Wondering about the difference between “yoga” and “yoga therapy”?
Yoga therapy helps individuals progress toward improved mental and physical health and wellbeing using the practice of yoga poses, meditation, and breathwork.
Yoga therapists work together with clients or patients to implement a personalized and evolving yoga practice that addresses illness on multiple levels, facilitates healing, and alleviates suffering in a progressive way. Yoga therapy can also be used to ease natural processes like pregnancy or menopause.
In this post, we’re going to explore what yoga therapy is, why it’s different than traditional yoga, and how you can explore yoga therapy further if you’d like to learn more.
When you read the definition of yoga therapy above, did you ask yourself, “But isn’t all yoga therapeutic?”
Although all yoga is potentially therapeutic, yoga therapy (also called yoga psychology) specifically applies yoga tools like breathwork, meditation practices, and postures to address the needs of the individual.
While regular yoga classes can ease aches and pain, improve overall fitness, and lift mood, yoga therapy goes deeper. It is a personalized, multi-dimensional approach that can uproot what is holding you back and help you secure lasting change.
Studies now support the efficacy of yoga for a wide range of conditions like cancer, insomnia, autoimmune disorders, anxiety, depression, PTSD, diabetes, and/or chronic pain.
Yoga works on many levels, and the power of yoga therapy is that it addresses all five levels of Self simultaneously:
By incorporating depth psychology and Swiss psychologist Carl Jung’s concept of the Shadow, trained yoga therapists can also help their clients uncover blocks and limiting stories to optimize healing.
Trained yoga therapists can design yoga prescriptions for depression, anxiety, anger, heartbreak, grief, joy, love and intimacy, leading to lasting mental and emotional transformation. Yoga therapists are trained to be trauma-sensitive so they can design practices that work for individuals without triggering trauma responses. Therapists can also design individual practices for all ages and abilities.
Practices that yoga therapists recommend could include things like:
In traditional group classes, students fit themselves into the same pre-designed poses and sequences as everyone else in the class. Yoga therapy involves practices that are designed specifically for individuals, because practitioners know and understand their specific circumstances, goals, and challenges.
For example, when I work with my yoga therapy clients, I draw from a wide range of tools and approaches depending on the individual’s presenting issues and constitution, then offer a curated protocol that can include yoga, meditation, mantra, and breathwork.
Over the past few decades, exciting developments are happening as yoga and Eastern wisdom merge with Western science systems. Scientists can now look at the brain and body and actually see changes that happen when people regularly meditate and practice yoga.
Researchers and practitioners have found that yoga therapy is particularly effective at treating stress. High levels of stress hormones like cortisol can undermine the function of the immune system, as well as contribute to conditions like migraines, heart disease, ulcers, irritable bowel disease, and diabetes.
Yoga therapy practices like gentle asanas, slow breathing, and meditation can help activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows the heart and lowers blood pressure. This can help individuals recover from short term and long term stress, leading to improved health and less medication.
Two separate nonprofit membership trade and professional organizations – the Yoga Alliance and the International Association of Yoga Therapists – govern the education and certification of yoga teachers and yoga therapists in the United States.
The directories of these organizations recognize teachers and schools who have achieved certain standards of yoga and yoga therapy teacher training.
The Yoga Alliance states that every Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) must have a minimum of 200 hours of teacher training. The International Association of Yoga Therapists recently began certifying yoga therapists with a requirement for a minimum of 1000 hours of training.
Yoga teachers, healthcare practitioners, wellness professionals, studio owners, psychology professionals, nurses, and physicians may want to explore the possibilities of incorporating yoga therapy into their work with their clients and patients.
The International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) has an internal accreditation program for comprehensive yoga therapist training programs offered by its member schools. You can visit the IAYT website to view the 66 IAYT-accredited yoga therapy training programs.