by Anna M. Molgard

Over the past few decades, yoga has evolved from being an alternative modality practiced by only a few to a mainstream method experienced by many to improve their health and well-being. Yoga therapy, a lesser known healing modality, is quickly gaining credibility, taking the therapeutic aspects of yoga into mainstream applications.

Yoga therapy is the specific application of yoga tools that helps people manage certain health conditions. Yoga therapists use these tools to empower their clients to progress toward improved health through the practice of yoga. A yoga therapist considers all aspects of the client’s well-being to design specific yoga practices that support their wellness objectives. 

Utilizing a whole-body approach, yoga therapists assess the needs of the physical body as well as the breath, emotions, thought patterns and connection to spirit.

How is a yoga therapy session different than a yoga class?
The primary difference is that in either private or group yoga therapy sessions, the therapist provides an extensive intake process for the client. The individual needs, medical history, concerns and habits of life are taken into consideration. In a private yoga therapy session, the therapist works with the client on a consistent basis to develop customized practices that meet their individual needs. In a group yoga therapy session, all clients have a similar condition and practices are pre-designed by the therapist to be suitable and supportive to everyone in the group. For example, groups might be created for clients in cancer treatment, those who are managing back pain, or have similar mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression. The yoga therapist does not diagnose any conditions but works in conjunction with licensed health care professionals to provide supportive care to patients working their way to wellness.

What is the difference between a yoga teacher and a yoga therapist?
Yoga teachers are trained to provide group yoga classes to populations of various ages and abilities. They typically study a specific style of yoga and teach yoga classes in gyms, yoga studios or health clubs. Certified yoga therapists have extensive training beyond teaching these types of classes. Typical accredited trainings programs require a minimum of two years of additional study. Some programs in the United States, such as Maryland University of Integrative Health, offers a Master’s degree as part of their training. Yoga therapists attend schools that are accredited by the International Association of Yoga Therapy (www.iayt.org). These programs are developed by highly experienced teachers and meet a specific set of credentials for training. Certified yoga therapists have a mentored practicum with a minimum number of clinical hours to complete before graduation. They are also guided by a specific code of ethics and learn to work closely with professionals in the western medical profession.

How can I find a certified yoga therapist (C-IAYT) in my area?

Searching the IAYT directory is the simplest way to find out which yoga therapists are trained and certified in your area. Many yoga therapists have continued their studies to specialize in working with certain conditions such as scoliosis or mental health. Interested clients can peruse these listings to search for specialists or use the listed contact information for further inquiry.

Yoga therapy is a wonderful addition to traditional western treatments. Its unique method of involving the innate wisdom of the client to help direct the journey to wellness greatly empowers the client in the healing process. They learn practices in sessions and groups that they can use in their daily lives to improve their quality of life.

Anna M. Molgard (C-IAYT) is a certified yoga therapist practicing privately in Spokane at Flowing Tree Yoga. She specializes in supporting clients with chronic pain, mental health challenges from anxiety, depression and trauma as well as hypermobility disorders. She is faculty on several yoga teacher training programs through the Spokane area. She also travels extensively with the Sensory Enhanced Yoga Institute in Boston teaching other yoga therapists and medical professionals how to use specific yoga tools to help manage PTSD. Visit FlowingTreeYoga.com for more information or YogaTherapy.health.