Yoga uses physical poses, meditation and breathing exercises to harmonise the body with the mind and breath. Many practitioners use yoga to learn about and connect with their inner self. Ultimately, the practice can lead to self-discovery, self-realisation and self-mastery. While all yoga is therapeutic, there are a few key differences between yoga practice and yoga therapy. Yoga therapy helps individuals to progress towards improved health and wellbeing through the teachings of yoga. There’s more to the therapy than popping on your favourite yoga pants and breathing through a sequence. For starters, it can only be taught by a licensed yoga therapist. In this article, we explore the difference between yoga and yoga therapy.
One of the biggest differences between yoga and yoga therapy is the instructor. A standard yoga class can be taught by any certified yoga teacher. A yoga therapy session, on the other hand, must be led by a yoga therapist. Instead of looking at yoga as a practice, a yoga therapist focuses on the individual needs of the student. Typically, people that attend a yoga therapy class are there to combat a health issue. However, it’s not uncommon for the student to be unsure of the cause. Before treating the issue, the therapist must determine the cause of the problem and figure out how to resolve it. During their training, yoga therapists learn how to assess students and figure out the cause of their problem. This is carried out through a mixture of observing, questioning and listening. When appropriate, yoga therapists can also use their hands to assess the injury. Once the root cause has been determined, the therapist will suggest ways to address the issue. While some physical injuries cannot be healed completely, yoga therapy can improve the emotional side of the problem. During a yoga therapy session, the patient can focus on their attitude to their injury or health condition.
There are two main yoga organisations: The Yoga Alliance and the International Association of Yoga Therapists. These can help us to differentiate between yoga and yoga therapy. The International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) and the Yoga Alliance (YA) are both non-profit membership trade and professional organisations for yoga therapists and yoga teachers, respectively. The organisations recognise instructors and schools who have teachers with a certain standard of yoga and yoga therapy training.
Twenty years ago, standards were created for yoga teachers that meant that each Registered Yoga Teacher needed to have at least 200 hours of Teacher Training. These standards were put in place by the YA and remain the same today. The IAYT has implemented their own standards for yoga therapists that require teachers to have a minimum of 1000 hours of training before being certified. With this in mind, one of the key differences between yoga and yoga therapy is the amount of training the teachers have had.
Another difference between yoga and yoga therapy is the class setting. Most yoga classes practice sequences together as a class. Each student in the session practices the same poses and breathing techniques together. Of course, each session has some variety in the level of experience of the yogis; because of this, instructors offer as many modifications as possible to make the classes suitable for every ability. However, the modifications must keep with the pace of the class.
In a yoga therapy session, the poses and techniques are geared to the individual. During the class, the therapist guides the student through a sequence that suits their wants and needs. Rather than the student fitting themselves into the same sequence as everyone else in the class, a yoga therapy class uses customised routines to suit the individual. This offers a personal experience and allows one-on-one time between the teacher and student.
Of course, there are many similarities between yoga and yoga therapy. All yoga is therapeutic to a certain extent. However, not every class, teacher or practice is considered yoga therapy. The main difference between yoga and yoga therapy is that a therapist applies the techniques of yoga to solve a specific problem. They have prior knowledge of the problem and a high level of experience to help alleviate it. This is the same whether the problem is physical, emotional or spiritual. Yoga therapists often work with people managing illnesses like cancer, depression, PTSD, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, chronic pain and recovery from injury or surgery. For conditions like cancer, yoga therapy can also help patients cope with the side effects of the treatment.
Yoga therapists use physical tools that may be different from the traditional props used in yoga classes. As well as standard props like blocks, blankets and belts, a yoga therapist may use other things such as sandbags, chairs, rubber balls and dowels.
The many benefits of yoga have made it popular worldwide. Over the years, different paths, styles and techniques have been developed that focus on different areas of the practice. Essentially, yoga therapy is one of them. It is part of the deep path of yoga and is suitable for anyone with aches, pains or ailments, whether they’re physical or emotional.
So, there you have it – the difference between yoga and yoga therapy. As you can see, yoga therapy is more in-depth than a standard yoga class. Instead of putting on your yoga top and practising as a group, yoga therapy utilises a one-to-one approach to better your health and wellbeing. If you’re not sure whether you’re best suited to yoga or yoga therapy, give both a try and see which is most effective. Generally, if you have a complex health issue that you want to combat, yoga therapy is the best route. If you’re just looking to better your health in general, a standard yoga class may be fine.