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Yoga therapy: It’s not yoga class. It’s not talk therapy. Just what is it?

With only 6,000 IAYT-certified yoga therapists worldwide, it's no wonder that not many people know about the benefits of this emerging profession. Read on to get your questions answered about how yoga therapy is empowering more and more people to take control of their own physical and mental health.



What is yoga therapy?


Yoga therapists help people with a wide variety of mental and physical health challenges.


Yoga therapy is a distinctly different modality utilizing its own set of frameworks to facilitate self-healing. The approach is rooted in traditional practices and informed by Western medicine and neuroscience research.


Yoga therapists teach practices from a wide variety of traditions, including movement, breathwork, chanting and many types of meditation. These practices have been shown to demonstrate clinical efficacy when applied therapeutically.


Yoga therapists work in private practice with individual clients. They take a holistic rather than formulaic or prescriptive approach to helping clients heal themselves.


Yoga therapists also partner with mental health professionals and institutions to provide complementary health care services.


Yoga therapy is always practiced one-on-one.

Yoga therapists may also offer therapeutic yoga classes for select populations such as for addiction recovery or cancer support, but it is important to note that yoga therapy is always practiced one-on-one.


What types of conditions can yoga therapy help with?


Yoga therapists are trained to work with conditions such as anxiety disorders, PTSD, trauma, depression, addiction, eating disorders, obesity, autoimmune disease, heart disease, neurological disorders, cancer support, and more.


Yoga therapy is most effective for treating chronic conditions and managing disease states and disorders. However, unlike in Western medicine, you don’t need a diagnosis to justify working with a yoga therapist, though a diagnosis will inform the work when available.


The only box you need to check is the one that says you want to feel better, and you are ready to do something about it!


Suffering is always self-diagnosed in a yoga therapy setting.

The only box you need to check is the one that says you want to feel better.

Some clients simply want to find a home meditation or breath practice to alleviate suffering from stress or difficult life transitions. Others seek relief from illness, pain, serious challenges, or fatigue.


Can yoga therapy cure disease?


The goal is always to relieve or reduce the suffering as articulated by the client. The yoga therapist facilitates the self-healing process by providing appropriate practices and tracking their efficacy using metrics.


There is clinical evidence for curative approaches to some conditions, including chronic disease in some cases. More often, managing or slowing disease progression is indicated.


You deserve to know how likely yoga therapy is to work for your condition.


Even doctors can't guarantee that a given treatment will work, because we simply don't know everything there is to know about health. Therefore, at the time of intake, a yoga therapist should give you the information you need to make an informed decision about what strategy and expectations are most appropriate for your condition and your circumstances.


What happens during a yoga therapy session?


A typical session ranges from 50-90 minutes and includes a check-in to discuss how a client's home practices are going, and any changes in their health status. The bulk of the session is spent experiencing and learning practices to do regularly at home between sessions. Take-home materials to support the home practice might include printed sequences, video and audio aids.


Can inflexible or unathletic people do yoga therapy?


If you can breathe, you can do yoga. Most yoga therapy clients have never done yoga before, and many times are experiencing debilitating sickness and pain.


Luckily, yoga therapists are trained to offer modifications and supports for physical postures not commonly available in public yoga classes. Custom restorative postures, chair yoga and adaptive yoga are options a yoga therapist can provide.


Additionally, they use other practices including meditation, breathwork, chanting, affirmations, mindfulness, cleansing practices, dietary resources and lifestyle support.

If you can breathe, you can do yoga.

Yoga therapists help you find the best practices for your particular needs, saving you time and helping you feel better sooner. They are trained in specific techniques to create a safe space for people to explore the practices at their own pace and comfort level.


How much does yoga therapy cost?


Yoga therapy rates are usually in line with private therapy rates in your area, and can range from $165-280+ depending on where you live.


"Wait, what? That sounds like a lot."


True, but your total investment in your health may be lower than you could expect to spend on less desirable interventions.


Let's look at the math.


Some conditions such as back pain require only 3-4 sessions total; most clients only see a yoga therapist for about 6 sessions or so, with exceptions of course. At the end of your treatment, you will have the knowledge you need to continue your therapy on your own.


With an average rate of $200 per session, that's a total investment of only $600-$1,200 to find ongoing relief. The limited duration of the work makes yoga therapy a very attractive investment in one's health.


"It sounds like yoga therapists are putting themselves out of work. How do they keep their business going without seeing clients on an ongoing basis?"


Good question!


The answer? Referrals.


Clients are generally so pleased with the efficiency of their experience that they tend to tell their friends:)


"But how will I know how much I am likely to spend on yoga therapy?"


At the time of intake, clients should expect to have a transparent discussion regarding the anticipated investment, including whether yoga therapy is likely to help, and an estimated number, frequency and duration of appointments, as well as the time you might expect to spend on home practices.


How is yoga therapy different from going to yoga class?


Most people don't realize that yoga teachers are out of scope when it comes to treating health conditions. The Yoga Alliance specifically states that yoga teachers may not credit their YA certification as the basis for any claim regarding the use of yoga to treat health conditions.


This has become a problem, because more and more doctors are sending their patients to yoga class for help with medical conditions.


Patients assume that the yoga teacher will keep them safe, but with yoga injuries on the rise especially in older adults, that's unfortunately often not the case. When a person with osteoporosis attends a gentle yoga class, they may not realize that many common "gentle" postures are contraindicated for them. This can lead to serious harm without proper guidance on how to self-modify.


Of course, yoga classes offer many health benefits, not least of which is the joy of community and a healthy routine.


However, for some, certain styles of yoga can reinforce systemic imbalances, cause injury, and even exacerbate mental health conditions.


If your doctor has advised you to do yoga as complementary care for a health condition, even if it's simply to reduce your stress, consider skipping yoga class and working briefly with a yoga therapist instead. A yoga therapist can give you specific practices you can do on your own or in your next yoga class to address your condition, so that you feel better faster and keep yourself safe. For physical issues, get guidance on how to self-modify your asana practice if you plan to take public classes.


How is yoga therapy different from psychotherapy?


Simply put, expect more practice and less talking. Yoga therapists are educators, and the process of healing is experiential, rather than cognitive.


Home practice between sessions is a defining feature of yoga therapy that is less-utilized in psychotherapy.


While psychotherapists typically meet with clients weekly on an ongoing basis, yoga therapists meet less frequently for a limited amount of time. This is to give the home practices time to work. Generally, once the practices are working, the client is able to self-sustain with only occasional sessions as desired.


Often, as work on mental health progresses, a yoga therapist will refer a client to a psychotherapist if a client wishes to process thoughts that may surface as a result of the practices.


Do yoga therapists take insurance?


Not yet! Private yoga therapy is not covered by insurance in any of the United States at this time.


However, you can apply your health savings account or flexible spending account funds toward yoga therapy with a doctor’s letter of medical necessity.


If you are a Connecticut victim of domestic violence or sexual assault, you are eligible to apply for reimbursement for yoga therapy to support your recovery through the Victim Compensation Program. Similar programs may apply in other states.


How can I find a yoga therapist?


For help finding a local yoga therapist within the United States or via telehealth, visit Yoga Therapy Associates and request a referral.


Spread the word and help a friend


Now that you know everything there is to know about yoga therapy, go tell your friends! This little-known health option is ready and waiting to fulfill the demand for quality mental health care.


Don't forget to share this article so that all may be free of suffering and full of peace.


Wishing you and yours good health,

Christine

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