What Is Yoga Therapy?

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What Is Yoga Therapy?

“Yoga therapy is a type of therapy that focuses on the integration of mind and body to enhance mental health,” says Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, a professor and clinical psychologist in New York City.

This form of therapy draws on yogic principles and practices, such as physical yoga postures, meditation, breathing techniques, and relaxation exercises, to improve mental and physical well-being. 

“Unlike what people tend to imagine, yoga therapy does not look like a typical yoga class. Instead, yoga therapy is usually conducted on a one-on-one basis with a therapist,” says Romanoff. 

Types of Yoga Therapy

While yoga therapy is typically performed on an individual basis, a subtype of yoga therapy includes a group element, where multiple people work together with a therapist in a small group and the power of the group is part of the healing process, says Romanoff.

Techniques

According to Romanoff, yoga therapy can involve several techniques, such as:

The treatment plan and techniques used in yoga therapy can vary based on your age, physical ability, and unique needs, says Romanoff. Furthermore, she explains that all the exercises and postures employed in yoga therapy are designed to maximize the synchronicity of mind and body functioning. 

For example, the therapist will explain the importance and value that each exercise and yoga pose could have in alleviating your concern, thereby creating a bridge between the practice and its cognitive framework. So, for a person experiencing anxiety for instance, the therapist will guide them through poses like child's pose and tree pose, and explain how the poses help relieve anxiety.

Homework is an important element of yoga therapy so that the practices can be built into the person’s daily life instead of being stand-alone exercises at weekly therapy sessions, says Romanoff.

More traditional forms of yoga therapy can also involve other techniques, such as chanting, prayer, textual study, ritual, imagery, and spiritual counseling.

What Yoga Therapy Can Help With

Yoga therapy can be helpful in the treatment of mental health conditions such as:

In addition, yoga therapy can be particularly effective for treating body-focused conditions, caused due to chronic pain, stress, or trauma that has been stored in the body and manifests through anxiety or depression-related symptoms, says Romanoff.

Benefits of Yoga Therapy

These are some of the benefits of yoga therapy:

  • Integrated mind-body focus: The exercises and postures of yoga therapy focus on the mind and body simultaneously, developing both mental and physical awareness. This helps with mind-body integration and improves mindfulness.
  • Physical health benefits: In addition to helping with mental health conditions, yoga therapy can also improve physical fitness and increase strength, balance, and flexibility. It can also help with physical health conditions such as pain, blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and arthritis.
  • Fewer side effects: Medication to treat mental health conditions can have side effects such as weight gain and other metabolic complications that can lead to an increased risk of heart disease. By contrast, yoga therapy has fewer side effects.
  • Alternative form of therapy: A major benefit of yoga therapy is that it appeals to those who might not be ready for traditional talk therapy or those who might find more meaningful results through the mind-body integrative focus, says Romanoff.

Effectiveness

“Yoga therapy does not have as much empirical evidence of its efficacy due to limited randomized control trials relative to more established forms of therapy,” says Romanoff. However, there is a growing body of research demonstrating that yoga therapy may offer benefits. 

For instance, a 2021 study found that yoga can help treat conditions like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, alcohol dependence, and schizophrenia. A 2011 study found that yoga could be a complementary form of therapy for mental health illnesses, with fewer side effects than medication.

Things to Consider

“An important consideration is to find a therapist who has adequate training and credentials. You would want to ensure that your therapist is a certified yoga therapist or has comparable training at a reputable training program,” says Romanoff.

Because yoga therapy is quite green, there is some variability in training, explains Romanoff. For instance, she says yoga therapists often begin as psychotherapists, psychologists, physical therapists, or yoga instructors and supplement their work by integrating other elements into their practice. 

Romanoff recommends making certain that you are working with someone you trust and can form a strong therapeutic alliance with, whose work you believe in.

How to Get Started

If you would like to explore yoga therapy, you can look for a certified yoga therapist near you, or ask friends, family, or your healthcare provider for a referral. 

According to Romanoff, yoga therapy is typically used as an adjunct therapy in addition to other forms of therapy. So, if you are currently seeing a therapist, it may be worth consulting them about whether or not yoga therapy can be helpful to you and discussing how it would work in parallel with your current form of therapy.

It’s important to note that you can participate in yoga therapy regardless of your age, flexibility, or strength. Sessions can be simple or advanced, depending on your abilities and needs.

A Word From Verywell

Yoga therapy is a type of therapy that draws on yoga exercises, practices, and philosophies, to improve mental and physical health. While the practice of yoga is commonly associated with stress-relief, yoga therapy can be helpful in the treatment of several other mental health conditions as well. It may be recommended to you in combination with another type of therapy.

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  1. Cabral P, Meyer HB, Ames D. Effectiveness of yoga therapy as a complementary treatment for major psychiatric disorders: a meta-analysis. Prim Care Companion CNS Disord. 2011;13(4):PCC.10r01068. doi:10.4088/PCC.10r01068

  2. Brinsley J, Schuch F, Lederman O, et al. Effects of yoga on depressive symptoms in people with mental disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med. 2021;55(17):992-1000. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2019-101242

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