Understanding the Difference Between Yoga Therapy & Yoga

Feb 2, 2023 | Health, Mental Health, Yoga, Yoga Therapy

Yoga has gained immense popularity worldwide as a holistic practice that promotes physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. It originated in ancient India and has evolved over thousands of years, encompassing various styles, techniques, and philosophies.

In recent years, another term has emerged – “yoga therapy.” While yoga and yoga therapy share similarities, they are distinct practices with unique purposes and approaches. In this blog, we will explore the key differences between yoga and yoga therapy to help you understand how they differ and which one might be more suitable for you.

What is Yoga?

Yoga is a comprehensive practice that includes physical postures (āsanas), breath control (prāṇāyāma), meditation (dyāna), ethical principles (yamas and niyamas), and philosophical concepts aimed at achieving balance in body and mind. The physical postures are designed to improve flexibility, strength, balance, and overall physical health. Breath control techniques help in managing stress, calming the mind, and increasing mental clarity. Meditation practices aid in developing mindfulness and focus. Ethical principles guide practitioners in leading a balanced and purposeful life, while philosophical concepts offer insights into the nature of existence, consciousness, and self-awareness.

Typically practiced in groups led by a trained teacher, yoga today can be found in a vast variety of forms and practised by people with many different motivations – whether that’s a desire to manage stress, build physical strength and flexibility, or simply as a well-balanced exercise routine.

There are many different types of yoga, including Hatha, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, etc. Each type of yoga has its own unique set of principles around postures and breathing techniques, and students are guided through a practice by a teacher based on the particular method or methods of yoga the teacher has been trained in.

What is Yoga Therapy?

Yoga therapy, on the other hand, is a more specialised and individualised form of yoga practice that is tailored to address specific health conditions or concerns. It is an emerging field that uses the principles and techniques of yoga to promote holistic healing, manage symptoms, and improve the overall well-being of individuals with various physical, mental, or emotional health challenges.

Yoga therapy is usually conducted on a one-on-one basis, with a qualified yoga therapist who has additional training in therapeutic applications of yoga. Some yoga therapists also conduct small group classes for people who are experiencing similar health concerns. These generally have a maximum number of 4-5 attendees, ensuring that individual attention and adaptation is possible.

In recent years, more research is being conducted, proving the efficacy of yoga therapy and it is heartening to see health professionals recognising yoga therapy as complementary to modern health care.

Key Differences Between Yoga and Yoga Therapy

Focus and Intention: While yoga is a holistic practice that aims to promote general health and well-being, yoga therapy is more focused on addressing specific health conditions or concerns. Yoga therapy sessions are designed to target a particular ailment or issue, such as chronic pain, anxiety, depression, or digestive disorders, with the intention of using yoga techniques to help alleviate symptoms and promote healing.

Personalisation: Yoga is typically practiced in group classes with a general approach, based on the particular method or methods the teacher has been trained in. Whereas yoga therapy is highly individualised, and practices are tailored to the unique needs, abilities, and limitations of the individual. The yoga therapist conducts a thorough assessment of the individual’s health history, physical condition, mental state, and lifestyle, and then designs a tailored practice that meets their specific requirements.

Qualified Practitioners: Both yoga teaching and yoga therapy are valuable professions and can profoundly impact the well-being of yoga practitioners. However, it is important that both teachers and therapists are clear about their intentions, teaching direction, training, and skills, so as to best serve their community. A qualified yoga therapist has trained as a yoga teacher and furthered their education by undertaking specialised training in yoga therapy, and have a deeper understanding of the therapeutic applications of yoga. They are trained to work with individuals with health conditions and have knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and yoga psychology, along with the skills to adapt yoga practices to suit the needs of the individual.

Use of Props and Modifications: Yoga therapy often utilises props such as blankets, bolsters, straps, and chairs to support the individual in the practice of yoga postures. Modifications and adaptations of yoga postures are also commonly used in yoga therapy to accommodate physical limitations or health conditions. In regular yoga classes, the use of props and modifications may be less common, and the focus may be more on building strength, flexibility, and balance.

Integration of Other Practices: Yoga therapy may incorporate a wider range of yogic practices such as mindfulness, breathing techniques, relaxation techniques, Ayurveda (Indian traditional medicine), yoga psychology, and also draws on modern science, depending on the needs of the individual. Many regular yoga classes, on the other hand, are generally biased towards the physical practice of postures over the deeper practices of yoga such as prāṇāyāma, meditation, etc.

Why is yoga therapy important?

Yoga therapy prioritises holistic well-being and often improves health markers over a broad scope of issues. For example, someone using yoga therapy in their treatment plan for anxiety may also find that their posture and breathing improve, they may also find improvements in blood pressure and sleep.

This potential to address ancillary challenges, such as stress, breathing challenges, etc., means that yoga therapy has the potential to address many chronic lifestyle diseases. It provides people the tools to manage their well-being and prevent further problems from developing.

By learning safe and appropriate yogic techniques that clients can take into their everyday lives may become more self-sufficient, easing the burden both on individuals and the health profession. This practice of self-care, in itself, can have a profound affect on the disease process.

For yoga teacher wanting to develop their teaching in the area of yoga therapy, please see our options for yoga therapy training.

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