Yoga Therapy: What Is It?

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.
— Definition of Yoga Therapy from the International Association of Yoga Therapists, iayt.org

Yoga therapy uses the tools of yoga—such as postures, breathing practices, meditation, and mantra– to empower individuals to find optimal health and wellness.

Typical yoga classes offered in gyms, yoga studios and health clubs are geared toward healthy people as a form of exercise. Yoga therapy differs in that the yoga therapist customizes the practice of yoga to meet the specific needs of the individual or group with the intention of assisting clients manage the symptoms of their condition.

According to Gary Kraftsow, a leading expert in the field of yoga therapy, “When clients seek out a yoga therapist or a therapeutic group, they are usually not coming to learn yoga, but to get help with or relief from some symptoms or health condition that is troubling them. In most cases, the instruction focuses on their condition and how the yoga techniques can help them feel better or improve their function, rather than on the techniques or methods of yoga practice.” 1

Most often yoga therapists work one-on-one with clients to create an individualized, practice that addresses a person’s unique combination of physical, mental and emotional needs. “Therapists look for ways to help their clients reduce or manage their symptoms, improve their function, and help them with their attitude in relation to their health conditions.” 2

Each session begins with an intake and assessment of the client’s current symptoms in addition to a discussion of the client’s goals for the session. The therapist then recommends a combination of yogic techniques and guide the client through an individualized practice that promotes wellness for body and mind. Typically, the therapist provides a written follow-up detailing those practices for the client to use at home for self-care. Multiple sessions may be necessary as together the therapist and client refine the practice.

So how do yoga therapists differ from yoga teachers?

Yoga therapists receive special training on how to work with students who have various conditions, such as arthritis, depression or MS, to ensure their safety. To become certified with the International Association of Yoga Therapists (iayt.org), yoga teachers must complete an additional 800 hours of study beyond the 200 hours required in basic yoga teacher training. Their training includes learning the contraindications for various medical conditions and ways to modify poses to bring the greatest benefit without causing further injury.

For example, for someone with arthritis in their hands or wrists, a therapist would modify downward dog by showing the client how to practice the pose using a chair or with the forearms on the wall.

Yoga therapy can be paired with other practices, such as physical therapy.3

In fact, some experts recommend yoga therapy in addition to physical therapy, OT and other treatments. Because yoga is a mind-body practice, people learn methods for coping with symptoms such as anxiety, sleeplessness and stress that often accompany certain conditions. A yoga therapist equips her clients with tools such as deep breathing, guided relaxation (or yoga nidra), meditation and mindfulness practices which have been shown to improve mood, promote relaxation, relieve stress, and increase overall quality of life. 

 

  • 1. Kraftstow, Gary. “The Distinction Between a Yoga Therapy Session and a Yoga Class”, Yoga International, February 3, 2016, yogainternational.com
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Liao, Sharon. “Yoga as Therapy,” Arthritis Today, July/August 2016.

To learn more, visit these websites:

YogaTherapy.healthGoodTherapy.org

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