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Yoga therapy is the process of empowering individuals to progress toward improved health and wellbeing through the application of the teachings and practices of yoga. Yoga is a scientific system of self-investigation, self-transformation, and self-realisation that originated in India. The teachings of yoga are rooted in the Vedas and grounded in classical texts and a rich oral tradition. This tradition recognises that the human being’s essential nature is unchanging awareness that exists in relationship to and identification with the changing phenomena of the empirical world.
The yoga tradition views humans as a multidimensional system that includes all aspects of body; breath; and mind, intellect, and emotions and their mutual interaction. Yoga is founded on the basic principle that intelligent practice can positively influence the direction of change within these human dimensions, which are distinct from an individual’s unchanging nature or spirit. The practices of yoga traditionally include, but are not limited to, asana, pranayama, meditation, mantra, chanting, mudra, ritual, and a disciplined lifestyle.
Yoga therapy is the appropriate application of these teachings and practices in a therapeutic context in order to support a consistent yoga practice that will increase self-awareness and engage the client/student’s energy in the direction of desired goals. The goals of yoga therapy include eliminating, reducing, or managing symptoms that cause suffering; improving function; helping to prevent the occurrence or reoccurrence of underlying causes of illness; and moving toward improved health and wellbeing. Yoga therapy also helps clients/students change their relationship to and identification with their condition.
The practice of yoga therapy requires specialised training and skill development to support the relationship between the client/student and therapist and to effect positive change for the individual.
Yoga therapy is informed by its sister science, Ayurveda. As part of a living tradition, yoga therapy continues to evolve and adapt to the cultural context in which it is practiced, and today, it is also informed by contemporary health sciences. Its efficacy is supported by an increasing body of research evidence, which contributes to the growing understanding and acceptance of its value as a therapeutic discipline.
Source: International Association of Yoga Therapists, 2012
Chances are that you’re familiar with yoga classes and yoga teachers, but you may not be familiar with yoga therapists and yoga therapy. Neither yoga teacher nor yoga therapist is a protected name; anyone could probably get away with using them. There are however formal recognised qualifications in each. Although qualifications don’t guarantee proficiency, they at least give you something to look out for, so let’s start there.
Many organisations offer yoga related qualifications, mostly certificates and diplomas, in yoga teaching. Common and popular ones include the 200 and 500 hour registered yoga teacher (RYT) offered by the Yoga Alliance. Other qualifications relate to specific lineages and even brands of yoga such as Iyengar and Astanga, as well as many others.
These qualifications can require specific courses and periods of experience. All of the yoga teacher qualifications are aimed at teaching basic yoga classes to essentially healthy people. Some qualifications go beyond this, or even specialise in yoga for a specific group like pregnant women, or children. Always check your teacher's credentials.
Yoga therapy is different again. To become a registered yoga therapist with the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) requires graduating from an accredited course. In November 2014, there were 17 courses around the World that met the Educational Standards for the Training of Yoga Therapists.
These standards require that prior to undertaking further training, yoga therapy students already have a recognised yoga teacher qualification, and that they then be taught yoga therapy over a minimum of 2 years involving a minimum of 800 hours of instruction and supervision. Realistically though, the requirements of what needs to be learned mean that twice this many hours is a more reasonable estimate.
There is also a distinction between someone who may have extensive training in some other discipline, e.g. pilates, physiotherapy, or manual therapies, and has done some yoga training. These people might have an excellent command of anatomy, and perhaps medical knowledge that make them qualified to work with groups many yoga teachers aren't, but they aren't automatically yoga therapists. That's because central to yoga therapy is the 5000 year-old philosophy that underpins yoga. It is the same philosophy that underpins yoga therapy's sister science – Ayurveda.
Yoga therapists learn to look at health and disease, not just through the modern biomedical model, but also more holistically based on a yogic understanding of life that has come from hundreds of generations of careful observation. Yoga therapists then apply this knowledge to understand clients as whole person, rather than simply in the context of specific injuries or illness that needs a specific standard treatment.
Although some yoga classes have a more therapeutic bent, most genuine yoga therapy is one-on-one because only this allows for the sessions to be truly customised. Also, much of yoga therapy happens off the mat, often involving the prescription of a regular personal practice that may involve cleansing techniques, specific meditations, and other practices that go beyond the asana (postures), pranayama (breathing and energy moving/expanding techniques), and guided meditations common to many yoga classes.
If you're interested in knowing more about what yoga therapists learn to become formally recognised, here is a list of competencies covered by recognised yoga therapy training:
To learn more about Yoga Wellness Clinic and our yoga therapy service click here.
“I offer you peace. I offer you love. I offer you friendship.
I see your beauty. I hear your need. I feel your feelings.
My wisdom flows from the Highest Source. I salute that Source in you.
Let us work together for unity and love.”
– Mahatma Gandhi –