Yoga vs. Yoga Therapy: What is the Difference? By Emily Robinson

Yoga vs. Yoga Therapy: What is the Difference? By Emily Robinson

October 27, 2021

As a long-time yoga teacher and yoga therapist, I’ve always valued the therapeutic benefits of yoga and firmly believe in the value of a consistent practice whether that be in a large group class at a studio or private yoga therapy session. While neither type of practice is superior to the other, there are some significant differences between yoga and yoga therapy.

The International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT), the organization responsible for certifying yoga therapists, defines yoga therapy as the “specific application of yogic tools — postures/exercises, breath work, mediation techniques, and more — to address an individual’s physical, mental and emotional needs.”

While the focus of a yoga teacher is to teach yoga techniques, the focus of a yoga therapist is less about teaching yoga techniques and more about applying specific yoga techniques to help a person reduce symptoms they may dealing with, to heal an injury or to manage a chronic illness.

Yoga therapy targets the practice to a particular condition in particular person.

A yoga therapist takes a holistic approach that sees the individual as a whole person and focuses on their unique needs or goals — whether those relate to decreasing symptoms or chronic pain, injury recovery, mental health, illness support, healthy aging, improving flexibility or overall well-being.

Yoga therapists often consider the whole person through a yogic framework called the Pancha Maya Kosha Model. This model considers the physical health of the person as well as additional layers to health beyond the physical. Many yoga therapists are trained in a comparable western approach called the biopsychosocial model.

Because yoga therapists are applying yoga techniques to help clients find relief from symptoms, they must not only have training in the yoga techniques or practices themselves, but must also have training in the therapeutic application of these techniques. At present, the minimum training standard for a yoga teacher is 200 hours while the minimum standard training for a yoga therapist is 1000 hours. This additional training for yoga therapists includes education about many health conditions and how to apply yoga techniques holistically to address the whole person.
Yoga therapists may vary in their training and the conditions they specialize in. Most will have training in broadly applying a yoga therapy approach as well as some areas where they have pursued more specific training .

What to Expect in a Private Yoga Therapy Session

The first time you meet your yoga therapist, you will undergo an Initial Consult to not only discuss your unique needs, but also do a physical assessment of injuries and illnesses. To begin you will share your medical history, listing any injuries and/or illnesses that may be present, as well as discuss your wellness goals and what you hope yoga therapy can help you address. Once that has been completed, your yoga therapists will check your body’s alignment and due a physical screening to assess any injuries, limitations and determine range of motion. From there, your yoga therapist will develop a practice designed specially to your body and mind’s current needs as well as the improvements and health goals you’d like to obtain.

Yoga therapy meets each and every person where they are. The sessions are client-led, client-focused, and compassion-focused. The client is the master of their journey with their yoga therapist being a knowledgeable accompanier on their path towards health and healing.

Yoga Therapy As Treatment Support

While yoga therapists do not diagnose conditions, yoga therapy can help manage the symptoms associated with various health conditions and/or help improve the condition or injury. It should be viewed as an additional holistic service and that can be a compliment or support to other treatments a client may already be receiving.

Here is a list of conditions that yoga therapy has been proven to help:

Mental Health Conditions:

  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • PTSD
  • ADHD
  • Eating Disorders
  • Addiction
  • Autism
  • Post-Natal Depression

Physical Conditions:

  • Back Pain
  • Musculoskeletal problems
  • Diabetes
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Parkinson’s
  • Asthma
  • COPD
  • Cancer & the Side Effects of Chemotherapy
  • Hypertension
  • Chronic Fatigue
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Brain Injury
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Autoimmune Diseases
  • IBS
  • Obesity
  • Heart Disease
  • Insomnia
  • Arthritis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Sports Injuries
  • Closing Thoughts

Yoga therapy is essentially the application of yoga practices to alleviate physical and mental health conditions with the view of promoting self-care and encouraging overall well-being. While the practice of yoga, in general, aims to cultivate the body and mind and hence has the potential for therapeutic effects, in yoga therapy we are using specific yoga practices and their known benefits to help alleviate or improvement mental and physical ailments.
So, while any yoga class may be therapeutic and you may have experienced therapeutic benefits of a yoga practice, yoga therapy is more specific and targeted towards symptom reduction or management rather than towards advancing skill at particular yoga techniques.

Interested in working with a yoga therapist? Book your initial intake session online today!

About the author:

Emily Robinson is the founder of Abide Health Coaching. She is a certified Health Coach (CHC) and Yoga Therapist (CYT-500). Emily has worked with both private clients and in small groups; addressing specific health concerns such as: MS, cancer, alcohol addiction, eating disorders and Parkinson’s. She now specializes in working with clients who struggle with disordered eating and negative body image. Emily provides support for those who’ve completed treatment for an eating disorder who are reengaging in normal life; to help them maintain their recovery. She is partnered with the Anchor Wellness Center

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