What is yoga therapy?

By Ann Swanson

When I tell people I am a yoga therapist, they inevitably ask, “Wait, what is yoga therapy?” They want to know how it differs from other yoga classes.

Becoming a yoga teacher usually requires 200 hours of training. Yoga therapists certified by the International Association of Yoga Therapists (C-IAYT) have that 200 hours of training plus at least 800 hours of additional specialized training that allows them to work with the tools of yoga in more depth and with special conditions like arthritis, cancer, trauma, or chronic pain. The education requirements are so rigorous that there’s a master of science in yoga therapy degree, and more graduate-level programs are being developed.

According to the IAYT,

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.”

Let’s break that down.

  • Empowering: Yoga therapy teaches tools to help people feel empowered to move beyond suffering, feeling better in their bodies and minds. Unlike practitioners of many other modalities, a yoga therapist doesn’t do something to the individual but instead teaches individuals how to help themselves.
  • Individuals: Yoga therapy is often done one-to-one or in small groups of people with a similar concern (like depression or stroke recovery).
  • Improved health and well-being: Yoga therapists look at the whole person, including health conditions, personality, emotions, stress levels, energy levels, family and social life, and what brings them joy and fulfillment. This whole-person perspective enables the client to experience wellness in not just the physical body but also mental, emotional, and energetic realms.
  • Teachings and practices of yoga: These include, but aren’t limited to,
    • yoga poses
    • meditation and deep relaxation
    • breathing practices
    • yoga philosophy

To find a yoga therapist near you, click here.

Ann Swanson, MS, LMT, C-IAYT, is a yoga therapist who specializes in online sessions for pain relief. She is at work on a book about the science behind yoga.