There is an increasing interest in Yoga as a healing modality as more and more people experience the transformative power of Yoga. Yoga is not only benefiting their bodies and minds but also their relationships and entire lives. It has already moved beyond the studio or gym environment and is now fully integrated in doctors offices, clinics and other locations that are typically associated with healing. Yoga Therapy is the type of Yoga generally used for healing. But how is it different from other Yoga?

Yoga Therapy’s Goal is Healing

Traditionally, the different ‘types’ of Yoga are categorized by their intended goal. Yoga related to healing is called cikitsā in Sanskrit. This translates to “the practice or science of medicine,” especially as it relates to therapeutics. One of the chief characteristics that distinguish Yoga Therapy is the specific goal of healing. 

For example, going to a Yoga class can improve your mood, or help you get clear about a problem and then gives you the confidence to communicate and solve it! However, those results do not necessarily make that particular practice Yoga Therapy. Feeling lighter, eliminating confusion, gaining confidence, etc., are all stated goals of haṭha and kriyā Yoga, for example. However, the goal of Yoga Therapy is healing.

Yoga Therapy is Tailored to the Patient

Practicing with a specific goal involves modifying the practice to achieve that goal. The practice must be tailored to match the capabilities and needs of the practicing individual. A Yoga Therapist must know what the person’s difficulties are, and that requires an intake process. This requires talking with the student about their experiences and watching them move and breathe in ways specific to their difficulties. A Yoga Therapist will also explore the likely causes of the student’s difficulties beyond a single event (i.e. a fall). To do this, the Yoga Therapist will inquire about the student’s background, lifestyle, relationships, surroundings, work, and diet.

Course of Treatment

Yoga Therapists can effectively plan after understanding the results of the intake process. They will create a course of treatment. This includes deciding what sort of experiences will be used to help in the recovery. The Yoga Therapist will likely teach a few poses and a breathing technique or two that are specific to the person’s problem. They will also give them diagrams and instructions for how to do the practice at home in between sessions. Lastly, a Yoga Therapist will likely suggest a few changes in lifestyle to support the healing process. This treatment plan helps the Yoga Therapist form goals for improvement and to pick the Yoga tools to be used. But in Yoga Therapy, the Yoga technique to be used is chosen last, after all the other examinations have been completed.

Understanding the Human System

A Yoga Therapist must understand a lot about how the human system functions and what influences it. Yoga Therapy incorporates more than modern Western anatomy and physiology. Yoga Therapy primarily uses the Indian understanding of how the human system functions. A Yoga Therapist needs to know the Indian approach to anatomy and physiology, and how they relate to the various and different Yoga tools in order to prescribe them effectively.

Yoga Therapist Training

Becoming a certified Yoga Therapist requires complex and specific medical, mental, and emotional knowledge. It goes well beyond what is needed for classes that are focused only on physical movement. These skills require training, study, and practice in an IAYT accredited Yoga Therapist Training program. In the training, Yoga Therapists develop the necessary skills to create therapeutic healing experiences for their clients.

So what’s the difference between Yoga and Yoga Therapy? If you need to elevate your mood or feel more centered, you want to look for other practices of Yoga. If you’re dealing with a health issue or imbalance, you want to look into Yoga Therapy.

Looking for more?

The Yoga Well Podcast offers fresh perspectives on what Yoga is, how it transforms the body and mind, and liberates your life! Within the Yoga Well Podcast we will share teachings from the Viniyoga lineage of Mr. TKV Desikachar, while exploring Yoga as a way of being that is practiced both on the mat and in our everyday life. 

When we understand Yoga as a lived experience, its practices and principles become available to anyone who is interested and invested in this life-long journey of self-inquiry and personal transformation. In this podcast your host Chase Bossart and other leaders in the Viniyoga lineage facilitate intimate discussions with a range of fascinating topics and perspectives exploring how Yoga turns the ordinary into the extraordinary.

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