The Difference Between Yoga and Yoga Therapy

Yoga therapy has become the new buzzword of the yoga world. What is it really? Isn’t yoga therapeutic in general? What is the difference between a yoga class and a yoga therapy session?

Yoga therapeutics is defined by International Association of Yoga Therapists as the application of yoga for health benefits. Practitioners of yoga therapy integrate yoga concepts with Western medical and psychological knowledge, for example, by using body awareness and breathing activities, physical postures, and meditation with an understanding of pathological conditions such as back pain or depression in the management of people with these conditions. Whereas traditional yoga practice is primarily concerned with personal enlightenment of people without pathology, yoga therapy focuses on a holistic treatment for people with various somatic or psychological dysfunctions. According to Georg Feuerstein, Ph.D. , the goals of yoga therapy are to promote health benefits and to promote self-awareness for the purpose of enlightenment. Yoga therapy offers an alternative approach to conventional exercise training, and it also can be adapted to meet the needs of people with physical limitations. 

Here is what Gary Kraftsow says in his article:
Yoga Therapy: The Profession, International Journal of Yoga Therapy, No. 24 (2014)
"To illustrate the difference, let’s break it down, differentiating between a yoga class and a yoga therapy session, and a yoga teacher and a yoga therapist.

Yoga Class vs. Yoga Therapy Session

People attend yoga classes for a variety of reasons but they usually start out seeking exercise within a community. Along the way, they may discover that yoga has more to offer that just a physical workout; they may find an interest in pranayama, meditation or chanting. Yoga classes offer students a variety of techniques so they can learn different ways to explore this ancient health care maintenance system.

A yoga therapy session is more specific: it is all about you and your issue(s). A yoga therapist’s goal is to investigate your specific symptoms and offer personalized solutions for controlling and/or mitigating them.

Yoga Teacher vs. Yoga Therapist

A yoga teacher should be trained in both the art and science of yoga as well as effective teaching methods. A good yoga teacher knows how to assess the needs of the students in any given class and teaches techniques that will be of interest to that group as well as enhancing their general knowledge of yoga.

A yoga therapist is a yoga teacher who further trains to assess the needs of and determine an intervention for an individual. Yoga therapy training involves in-depth study of a range of conditions along with the corresponding therapeutic interventions.

Let’s look at an example. You have developed low back pain that often keeps you up at night. Attending a gentle yoga class helps to ease that pain for a while as you learn to coordinate your breath to movement. However, you are still not finding enough relief to be able to sleep well at night. You go to visit a yoga therapist, who asks you a variety of questions about your life, your work, your habits, and your diet, and works over a period of time to develop a personal practice that will directly address the specific, current issues that are preventing you from feeling relief.

Here's another related article by Jennie Lee in Huffpost Healthy Living