What is yoga therapy?

Great question. Isn’t yoga therapy the same as yoga? What is the difference?

Yoga therapy takes the practices of yoga – postures, breathwork, meditation, awareness of body and mind, relaxation – and applies them to manage specific health conditions or needs.

Yoga has a host of therapeutic benefits so a yoga therapist would see what the individual needs in that moment to meet their physical, mental or emotional needs and help alleviate any symptoms.

The yoga therapy course I’m studying is at The Minded Institute in London and is deeply informed by science as well as drawing on the wisdom of historic and spiritual teachings, both reasons why it appealed to me.

Today, yoga therapy is the meeting of yogic practices with modern medical knowledge.

Science and neuroscience play an important part in providing insight into the physiological effects of yoga and this informs our work as yoga therapists.

From a philosophical perspective, yoga is not simply physical postures on the mat nor is it just deep breathing or meditation; there are thousands of years of philosophical ideas that underpin the traditions and rituals. These philosophies, such as the kosha model – the five layers of being – provide a valuable approach to therapeutic work as well as guiding enquiry and self reflection.

While ancient texts recognised the therapeutic benefits of the yoga, using it specifically as a therapy is a relatively modern approach. Although in the early 1900s Indian yogis and teachers such as Swami Kuvalayananda and Sri Yogendra did attempt to put some practices under scientific investigation.

Today, yoga therapy is the meeting of yogic practices with modern medical knowledge. For example, knowing the principles of high blood pressure in relation to the breath. While yoga therapists can’t diagnose, they can choose relevant practices in line with scientific understanding of its effect on the body.

“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.” 

Gary Kraftsow, C-IAYT

In addition to the physical health of the person, yoga therapists will also consider non-physical layers called koshas, which are subtle energies thought to make up a person and approach the individual in a multi-dimensional, holistic way.

By integrating the two, yoga therapists can tend to a person’s unique needs, whether it’s alleviating physical symptoms of pain, facilitating recovery, tending to mental health needs, supporting healthy ageing or improving overall wellbeing.

On the difference between yoga and yoga therapy, The British Council of Yoga Therapy says:

Health is a dynamic combination of body and mind. Our emotional health affects our physical health too, although this is difficult to quantify. Yoga can bring us awareness of the body and mind; and more understanding of how to help the body, emotions or patterns of thinking and provides a practical approach to developing a positive state of health.  

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