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What is Yoga Therapy?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Yoga therapy is an approach to therapy which revolves around the use of yoga poses and other techniques from yoga, such as breathing and meditation. Yoga therapy can be used in a psychotherapy program and also as part of a physical therapy program. Formal certifications in yoga therapy are not offered in many regions of the world, which means that patients need to be careful about whom they work with, as any yoga practitioner can claim to offer yoga therapy, but only someone with adequate training and qualifications can offer truly beneficial therapy.

In the case of yoga therapy for psychological issues such as stress, grief, post traumatic stress disorder, depression, and so forth, yoga is integrated into the psychotherapy session. Yoga can trigger immense emotional release, which can be beneficial to patients, and it can also help patients work through stress. Practitioner and therapist may go through poses together, or the therapist may direct the practitioner, and commonly the practitioner has homework in the form of breathing exercises and poses to do at home in between office sessions.

Psychological issues have been known to cause physical problems, and yoga therapy can help to address these problems. It can also help people feel more focused and balanced while they deal with various psychological issues, and may make a client more comfortable during psychotherapy sessions. Someone who is not accustomed to the idea of psychotherapy, for example, could find regular sessions alienating or uncomfortable, while the integration of yoga might enhance relaxation and help build a relationship between therapist and client.

Yoga in physical therapy can be very valuable. While physical therapists may sometimes integrate techniques from yoga, yoga therapists focus exclusively on the use of yoga to address musculoskeletal problems, injuries, surgical recovery, chronic pain, and other medical problems. The yoga is designed to strengthen and tone the body, with the therapist showing the patient how to use his or her body safely.

When seeking out yoga therapy, it is a good idea to do so through a professional organization of yoga therapists. Members of these organizations generally have demonstrated qualifications. Patients may also want to ask for recommendations from other health care providers who may have experience with yoga therapists. It also helps to ask about additional qualifications; for psychotherapy, for example, the yoga therapist should have certification in psychotherapy, and a license to practice psychotherapy. For physical therapy, a yoga therapist should have a physical therapy certification.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By fify — On Feb 12, 2015

I did yoga for post-traumatic stress disorder. Initially I was skeptical because I didn't think that yoga could benefit on a psychological level but I was wrong. It was immensely helpful mainly because it is so relaxing and calming. The results don't show overnight. It is necessary to be persistent and practice it regularly. But over time, I could see it undoing much of the stress and anxiety that I developed during the war.

It's important to seek help from a psychiatrist or psychologist first and attend therapy and take medications as required. But yoga therapy, etc. can support the whole process.

By fBoyle — On Feb 12, 2015

@ysmina-- I'm not a doctor or therapist, so I definitely cannot give you expert advice on this issue. You ought to do what your doctor recommends.

Having said that, I do believe that yoga itself is therapeutic. If you cannot find a therapist to work with you on it, I'm sure that you can find a very good yoga teacher who has experience with students with similar health problems.

It's also partly up to you to determine which poses you can handle and which you cannot. I'm sure your physical therapist has told you which type of movements to avoid. For example, those with spinal issues like hernias are suggested to avoid twisting movements. So some stretching poses in yoga are not suitable according to this.This is why the article suggests working with an experienced therapist but someone who is self-educated and knows their limits may be able to practice gentle yoga without problems.

By ysmina — On Feb 12, 2015

I can't find any therapists in my area who are certified in and offer yoga therapy. I've been wanting to try this every since my back injury. I've had regular physical therapy for a short period which was helpful but I still have more work to do for muscle strengthening and flexibility. I think yoga therapy will help, if only I can find a therapist who can teach me and guide me with it.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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