What is Yoga Therapy?

Yoga Therapy Even Keel Therapeutic Movement

Yoga Therapy is one you may not be familiar with, and although it is relatively new on the scene in the Western World, it is gaining recognition in the medical community.


Yoga was first introduced to the U.S. 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” was approved for health insurance coverage in 1990, and it gradually opened the door for yoga therapy 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.) 

What are the differences between Yoga, Yoga Therapy, and Physical Therapy?

Not a simple question to answer; I have tried using the table below:

YogaYoga TherapyPhysical Therapy
Systems AddressedMay 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 UsedIn 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.
ApproachesClasses 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 where imbalances may reside and how to bring greater support to the Self as a 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 right for me?

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 managing depression and anxiety. Discuss this with a trusted health and well-being professional if you are unsure of the appropriate approach.

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

There are no regulations around who can claim to be a Yoga Therapist, so buyer beware. The International Association of Yoga Therapists has passed requirements for Yoga Therapy training programs, including an additional 600 hours beyond the initial 200 hours of teacher training. 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 the minimum training and education requirements. Beyond that, talk with the therapist you are considering and look for reliable references to ensure they will be a good fit for you.

Learn more about Katey’s Yoga Therapy training!

The part can never be well unless the whole is well.


By Katey Hawes, feature photo licensed from Shutterstock.