What is yoga therapy?
Yoga therapy is the therapeutic application of yoga to improve wellbeing. It’s a holistic approach to treating mental or physical health challenges through the integration of physical, psychological and spiritual practices.
Yoga therapy addresses the body, mind, and emotions, using many of the techniques you would find in a yoga class. It helps you to develop a greater awareness of these aspects of your wellbeing, recognize when they need attention and learn how to help them.
Tools and exercises are selected by the yoga therapist to specifically help manage your particular symptoms and improve your functioning. This personal and individualized focus is quite different from a normal yoga class.
Yoga therapy can help people to overcome challenges and function at their best through individual or group therapy sessions.
What yoga therapy can help with
People seek yoga therapy for a variety of physical and mental health concerns. It can complement treatment for challenges such as:
- Pain management
- Physical health conditions such as arthritis
Effectiveness of yoga therapy
Research shows that yoga therapy can be a helpful part of treatment for mental health challenges. For example:
- A review of studies found that yoga-based interventions (not necessarily yoga therapy) used as complementary treatments were effective for helping people with serious mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder. (1)
- One study found that people who were taking medication for schizophrenia experienced greater improvement in their symptoms when it was combined with yoga therapy. (2)
- Yoga therapy has also been associated with decreases in anxiety symptoms. (3)
How does yoga therapy help?
Yoga therapy helps us to become more aware of our body, thoughts and emotions. It equips us with a set of practical tools to help reduce stress and promote relaxation.
Yoga therapy uses the tools that you would find in many yoga classes, such as:
- Working with the breath
- Awareness of the body and mind
Yoga therapists select and use these tools with you specifically in relation to your symptoms.
For example, if you are attending yoga therapy for anxiety, there may be a particular focus on meditation tools. Meditation has been found to help change levels of neurotransmitters associated with anxiety, and in this way helps manage symptoms of anxiety. (4)
Frequency and length of yoga therapy sessions
As yoga therapy is highly individualized, session frequency and length of therapy can vary widely.
Typically, yoga therapy is a gradual process, where the practices in each session build on those learned previously. Some practitioners recommend starting out slowly, with just a few postures, before increasing the intensity of the work. (5)
Group yoga therapy is often run as a time-limited course. For example, an organization might run an 8-week course in yoga therapy for depression, which group members attend on a weekly basis.
What happens in a typical yoga therapy session
As is usually the case at the beginning of therapy, your yoga therapist will start with an assessment. This involves asking you questions to help the therapist understand why you are seeking help. As yoga therapy is a holistic approach to wellbeing, questions might relate to medical, physical, mental and spiritual areas of your life. An assessment may also involve the therapist analyzing your breathing, posture and gait. You’ll then discuss your goals for therapy.
Yoga therapy is often quite active and can involve practicing yoga postures. In individual therapy, postures are specifically chosen to match your specific needs. Therapists account for individual strengths and weaknesses when selecting the appropriate practices.
The aim is to help manage your symptoms and to improve your physical and psychological functioning.
Yoga therapy activities can include:
- Yoga postures
- Breathing techniques
- Using sound
Often, you will be given homework tasks, such as practicing particular postures or other exercises at home.
What to look for in a yoga therapist
Look for the following factors in a yoga therapist to help you work through mental health concerns:
Look for a mental health professional with a current license; this ensures that your therapist has completed the appropriate level of education to practice. When browsing through therapists on Zencare, you can rest assured that our therapists have already been vetted.
Look for a therapist who has completed specialized training offered by a recognized organization, such as the International Association of Yoga Therapists. It can be helpful to take a look at therapists’ biographies. This is often where they note their experience and specializations.
Prioritize the potential for developing a strong working relationship between you and your therapist. This trusting relationship, called the “therapeutic alliance” can have a significant impact on the effect of therapy.
Talk in advance
The best way to gauge how you might feel about your prospective therapist is to ask for a preliminary phone call. Most therapists will be happy to do so. This gives you the opportunity to ask about your therapist’s:
- Education and qualifications
- Yoga therapy training and certification
- Experience in treating people who have concerns similar to your own
- What therapy with them will be like
- Their participation in insurance plans and cost of therapy
It’s a good idea to speak to a few different therapists before making your mind up.
Sources and references
- Effectiveness of yoga therapy as a complementary treatment for major psychiatric disorders: a meta-analysis
- Efficacy of Yoga therapy for the management of psychopathology of patients having chronic schizophrenia
- The influence of yoga therapy on anxiety
- Yoga Journal, “An introduction to yoga therapy”
- Meditation and Yoga can Modulate Brain Mechanisms that affect Behavior and Anxiety-A Modern Scientific Perspective
- What is Yoga Therapy?
- Depression Alliance, “Yoga Therapy: Ancient Techniques for Modern Healing”