What is yoga therapy really?

 In Practice, Reflect Now!, Science of Yoga

Last month we set up an online survey, inviting yoga therapists from around the world to answer questions about their work. 

Why do we care? We want yoga therapy to become a profession, with educational and quality standards in place. We also want yoga therapy to be recognized by institutions and professionals in other fields, such as medicine, mental health, physical therapy, social welfare, and education.

To get there, we need to know where we are now. Here we present the first part of the survey results. With this, we aim to answer the question: what is yoga therapy?


79 people from 24 countries completed the survey.  Yoga therapy seems to be a women’s world: 91% of respondents were women, and 42% indicated that they mainly work with female clients.  

Half of the respondents are certified yoga therapists, and among those people who are not certified, most are currently in the process of certification with the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) or another recognized institution.  The majority finds the certification important. Only one person replied that she doesn't need the official certification because she “has enough background and experience to certify for this”.

More than half of the respondents (69%) consider and advertise themselves as yoga therapists. Most of them have more than 10 years of personal yoga practice: 22 years on average.  83% combine yoga therapy with another profession, most commonly working as yoga teachers or healthcare professionals.

Most of the yoga therapists do not have a specialization, but they work broadly with a range of conditions: 

We kind of suspected it, but most of the yoga therapy clients are middle-aged, middle-class women.


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Professional standards

We also asked people what they consider the main difference between a yoga teacher and a yoga therapist. Education, experience, training and personalized approach were mentioned the most.  Our respondents also indicated that yoga therapy should be evidence-based and results-oriented. A yoga therapist should have enough medical knowledge to assess the client and know how to work with diagnosed conditions using yoga tools. At the same time a yoga therapist “applies a holistic approach, reaching out and incorporating Ayurveda and yoga philosophy”.


While these differences between a yoga teacher and a yoga therapist seem to be very clear for our respondents and us, the rest of the world does not seem to get it yet. Answering the question: “What challenges do you face as a yoga therapist?”, most people say that the public and medical professionals do not see the difference.

In most countries, yoga therapy is still not recognised as a legitimate treatment. Less than 5% of the respondents indicated that the yoga therapy treatment for their clients is covered by insurance. It seems that insurance covers the treatment only if the yoga therapist is also a licensed healthcare professional (physiotherapist, psychiatrist).

The biggest myth

We also asked what the biggest myth of yoga therapy is. Reassuringly, yoga therapists do not see yoga as a cure-all approach. Almost half of our respondents replied that the biggest myth is that yoga can cure anything. 

“[The biggest myth is]... that all yoga is therapeutic - it's not. It has the potential to be, but only if the practice is a good match for the person. That yoga can solve or cure everything - it cannot, although the practice and philosophy can both be immensely beneficial. That yoga alone is enough - it's not. Make use of everything that is good and appropriate to a person's condition. There is good to be found in all the healthcare modalities and methods." Lisa Kaley Isley, UK, psychologist and yoga therapist


Meet Lisa Kaley-Isley at The Yoga Therapy Conference | Amsterdam | May 10+11 2019

We are very grateful to everyone who took the survey. There is so much valuable information there, and we will present more results in future blogs. At the Yoga Therapy Conference in Amsterdam one week from now, we will talk about the status of yoga therapy in Europe, the USA and eastern countries. It seems that, despite differences in healthcare policies around the world, the problems we are facing are similar.  

“We need to continue to work together across the globe.” John Kepner, USA, IAYT president


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hi, i am IRINA

I am a yoga teacher and a scientist. In this blog I write about the most recent scientific research about yoga/meditation/mindfulness. Please leave comments and share your thoughts!

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