Yoga Therapy

Yoga therapy is a mind-body practice that focuses on your physical, emotional and mental health. The practice uses movement, mindfulness, meditation, relaxation and breathing exercises to help you relax, relieve stress and manage underlying conditions or symptoms in addition to treatment by a healthcare provider.


What is yoga therapy?

Yoga therapy is a process to empower you to improve your health and well-being through the practice of yoga.

In other words, yoga therapy is a whole-body approach to better health by using the tools of yoga to meet your specific physical, mental and emotional needs and goals. You’re an active participant on your path to wellness.

The tools of yoga include:

  • Physical postures and movements (asanas).
  • Breathing exercises (pranayama).
  • Meditation/relaxation (dhyana).

A certified yoga therapist will meet with you one-on-one to create a safe practice specifically for you. They will:

  • Review your medical file and speak with you about any health concerns.
  • Determine movements that would be safe for you.
  • Show you how to use proper form and technique to prevent injury.
  • Explain how each pose affects your body.
  • Guide you in relaxation and stress management.
  • Help you reach your personal wellness goals.

Yoga therapy is a recommended practice in addition to treatment or management from a healthcare provider for any underlying health conditions. The effects of yoga therapy vary based on each person’s experience. You don’t need to have any experience with yoga before starting yoga therapy.

What does yoga therapy treat or manage?

Some of the health benefits of yoga therapy include:

While research is ongoing to learn more about the effects of yoga therapy on the body and mind, current studies are limited. There’s promise in the practice but it isn’t proven to treat any underlying conditions.


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Procedure Details

How does yoga therapy work?

Before you begin yoga therapy, you’ll meet with your yoga therapist. They’ll learn more about your health concerns, medical history and your desired outcomes. Then, the therapist will create a yoga therapy practice plan that considers your:

  • Physical needs and abilities.
  • Overall health.
  • Your age.
  • Your goals.

Following your session, your yoga therapist will give you a home practice plan based on your needs and goals. This home practice can support you in making progress and it encourages you to build a daily self-care routine.

What happens during yoga therapy?

Your yoga therapy session will include a variety of movements and stretches that increase your strength, flexibility and balance. Your yoga therapist may recommend that you wear comfortable clothes that allow you to move freely.

Typically, your practice will be done while seated in a chair and/or while standing with the chair nearby for extra support. Some examples of movements during a yoga therapy session include:

  • Guidance on how to sit and stand properly with awareness and best position for safety and function.
  • Movements for increasing range of motion and ease of movement in your joints.
  • Side bends to open the mid-body and to support better breathing.
  • A cat-cow pose, where you’ll inhale while lifting your heart, arching your back and lifting your tailbone. Then, you’ll exhale while rounding your back, tucking your tailbone and gazing at your belly. This stretch can help improve your posture. It also supports flexibility in your spine.
  • A spinal twist, where you’ll sit and gently turn your body to the right. You’ll relax your hands down, turn and look over your right shoulder while breathing. You’ll repeat these steps on the left side. Spinal twists support healthy digestion. They also tone and strengthen your core muscles, and may relieve some lower back pain.

While you’re moving, your yoga therapist will guide you in different breathing exercises. These breath practices can help you to de-stress and manage pain. Your session will end with a relaxation practice, which helps you settle your body and mind in order to find a place of peace and calm.

How long is a yoga therapy session?

An initial yoga therapy session takes between 30 minutes to 90 minutes. For the best results, your therapist will recommend you do yoga at home in between yoga therapy sessions. Sessions at home are usually shorter, averaging about 15 minutes each.

How often should I do yoga therapy?

Your yoga therapist and your healthcare provider will recommend how long and how often you should do yoga. The amount of time you practice yoga depends on your goals and lifestyle.


Risks / Benefits

What are the overall benefits of yoga therapy?

The benefits of yoga therapy include, but aren’t limited to, the following:

  • Stress relief.
  • Mental clarity.
  • Stronger muscles.
  • Reducing pain and pressure.
  • Increasing balance.
  • Helping you sleep.
  • Aligning your body for best function.

What are the risks of yoga therapy?

The risks of yoga therapy are minimal. The first rule of yoga is “do no harm.” Your therapist will make sure the poses are safe and accessible for you. You may feel a deep stretch during yoga therapy, but there should never be any pain.

The risk of injury while performing yoga is lower than your risk of performing other physical activities like running or strength training.


Recovery and Outlook

How long will it take for me to feel better after yoga therapy?

There’s no specified amount of time as to when you’ll start feeling better or seeing results after yoga therapy. You may feel more relaxed immediately following a session. It may take weeks to months before you see improvement in your strength and balance.

Is there anything I can do to make doing yoga therapy easier?

Yoga takes training and practice. Your first session will be very different from your 10th session. When you start yoga therapy, your yoga therapist will determine what exercises are right for you to start your practice safely. As you get more experience doing yoga, it’ll feel easier. You can slowly increase the difficulty of your movements under your therapist’s supervision. If a movement or stretch isn’t comfortable or causes pain, stop and ask for assistance. Your therapist can help you modify the movement or offer another that uses the same muscles but in a different form.

When To Call the Doctor

When should I call my healthcare provider?

Talk to your healthcare provider before beginning yoga therapy or any other physical activities to make sure they’re safe for you. They may also make recommendations on what areas of your body to focus on, which you can relay to your yoga therapist. Always contact your healthcare provider if you experience ongoing pain or have new symptoms.

Additional Common Questions

Is yoga therapy covered by insurance?

Talk to your insurance provider to see whether yoga therapy is covered. In many cases, yoga therapy sessions aren’t covered by insurance.

What’s the difference between yoga and yoga therapy?

Many people think of yoga as exercise. You may join a local yoga studio or fitness center with the goal of improving your strength and flexibility as well as getting a good workout.

A yoga instructor will guide a group class through different yoga poses and practices, often at a fast pace in what’s known as a “flow.” The emphasis is on correct yoga techniques. Students usually come to class two to three times per week.

Yoga instructors have a minimum of 200 hours of training.

Someone coming to yoga therapy is looking for help or relief from symptoms or health conditions that are troubling them. A yoga therapist will guide you in an individual practice and focus on using various tools of yoga to improve function and reduce stress.

A session will include breathing exercises, physical postures, mindfulness and meditation with emphasis on relieving symptoms, avoiding injury and restoring wellness. Your yoga therapist will provide home practice instructions designed specifically to build a safe and effective self-care routine. The number of sessions you have will depend on your health goals and progress, and it’s usually once or twice a month for a few months.

Yoga therapists have a minimum of 1,000 hours of training.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Yoga therapy is a method that balances your body and mind through movement, mindfulness, meditation, relaxation and breathing exercises. This ancient practice can help you reach your personal goals to be more relaxed and find relief if you have an underlying medical condition. Talk to your healthcare provider to see if yoga therapy is right for you.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/10/2023.

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