Want to be a yoga therapist?

By Ann Swanson

So you think you might like to become a yoga therapist? Great! The world needs more professionals who have effective ways of addressing suffering, including from the chronic conditions and lifestyle concerns that Western medicine can’t always fully address.

Before you consider entering a training program that will lead to certification (C-IAYT) by the International Association of Yoga Therapists, a bit more clarity on the definition of yoga therapy might be useful. I recommend first checking out What is yoga therapy? and Yoga therapy & yoga class: A few key distinctions.

Now that we have the definition clear, here are the steps to becoming an IAYT-certified yoga therapist.

First, become a yoga teacher

All yoga therapists begin as yoga teachers. To enter an IAYT-accredited program, you’ll need to have at least 200 hours of yoga teacher training, at least 1 year of teaching experience, and a regular personal practice (the formal standards require a minimum of 1 year). It’s also a good idea to experience a yoga therapy session for yourself. Find a yoga therapist here.

My own journey started as a yoga teacher who wanted more. Although the 200- and 500-hour trainings I’d done were excellent, they didn’t provide me with the skills to safely and effectively work with populations like those with PTSD, arthritis, anxiety, depression, diabetes, and stroke recovery. So my search began.

Your next step is to find an 800-hour yoga therapy program accredited by IAYT. IAYT is internationally known for its high standards, and the organization has more than 30 years of experience supporting the field.

Although all accredited programs meet IAYT’s accreditation standards, each emphasizes the tools and practices of yoga in its own way: Some programs focus more on mental or spiritual aspects of health and well-being, whereas others devote more time to research, philosophy, or other aspects of the practices. Some follow a specific yogic lineage.

It’s all about finding the right program fit for you: 

  • Take some time to read through the programs’ own websites. You’ll find a list here.
  • Attend the Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research (SYTAR), held every June. There, you can talk to experienced yoga therapists as well as graduates and faculty of the training programs.
  • Consider which schedule, learning style, and location will work best for you. Some schools offer portions of their programs online, for example.
  • Ask if you can sit in on a class at the schools you’re seriously considering, and whether you can talk with graduates of the program about their experience. This may not be possible at all schools, so you might also meet with the program director in person or online.
  • Join IAYT and read their publications to learn more about the ins and outs of yoga therapy practice and familiarize yourself with the research.

Study and develop your skills

IAYT-accredited programs take place over a minimum of 2 years, although some are longer. Each includes courses in yoga-related anatomy, biomedicine, philosophy, therapeutic skills, and professional practices.

All accredited programs also include mentored clinical practicum experience, where you actually get to work with clients under the guidance of expert therapists. You will gain knowledge, professional skills, and lasting friendships.

After you have graduated from an accredited program, you can apply to become an IAYT-certified yoga therapist. You’ll need to be a current IAYT member and agree to abide by the organization’s Code of Ethics. The application itself is simple—it took me 30 minutes, including the upload of my diploma and resume—and you are contributing to the professionalization and rapid growth of the field.

Begin your career as a yoga therapist!

Yoga therapy is an exciting, burgeoning profession—you will have many options to sculpt your career. In my yoga therapy business, I work with clients one-to-one (including telehealth); teach for hospitals, the military, and retirement communities; offer therapeutic workshops in specialties like arthritis; and educate people to become yoga teachers and therapists themselves.

The possibilities are endless. What will you do as a yoga therapist?

Ann Swanson, MS, LMT, C-IAYT, has a Master of Science in Yoga Therapy and specializes in virtual sessions for pain relief. She is the author of Science of Yoga.