Is there a real difference between a yoga therapist and a yoga teacher? The short answer is yes. There’s a BIG difference. Yoga teachers and yoga therapists all start out the same way though.
Most begin with a Yoga Alliance 200 hour or Yoga Australia 350 hour training, where they learn how to teach general group classes, offering sequences of movements, basic pranayama techniques and even some meditation. Most yoga teachers also learn how to adapt poses to make them easier for beginners.
But that's where the similarity ends. Here are 5 ways that yoga therapists are different to yoga teachers.
Yoga therapists complete a total of at least 1000 hours training. And that training is highly specialised. At the end of an accredited Yoga Therapist training the yoga therapist emerges with the skills, confidence and qualifications to make a profound and lasting difference to the health and wellbeing of clients. Yoga therapists are so highly trained that they often work alongside health and allied health professionals, working together to get the best outcomes for clients.
Yoga Therapists go beyond sharing the general benefits of yoga. They work one on one with clients to assess each person’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, often working in partnership with a client’s medical team to really understand their needs. They take clients through a highly detailed intake process, and develop unique, individualised practices to support the specific needs of each and every student.
What’s the difference between adapting a pose and individualising a yoga practice?
Individualising a yoga practice is very different from adapting a pose. Regular yoga teachers usually decide what poses they're going to teach in a class, then adapt those poses (perhaps offering a block or simpler version of the pose) to make it easier for beginners or students with health issues. Yoga therapists, on the other hand, get to know each student through a detailed intake process. They then work collaboratively with them to work out exactly the right practice to meet the specific health outcomes a client has identified (such as pain reduction, or management of an autoimmune disease).Yoga Therapists work with people, not poses.
Therapeutic group classes
Yoga therapists even take this personalised approach when working with groups. Group yoga therapy classes, such as classes for pain management or for managing anxiety, are always designed around the needs of each student. Classes are small (typically 4-12 people) and the yoga therapist goes through a comprehensive intake process with every student to make sure their individual circumstances and needs are met during each class.
Classes are then designed around the individual group members - it’s not uncommon to find everybody in a yoga therapy class doing something different at various points in the practice! That’s exactly as it should be - each client being supported to do what is most beneficial for them. There is no ‘one size fits all’ in yoga therapy.
Evidence based processes
Yoga therapists certainly use their instincts when working with clients. But they also rely on a growing evidence base to support students. Trained in both classical yoga and western science, yoga therapists know how to identify and use high quality research in their work. They then go a step further and measure the outcomes of the practices they offer their clients.
Is it working?
Yoga therapists are guided by the needs and outcomes their clients are looking for. In order to help a client get the results they want - such as easing pain, reducing panic attacks or improving symptoms of asthma - the yoga therapist uses their training, high quality scientific evidence and observations of the client’s progress to determine what they teach.
Measuring a client’s progress is essential. If the practice they are doing is making them feel worse, or not providing any benefits, that practice needs to change. Yoga therapists work with clients to set goals, monitor progress and continually adjust their practice to support positive outcomes.
Empower clients to heal themselves
Yoga therapists never think of themselves as the expert in the room - the client is always the expert on their own health. Regular yoga classes are usually taught in a 'top down' way. The teacher might design and teach a class based around a theme, or give physical adjustments to get students to make the right shape with their body. In both of these examples, the student is doing whatever the teacher tells them. A yoga therapist, however, doesn't make assumptions about what is 'good' for a client. Instead, they take time to understand the needs of each individual and then empowers them to work towards meeting those needs in ways that are most helpful and meaningful to them.
The role of the yoga therapist is to support students to identify and develop new habits that help them reduce unwanted symptoms and achieve the health outcomes they want. That could mean exploring new ways of moving and breathing, new approaches to lifestyle choices or new ways of thinking about things.
What the yoga therapist doesn’t do is look at a client and think ‘I know what you need!’ Rather than making assumptions and ‘prescribing’ a yoga practice, yoga therapists work collaboratively with clients to co-create practices that empower, uplift and improve the wellbeing of clients in ways that are meaningful and sustainable. It’s a glorious, inspiring and highly immersive way of working.
Yoga therapists apply their deep knowledge of yoga philosophy and practice to support students to make specific and measurable improvements to their health and wellbeing. It’s a rewarding and satisfying career path that is attracting yoga teachers and health practitioners. It’s also taking off in the health care sector, with yoga therapists working in hospitals and clinics around the world.
Want to know more about Yoga Therapy? The Introduction to Yoga Therapy eCourse will give you amazing insights into the theory and practice of yoga therapy, along with practical tools you can use right away with your clients.
Check out the Introduction to Yoga Therapy Mini eCourse here - your 60 minute guide to the theory and practice of yoga therapy.