top of page

Understanding the Difference Between Yoga and Yoga Therapy

Yoga and yoga therapy are two distinct practices that share many similarities. Both involve physical poses, breathing techniques, and mindfulness, but there are also substantial differences. Understanding the distinction between yoga and yoga therapy can help you decide which practice is best for your needs and can also clarify how the two might work together in your life. In this blog post, we'll explore the differences between yoga and yoga therapy and discuss the benefits of each.

Yoga- A Shared Background

Yoga and yoga therapy share many of the same foundational principles and practices, including postures and breath work. Both disciplines are rooted in ancient Indian philosophy and are aimed at helping practitioners cultivate balance and well-being. The thought framework for both yoga and yoga therapy is built upon a foundational understanding that the mind and body are deeply interconnected.

While both approaches draw on the same basic principles, their approaches are quite different. Yoga is a practice that is typically done in a group setting, while yoga therapy is a more personalized approach based on a one-on-one relationship between the practitioner and the student. Yoga is typically focused on physical postures, breath work, and meditation, while yoga therapy is more holistic, taking into account the individual’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs.

According to the International Association of Yoga Therapy, the guiding professional organization for yoga therapists, "Yoga therapists draw from the principles of yoga and the full range of yogic practices and assessment skills, as well as familiarity with biomedical and psychological foundational knowledge". Yoga classes and yoga teachers could say they also draw from yogic practices and some yoga teachers have advanced training. However, we'll explore the distinctions that separate yoga and yoga therapy.

Understanding the Distinguishing Features of Yoga Therapy

Yoga and Yoga Therapy are similar in that both involve the practice of physical, mental and spiritual wellness. However, Yoga Therapy is a form of healing that takes the practice of yoga to a deeper level. It is focused on addressing individual health needs and therapeutic goals. Yoga Therapy incorporates traditional yogic disciplines such as postures, breathing, meditation and mindfulness, but it also uniquely applies these modalities to address individual health concerns and therapeutically support the body’s healing process. It is not a one size fits all approach, but rather an individualized practice tailored to the needs of the individual. In this way, Yoga Therapy can help to improve physical, emotional and mental health in ways that are ultimately more substantive than a yoga group class.

Both practices (yoga and yoga therapy) can be beneficial for well-being, but yoga therapy is more tailored to the individual and can be used to address specific concerns. Yoga therapy can also be used for more specific challenges like to alleviate back pain or to better cope with or manage symptoms of chronic diseases like IBS, arthritis and other long-running chronic health challenges and conditions. The therapeutic approach practiced in yoga therapy focuses on the whole person which allows substantial long-term improvement of quality of life for individuals suffering from a wide range of health issues. Dr. Mays Zakko, a professor at the Yoga Therapy Institute in Amsterdam explains that"Yoga Therapy is multidimensional, so patients encounter their physical, emotional, social and spiritual state of being."

A final key distinguishing feature of yoga therapy professionals versus yoga teachers is the amount of education. Yoga therapists receive almost quadruple the amount of education that a yoga teacher does, and sometimes may receive even more depending on their specializations. Yoga therapists also are required to complete rigorous exams, be certified, join the professional credentialing body and adhere to a code of ethics and scope of practice. This is similar to a mental health counselor versus a psychiatrist in that both yoga teachers and yoga therapists work with similar approaches but a more advanced education and a more detailed approach allows yoga therapists to work with more advanced cases.

What is the Place of Yoga Therapists In Healthcare?

Yoga therapy is a holistic approach to healing that combines yoga, lifestyle modifications, and evidence-based therapeutic strategies to address the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of an individual. According to an article published by the Minded Instiute "yoga therapy is an evolving field which focuses on using evidence-based yogic practices in the treatment of specific health conditions. As a therapeutic practice, yoga therapy aims to bridge the world’s of yoga and healthcare, and can be applied both as a form of physical therapy (for example, in relieving back pain) and as a mental health support (for instance, as an adjunct treatment for PTSD)."

Yoga therapists are trained to assess the needs of the individual and to develop personalized treatments that address their specific issues. They use evidence-based strategies such as yoga postures and breathing exercises, as well as lifestyle modifications and psychotherapy to address the underlying causes of their issue. The role of yoga therapists in healthcare is to provide individualized, evidence-based treatments to help individuals improve their overall health and well-being.

Yoga therapists use scientific and medically endorsed interventions within a therapeutic relationship that focuses on connection, gentle movement and creating a safe space for all clients. The gentle approach and focus on a trauma-sensitive therapeutic relationship is what allows yoga therapy to be such a versatile supportive therapy in an individual's healthcare team.

Additionally, for yoga therapists that are a specialist in particular diseases or conditions it can be an outlet for medical professionals to send patients who need additional support outside of what can be provided in short doctors appointments or physical therapy sessions as the work yoga therapists do is different but complimentary to modern mainstream medical practitioners.

It's important to understand that yoga therapists do not diagnose, cure, or treat diseases, rather they offer guidance and therapeutic support in partnership with other healthcare practitioners to improve quality of life and facilitate healing.

Understanding the Difference Between Yoga and Yoga Therapy

Yoga therapy is an excellent tool to be used in achieving or moving towards a better quality of life, improving musculoskeletal health and balancing the nervous system. While it's much more medically aligned and is created to serve a different demographic than many yoga classes (particularly the more athletic yoga practices) it does share many foundations of understanding and approach with yoga and draws deeply off of yogic healing traditions.


bottom of page