What is … Yoga Therapy?

The topic of last week’s “What is” blog was Physical Therapy.  Most people are somewhat familiar with Physical Therapy, but Yoga Therapy is much less familiar.  I have to admit, I didn’t even know that Yoga Therapy existed as a discipline until two years ago!  Although Yoga Therapy is fairly new on the scene in the Western World, it is gaining more and more recognition in the medical community.

Yoga was first introduced to the US in 1893 by Swami Vivekananda.  A little less than 100 years after that Yoga Therapy became recognized in the United States with Dr. Dean Ornish’s study that showed that therapeutic yoga, meditation, dietary changes, and other lifestyle changes could reverse the effects of heart disease.  Dr. Ornish’s “Program for Reversing Heart Disease” got approved for health insurance coverage in 1990, and it opened the door for yoga therapy gradually to make its way into mainstream medicine.

So, what is Yoga Therapy?  According to one of my Yoga Therapy teachers, Joseph LePage, M.A., “Yoga therapy is that facet of the ancient science of Yoga that focuses on health and wellness at all levels of the person: physical, psychological, and spiritual.  Yoga therapy focuses on the path of Yoga as a healing journey that brings balance to the body and mind through an experiential understanding of the primary intention of Yoga: awakening of Spirit, our essential nature.”  (Integrative Yoga Therapy (U.S.A.), Joseph LePage, M.A.)  

OK… So, what are the differences between Yoga, Yoga Therapy, and Physical Therapy?

This is not a simple question to answer, but I will try my best using the table below.

Yoga Yoga Therapy Physical Therapy
Systems addressed May address physical, psychological, and spiritual levels of the student. Addresses the 5  Koshas – Physical body, energetic/breath body, emotional body, wisdom/ witness body, and bliss body or the essence of the individual. Addresses primarily the physical body – with a focus on the musculoskeletal & neurological systems, may incorporate breath work in support of the physical systems.
Techniques used In the US primarily Yoga postures/ Asanas, as well as breath work/pranayama, relaxation, & meditation. Yoga postures/Asanas, somatics, breath work/ pranayama, techniques to direct energy including mudras, self inquiry with the support of yogic texts, relaxation, meditation, and yoga nidra. Hands on manual techniques, physical agents to address pain and inflammation, education, therapeutic exercise, neuromuscular retraining, functional retraining.
Approaches Classes or sessions that may be centered on a specific intention such as hip openers, strengthening the core, quieting the neurological system, etc. Guided self inquiry –  support of an inquiry of where imbalances may reside, and how to bring greater support to the self as whole to decrease pain and suffering. Hands on techniques, modalities, education, and prescriptive home exercises/ activities to decrease pain and increase function

So, which is the right one for me?  

This does not need to be an either/or proposition.  Any of these approaches can stand alone, or complement the other.  Additionally, I did not discuss the role of Yoga Therapy in addressing psycho emotional challenges.  Yoga Therapy may also be beneficial in addressing depression and anxiety.  If you are unsure of the appropriate approach for you, discuss this with a trusted health and well being professional.

If I am interested in Yoga Therapy, how do I find a Yoga Therapist?  

Currently, there are no regulations around who can claim to be a Yoga Therapist, so buyer beware.  This may soon be changing though.  The International Association of Yoga therapists has passed requirements for Yoga Therapy training programs including an additional 600 hours of training beyond the initial 200 hours of teacher training.  (www.iayt.org/Documents/IAYT_Educational%20Standards_final_7-1-2012.pdf)  If you are considering a Yoga Therapist ask them where they received their training, and then check out that program.  As in any profession, credentials don’t guarantee anything except that an individual has met minimum requirements of training and education.  Beyond that, talk with the therapist that you are considering and look for reliable references to ensure they will be a good fit for you.

kt-photo-300-frameOK Katey, so what is your training?  

After completing my 200 hour yoga teacher training, I completed one months worth of intense Yoga Therapy training through Integrative Yoga Therapy  (www.iytyogatherapy.com/).  I am preparing to begin my final stage to receive my initial 500 hour PYT (Professional Yoga Therapist Certification) and then will continue on to complete my 1,000 hours of training as a Yoga and Yoga Therapy professional.  I know that to some of you Yoga Therapy may sound a bit fluffy, but I can assure you that after 20 years of practice as a Physical Therapy,  I was amazed and impressed with the depth of knowledge and teaching that was provided in my training.  I feel very strongly that my abilities as a Physical Therapist have been boosted by my Yoga Therapy training, just as much as I feel that my Physical Therapy background has supported and strengthened my abilities as a Yoga Therapist.  I truly feel blessed by the lineage and professionalism in both of these fields.

The part can never be well unless the whole is well.”  ~ Plato

Katey Hawes, owner and founder of Posabilities, Inc.., is a physical therapist, registered yoga teacher, and yoga therapist.

You may find her at Facebook.com/posabilities4u, Twitter @Posabilities4u, and .

Leave a Reply