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Yoga Therapy: What is it, and how does it work?

Y'all...this post is a long time coming. In true recovering perfectionist fashion, I have put off writing in-depth about this topic because it feels too big and important to risk leaving anything out! So today, I decided to take a small bite and share with you a bird's-eye view of Yoga therapy - what it is, and how it works.

What is Yoga therapy?

Let's begin at the end, with a working definition. The International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) offers us the following:

Yoga therapy is the process of empowering individuals to progress toward improved health and well-being through the application of the teachings and practices of Yoga. (IAYT)

Hold this definition lightly as we zoom out a bit to discover how we got here.

"Yoga" itself is a body of knowledge and practices that developed over time in India - philosophical concepts and practical techniques centered around a concern for resolving suffering. As such, Yoga has been explored, taught, and practiced for thousands of years. Only within the last couple centuries have these ideas and practices migrated en masse beyond the Indian subcontinent, and particularly in the past 20 years or so, certain aspects of Yoga have become widely accepted and adopted into mainstream Western cultures.

There's something humorous to me about the way current Western society is willing to accept the value of Yoga only as much as it can be validated by "science." Compared to Yoga as a whole, the modern scientific method of controlled experimentation is quite new; the Scientific Revolution got its official start in the 16th century C.E. But people explored and experienced Yoga way before Copernicus looked through a telescope.

Not to get down on modern science - I was raised in this tradition too, and am eternally grateful for vaccines and antibiotics! Rather, I invite you to look with me at these two ways of viewing the world...developing on different parts of the different moments in history...within different cultural contexts. They're different! AND they're both right.

Yoga therapy is where these rivers join in confluence today.

Here are a couple more definitions of Yoga therapy from others therapists who help illustrate this point:

Yoga therapy is the adaptation of yoga practices for people with health challenges. Yoga therapists prescribe specific regimens of postures, breathing exercises, and relaxation techniques to suit individual needs. Medical research shows that Yoga therapy is among the most effective complementary therapies for several common aliments. - Robin Monro, Ph.D., Yoga Biomedical Trust


Yoga therapy is a holistic healing art. Rather than prescribe treatments, it invites presence and awareness. Using age-old yogic approaches to deepen presence and awareness, we are able to know ourselves more fully. -Michael Lee, Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy

They're both right! So what does this actually mean? Simply put, Yoga therapy is the modern, individualized application of Yoga's ancient knowledge and practices, with a concern for personal health and well-being.

Okay. So, ancient and modern, East and West, heart and head have come together for the forces of good. What does it look like, exactly?


How does Yoga therapy work?

If you're reading this post, I'm willing to bet you have been to a group Yoga class; I hope it was a positive experience. There is something special about people coming together in a shared time and space for a shared experience. But group classes are the current capitalistic answer to wellness (and beyond the scope of this particular post. Search for "yoga capitalism," "yoga colonization," or "yoga appropriation" if you want to explore more on this important topic.). Yoga therapy, however, is not a one-size-fits-all approach.

The power of Yoga therapy is in its personalized application. Translation: each individual is best supported by concepts and practices that are tailored to them.

As an example, student A is an active 28-year old woman working a stressful full-time job, living in a hot urban area, and is just recovering from ACL replacement surgery. Student B is a 68-year old retiree living in a colder suburban area, and just found out he is in the early stages of Parkinson's disease. If these two students took your average run-of-the-mill studio vinyasa class together, they might both feel better in some ways afterward.

But if they each worked 1-on-1 with a trained Yoga therapist, their individual bodies, routines, energy levels, life situations, and goals would be accounted for in designing their Yoga practices. Because Yoga therapy draws upon all the wisdom and techniques of Yoga, each student's practice would be a unique blend of movement, breath, meditation, diet/lifestyle adjustments, etc. that could evolve with them over time. Moreover, these students become active participants in creating their own health and well-being (because they are the ones doing the practices), rather than other modalities in which a doctor or healer does something to their patients.

When I went to my first Yoga therapy session, I was struggling with years of sleeplessness and the leftovers of depression. The practice my therapist gave me was to be done in the evening and included very specific movements and a visualization. Today, I have changed, and so has my practice! I do it in the mornings, the movements and breathing are different, and chanting has become a focus.

If you're wondering about the logistics of all this, a Yoga therapy journey begins with an in-depth consultation that explores your health history, current concerns, daily routine, food and sleep, goals, and more. Then, one session at a time, you and your therapist will co-create a practice for you to do regularly. Progress depends in part on your own commitment to actually doing the practice. (Sorry, no magic pills!) I ask my students to do at least 6 sessions with me, so we have time to explore and adjust. And guess what - if an individualized approach helps you reduce suffering (or improve health, or move toward whatever your goal is), you don't have to stop!

As my teacher Mary Pat says, "Practice today so that you can practice tomorrow."


Thanks for reading, my friend! I hope this has provided some clarity about Yoga therapy and how it works. To consolidate, I'll leave you with some reflection questions. You're invited to share any responses in the comments or by email (

  1. From your experience, how has practicing Yoga supported your health or well-being? What benefits or changes have you observed?

  2. In your own words, how would you describe or define "Yoga therapy"?

  3. What is one physical, mental/emotional, or spiritual goal you would like to work toward? How might personalized Yoga therapy support you?

  4. If you find that group Yoga classes don't address your needs or interests, what is holding you back from reaching out to a Yoga therapist?


If you're ready to take the next step of your Yoga journey with an individualized Yoga therapy practice, please get in touch, or schedule your consultation today!

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