Yoga Therapy 101: What Is Yoga Therapy?

by | Oct 15, 2022 | Yoga Therapy

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With millions of practitioners around the world, yoga is one of the most popular forms of self-care for people from all walks of life. The ancient art of yoga is widely regarded as being beneficial for physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. Now, there is a more specialized adaptation of yoga known as yoga therapy and it is thus far proving to be a potential game-changer in several important ways.

Yoga therapy not only provides a more intimate setting for the healing properties of this ancient practice, but by focusing individualized attention on the identified needs of therapy seekers, certified yoga therapists can develop a customized regimen of yoga exercises to address specific ailments.

Whether it is used to recuperate from injury, rejuvenate after an ailment, or provide emotional comfort in times of distress, yoga therapy can be a powerful healing tool. With the right approach, yoga therapy can also be an effective preventive measure. How is yoga therapy different from yoga and what makes it so effective? All the answers are below so keep reading.

The Skinny: What Is Yoga Therapy?

There are many ways to look at yoga therapy just as there are numerous disciplines of yoga, the ancient practice from which it is derived. To put it simply, yoga therapy utilizes yoga postures and breathing techniques to cure, heal, and prevent ailments of the body, mind, and spirit, and it accomplishes all of these objectives with a holistic approach. 

On a deeper level, these are the key characteristics of yoga therapy:

  • Yoga therapists prescribe individualized regimens of postures, breathing techniques, and relaxation routines to suit the unique needs of an individual and his or her specific ailment
  • Yoga therapy is in its purest, and most effective, form when there is a one-on-one interaction between the care-seeker and the yoga therapist
  • An aspect of yoga therapy that cannot be overlooked, is that it can be used to manage an ailment in addition to treating it

Where yoga can be viewed as a path leading toward a destination where physical, mental, or spiritual well-being awaits, yoga therapy is a guided journey with a particular purpose. In many cases, there is an element of urgency, as yoga therapy is often employed as a holistic means of short-term relief.

Can Anyone Call Themselves a Yoga Therapist?

Yoga therapists work very closely with those seeking their expertise, oftentimes, in a one-on-one or small group setting. Because they are also expected to curate a personalized regimen of yoga postures, breathing exercises, and relaxation techniques for each person in their care, yoga therapists must have the proper knowledge and training to develop and implement such specialized programs.

Only those who complete rigorous training and go through a recognized certification process can call themselves certified yoga therapists. Here’s how this works:

  • People who want to pursue a career or be formally credentialed in yoga therapy can enroll in an accredited program
  • Yoga therapy training programs consist of intensive instruction in the relationship between yoga and modern medicine, a deep dive into yoga philosophy, and rigorous coursework focusing on working with care seekers
  • Yoga therapy programs that are accredited by the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) have demonstrated that their coursework satisfies educational and training standards
  • Students who successfully complete an accredited yoga therapy program and apply to IAYT to become a certified yoga therapist

Certified yoga therapists have undergone the level of training that governing bodies like the IAYT deem necessary to interact with therapy seekers and provide them with competent and ethical care.

What Is the Difference Between a Yoga Teacher and a Yoga Therapist?

Although yoga therapy can be viewed as a highly specialized branch of yoga, and they both rely on yogic practices and techniques, there are significant differences in the way that yoga teachers and yoga therapists work. For instance:

  • A yoga teacher typically teaches a group of students who share a common objective such as relaxation, stress reduction, or general fitness
  • A yoga therapist, on the other hand, focuses on the needs of the individual care-seeker and develops a personalized program to address a specific ailment or condition
  • There is a stronger therapeutic element to yoga therapy and professional yoga therapists must therefore be properly trained in this specific discipline 

Given the direct interaction between them, a yoga therapist is more likely to view a care-seeker as a patient or a client than as a student, and the objective is more clearly defined.

What Do You Do in Yoga Therapy?

At first glance, the interaction between a care seeker and a yoga therapist may look a lot like a yoga class being taught. But every element of a yoga therapy session is carefully planned and sequenced. There is a purpose for each posture and breathing exercise that a yoga therapist prescribes for a client t that goes beyond general well-being.

While each care seeker’s needs are unique and each yoga therapist’s methods will differ, these are commonly used elements of a yoga therapy session:

  • Yoga poses and postures for pain relief and body strengthening
  • Breathing techniques to achieve inner calm
  • Meditation exercises to achieve a particular mental state
  • Guided imagery for stress reduction
  • Relaxation techniques to relieve tension and anxiety

By combining these techniques into a thoughtfully curated program, a yoga therapist can harness the healing power of yoga.

What Does a Yoga Therapy Session Look Like?

Yoga therapy is a collaboration between a yoga therapist and the care seeker. Open communication is often the first step of a yoga therapy session to identify areas of need and begin the process of developing a strategy and identifying specific yogic techniques to practice.

As a program is put into place progress is monitored and any necessary adjustments are made. It is important to note that yoga therapy is often used alongside other treatments including those used in traditional medicine.

Lastly, an important aspect of yoga therapy that cannot be overlooked is that it empowers care seekers to take matters into their own hands and practice yoga techniques at home to take ownership of their personal recovery.

How Do I Become Certified in Yoga Therapy

Yoga therapists are the true healers of the yogic arts. The path to becoming a certified yoga therapist requires diligence and commitment and can only be accomplished by enrolling in a training program that is accredited by a governing body like the IAYT which also oversees the certification of therapists.

But successful completion of a yoga therapy certification program, such as My Vinyasa Practice’s Clinical Yoga Therapy Program, will enable successful candidates to work in clinical environments like healthcare facilities to provide this invaluable service to care seekers. (Note that this program is open to applicants who already have a 200-hour yoga teaching credential.)

Conclusion

For thousands of years, yoga has provided its followers and practitioners with a wealth of physical, mental, and spiritual benefits. Now, certified yoga therapists are using the virtues of this ancient art to heal and rejuvenate care seekers suffering from any number of ailments and conditions.

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