Yoga vs. Yoga Therapy, who knows difference?


My name is Veronika, certified yoga therapist (C-IAYT), and recently, I was asked about difference and similarities between Yoga and Yoga Therapy.  “Nobody knows but everyone wonders.”  My yoga therapy clients commented “I didn’t know what to expect because yoga already feels so good,” so I hope that this brief explanation will bring some clarity to all who are interested in knowing a line between YOGA and YOGA THERAPY.


The word yoga, from the Sanskrit word means to ‘yoke or bind’, and is often interpreted as “union”. It is an ancient Ayurvedic healing method of discipline.These teachings offer profound insights and practices that cover all aspects of experience along the full spectrum of human life.

However, in the West the most known aspect of the Yoga spectrum is Asana– third limb of yoga tree. It is a physical feature of yoga designed to purify the body and provide the physical strength and stamina required for long periods of meditation.


Is a new emerging profession in the modern world with its roots dating back thousands of years. Yoga therapy has a vital role to play in redressing some of the challenges in modern Western health care. That role is helping to shift the paradigm from one based on illness and practitioner-oriented care to one paradigm based on wellness and holistic self-care. Yoga therapy is an alternative therapy easily integrated with other healing modalities, used in conjunction with western medical practices, and practiced as a stand-alone therapy.

“The aim of yoga therapy is to educate, empower, and enable clients to take an active role in their own healing but it is not only yoga class.”


Basic training: 200 hours + more

The scope of instruction can range from asana to pranayama to meditation, but fundamentally, instructors using this style will guide the students in their practice. Other teachers seek to educate their students in how to practice, rather than—or in the midst of—guiding the practice itself. This teaching style empowers students to guide their own experience, whether they are practicing alone or in a group setting. In either case, good teachers are able to choose appropriate practices that meet the interests and abilities of their students. Whether their style is instructional or educational, yoga teachers focus on teaching the various yoga methods in a correct and appropriate way.

“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 ailments.” Robin Monro, PhD. Yoga Biomedical Trust (England)


Basic study: 800 – 1000 hours + certification process.

Rather than focusing on yoga methods and practices, yoga therapists fundamentally focus on their clients’ needs. Their job is to understand why their clients have come to see them and determine what they can do to support them. To help them in their work, therapists are trained to assess clients through listening, questioning, observing, and appropriately touching. Therapists look for ways to help their clients reduce or manage their symptoms, improve their function, and help them with their attitude in relation to their health conditions. After assessing clients, therapists establish appropriate goals, develop a practice intervention, and then teach clients to practice that intervention. In this sense, therapists choose yoga techniques in relation to how they will specifically benefit individual clients.


Yoga teachers may offer a variety of yoga classes, including classes for individuals or groups of people with specific conditions. Common examples include yoga for pregnant women, yoga for heart patients, and yoga for cancer survivors. In these classes, good yoga teachers must learn the contraindications for working with people that have these conditions and respect those contraindications while teaching the students appropriate yoga. The intention in these types of classes is to teach these students how to practice yoga while respecting their health conditions.

tibetian bells


The intention changes in yoga therapy sessions for individuals or groups with specific conditions. After an appropriate intake and assessment, therapists will often focus on the specific symptoms that trouble their clients and identify methods to help them manage those symptoms. Examples include helping clients with pain management,  stress reduction, fatigue, or sleeplessness. In addition, the therapist’s role is to empower clients to take a more active role in their self-care. The therapist’s job is less about teaching yogic techniques and more about helping clients to overcome their challenges and gain independence. Hence, the job of the therapist represents a different focus, a different type of education, and a different skill set. 

Let me conclude my sharing with an easy spirit saying:

“Like two sisters – both look well wearing same yoga pants (smile) but they are different, I like them both.”~ Veronika

Commonly, students report great and even therapeutic benefits from their yoga classes, no matter which type of class they are attending. This occurs because of the inherent therapeutic potential of yoga, but it should not obscure the distinction between a yoga class and a yoga therapy session.

Although the distinctions may seem subtle, the yoga student and the yoga therapy client need to be clear about their intentions when seeking out yoga professionals. It is also extremely important for yoga professionals—whether teachers or therapists—to be clear about the intention and orientation of their work, honest about their level of training and understanding, and realistic about their skill sets. Although both yoga teaching and yoga therapy are valid and valuable professions, they are different. We as a wellness community must become clear about these distinctions and choose what is right for a person.

I hope it will help you navigate your wellness programs using either yoga or yoga therapy in your life.


Veronika - Joga for JOYVERONIKA PRIELOZNA, MA, C-IAYT, RYT500, IEHP collaborates with medical and holistic practitioners to build a therapeutic ‘bridge from yoga to integrative health care.’ She is an experienced yoga therapist/ teacher with a background of 15+ years in the fields of nursing and sports/wellness massage. Based on the ancient wisdom of yoga and Western evidence-based research, she offers both therapeutic yoga programs and 1-on-1 yoga therapy sessions as a complementary modality to support a variety of health conditions. “Come as you are.”


This article originally appeared in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy — No. 24 (2014). Published with permission. Written by Gary Kraftsow

Yoga Therapy Training Course

Sisters image: unknown source, let me know if you know, thanks

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