With your permission, they may also provide physical assistance in asanas. The practice could end with something like a visualization or a guided meditation.

4. Integration

The therapist will usually offer some kind of integration. It could be a simple chat about how you found the session, your likes or dislikes, and what emotions came up for you, or they might offer practices or intentions for you to move through your week/month with.

It’s likely you’ll get homework, too, building on what you’ve been working on with your Yoga Therapist.

a woman in grey clothes in child's pose

benefits of yoga therapy

The benefits of yoga are plentiful, and Yoga Therapy carries many of these same benefits as it uses similar practices such as asana, pranayama, and meditation.

For the purpose of this article, we’ll take a look at some of the more specific benefits that you can get from attending Yoga Therapy.

1. Alternative form of treatment

With more people turning away from conventional Western medicine and looking for something more holistic to treat various conditions, Yoga Therapy is a great tool to support this approach or can be used as a complementary treatment in addition to mainstream work.

Yoga Therapy can help bring the body back into homeostasis, managing physical and mental health conditions successfully without the use of pills or other pharmaceuticals, which can be particularly appealing.

Some might not find talking about their previous traumas helpful, and would prefer to heal somatically. Therefore, Yoga Therapy could also be used as an alternative, or even a preceding step, to talking therapies for those who don’t feel ready for that.

a woman lying down on a bolster

2. Body-mind integration

In the modern age with innumerable distractions, more than ever before, the relationship between ourselves and our bodies can feel somewhat disconnected and dysfunctional.

We go about our days experiencing the body and mind as two separate phenomena, instead of one whole.

Yoga Therapists help cultivate body-mind awareness in their students, facilitating a bridge between the body and mind and eventually bringing them into synchronicity.

If they are supporting you with depression, for example, they would generally lead you into a pose and then explain why that particular pose helps with symptoms of depression, and maybe talk about what the asana brings up for you in your body-mind.

This will develop your understanding of the link between your mental state and your body, and vice versa.

Exploring the relationship between your physical and emotional being can be a key to unlocking deep transformation.

The constant invitation of presence and awareness in Yoga Therapy means we get to know ourselves more deeply.

stones with mind body soul written on them

3. Stress management

We all experience some kind of stress in our lives and we know that it can overshadow every area of life; all the way from our physical health and our relationships with others, to our ability to regulate our emotions or have a good night’s sleep.

Sadly, stress contributes to around 80% of diseases and illnesses in the world. It’s linked to six leading causes of death including suicide, heart disease, and cancer.

People exposed to continuous stress are even more likely to catch a common cold, due to it preventing the body from properly regulating its inflammatory response.

Stress taxes the nervous system and Yoga Therapy counters this, providing much-needed relief from excess stimulation. It brings the body out of a fight-or-flight response and restores a sense of balance in our lives, increasing our physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness.

Is it right for me?

Yoga Therapy uses a specialized approach that takes into account the whole of the student; what their abilities are, what they want to get out of the sessions, and what their needs are.

In this sense, as Yoga Therapy is tailored to your individual needs, it makes a beneficial outcome more predictable and much more likely.

In general, everyone is a good candidate for Yoga Therapy. If you feel called to it, we say to do it – all you need is a willingness to try!

However, if you’re wondering if it could help you, there are some general conditions and life circumstances that may mean you’d benefit from finding a Yoga Therapist. It could be used to heal a condition, or, alternatively, to reduce symptoms and support its better management.

Though this definitely isn’t an extensive list, it may be able to support you with any of these:

Mental Health ConditionsPhysical Health Conditions
AnxietyBlood pressure
Substance misuse issuesMuscle and joint pain
SchizophreniaHeart conditions
Eating disordersChronic fatigue
Other trauma-related issuesMultiple sclerosis
Musculoskeletal conditions
Brain injuries
Alzheimer’s & dementia
Immune disorders

If you’re still unsure, we’d advise you to reach out to a local Yoga Therapist and have a chat with them about what you’re experiencing. It’s always worth asking the question to see if they can support you with your journey.

More on yoga therapy

Try out this guide to Yoga Therapy, or go deeper with this textbook.

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Liz is a Qigong and Yoga teacher based in Gloucestershire with a love for all things movement, nature & community. She strives to create a trauma-informed space in which everyone is empowered to be their authentic selves. www.elizabethburns.co.uk

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