Your Yoga Practice: What Is Yoga Therapy?

At the time this blog is published, I’ll be halfway through my first year of Yoga Therapist training. As each week completes, I’m more convinced that I’m working toward what will be my second career as a Yoga Therapist.

Upon sharing this with others, there’s usually a momentary pause while the individual is trying to figure out just what I mean. It’s not unusual. Everyone asks – even those within the yoga community.

What exactly is Yoga Therapy? And what’s a Yoga Therapist?

It’s not a trick question. But depending on whom you ask, you’ll hear a variety of answers. Most responses are similar, but some are quite different.

Officially, the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT), the organization which has taken on the oversight of Yoga Therapy accreditation, provides the following definition:

“Yoga Therapy is the process of empowering individuals to progress toward improved health and well-being through the application of the philosophy and practice of Yoga.”

From my understanding, many hours went into the discussion before there was any sort of consensus about the definition. Just as there are many styles of yoga, there are infinitely more options as to what Yoga Therapy is.

How would I define it?

Yoga Therapy Provides Medical and Psychological Benefits

Even though those in the yoga community have been aware of its benefits for a long time, science has only started to catch on in recent years.

Every day, researchers publish studies that illustrate how yoga benefits most ailments of the human body and psyche, including chronic pain, anxiety, depression, injuries, illnesses, limitations, and stress. By and large, the medical community conducts most of these studies. That’s because they have much to gain from these finding, as they search for different ways to serve their patients better.

In fact, currently, yoga therapy is no longer considered “alternative” medicine. It’s becoming more and more mainstream. Hospitals, HMO’s, the military and the Veterans Association are all hiring yoga therapist to work with their populations. It’s a growing trend and, yet, it’s only in its infancy.

Yoga Therapy Includes Customized Treatment Plans

Yoga therapy tends to be individual based, and each remedy program created is unique for that one person.

Although yoga therapists have an understanding of the human anatomy (we study all systems of the body), they are not licensed medical practitioners and cannot make a medical diagnosis. However, yoga therapists will work in conjunction with the medical community. By using the information that is available to them, they can develop a customized program for the individual.

Additionally, a yoga therapist will incorporate their opinion on what is happening and draw upon all the tools in their toolbox when creating a plan for their client. This individualized plan doesn’t just include postures, but breathing techniques, relaxation, and meditation. It may also include something outside of yoga that aids in the recovery and well-being of the client.

On the other hand, yoga classes offered with “therapeutics” in the name are more general in nature. They tend to focus on the overall well-being of the group, not on customized help for the individual. For the class to be considered therapeutic, its structure must tackle a common issue of the participants in the room. If not, then it falls under the more general category.

The teachers – they may or may not be yoga therapists – are well trained and work hard to ensure your health and safety. It’s just more difficult to address specific issues when working with multiple people with various ailments. If you have some very specific need, it probably won’t be addressed in this setting.

Even though, these are great classes, and I go as often as I can.

The Biggest Difference Between Yoga and Yoga Therapy

It’s my belief that all yoga has therapeutic qualities.

It doesn’t matter the style, whether it’s conducted in a studio, gym, some auditorium, or the intimacy of your home. As long as the teacher – this is their job – is paying attention to you and ensuring your safety, you get benefits. You may feel energized or relaxed, or at least in a better place than when you began.

Ultimately, then, I think the biggest difference between yoga and yoga therapy is the intention to help someone improve their health and well-being through the techniques of yoga – just as the IAYT has defined.

Many studies show and prove without a doubt that yoga techniques work.

For an individual seeking help with a specific need, yoga therapy opens up the possibility of another treatment option. So if you’re at that point in your life where something has to change, why not seek out a yoga therapist and start a conversation? See if yoga therapy is something for you.

To find a therapist in your area, use the IATY website at


YogaDavid Ashby