Yoga Therapy Articles

What is Yoga Therapy and how does it differ from yoga?

teaching a yoga therapy class

A question that is often asked is “What is Yoga Therapy?” and “What is the difference between a yoga teacher and a yoga therapist?”. There are significant differences between Yoga Therapy and yoga teacher training. Yoga therapy is clinically oriented, personalised, assessment-led and science-based. The bio-medical and psychological training, length of studies, multi-faceted approach, student/teacher relationship and type of knowledge required to work as a Yoga Therapist are profoundly different to those required for yoga teacher training.

The entry-level for a Yoga Therapist is much higher than for a yoga teacher. To be a certified Yoga Therapist requires a minimum of 200-hour yoga teacher training and in addition, the IAYT requires a minimum of 800 recognised hours of training to qualify as a Yoga Therapist. This takes 2 – 3 years to complete and must include at least 156 hours of real-life case studies plus a final dissertation.

Yoga teachers are trained, primarily, to teach physical practices, often taught within a certain system, e.g., Ashtanga, Hatha or Vinyasa. In general, yoga classes are taught in groups and the focus tends to be on teaching a series of movements, irrespective of the needs of individuals with specific physical or mental health issues.

However, it is important to realise that not all yoga poses, breathing techniques or relaxation practices are suitable for everybody and in some cases, they can be contraindicated for certain health issues.

A Yoga Therapist has the training to recognise when and how to adapt yoga practices to address them.

The training

A yoga therapist has to have a sound knowledge of the conditions they are going to be working with and this includes understanding the biomechanics of the body, the organ systems, the nervous system, symptoms and progress of diseases, treatment options and medication side effects, an understanding of mental health issues, somatic counselling skills and how to work in a trauma-informed way – all viewed through a Yoga Therapy lens. This training links the mind and the physical body with the understanding of health and disease, behaviour and environment, in a multidimensional, whole-person approach.

In contrast to yoga teachers, Yoga Therapists also take a full history of each client to find out all the different aspects that make up the full spectrum of a client’s health history and to ensure that the practices that are suggested are effective and appropriate for the individual’s issues and goals for healing.

In therapeutic yoga, Yoga therapists work mainly one-on-one, so that every session can be specifically tailored to the person, on a specific practice day. Yoga Therapy involves pain-free physical practices and movements – no matter how small and simple – breathing techniques, relaxation, guided meditation and sharing of experiences through trauma-sensitive conversations.

Using the proper therapeutic application of these techniques, trained Yoga therapists can help with conditions as varied as depression, trauma, anxiety and addiction, chronic pain and autoimmune disease, cancer recovery, cardiovascular disease, migraines, asthma and muscle imbalances. Yoga Therapy also supports recovery from the effects of long-term Covid.

The in-depth training also prepares a Yoga Therapist to work in tandem with other professionals in the healthcare field. As the benefits of Yoga Therapy become more widely known and supported by research, it is increasingly being incorporated into individualised treatment plans by doctors and therapists and has growing respect as an ideal complement to Western medicine. The integration of yogic practices into major healthcare systems is helping relieve the burden of symptoms, support recovery and enhance the quality of life for more and more people.

There is a huge capacity for service and community contribution with Yoga Therapy and Yoga Therapists can be found working in hospitals, outpatient clinics, physical therapy, rehabilitation and oncology.

A responsible, self-regulated profession.

The International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) has taken responsible and proactive steps to protect the public, the profession and individual practitioners, by creating a self-regulatory structure for Yoga Therapy, with real substance.

Its mission is to continue to raise the standards of Yoga Therapy training, evaluate the latest scientific studies in this emerging profession and facilitate the transition of the trained yoga therapist into the healthcare system, as a respected and highly regarded professional.

Accredited Yoga Therapy schools are also responsible for only graduating students that can demonstrate they are able to work safely and effectively and this is done, under supervision, through extensive case study work with real-life clients.

Those with mental or physical health issues should, therefore, be looking for an accredited, trained yoga therapist, as opposed to a yoga teacher. This ensures effective, person-specific sessions, a safe and compassionate therapeutic approach, application of techniques grounded in biomedical knowledge and reduces the chances of inflicting harm, unwittingly, through a lack of knowledge.

The answer to “what is Yoga Therapy” is at its heart, the adaptation of yoga tools, breathing and relaxation practices within a safe, therapeutic relationship, specifically for an individual and the health issues they are facing but more importantly, it also supports the prevention of disease and empowers people to take charge of their health and of their choices, improving overall quality of life.