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Yoga Versus Yoga Therapy--What Is the Difference?

Updated: May 31, 2022

With the abundance of different styles of yoga, yoga classes, and therapeutic yoga available, what is the difference between yoga and yoga therapy? Both can be therapeutic in nature. Both can be practiced in a group or one-on-one. But there are some key differences.

Yoga Classes

Many people first explore the practice of yoga by attending group yoga classes. Yoga classes are readily available at yoga studios, gyms, other in-person venues, as well as online. They are an excellent way to build overall strength, flexibility, balance, and general relaxation. These classes may also have a community focus as they’re geared toward groups of students. Although yoga classes in general can be therapeutic, and may be taught by highly skilled yoga teachers, they do not constitute yoga therapy as defined by the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT).

Yoga Therapy

With yoga therapy, a yoga therapist will first work with an individual one-on-one to complete a thorough assessment before ever giving them a yoga practice. Their individualized therapeutic plan will be tailored to their current capacity and unique physical, mental, and emotional health challenges. The yoga therapist will then continue to work with that client individually on a regular basis as needed or will work with them in small groups of people with similar conditions, symptoms, or experiences.

Yoga therapists receive in-depth training in anatomy, physiology, and mental health to help them assess their clients and keep them safe. Although not health care providers themselves, yoga therapists also have the background knowledge in medical terminology, disease states, and corresponding symptoms to collaborate with a client’s health care practitioners as needed when the client gives consent.

What a practice looks like will depend on the person. For example, movement or breathwork for someone with anxiety will differ from a practice for someone with depression. In the case of insomnia, one person may have trouble falling asleep while another falls asleep easily but has trouble getting back to sleep in the middle of the night. Throw in a knee injury, carpal tunnel, asthma, and the unique personality of each individual, and you have even more variables that will factor into the assessment and resulting practices given.

The good news, however, is that yoga therapy uses a holistic approach. Therefore, an improvement in one area may positively impact another. For example, as someone starts to sleep better, they may experience a reduction in anxiety.

The number of yoga therapy sessions will vary depending on a client’s needs and personal goals. The ultimate goal, however, is to provide the education that will foster independence and help a client become active in their own healing process.

Which One Is Right for You—Yoga Classes or Yoga Therapy?

Yoga Classes

  • Your goal is to increase overall fitness and flexibility

  • You seek to relieve minor aches, pains, or stress and your doctor has cleared you for exercise

  • You want to practice on a regular basis with the support of a group atmosphere

Yoga Therapy

  • Your doctor, physical therapist, chiropractor, or mental health practitioner has recommended you try yoga

  • You have a chronic condition, anxiety, depression, PTSD, are dealing with grief, or are experiencing chronic pain

  • You have found that a group class did not meet your particular needs

  • If you’re nervous about joining a group class

  • If you’re a seasoned practitioner or teacher and would like to deepen your practice

As a Fredericksburg, VA area yoga therapist and long-time yoga teacher, I offer and love both yoga classes for overall fitness as well as individual yoga therapy. I recommend you start with what is right for you based on your current health picture, needs, and goals.

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