What is Yoga Therapy?

Yoga Therapy is a burgeoning field of professional practice that emphasizes personalized, one-on-one therapeutic care. It’s aim is to provide holistic support for a wide variety of life’s many challenges.  Yoga Therapists, informed by the intelligence of the practice of yoga, skilfully witness and accompany clients and patients, in the realm of life shatterings, grief, injuries, trauma and disease. Instead of a prescriptive model or established protocol, the emphasis is on the dynamic holistic health and agency of each unique client. Presently defined by the International Association of Yoga Therapist's, “Yoga therapy is the professional application of the principles and practices of yoga to promote health and well-being within a therapeutic relationship that includes personalized assessment, goal setting, lifestyle management, and yoga practices for individuals or small groups". SEYT's training honours the roots of yoga and the evolving practices of evidence-informed practices, including but not limited to, postures, movement, breath and meditation, as an integral and complementary additions to the medical care system. 

There is a growing acceptance among doctors and licensed health care professionals for including yoga therapists in their integrative practice, as part of their referral network and yoga as part of their professional practice. Current research reveals how yoga is increasingly showing improved health outcomes – examples include: increased body awareness (Cramer et al., 2013; Daubenmier, 2005), improved emotional well-being (Cramer et al., 2013), and reduced inflammation in the body(Morgan et al., 2014; Chandwani et al., 2014; Bower & Irwin, 2015). Many medical schools and health care professional training programs across North America now include yoga in their foundational programs.  courses. Worldwide, thousands of yoga teachers are answering the call to pursue deeper and more comprehensive education in the therapeutic practice of yoga, opening the doors to more fulfilling work and profound service as certified yoga therapists.

Why yoga therapy?
What is the difference between a yoga therapist and a yoga teacher?

Simply said, what differentiates a yoga therapist is education and therapeutic experience. A yoga therapist that graduates from a IAYT accredited program (like SEYT) receives a C-IAYT credential.

Certified yoga therapists(C-IAYTs), that have studied at SEYT,

are assured to have:

Successfully completed a minimum of 1000+ hours of Education:

  • Yoga therapists ARE yoga teachers - in fact it is the prerequisite to entering an accredited yoga therapy program. A yoga teacher typically has completed either 200 or 500 hours of foundational training aimed at teaching students. Yoga therapists have this foundational training, with an additional 800+ hours of yoga therapy school.

  • Yoga therapists have studied the intricacies of maintaining a healthy therapeutic relationship and the communication and listening skills necessary to work with people one-to-one, who are often facing serious and complex health issues.

  • C-IAYT Yoga therapists must complete continuing education on a yearly basis, similar to most licensed healthcare professionals. Many embark in advanced education to support a “specialization” in their work.

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Successfully completed a mentored Practicum gaining the experience and support needed to work as a professional:

  • Students must complete a minimum of 150 hours of mentored clinical work.

  • Mentors are C-IAYT seasoned professionals, many with long careers in healthcare.

Are committed to integrating with existing healthcare.  As such, yoga therapists:

  • Have a firm grasp of their Scope of Practice and Code of Ethics, and understand the importance of referrals, enabling them to work as a collaborative team member within healthcare settings.

  • Have learned to respectfully communicate with medical colleagues and integrate their notes/charts/lab details without being diagnostic in their work.

  • Know how to establish professional report, do an intake, co-assess, provide compassionate inquiry, listen/witness, educate, and support clients to have agency in working with their health and wellness.

  • Write session and progress notes and integrative referrals.

  • Understand the importance of compassionate self/client care and community care.

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Image by Tim Mossholder

Studied, in depth, the following subjects:

  • Yoga philosophy, history,  and āyurveda: at the core of curriculum lies yoga’s wide and varying views/insights for exploring and understanding human suffering. With deep respect for the roots of yoga and it’s evolving practices,yoga therapists learn how to integrate this wisdom and apply it to themselves. Further, they develop ways to allow this wisdom to become more and more accessible and actionable in the world. This conceptual foundation becomes the groundwork needed to support clients with their own suffering and health.

  • Biomedical and psychological foundations:  the needed understanding to work with health, safely and effectively, including complex medical and psychological conditions, when working alongside standard healthcare.

  • Yoga therapy tools:  which include, but are not limited to, yoga postures, movement, education, breath work, meditation, mantra, journaling/writing, mindfulness, creative expression, and mudra. A yoga therapist is extensively trained in these practices, as well as evidence-informed “techniques” (such as restorative yoga and yoga nidra, for example).  Foremost is learning the therapeutic application (and contraindications) of all practices when working within modulating practices for those who are injured, or living with disease or complex conditions (such as MS, Parkinson’s or persistent pain).  This enables a yoga therapist to work sensitively and compassionately with a wide array of human suffering.

  • Therapeutic Skills, including:

    • Therapeutic relationship including the negotiation of “safe” space”, embodied boundaries, generous listening and compassionate communication.

  • Working with individuals and small groups - the differing curation and modification skills needed to enhance personalized practice and group connection,

    • Evidence-informed care - cultivating research literacy to stay up to date on the evolving science on yoga therapy in healthcare.

  • Professional practices including the necessary:  

    • Ethical principles that underlie yoga therapy work.  

    • Legal/regulatory/business issues pertaining to yoga therapy.

    • Relationship building with peers, mentors, other professionals, and organizations that allow for strong referral networks and collaborative team work.  

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Practice to support holistic health and agency. Yoga therapists:

  • Informed by the intelligence of the practice of yoga, skillfully witness and accompany clients and patients, in the realm of life shatterings, grief, injuries, pain, trauma and disease. Not a prescriptive or a systematic “one size fits all” protocol, the work is on the dynamic holistic health and agency of each unique client.

Provide safe, equitable, and responsible services:

  • C-IAYT yoga therapists must comply with IAYT’s Scope of Practice and Code of Ethics.

C-IAYTs must abide by and follow the standards, policies, and regulations set out by IAYT and the school they graduated from. SEYT and IAYT have in place procedures to address complaints of ethical violations. Such a container provides the means to provide safe and effective care, while minimizing the chance of inflicting harm.