Yoga therapy & yoga class: A few key distinctions

By Tina Paul

Although a yoga class can be therapeutic, there are some differences between attending a general yoga class and receiving yoga therapy. To add to the confusion, yoga therapy can be offered in small groups, too, so it could look very much like a regular yoga class.

A general public yoga class can certainly ease aches and pains, support a stable mood, and offer excellent stress relief and community. Yoga classes are designed to provide instruction in yoga techniques. In contrast, a yoga therapy session is specific to the individual client’s needs, usually aimed at addressing a particular concern, and includes a formal intake and assessment process. Yoga therapists have extensive training that enables them to assess specific symptoms and consider contraindications to offer their clients safe, customized programs.

As experienced yoga therapist Gary Kraftsow notes in an article in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy,

When clients seek out a yoga therapist or a therapeutic group, they are usually not coming to learn yoga, but to get help with or relief from some symptom or health condition that is troubling them. In most cases, the instruction focuses on their condition and how the yoga techniques can help them feel better or improve their function, rather than on the techniques or methods of yoga practice.

That is, yoga therapy clients not only learn yoga techniques, they are also taking part in a healing experience. “Traditionally,” says Kraftsow in an interview “yoga is a path of self-transformation, self-realization, and transcendence.” He continues, “Therapeutically, yoga is more like a life raft. When you’re drowning, yoga therapy gets you back up and integrated into yourself.”

Tina Paul, MS, C-IAYT, is a yoga therapist and communications consultant for the International Association of Yoga Therapists. She resides in New York City.